Sunday, 9 December 2012

Croydon Labour Challenges Choice of J. Laing to Run the Libraries

On Wednesday 5 December Labour challenged the decision by the Croydon Tories to award the Library contract to J. Laing.  They referred the matter to the Scrutiny & Strategic Oversight Committee. They argued that the decision:
·         was outside the Council’s Policy Framework
·         was inconsistent with the budget
·         did not demonstrate clear value for money, was not competitive in the final stage
·         did not take into account ‘significant financial conflict of interest (loans and contracts) between the Council and John Laing
·         did not clearly justify entering an 8 year contract with no break clauses
·         was not supported by public consultation, had not been proposed in the 2010 Council elections
·         ‘totally failed to demonstrate transparency
·         has not provided confidence to the public that the process is fair
·         did not specify that the London Living Wage will be paid.
Labour sought to re-run the competitive process, use the experience to make savings and retain staff and service in the house, launches a cross party library commission to consult residents, and any contract requires payment of the London Lying wage and that ‘transparency is but in to the operation of any contract’.  They also asked for more analysis and availability of background documents.
In a briefing note to Labour Scrutiny members Councillor Timothy Godfrey has pointed out that Laing ‘is almost £500,000 per year more expensive than Greenwich j Leisure’ which is £4 over 8 years. Given that no bidder scored more than 80% on each area of the contract ‘how does this impact on the contracted services?’ He also set out a number of questions inc:
·         At what point did Council officers stop negotiating with GLL on any areas of perceived weakness?
·         At what point of the tender process was it clear that GLL would not meet the tender evaluation?
·         What negotiations took place to see if these ‘weaknesses; could be overcome, given the £4 million difference (advantage) in tenser price>
·         Why did Wandsworth not have the same issues with GLL?
·         How were conflicts of interest handled between the Council and John Laing given their (existing) contractual relationship?
The Tories also referred the decision to the Committee. See my next blog on what this may mean in terms of the case for judicial review and the questions I asked the Committee.
My local Labour Councillor Maggie Mansell was able to observe the Committee but had had her opportunity speech publicly at the Council meeting on  3 December. This gives a much better feeling of the Labour anger at the process than came over at the Committee meeting.
‘Successful decision-making requires good information, expertise on the service and good process.
When this Council ignores information, rejects its own in-house expertise in favour of political friends, and then rejects their findings, thus corrupting the process they themselves set up, the question arises, - are they incompetent, or deliberately seeking to obfuscate the process in order to cover their private decision to give the libraries to John Laing?
So.  Let us look at the process.
Plan A was to close 6 libraries. 20,000 people said “No”, very loudly.
Plan B –privatise the lot. To report July 2012.
This Tory administration spurned the expertise in their own staff.
They out-sourced the out-sourcing, To their political friends at Wandsworth Council.
Now I would not support the politics of Wandsworth, But they are a competent council.
They set up a good process and evaluated the applicants.
But the Croydon Tories had already decided who they wanted and it had nothing to do with Library services, nothing to do with financial efficiency of the libraries, nothing to do with community involvement.
So when Wandsworth evaluated on agreed criteria that the number one choice was a not-for-profit organisation, Croydon Council rejected the number one choice.
But Number two was still not the answer they had first thought of.
They plan to contract with a property and construction company, WITH WHOM THEY ALREADY HAVE A RELATIONSHIP, but which has scant experience of library services, and no experience of public service.
Now if you out-source commissioning you lose control. If they do not have
the expertise they should hire the staff to define the service terms, success criteria and monitoring mechanism to commission and monitor the selection and delivery of the contract.
But no this Tory council does not believe in public service.
So what is so special about John Liang? The Council has a secret contract –the URV – to pay for the glass house next door with Croydon Council assets.  

This decision stinks.’



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