In Part I discussed the problem that we cannot rely on Croydon Councillors to respond quickly to questions, using the issue of the governance of Fairfield Halls as the example. This Part is about the same problem with Councillors and a Council contractor, namely Carillion which manages the Library Service.
On 24 March I discussed in a posting on Croydon Citizen (http://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics-society/next-croydon-libraries) what appeared to be the gradual improvements to the Croydon Library Service following a meeting I attended between representatives of Carillion and Norbury Residents Associations. At that meeting I handed the former a list of questions – see below.
Is it Carillion or CCS?
Labour’s Tim Godfrey took issue with my statement that CCS was running the contract, and asked me for proof that this was the case. I have been in lengthy email exchange with him. As the evidence I provided did not satisfy him I emailed him and Councillor Tim Pollard, the Cabinet member responsible for the Library Service (30 March), asking them to jointly find out whether or not Carillion operates the library contract through its not-for-profit subsidiary CCS and issue a joint public statement on the matter.
By 8 April I had not had a reply and so I did a reminder email. It is now 11 April and not even a holding reply from either of them. No doubt they will explain that this is due to their being busy in the local election campaign. But the management of libraries is an election issue and therefore clarity about the facts is important.
It is to be hoped that the new Council after 22 May will tighten up the rules on Councillors and contractors to require a speedier response to residents letters and emails, and thereby improve accountability.
Request to Carillion
On 24 March I had emailed the Carillion staff who had attended the Norbury meeting drawing their attention to the Croydon Citizen piece, reminding them that I looked forward to receiving their reply to the list of questions I had handed them at the meeting. I also drew their attention to the fact that a decision had been taken not to purchase an important new book on British anti-racism: Caroline Bressey. Empire, Race and Politics of Anti-Caste (Bloomsbury Press. December 2013). I have not had a reply despite a reminder sent on 2 April. On 26 March I asked them to provide me documentation showing that CCS was managing the library service for Carillion. I still have not had a response.
Contrast with GLL in Wandsworth
This lack of engagement contrasts sharpely with my experience of dealing with Wandsworth’s library manager GLL, which lost out for the Croydon bid to JLIS. I received a full response to concerns I raised with GLL’s Head of Libraries Diana Edmonds. This is posted on my blog site at http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/how-has-gll-been-performing-in-managing.html.
Putney Society and the Friends of Putney Library have now organised a public meeting for 27 May which she will address on the matters covered by her reply to me and further developments in the pipeline. The meeting also hopes to discuss the apparent threat to the library in Roehampton as a result of a Council backed regeneration scheme. If closure goes ahead it will clearly be taken out of the contract with GLL. The Putney meeting takes place during the Wandsworth Heritage Festival (24 May to 8 June) which is co-ordinated by GLL as part of its responsibility for managing the Heritage Service. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend the meeting as it unavoidably clashes with one of my talks in the Festival.
The Questions Carillion has not yet answered
1. What is the catchment population for this Library by age group?
2. How many people are registered as users of this Library by age group?
3. What is the weekly use of the library in relation to:
(a) Borrowing books etc from the adult and children’s sections
(b) Using the computers
(c) Other uses?
4. How many staff are there who are
(a) Full qualified as librarians
(b) Training to be fully qualified librarians
(c) Not qualified or undergoing training
5. What functions do the staff who are no qualified or undergoing training undertake?
6. How many staff were TUPEd across and how many are not employed here?
7. Do you intend to maintain the current staffing level and the ratio between qualified, those undergoing training and the other staff?
8. What plans have you go to re-stock this library given the paucity of books on the shelves?
9. Which local schools use this library on a regular basis?
10. Which local schools do not use this library?
11. When will you make available for use the upper floor even though it has no lift?
12. What events do you plan to organise in this Library this year?
13. If individuals or organisations want to hold an evening event in this library in the evening is it available for letting?
14. What is the letting costs for this Library for
(b) evening events?
15. Do you plan to change the opening hours this year?
16. If so to what?
17. Is there an email system which enables staff to let registered users know about events and new books and services at this Library?
18. Do you intend to try and use volunteers?
19. If yes what tasks do you envisage volunteers will undertake?
20. If you recruit volunteers will you guarantee that their use will not be to justify staffing reductions?
21. Do you intend to encourage the formation of a Friends of Norbury Library group?
22. What do you see as the role of a Friends group?
23. How often would you meet the Friends group to discuss issues and improvements to service?
24. Would you support making representations to TfL to place bus stops by the Library on both sides of the road in order to make it easier for people to come here?