CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE Andy Stranack says Croydon council should provide 42 per cent of all future funding for Upper Norwood joint library.
He suggested the figure – which is based on the percentage of residents from Croydon borough being registered library members – at an informal meeting with library campaigners this morning (Thursday).
Mr Stranack told the meeting – held in the Little Palace cafe on Westow Hill after library staff informed Mr Stranack he had been banned on the instructions of Croydon council from the library – that he could lobby for extra funding in the future (but not for the financial year starting April 1 2013.)
“I will do all I can in the right places to get that. “I need to be able to sell the costs to them. “I will put as much pressure on whether it’s Tim Pollard or Sarah Bashford. “I will fight for Croydon to give 42 per cent of funding.” (To which Crystal Palace Community Association chairman John Payne told him: “For a political candidate you’re most unpredictable.”)
Among the many points raised were the 60 per cent cut in Croydon’s funding to the library – compared to a local authority average of about 28 per cent. which campaigner Robbie Gibson said had implications for both staffing and opening hours.
While Croydon’s own libraries have had budget increases Upper Norwood’s had been locked by Croydon for some time, said Mr Gibson, who added: “And Croydon’s budget is distinctly not transparent.”
To the campaigners surprise Mr Stranack agreed with them and admitted: “They have all sorts of centralised costs. “They were charging £150,000 for maintenance of one community facility because it was topped up with all the community facilities in Croydon.”
And on being told that Lambeth were more engaged in the trust process than Croydon who were more interested in a procurement process Mr Stranack said: “Obviously I’m a Conservative and I’ve got to show some support for the Conservatives . “I’ve had to deal with Croydon’s procurement process under both parties and it’s a nightmare.”
He then asked campaigners if it would be easier for them to deal with just one authority – and was met with a vociferous ‘No’.
Campaigner Robbie Gibson told him: “The whole ethos of our library is that it is independent, serves five boroughs and should reflect the nature of Crystal Palace.”
In response to further questions campaigners told Mr Stranack they would want an SLA (Service Level Agreement) – a ‘nuts and bolts’ agreement where both sides agree how much a trust running the library would pay – from both Croydon and Lambeth.
Mr Gibson said Lambeth would not agree to a single SLA where Lambeth paid more.
Mr Stranack said they should emphasise the SLA when applying for National Lottery funding. “What I want to fight for is that we keep the library here and to make sure the SLA secures the future. “I’m really impressed with where you’ve got to” he told campaigners.
“I’m pleased I’ve come up here. “I don’t know if I’m going to get elected or not but I still want to stay involved. “I don’t want to walk away from this even if I’m not elected.”
Campaigners praised the library staff. Robbie Gibson told Mr Stranack: “”The staff have been in a maelstrom. “Full credit to them,. “It’s been a horrible situation. “No-one has left. “They do deserve an acknowledgement – and gratitude for keeping it going. “If we didn’t think the staff were good at their job we wouldn’t be supporting them.”
Pam Gray asked him: “Why can’t Croydon understand their figures – or believe them?” To which Mr Stranack responded: “I think local authorities don’t understand their figures a lot”
Mr Stranack revealed that before coming he had spoken to his rival in the Parliamentary by-election for Croydon North – Labour candidate and Lambeth council leader Steve Reed. “There’s a lot of politics going on beneath this.”The reality over the next few years is that the politicians are going to have a ding dong.”
Towards the end of the meeting campaigner Bryher Scudamore told Mr Stranack: “It appears Croydon have decided that anything Upper Norwood is a poison chalice and feel they’re against them. “We’re not. “We just want a good facility.”
EARLIER, as Mr Stranack sat down with campaigners, he admitted: “I wasn’t sure what I was coming to. “I want to listen to your concerns.” Campaigners explained Upper Norwood was the only independent library in the country, the only library authority in its own right.
John Payne, chairman of Crystal Palace Community Association told him: “We’ve got a model here that is much more efficient than Croydon’s. “What they do is fail to put their back office costs and their recharges onto Croydon’s branch libraries. “It doesn’t hold a fair comparison with our library.
Mr Stranack: “So there’s a lot of centralised costs that aren’t shown up?” Mr Payne: “Yes.”
Campaigner Pam Gray said: “Lambeth do it. “Croydon do it. “They all manipulate the figures. “Upper Norwood doesn’t have any back office support – except when the library joint committee was going and that was committee support.
“The principle is that it was for many years jointly funded by Lambeth and Croydon and it was only the issue of local councillors being voted on to the joint committee – and only since the last local elections when the local Conservative councillors lost their seats. “It shouldn’t be.”
Robbie Gibson added that when Lambeth was Labour-controlled there were Conservative councillors from Gipsy Hill ward on the joint committee. “Probably the most fervent and loyal supporters over the years have been Lambeth Conservatives” he added.
Mark Richardson said Croydon Cllr Sarah Bashford, who previously held the culture and libraries portfolio, had said the issue was about governance and was not about funding. Then her successor Cllr Tim Pollard had ‘cut with slash’ the funding.
Mr Stranack told campaigners: “I know from my time working in the council, working in leisure services cuts are notorious – setting a budget in the 1900s and then adding four per cent, and another four per cent.”
Campaigners pointed out concerns about the liability transfer from the councils to a trust, the cutbacks in periodicals and Croydon’s deadline for a trust to take over the library next April – described by Robbie Gibson as ‘a nonsense’.
Campaign chairman Mark Richardson added that in 2004 there was a successful regeneration bid for the library which Croydon will have to pay back. John Payne said that the £75,000 which Croydon were giving “wouldn’t run a corner store.”
Robbie Gibson said it would be difficult to ask Bromley, Southwark or Lewisham to help fund the library – especially when Croydon had the biggest user group.
Campaigners emphasised they were not looking for the right to buy the library – but to have it transferred to them at a peppercorn rent.
UPDATE: Mr Stranack has responded to comments made by Labour candidate Steve Reed following his visit to the library. See story headed ‘Library Sensation – Croydon tried to shut UNJL a year ago’