ANY REDUNDANCY costs for Upper Norwood Joint Library could fall on the community trust – or other organisation – which takes over the library.
Croydon council moved the goalposts at last Friday’s meeting of its scrutiny and overview committee which was considering the ‘call in’ by Labour councillors of its cabinet committee’s controversial decision to give the library just £75,000 next year.
A report to the the council’s cabinet committee meeting of September 17th where the decision to give Upper Norwood just £75,000 was taken had admitted that “The cost of redundancies for the full staff group would be in the region of £100,000 plus and in this circumstance, it is unlikely that support to share the cost would be given by Lambeth” – the implication being that Croydon would have to pick up any redundancy tab.
At Friday’s meeting Cllr Carole Bonner (Lab. Fieldway) asked if any consultations had taken place with staff – and what the expected redundancy costs would be if that situation arose.
Cllr Tim Pollard, lead councillor on the library issue, responding, said “It would be premature to talk to Lambeth about redundancies at this point in time, not knowing what the final structure would be.”
A woman officer then said they had to wait for the decision of that night’s meeting. The process that has to take place with ‘not for profit’ funding meant they had to go to the community and ask for an expression of interest, she said.
“That has to be done in company with Lambeth council. “Until then we won’t know who the transfer will be to. “There’s a very formal process – strict procedures that need to be followed” added the officer who also said staff were being informed of developments. “I sent a briefing note to staff this week” she added.
Cllr Bonner: “I don’t think my question’s been answered.”
Declaring her lay membership of an employment tribunal, Cllr Bonner added: “The responsibility lies with Croydon as the employer. “I can’t imagine Lambeth will be willing to contribute towards that given the disparity in these costs.” (A reference to Lambeth giving £170,000 to the library next year compared to Croydon’s £75,000).
Committee vice chairman Cllr Sean Fitzsimons (Lab Addiscombe) asked if this would come out of the £245,000 which Lambeth and Croydon were giving. Cllr Pollard (Con. Sanderstead) said this was something they had to sit down and discuss with Lambeth.
Cllr Bonner said: “It would be the community trust’s job to make redundancies.” An officer responded: “Cllr Pollard has illustrated the principle we’d want to work with – to consider that we could achieve that principle.”
Later in the meeting committee chairman Cllr Steve Hollands (Con. Kenley) said library staff needed to understand where this process was going in a very short timetable. Responding, Cllr Bonner said: “It needs to be realistic and you mustn’t forget your legal obligations on consulting staff are onerous.
“Before you start consulting over the proposed transfer you need to have a body to transfer to. “The timetable is challenging given where we are. “I’d be thinking about being careful before taking on any responsibility.”
Cllr Hollands: “My understanding is there will be something in a cabinet paper that’s being put together.”
Paul Greenhalgh, lead officer on the issue, then intervened. “We want to establish some kind of framework but don’t want to do anything that would jeopardise the effective running of the library by a community trust” he said.
“The wording of the cabinet paper gives that responsibility to the lead member and myself to achieve that deadline if we can and, if we can’t, to achieve that as soon as we possibly can thereafter.” (Voice from the public gallery: “It’s constructive dismissal.”)
Deputy committee chairman Cllr Jason Cummings (Con. Heathfield), asking if the timetable allowed time for consultation, was told by an officer: “Our time plan does allow for consultation to take place. “It’s a challenging time scale and we have to be mindful of that.”
Earlier in the meeting Cllr Timothy Godfrey, as invited opposition spokesman for culture, said that to draw up community trust proposals a proper timeframe was needed which made the community trust work and work with the existing staff and plan what type of service was needed.
Robbie Gibson, for the Upper Norwood Library Campaign, told the meeting there was a fear library resources would be “cannibalised” to pay for redundancies. “If we have a budget and a business plan to get this library thriving we have to get this on certainties.”
He quoted advice given to the UNLC by a chartered surveyor: “Speaking personally, I should be most reluctant to become a trustee/ director of the proposed not for profit organisation since it would appear to be based on a misanalysis of the costs involved suggesting that it should receive a completely inadequate level of funding and is so doomed to failure.”
OWNERSHIP: Cllr Terry Lenton (Con. Coulsdon East) asked who would own the library building and what responsibility would “new management” have for maintenance of the building.
Cllr Pollard: “What’s decided has to be decided in conjunction with Lambeth. “The sensible way would be for the councils to retain the freehold and for the community trust to run it on full repairing and insuring but on a peppercorn basis” he said.
(Copyright Jerry Green 2012. No part of this article to be used without the written permission of the author.)
(Please note: The following comments were all either made at the scrutiny committee meeting, or appeared in written submissions made by the Upper Norwood Library Campaign (UNLC) or Crystal Palace Community Association (CPCA) to the committee.
For the benefit of newcomers to this, some of the comments in the submissions below give a background to long-standing issues, especially Croydon’s continued comparison of Upper Norwood library with its branch libraries.
There has long been a strong suspicion among Upper Norwood library supporters that these figures have been dressed up by officers to cover their backsides and conceal real figures (from both Conservative and Labour administrations) as this could leave those officers jobs at risk – a bit like turkeys voting for Christmas……
“It says something about the loyalty of the existing staff. “They have been victims of a level of uncertainty and political shenanigans that’s totally unacceptable – and it’s only the support of the community that’s kept them going.” – Robbie Gibson, UNLC
“The breaking of the long-standing joint library agreement, without referral to arbitration, was justified by the leader of Croydon council as ‘strong leadership’. “In attempting to justify their actions, Croydon have erased the UNJL from their written constitution.” – John Payne, CPCA
“How has a dispute about governance, been transformed into yet another attack by Croydon council on the joint library and its funding and staff?” – CPCA submission.
“Croydon has failed to mention the demonstrable cost-effectiveness of the UNJLA, claiming in their cabinet report that the joint library is ‘more expensive than a Croydon branch library’.” – CPCA submission.
“The report to September’s Croydon council cabinet meeting provided a table of 2011-12 direct running costs, suggesting that UNJL has enjoyed a far more generous funding allocation, or is vastly less efficient than Selsdon, Thornton Heath or Bradmore Green (Coulsdon) libraries.
“The report shows the full funding allocation to UNJL, but omits the full costs of providing the Croydon integrated library services across the rest of the borough. Thus, it does not compare like with like.” – UNLC submission.
“Croydon branch libraries have the benefit of many centrally procured services which do not appear in their individual budget allocations.
“UNJL has to procure all its own services, so the budget allocation needs to fund each and every cost of providing the library service, and not just the front-of-house services applied to Croydon branch library budgets.” – UNLC submission.
“In 2010/2011, Croydon’s library service spent over £3.3 million on centrally provided services such as customer focus (which includes IT – £1,385,526); customer services (the call centre – £224,537) and human resources (includes recruitment and training – £111,577).
“Although these costs were not applied to its branch libraries, these funds were spent on supporting Croydon’s library service as a whole.
“If divided amongst Croydon’s thirteen branch libraries, this would equate to £255,986 per branch” – UNLC submission.
“Croydon’s offer of £75,000 assumes that UNJL will have a zero budget for the services on which Croydon spends an average of nearly £256,000 per branch” – UNLC submission..
“The dispute over governance has been used as a pretext to resurrect Croydon’s ruling party’s long-running obsession with undermining the stability, functionality and financing of the UNJL, with similar ill-informed attacks made in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2007 and 2010.
“Pre-occupation with making invalid and fundamentally flawed cost comparisons surface repeatedly, presumably as a means of advancing an agenda of control, cuts, takeover or closure.” – CPCA submission.
“Croydon have persistently attempted to undermine the independent status and governance arrangements of the joint library down the years. “The events of 2010-12 are just the latest in a long line of incidents.
“It is not the independent management arrangements that have been a problem but rather Croydon’s total lack of commitment to them and to the people that they have served so well for more than 11 decades.” – CPCA submission.
“Why does Croydon council persistently seek to misrepresent the true value for money and proportionate cost effectiveness of the stand-alone UNJLA, by deploying false comparisons with system integrated and centrally supported branch libraries, which exclude around 40 to 50 per cent (comprising libraries division and corporate overheads) of the cost of the latter, but include all of the pro-rata costs of the former?
“This is a fundamentally flawed and invalid comparison; skewed to justify disproportionate revenue and staffing reductions at the joint library.” – CPCA submission
“The library does not form part of an integrated library network and does not have, or need, access to the costly support overheads (including borough-wide staff and specialists and relief provision) of a libraries department or division.” – CPCA submission.
“Croydon’s imposed and unilateral annexation of the UNJL (and of its staff) has demoralised the people whose commitment, morale and motivation will be critical to the future success of the new ‘not for profit’ management body, which is being supported by both Croydon and Lambeth.
“It is time for Croydon to desist from their inappropriate ‘control agenda’ which is not seen as beneficial to UNJL staff, service users, or Lambeth council residents.” – CPCA submission.
“Croydon council issued two press releases in July 2010 and January 2011. “The first stated that branch libraries in Croydon cost £300,000 each to run. “The second that they supposedly cost only £100,000 – a fall of two thirds in six months!.” – CPCA submission.
“Support for the council’s decision to outsource its borough library service was claimed to be prominent in the findings of a consultation on possible library closures in 2010/11.
“A subsequent Freedom of Information request discovered that only one out of the thousands of respondents had even mentioned the word outsourcing (and this within the context of a different council service).” – CPCA submission.
“Lambeth council contend that the joint committee has not been dissolved and there are significant legal questions over Croydon’s ‘dissolution by press release’.” – CPCA submission.
“The joint library is constantly compared unfavourably and inappropriately to the Croydon library service and a governance dispute has now become a rationale for hugely disproportionate cuts.” – CPCA submission.
“If an independent UNJL is to be sustainable……….Croydon Council needs to provide the same level of financial support to UNJL as it allocates to its own branch libraries elsewhere in the borough” – UNLC submission.
“The Upper Norwood Library Campaign, as the key community organisation involved, stands willing to work closely with those involved to develop a publicly funded community trust to provide an exciting new era for this much loved library.
“A new organisation, the Upper Norwood Library Trust, is being created to take forward discussions with both Croydon and Lambeth Councils with the aim of the local community taking over the governance of the library, working with professional staff and funding from both local authorities” – UNLC submission..
“If an independent UNJL is to be sustainable, Croydon council needs to provide the same level of financial support to UNJL as it allocates to its own branch libraries elsewhere in the borough.” – UNLC submission.
“In past years, UNJL produced regular summaries of performance, expenditure and activities, together with statistical information for consideration by the governing joint committee.
“For the Croydon library service, the only performance and value for money information available for general public scrutiny has been the total cost of libraries and culture in the council budget book.” – UNLC submission.
“Croydon’s presentation of its library budget is completely opaque.” – Robbie Gibson, UNLC
“Nowhere does it say how you’re going to run a proper local library service” – Cllr Sean Fitzsimons (Lab)
“A community trust would be able to run a really good library on that budget” – Cllr Tim Pollard (Con)
“We hope the council will sit down with us and, in the spirit of localism, work with us” – Robbie Gibson, UNLC
“I can’t really answer the question about what their staff are doing” – Cllr Tim Pollard
“It operates on two floors” – Cllr Tim Pollard, showing his in-depth knowledge of Thornton Heath library.
“I appreciate my motives will always be open to criticism” – Cllr Tim Pollard
“It’s a grant made by Croydon to an outside body. “In my view, how much it costs to run Selsdon library, how much it costs to run Norbury library, doesn’t come into it.” – Cllr Steve Hollands, Con.
“We haven’t seen the figures to agree or disagree on” – Cllr George Ayres, Lab. “The figures are in here that the council considers sufficient to run a community library” – Cllr Hollands.
“There’s nothing for the council to go back and look at” – Cllr Jason Cummings (Con)
“You don’t care, do you?” – Cllr Pat Ryan (Lab. observer at meeting)