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Croydon libraries set to be handed over to private firm

Croydon Council is set to appoint a private company to take over the running of its library service.

According to reports in The Croydon Guardian, John Laing Integrated Services is in the lead to be awarded the contract which will see it take over the borough's 13 libraries in an eight-year contract.

The council have put the service out to tender as they look to save hundreds of thousands of pounds from their budget.

Croydon and Wandsworth councils teamed up to put their services out to tender, with Wandsworth councillors voting last week to accept the bid of Greenwich Leisure Limited.

The decision is due to be discussed tonight (22nd November), with the official announcement made in the next couple of weeks.

A council spokesman told the paper: "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 the library buildings currently in its ownership. Existing levels of service will not only be maintained, but, where possible, book stocks will be increased, facilities upgraded and opportunities will be sought to provide a wider range of public services from local libraries."

They added: "The library network will also continue to look for more opportunities to involve members of the community and create links with the voluntary sector through friends groups, fundraising events and social and learning activities."

But according to Inside Croydon, opposition Labour councillors are considering seeking a judicial review once the decision is made, in an attempt to delay any handover.

Tony Newman, leader of the opposition group at Croydon Council said that if Labour took power in the town hall they would reverse the decision: "The Labour council of 2014 will reverse this appalling privatisation programme and invest in libraries right across Croydon. Croydon Tories have no mandate to do this. The Tories have not listened to the public on this. Instead they are shamefully taking decisions in secret. No one asked that our cherished library service should be privatised, quite the contrary in fact."

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What a joke the assurances given are. Staff numbers in Croydon have been drastically reduced, with the role of 'librarian' now often undertaken by those with little if any experience or training. Book stock has been culled with bare shelves now on show all over the borough and IT equipment lies idle in many branches, with out of order signs in place for month on month. It will not be hard for anyone to offer improvements to this badly depleted service.

There was little discussion at last night's meeting. The chair of the meeting and the borough solicitor ensured that most questions were either not addressed or were only answered in the most general of terms. They would not even release the names of the short-listed or preferred bidder, even though these are in the public domain already.

Residents watched a circus last night where Labour councillors repeatedly referred to facts lifted directly from Wandsworth papers and reports but Croydon Conservatives repeatedly refused to comment, claiming the information was commercially sensitive. It was a farce. You really couldn't make it up!

The public were to be excluded from the main discussion and were asked to leave, along with the press. Four women in the public gallery stood their ground, silently, truly disgusted at the lack of transparency and accountability. The committee withdrew to another room to continue discussions behind closed doors as almost everything for discussion was deemed "commercially sensitive".

It appears the decision was taken last night to privatise Croydon Libraries. Although Croydon are coy to share it, the bet is it is Laings who got the contract.

What a joke the assurances given are. Staff numbers in Croydon have been drastically reduced, with the role of 'librarian' now often undertaken by those with little if any experience or training. Book stock has been culled with bare shelves now on show all over the borough and IT equipment lies idle in many branches, with out of order signs in place for month on month. It will not be hard for anyone to offer improvements to this badly depleted service.

There was little discussion at last night's meeting. The chair of the meeting and the borough solicitor ensured that most questions were either not addressed or were only answered in the most general of terms. They would not even release the names of the short-listed or preferred bidder, even though these are in the public domain already.

Residents watched a circus last night where Labour councillors repeatedly referred to facts lifted directly from Wandsworth papers and reports but Croydon Conservatives repeatedly refused to comment, claiming the information was commercially sensitive. It was a farce. You really couldn't make it up!

The public were to be excluded from the main discussion and were asked to leave, along with the press. Four women in the public gallery stood their ground, silently, truly disgusted at the lack of transparency and accountability. The committee withdrew to another room to continue discussions behind closed doors as almost everything for discussion was deemed "commercially sensitive".

It appears the decision was taken last night to privatise Croydon Libraries. Although Croydon are coy to share it, the bet is it is Laings who got the contract.