Thursday, 31 October 2013

Croydon District Auditor Accepts Council Handling of Library Tendering Process

'Following my enquiries of Council officers and review of relevant information and documentation, I am not aware of any evidence that the tender process was incorrectly or inappropriately handled, or that it resulted in the unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer's money. I do not, therefore, propose to take any further action in respect of this matter under the Audit Commission Act 1998.'

This is the conclusion of Paul Grady of Grant Thornton UK LLP, which is the appointed district auditor for Croydon Council, after I wrote requesting him to review the matter.   The details of his enquiries and his conclusions have been notified to me by letter (31 October 2013), as set out below. I know that many readers will find this disappointing, but at least the officers have had to justify what happened to auditor. Hopefully it will reinforce to them and Councillors the importance of handling future tender processes correctly. And perhaps they will now adopt more open and transparent information on tenders, because if they do not they will leave themselves to have referrals to the District Auditor of every future tender.  

Dear Mr Creighton

Croydon Council - Library Services contract with John Laing Integrated Services

I write in response to your previous correspondence, dating back to 18 August 2013, in respect of the London Borough of Croydon (the Council) and its Library Services contract with John Laing Integrated Services. I would like to thank you for your patience whilst I investigated the matter comprehensively before replying to you.

I have completed my enquiries into the matters that you raised. On the basis of the information I have been provided in response to my enquiries, in my view the actions taken by the Council are not unreasonable and I am not aware of any evidence of fraud, impropriety or irregularity in the proceedings. I set out below in more detail my responses to the points that you raised in your correspondence.

Bidding process

The Council's tender exercise was a joint one with Wandsworth Council. This did not mean, however, that both Croydon and Wandsworth had to choose the same bidder following the tender, as both retained autonomy to choose their own preferred bidder and each council was awarding a separate contract. Each council was also free to choose their own contract qualification criteria, appropriate to their own needs. It was made clear to all bidders throughout the procurement that the two councils intended to award separate contracts and therefore bidders bid for each Council separately. It was only the procurement exercise that was joint – the contract award, and qualification criteria, were individual to each Council.

Croydon Council received three bids, from Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS) and South London Libraries and Cultural Services (SLLCS).

Wandsworth Council chose GLL following the tender process. You were concerned, in your correspondence, that Croydon Council chose JLIS despite GLL having a lower bid price than JLIS. I have reviewed the relevant papers, including Part B Committee papers, and held discussions with senior management at the Council on this matter. I am informed that the Council rejected GLL as GLL's bid did not meet the minimum quality criterion set by the Council. It is probable that this was a factor in the bid being cheaper than the bid from JLIS. In the second round of bidding, the bid from GLL increased in price substantially, which enabled it to meet the quality criterion.

In your correspondence to me you were concerned that the Council treated most of the detailed information behind closed doors on the grounds of „commercial confidentiality‟. You also indicated to me that Wandsworth Council published more information about the tenders than did Croydon Council. As I am not the external auditor for Wandsworth Council, I am not privy to their internal processes or decision making, nor any other facts or salient information that may explain the reasons behind their decisions over how much of the tender information to make public. Croydon Council and Wandsworth Council are separate legal entities and Croydon Council is under no obligation to follow the approach Wandsworth has taken with regard the transparency of information received as part of the bidding process, nor is there any requirement incumbent upon them to justify why their approach may differ from another Council. I have, however, enquired further as to the reasons behind Croydon Council's approach. Officers informed me that it took the decision to handle the information it received with such commercial confidentiality following legal advice. It is not unusual in procurement exercises, where commercial data and information is discussed, for it to be treated in this way. I have seen no evidence that suggests the reasons for the discussions being held privately were for any reasons other than commercial confidentiality.

In your correspondence, you note that having submitted its bid and been declared the preferred bidder, JLIS told the Council that it had concerns about the affordability of the pension package it would take over. During this stage the JLIS position did indeed change in relation to pensions risk allocation and, in accordance with the Original Invitation to Submit Final Tenders (“ISFT”) the Council subsequently withdrew preferred bidder status on 19th February 2013 to re-commence the detailed dialogue phase. The Council invited the three bidders that had previously submitted Final Tenders to re-commence the detailed dialogue phase of the competitive dialogue process with the intention to submit further Final Tenders.

Officers have informed me that this was was considered the fairest and most transparent course of action following the JLIS change of position, given there was no alternative second bidder. Of the other bids initially submitted, as noted above, GLL was not compliant with the quality standards set out in the tender specification and SLLCS had exceeded the affordability envelope.

Two of the Bidders (GLL and JLIS) submitted new bids following the Council's recommencement of the detailed dialogue phase. SLLCS did not. Both GLL and JLIS were afforded the same opportunity to revise their bids following, and being aware of, the outcome of the first bidding process. GLL took the opportunity to revise its bid both on quality, which it revised sufficiently to enable it to meet the required standard, and on price. The Council is of the view that the price increased to reflect the additional costs of meeting the required quality standards that were omitted from the original bid. In my view, this is not an unreasonable assessment.

You noted in your correspondence that JLIS' revised bid appears to have come in cheaper than GLL's, but the figures have been treated as commercially confidential. The Council has informed me that it again took the decision following legal advice to keep the commercially sensitive figures under Part B. Having reviewed the part B papers, I can confirm that under the tendering exercise JLIS was the preferred bidder. It submitted the highest scored tender, winning on both quality and price.


In your correspondence you then raised four points about which you stated that, as a taxpayer, you were 'none the wiser'. I take each of these points in turn.

Whether the Council ran the tender process with no undue preference to Laing, especially given the Council’s CCURV partnership with other parts of the Laing group

From the information I have been provided and discussions held with officers of the Council, I am not aware of any evidence of undue preference being afforded to JLIS' bid. The tendering process followed the Council's previously agreed defined tender protocols and the Council received independent legal advice from a specialist local government solicitor in relation to the procurement process throughout the project. The Council also scrutinised its own decision making on the outsourcing at each stage of the process. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) called in the papers and reviewed the process and outcomes in the OSC on 5 December 2012 following the Corporate Services Committee meeting on 21 November 2012 where the initial outsourcing plans were decided. The OSC also called in the papers and reviewed the process and outcomes on 11 June 2013 following the re-award of the contract on 23 May 2013.

It is also worth noting that the London Boroughs of Ealing and Harrow have recently signed a five year contract with JLIS to deliver its library services.

The cost to the Council of the final contract sum compared with the original lower bid from GLL

As noted above, the original bid from GLL was not quality compliant and therefore cannot be considered to be a compliant bid price. Comparing the cost of the final contract sum to the bid price from a non-compliant tender, which did not meet specified quality standards, would not provide an accurate price comparison or analysis of value for money. Again, as noted above, the second bid which GLL submitted was quality compliant, but was priced considerably higher per annum than their first, non-compliant, bid.

Whether the Council should have allowed Laing to re-bid given the pension information is believed to have been part of the original information provided to all potential tenderers and they should have addressed the problem in their initial bid or not put in that bid

At the point JLIS withdrew from the first bid there was no alternative bidder. GLL's original bid was non-compliant on the grounds of quality and CLLCS was outside of the affordability envelope. Rather than go back to the very beginning of a brand new tender process – which would have been more costly than the approach taken – the Council decided to return to the detailed dialogue phase and invite all three bidders to bid again. This decision was taken following procurement specialist legal advice. It was also considered fairer to allow all three bidders an equal chance to re-bid, rather than exclude any one of the bidders for any specific reason for the second bid phase. In my view, this was not an unreasonable position for the Council to take, as it allowed all three original bidders the same, equal opportunity to bid a second time, after each of them had, for one reason or another, left the initial process.

Whether the re-opening of the bid and the costs of processing, given it had a cheaper bid from GLL, constitutes a waste of ratepayers money

As noted above, GLL‟s initial bid was not compliant with the quality standards and therefore cannot be considered a compliant bid.

Furthermore, the Council has calculated that that it will make additional savings, which will pay back the „lost‟ savings caused by the six month delay to the process of outsourcing and any costs involved in the rebidding stage, by the end of the first year of the contract. This is because the withdrawal by JLIS provided even greater savings to the Council: JLIS' second bid was considerably lower in price than their first bid.


Following my enquiries of Council officers and review of relevant information and documentation, I am not aware of any evidence that the tender process was incorrectly or inappropriately handled, or that it resulted in the unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer's money. I do not, therefore, propose to take any further action in respect of this matter under the Audit Commission Act 1998.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for you taking the time to write to me and raise your concerns with me. Should you feel there are any further matters that should be brought to my attention, please do not hesitate to write to me.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Croydon Issues Update

Black History, Culture, Gentrification, Housing, Riesco, Street Lighting

Croydon’s Black History

With the start of Black History Month (BHM) on 1 October Croydon Citizen has published a posting by me on Reflections on Croydon’s Black History.

I will be interviewed about BHM on Janet Smith’s Culture Show on Croydon Radio on Sunday 6 October which starts at 2pm.    

Inside Croydon has chosen to highlight a Croydon BHM event on 29 October about the history of Caribbean enterprise.

Culture Debate

The Croydon Arts Debate takes place on 10 October. This event has been organised by the South Croydon Community Association as a follow-up to its initiative on the future of the Fairfield Halls and on the need for a community arts strategy. I have written about the importance of the Debate on Croydon Citizen:

Gentrification or Community Regeneration

The debate about what the future of Croydon should be continues in various postings on Croydon Citizen. The latest is one by Gavin Barwell, MP’s assistant Mario Creatura: ‘The gentrification of Croydon and why we’re all to blame’ (   His analysis is   challenged by one of those posting comments Louis Akindele, which has promoted me to post:  

‘Louis Akindele has hit the nail on the head. Gentrification is a process where by the less well off are forced out of areas by the better-off. The regeneration policies being pursued will certainly speed up the gentrification processes. You only have to look to Wandsworth to see the effects of gentrification over time, and how those on low incomes and with higher social need have either been forced to leave the Borough, or been highly concentrated onto the Council estates. Community regeneration approaches seek to ensure that the less well-off benefit and are driven away to cheaper areas. That does not mean you cannot have many of the so-called advantages of gentrification. Culture can be a tool in community regeneration. If we are to have a socially, as well as ethnically, diverse Croydon we need policies that concentrate on improving the socially and economically disadvantaged areas. This will include the need for a level of controls over the private rented sector whose short-term lettings create rapid turnover of residents, meaning there are not enough people putting down roots and helping to develop their neighbourhood community.   The Council should focus on looking for developers who are not just in it for the maximum profit, but   understand community regeneration needs and want to help meet them. It will need to ensure that rental values on retail are not pushed up beyond the ability of local shopkeepers to pay. The new Cabinet housing plan adopted on 30 September does not understand the contradictions involved in regeneration between gentrification and community. It is therefore in danger of helping to speed up the former at the expense of the latter.’

Meeting Housing Needs

Croydon Council is reported to be in trouble over its treatment of homeless families –

Croydon has a high incidence of homelessness, a large unstable private rented sector, a lack of affordable housing. To be fair to the Tories they have been trying to grapple with these problems. Earlier in the year I attempted dialogue through the Scrutiny Committee process but as I was ignored I submitted several Freedom of Information requests. I posted the answers on earlier postings on this bog site so that more people in Croydon have access to the detail.

The Council Cabinet has now approved (30 September) a five year housing delivery plan based on the following principles:
- optimising the development of new homes;
- bringing empty homes back into use;
- creating pathways to home ownership;
- developing a quality private rented sector;
- supporting the development of affordable housing;
- ensuring the Council’s planning framework and policies continue to facilitate positive residential growth;
- developing a strong sense of place and high quality neighbourhoods.

The Cabinet paper states that the plan’s’ ambitious housing growth targets will only be achieved through the   combined efforts of all housing development and delivery partners across sectors.’ The Council proposed to set up a Croydon Housing Congress to meet about three times   year bringing ‘together of all these partners including funders, developers, landowners, registered providers, community housing   organisations, agents, architects, consultants and builders, with the Council.’

It proposes to develop a Croydon Council Housing Investment Fund ‘in the form of a revolving   fund, possibly in partnership with other bodies. The Council will use its’ borrowing powers, income base, assets and the strength of the local authority’s covenant, to help provide necessary financing for investment in stalled sites where viability cannot otherwise be achieved, in return for repayment contributions over time.’

It plans to encourage more conversion of redundant office blocks into residential, like the current
St. George’s House (288 homes); Quest House (73 ‘affordable homes’); and St. Anne’s House. The Council thinks that there ‘is potential for such schemes to produce more than 900 apartments within the metropolitan centre and over 150 in the district centres.’ An Immediate   action is therefore to identify and appraise priority office conversions schemes.

It also envisages unlocking stalled sites in the 9 District Centres and London Road, ‘to deliver significant regeneration benefits potentially including: more than 800 new homes; new supermarkets and a variety of other retail units; new leisure facilities; improved streetscapes.’

Over 150 empty properties have already been brought back into use in 2012/13. The Council estimates that  '285 homes in the borough have been empty for more than twelve months and the Council is working innovatively with different partners, including private landlords, registered providers and Community Interest Companies, to   bring these back into use.’

‘107 sites have been identified to provide some level of affordable housing. The Council will continue to develop its new build programme and work with the GLA, registered providers and private developers to maximize affordable provision, including within the metropolitan centre.’

Unfortunately the Council sees the ‘private   rented sector as representing a major opportunity for housing   growth.’ It aims ‘to create a high quality sector providing an attractive tenure across the borough delivering new homes suitable for a range of incomes; balancing investors’ ability to take revenue and a share in capital return with maintaining affordability. Croydon’s current relatively low cost position, coupled with its potential for very strong growth, makes it uniquely attractive to this sector across the whole of London.’

The Riesco Collection Sale

Rather than wait to be expelled from the Museums Association the Council has decided to resign. Full details at

Street Lighting

I am delighted to be able to report that the Council and Skanska   agreed to re-site two street lamps from front garden boundaries to near the kerb in Oakhill Rd. This follows a long string of emails leading to a meeting of three residents and Maggie Mansell, one of the local Councillors, and further emailing to clarify the exact nature of what was agreed.   This finally resulted in another meeting in the street to resolve outstanding concerns. These discussions involved John Algar of the Council and Paul Burnham of Skanska.

What the exercise has shown is that there is room for flexibility on siting new street lighting columns. Our concerns was mainly about light intrusion into front bedrooms from the new columns being sited on front garden boundaries.

A number of wider issues have emerged from the discussions that potentially relate to every other street waiting to have new lighting columns installed.

The markings for siting new columns may not be accurate. So for example the re-siting in Oakhill Rd were not 0.45m from the kerb edge as they should have been, but further into the pavement including over a utility trench. Skanksa needs to ensure that its markings are accurate to avoid misunderstandings by residents about siting.

The notice delivered to residents needs to be clearer about what is involved, the measurements for placing columns, and making it clear that residents with concerns should contact the Council to see whether there is any room for flexibility.

The particular characteristics of a street are not necessarily fully understood by the specialist company that does the survey and drawings for Skanska. For example for Oakhill the traffic flow and parking problems in relation to Skanksa’s vehicle during the installation process had been were underestimated.

There needs to be improved co-ordination on works between the street lighting team and the street repairs team. Two parts of small pavement repair work undertaken a few weeks earlier in Oakhill   had   to be dug up into order to install the new columns. It would be better if those repairs could be timetabled to be completed after the columns have been installed, and the old columns taken out.

The next meeting of the Street Lighting Joint Committee is being held on Wednesday 16 October at 5.30pm at the Town Hall. To see the agenda when it is posted up go to

Additional Black History Month Events

To 13 December. Mondays to Friday. 1pm to 5pm. Black Bloomsbury Exhibition
This exhibition charts the black presence in an area better known for its literary history, revealing the role played by black artists and models in the changing artistic, social, and political scenes of the interwar period and beyond. Little known is that Gandhi, the Jamaican activist and writer C. L. R. James, Jamaican feminist Una Marson, and Indian activist Mulk Raj Anand all had connections to Bloomsbury. The exhibition focuses on the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL to uncover the forgotten histories of artists and models by featuring the student work of Ivy Mackusick, Ann Tooth, Leia Leigh and JHM Innes. Curated by Caz Bressey and Gemma Romaine of the Equiano Centre.

To Sunday 9 February 2014. 10am-17.45.  Afro Supa Hero
A snapshot of a childhood and journey to adulthood, shown through a personal collection of pop cultural heroes and heroines of the African diaspora. Jon Daniel’s action figures, comic books and games offer an insight into the experience of a boy of African Caribbean heritage growing up in 1960s and 1970s Britain, in search of his identity. Born in East Sheen in southwest London and as the child of Caribbean parents, Jon Daniel found his positive black role models in the West Indian culture of his family and the African-American culture of the US. In his late twenties, Jon began collecting primarily 1970s action figures, feeling that they most strongly embodied the era of his childhood. In the display Meteor Man, Mr T and Lieutenant Uhura stand alongside real-life icons Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Also on show are games, and comics including Black Lightning, The Falcon and Lobo, one of a two-issue series featuring the first leading African American character in the genre.

Tuesday 8 October. 2pm. Researching untold histories
Kathy Chater will discuss the history of Black people in England and Wales during the period of the British slave trade, c. 1660-1807 and the use of original documents in her wider writing. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9.

Wednesday 9 October. 5.30-7.30pm. Filming the history of the Jamaican Maroons
Harcourt Fuller, the Education Outreach Director for the award-winning documentary Akwantu: The Journey will screen extracts from the film, discussing its making and the complex history, contemporary legacies and challenges of Jamaica's maroon communities. Institute of the Americas, 51 Gordon Square, London, WC1.  

Thursday 10 October. 2-3pm. Ignorant negroes/tyrannical masters: William Hardin Burnley and Caribbean slavery
William Hardin Burnley, the biggest slave owner in Trinidad, did everything in his power to prevent the emancipation of Africans in the colony. When slavery ended, he was convinced that only Africans who had tyrannical masters would benefit from emancipation. This lecture by Selwyn R. Cudjoe examines Burnley's participation in slavery, his attempts to prevent Africans from being emancipated, his subterfuge to keep them enslaved under another guise called apprenticeship and his energetic efforts to recruit workers from outside of Trinidad to undercut the gains that former slaves had made in the post-apprenticeship period. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9.  

Thursday 10 October. 6.15pm. Africans in Britain
Talk by Hakim Adi. Ealing Central Library, Ealing Broadway Centre, London, W5.  Tel: 020 8825 9278.

Thursday 10 October. 6.30pm. Robert Wedderburn (1762-1835): Scottish-Jamaican radical preacher and revolutionary  
Michael Morris (Dept. English, Glasgow Univ) will chair a discussion of the Glasgow University Caribbean History Discussion Group. African Caribbean Centre, 66 Osborne Street, Merchant City, Glasgow, G1.

Monday 14 October. 5pm. The Image & Reality of Black Africans in Renaissance England
Talk by Miranda Kaufmann and Michael Ohajuru. London South Bank University, 103 Borough Rd, London, SE1. 
- Dr. Robin Whitburn and Abdullahi Mohamud discussing their ongoing work and new book on teaching Black history in schools Doing History Justice
- Tony Warner, Director of Black History Walks
- Patricia Lamour, Equality and education specialist and Co-Founder of GEEDA (Gender Education and Education Development for Africa)
- Kandace Chimbiri, author of Black History books for children
- Lela Kogbara Assistant Chief Executive at Islington Council (Strategy & Community Partnerships)
- Martin Spafford, Head of History at George Mitchell School in Waltham Forest, Fellow of the Schools History Project and member of panel that wrote the KS3 History Curriculum that Michael Gove is about to remove.

Wednesday 16 October. 7pm. Africans in Britain - A Hidden History? 

Talk by Hakim Adi. Mitre Lecture Theatre, Bishop Otter Campus, Univ. Chichester, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6PE.

Monday 21 October. 7pm. John Blanke’s world: the image and reality of Black Africans in Renaissance England
Miranda Kaufman and Michael Ohajuru explore the world of John Blanke, Hnery VIII’s black trumpeter. They discuss how Black Africans were portrayed in the art of the period and the contrasting realities of life for over 350 Africans in Renaissance England. National Trust,  Sutton House, 2 and 4 Homerton High Street, Hackney, E9.

Tuesday 29 October. 7pm. History of Caribbean Enterprise
Presentation by Dr Christopher Johnson, and talk by Patrick Reid on the 21-year history of his Croydon-based social enterprise PJ Community Services and the impact it has had on society. Parchmore Place, 1-6 The Mews, 92a Parchmore Road, Thornton Heath, CR7. The event is free, but you do need to book in advance by emailing Claudine Reid or calling her on 020 8239 6911.  Read more about the Reids and PJCS at

Tuesday 29 October. 5.15pm. The Advent of Blackness: the Caribbean and the birth of racial modernity
The annual Walter Rodney lecture by Silvio Torres-Saillant of Syracuse University, whohas written widely on Caribbean literature and thought. RO. 03/4, Ramphal Building, Library Road, University of Warwick, Coventry.   

Thursday 31 October. 7pm. Public Launch Pan-Africanism and Communism - The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939 by Hakim Adi.
School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London, WC1.
Book details available at Its £28.99 but for one night only will be £20 at the launch.

Friday, 1 November. 2pm. Conference: Black History’s future - bringing diversity to education and celebration
Closing event for Islington Black History Month. How do we reach a place where people’s histories are not marginalised, so there will be no need for Black History Month, or other special events that seek to promote equality? What is the future of the role of equality events such as Black History Month? and how do we ensure that diversity is integrated in mainstream education and celebrations all year round? This conference seeks to bring together experts, educators, statutory representatives and the wider community to move forward and ensure that mainstream education and celebrations are fairly representative of the diverse communities that contribute to our history and the society. Followed by networking and refreshments. Speakers and panellists include: 

Voluntary Action  Islington. Booking is essential - register your place here: For further information, visit  or e-mail

Friday 8 November. 2.30pm. Africans in Urban Britain, 1500-1640
Talk by Miranda Kaufmann. University of Leicester, Centre for Urban History, Marc Fitch House, 3-5 Salisbury Road, Leicester, LE1.