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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Croydon's Libraries farce

At last night's council meeting Cllr Tim Pollard shocked everyone by announcing that it's back to the drawing board for libraries.  Here is the transcript of his announcement.
"I do have a small announcement. 
(Cheers from the chamber and the public gallery)
Thank you for that warm welcome I thought I should update the chamber on the latest position with regards to our finalisation  of a new libraries service contract. 
Members will recall that in November 2012, on the recommendation of the corporate services committee,  it was agreed that John Laing Integrated services should be appointed as preferred bidder for our libraries management contract, their solution being the highest score on price and the quality criteria we'd set. 
Preferred bidder status  enables the bidder and the council to confirm commitments in the run-up to the formal signing of the contract. However, during the process of clarifying these final terms with with our preferred bidder, they unexpectedly introduced a late amendment relating to capping possible future pensions contributions. 
Although there is only a very small chance of this impacting on future costs it does change the risk profile and the commercial position. When changes of this kind are put forward we have to follow the EU procurement rules and act accordingly. As a result, and to ensure fairness to all of the  bidders, we have to take a step back in the process to allow all the final bidders time to consider this change and to propose any amendments they wish to their final proposals. 
 It is important for Council to understand that all bidders are at liberty to adjust their final bid in any way they choose, subject to the procurement rules, and can adjust bid elements completely unrelated to the material change which triggered this reopening of the bidding stage, if they wish to. 
Two of the three short-listed bidders have confirmed they will be re-entering the procurement dialogue which is likely to lead to a resubmission of their final bids. Those final bids,  including any changes made, will then be evaluated against our original criteria and we will move forward again to the preferred bidder stage with the highest scoring tenderer. This does not necessarily have to be the same  bidder as was previously confirmed as the preferred bidder. 
Although this does mean a short delay before the contract can be agreed and signed it is necessary in the circumstances. 
The council is committed to keeping all the branches of our libraries open and we are determined to secure the best value for all local taxpayers through our financial negotiations. 
Thank you, Mr Mayor."
You can listen for yourself and hear the uproar as a result of Cllr Pollard's "small announcement" here, from 50 minutes in, thanks to Croydon Radio.

After the opposition councillor Timothy Godfrey was denied the right to speak and ejected from the council Chamber his Labour colleagues left, in protest. 

The arrogance of the incumbent administration who begged to serve Croydon is beyond words.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Why so shy, Cllr Pollard?

Cllr Pollard, right, with Croydon Central MP, Gavin Barwell.
Neither have spoken up for residents and our libraries.
Both actively sought volunteers to take on the service
even before the initial consultation had closed.
Cllr Tim Pollard is Croydon Conservative lead on libraries, along with an extensive portfolio including Children, Families and Learning.

He's slipping up, just like his predecessor, Cllr Sara Bashford, who bumbled her way through the sham consultations and then embarked on a procurement process to outsource Croydon libraries, without mandate. She was caught out making announcements throughout the process,  forgetting she wasn't supposed to announce the plan up front. Has Cllr Pollard suffering the same fate?

We reproduce below his statement, published in December 2012, presumably written before the call in of the decision to Scrutiny by not just the opposition but by both political parties.

We reproduce below the text in full from Cllr Pollard's glossy Step-Up document, the new version of Council Member Bulletins. At a time when services are being savagely cut and we face an increase in council tax it is unbelievable that Croydon could add more gloss to their publications.

This one was released in December 2012. You can view the glossy publication here.
"New library contract near to completion
Changes will start to be seen in Croydon libraries from next April, once a new organisation steps in to run the service.
John Laing Integrated Services Ltd has been agreed by the council as the preferred bidder to run library services, and details of their proposals should be released in the next few weeks. 
The new contract guarantees that the council will retain the freehold of all its library buildings.
Current levels of service will not only be maintained, but, where possible, book stocks will be increased, facilities will be upgraded with (sic) and opportunities will be sought to access a greater range of public services from local libraries.
There will also be far more possibilities for making links with other organisations and businesses, with the potential to generate income or create training opportunities. 
The library network will continue to look for more opportunities to involve members of the community and create links with the voluntary sector through friends groups, community events and social and learning activities."
So we ask...

Why is it that no details have been released, as promised?  The end of February 2013 is hardly a few weeks on from December 2013.

Is the delay due to legal wrangling? Have GLL challenged the decision? It seems clear that they were not fairly treated and offered best value to Wandsworth.

Are JLIS less than happy with the additional constraints placed on them by the scrutiny process?

And why are Conservative councillors, such as Maria Gatland, so ill-informed that, even having shown enough interest to call the decision into Scrutiny now can't quite muster the effort to ascertain and articulate the outcome?

Not one of Cllr Gatland's colleagues has jumped in to help her out and nearly a month on @ElizCro is still waiting for her councillor to uncover the facts.

And does Cllr Pollard think residents will really be won over by claims of maintaining the current service?

Residents have noticed the huge loss of staff, decline in service and extensive book cull as our library service has been eroded since not long after the initial consultation occurred. And, Cllr Pollard, we'd love to know what libraries will be upgraded with as you fail to say. Dreaded self-service machines, no doubt.

Only a month away from the proposed hand over and  residents and councillors are still kept in the dark over the plans for our libraries.This is certainly giving all the appearances of either a deal that has gone terribly wrong or a deal that Croydon are none too proud of.

Is there anyone who has any real information? Get in touch.  We'd love to share!
Library image used in Croydon Council document -
Certainly not any one of Croydon's 13 libraries

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Cllr Pollard's Q&A on Croydon Libraries

The following Q&A was received by a resident from Cllr Tim Pollard in early December and is reproduced here, in full. 

Croydon is reticent to announce that Laings is the preferred bidder and at least one local councillor still feigns ignorance

It also worth noting that Cllr Pollard makes another broken promise here.  We've highlighted it in red.  Not only have Croydon not announced the savings they claim this will make they have not announced the bidder publicly. Some suspect this may be because the process is still being challenged.

Have other bidders been treated fairly? If challenged, this could lead to a costly legal challenge.

And how can Croydon really effectively judge the service another provider offers when they are incapable of seeing the deterioration under their control?  


Why couldn't this service continue to be delivered in house?

Croydon Council, like all councils, has seen a significant reduction in its income as a result of the economic climate and the national requirement to reduce the structural budget deficit. Croydon could not continue to deliver a service in house at the same levels as today and make the savings that are necessary to meet
overall council budget requirements.

The alternative to bringing in an external provider would have been to cut services, potentially leading to the closure of branches.

Are you going to be shutting libraries to deliver this service in future?

No: a key objective of the outsourcing of the library service was to maintain of the current network of libraries. This contract will enable us to achieve this objective.

How did the Council choose its Preferred Bidder and why was this different to Wandsworth Borough Council’s Preferred Bidder?

The Council, in conjunction with Wandsworth Borough Council, ran a thorough and rigorous evaluation procedure. It was made clear throughout the procurement process that the two Councils intended to award separate contracts and therefore Bidders bid for each Council’s contract separately submitting two distinct tenders. The tenders submitted by each Bidder differed significantly between the Councils.

The Councils formed a Joint Project Team which included officers from both Councils. This Joint Project Team evaluated each tender received for both boroughs against pre-determined and published evaluation criteria and each sub-criterion was scored. For each borough a separate score was awarded to each Bidder: in other words, it was quite possible for a bidder to score highly for one borough but poorly for the other. As a result of this evaluation process the different preferred bidders were identified for each Council. The Joint Project Team made recommendations based on the results of this process.

The Joint Project Team comprised Officers with a wide range of technical and professional experience and qualifications from both Croydon and Wandsworth including ICT, HR, FM and Legal Services and all the evaluation scores were agreed within the team.

The team also received advice from external specialist advisers throughout the procurement and evaluation phases.

Why don’t you publish bidders’ tenders?
It is standard procurement practice not to publish tenders. There are a number of reasons for this. From the participating organisation’s point of view, participation in the tendering process costs them a great deal of money and their submissions are unique to them and covered by intellectual property law. They would not want their work and ideas to be freely available to their competitors or other potential

From the council’s point of view, the publishing of tender submissions may impact on the competitiveness of the process as companies may chose not to bid if their tenders would be made public. It may also reduce quality of the tenders proposed, with Bidders less willing to reveal any commercial “edge” because of the risk of this being made available to their competitors. If this were the case it would have a negative effect on any procurement exercise that the council partakes in and result in poorer value to the public.

We are also precluded from making tenders public because of our legal obligation under the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 (as amended) to keep Bidders solutions confidential and not to reveal the information to any other participant or to reveal the information generally. The purpose of this is to keep the integrity of the procurement process and to encourage Bidders to be as open and innovative as possible with their solutions.

Is the preferred bidder the best value for the council and taxpayers?

By “best value” we mean which tender was the “most economically advantageous” to the Council as this was the criteria which were used to evaluate the tenders. The evaluation took into account price, technical, quality and legal proposals. John Laing Integrated Services Limited submitted the most economically advantageous tender for Croydon.

What was the point of running the joint procurement exercise when you have appointed different bidders?
By having officers from two councils assessing the bids jointly we not only brought a wealth of experience and quality assurance to the evaluation, but it also created economies in the process that saved money for each authority. For example, the total bill for external legal advice was roughly the same as it would have been for one borough, but under this procurement it was split between the two boroughs.

Whilst the procurement was run jointly it was made very clear that the councils might not award both contracts to one bidder.

Why was GLL acceptable to Wandsworth and yet you appointed JLIS?

Whilst the procurement was run jointly it was made very clear that the Councils might award the contracts to different bidders. Each tenderer was required to submit a separate bid for Croydon and Wandsworth. GLL’s bid was the most economically advantageous offer for Wandsworth. JLIS submitted the most economically advantageous offer for Croydon.

What were the differences between the bids for London Borough of Wandsworth and London Borough of Croydon?

Because of our legal obligations under the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 (as amended) to keep Bidderssolutions confidential and not to reveal the information to any other participant or to reveal the information generally, we cannot reveal the details of bids nor the major differences. However, we can say that GLL’s bid for Wandsworth’s libraries was compliant and offered the most economically advantageous bid for them in terms of the price and quality standards offered. In the case of Croydon’s libraries, it was the JLIS bid which was compliant, and was the most economically advantageous bid for us in terms of the price and quality standards offered.

Rumours in the local press and blog sites suggest that the cheapest bid for this contract was disqualified. What efforts did you make to ensure that the lowest price bid was acceptable?

Because of the duty we have to maintain commercial confidentiality (outlined above) we cannot discuss individual bids, but we can discuss the principles of the evaluation process. The evaluation took into account both price and quality aspects. At the final tender stage the price element of the bids carried the more substantial weight in the evaluation, making the price the more important part of the evaluation.

However the Council also wished to ensure that a quality service was to be delivered to residents. Whilst quality received a lower percentage weighting than price at the final tender stage, the officers set strict quality thresholds for tenders which, if they were not met, could give rise to the tender being rejected. The reason for this was that the officers had provided Bidder’s with detailed feedback on their initial proposals at length during the dialogue phase and entered into dialogue with the bidders around any issues arising. 
Therefore if these finalstage thresholds were not met it was felt that the bidder would not be able to meet the Council’s requirements.

Did all the bids received include the provision of professional librarians and sufficient local management oversight?

The tender documentation requires that the Contractor is to:

provide suitably qualified and experienced staff to deliver and develop the Services and to maintain or increase standards of delivery and quality.
provide sufficient management, professional and frontline operational staff to deliver and develop the services and to maintain or increase standards of delivery. Managerial and professional staff will have appropriate qualifications and experience.

Any bid which did not meet the minimum required standard under this evaluation criteria, for example by not providing qualified librarians or sufficient management capacity, could be given a score that could lead to the rejection of their bid and all bidders were aware of this.

Is it possible for a bidder who “finishes bottom” to be awarded a contact, as suggested in a local blog site?

No, the process ensures that the winning bidder is the one who offers the most economically advantageous bid for the Council in terms of set criteria including quality and price.

Was a bidder rejected because they are not qualified to run a library service, as suggested on the same site?

No. The first stage of the selection process tests bidders’ ability to run a library service and no bidder would have got through to this final stage if they were not qualified to run a library service. However, it is possible for a bidder to be disqualified at the final stage if they scored sufficiently poorly on one of the evaluation subcriterion.

Is Upper Norwood Joint Library part of the outsourcing (sic)

Upper Norwood Joint Library has never been part of the outsourcing of Croydon library services. The council’s approach to Upper Norwood Joint Library was agreed by cabinet in September. Officers are working hard on the implementation of the community management model for the library.

How will the council ensure that the quality library service currently received is maintained when the contract is let?

The winning bidder will be contractually obliged to provide the services to meet the Council’s requirements in accordance with the council’s specification and the way the bidder planned to meet the need through its proposed methodology.

Rigorous and robust monitoring is being put in place in place and there will be regular and frequent checks and visits made by the council to ensure that all standards continue to be met. We are very confident that the contractor will deliver an excellent service, but the council also has the ability to impose substantial
penalties if performance does not meet the required standards.

How much did this procurement exercise cost (sic)
The total cost to date is approximately £94,000, which includes external legal costs, staff costs and some actuarial fees. The largest element of cost was the external legal advice.

The legal costs would have been approximately double this if we had not conducted the procurement jointly with Wandsworth.

Why was this decision taken at Corporate Services Committee rather than going back to Cabinet?

Corporate Services Committee is the council committee which reviews all contracts valued at over £500k before making recommendations of award to the relevant Cabinet Member. Cabinet can also award contracts where necessary, but this is unusual. In either case, due to the issues of commercial confidentiality alluded to above, the discussion would take place in closed session. The decision to move to preferred bidder status can be called in to the Scrutiny committee for review and this meeting will take place on 5 December.

The decision to outsource library services in principle was taken in open session in September 2011, following an earlier review of the branch network, which was also discussed in Cabinet as well as being called in for review by the Scrutiny Committee.

What benefits for residents and library users will there be?

Details of the savings that are expected to be made will be formally confirmed in the next few weeks, however they look to be substantial, and we expect the cost of the procurement exercise to be recouped within the first few months of the new contract.

What we can continue to assure residents is that no branches will be lost, and the new contract also guarantees that the council will retain the freehold of all its library buildings. Current levels of service will be maintained and improved, with branches opening for the same number of hours as they do now.

There will be a complete refresh of ICT services for the library service, improved service for the public including the availability of WIFI (currently not available in branch libraries). There will be an increase in the book fund (money spent on buying books). There will be participation in new initiatives e.g. the National
Reading Offer.

The library service will continue to look for more opportunities to involve members of the community and create further links with the voluntary sector through friends groups, fundraising events and social and learning activities.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Croydon Libraries and Laing. Have your say..

Are you happy for John Laing Integrated Services to take over the running of all Croydon Libraries?

Respond to our poll on the right and please share your thoughts by posting...

Saturday, 9 February 2013

You what? #NLD13 So #Croydon

Despite wide national publicity of the event, Croydon have ignored Croydon residents' love and support for libraries by failing to mark National Libraries Day yet again. You'd have thought having been caught out last year by the Save Croydon Libraries Campaign and The Bookseller they would have upped their game and at least shown willing.

Alas, no.

Libraries? Loving them? You what? Nah!
Yet another Vicky Pollard moment.

We have actively resisted posting this info before the day as we know staff were pushed into a flurry of activity last year to cover up Croydon's complete lack of promotion of National Libraries Day in 2012 when Croydon were exposed by The Bookseller article. The pitiful displays throw together by already pressed staff were a sad reminder of Croydon's lack of care or support for our libraries.

For Croydon to repeat the total blanking of National Libraries Day in 2013 is clearly unforgivable and only highlights the authority's inability or unwillingness to celebrate our libraries.

This is the authority who takes funding from The Reading Agency, a staunch supporter of National Libraries Day, for the excellent Reading Activists project ( formerly MyVoiceUK) but Croydon have consistently failed to advertise the scheme. Today a small group of teens will attend an activity that the council consistently fails to advertise on its own website, including today's event on National Libraries Day.

This project could be reaching out and engaging with so many youth in a positive way.

The youth involved continue to try to promote the scheme but the council will not even support their efforts on social media. Other once thriving activities for youth have floundered also, run down from once heaving numbers with waiting lists to now regularly attracting only a handful or on several occasions no attendees.

Croydon really deserves better!

A sad reminder of  Croydon's hastily cobbled together displays to cover up last year.

Many suspect Croydon keeps so quiet about libraries to keep the attention off the deal being done to outsource them. Some transparency wouldn't go amiss. With local authorities across the country shouting about the value of libraries and what they have to offer today to celebrate National Libraries Day, Croydon is more interested in keeping a low profile.

That speaks volumes!