The Extraordinary Council Meeting had been called to debate the decision by the Council to end the preferred bidder status of JLIS and to go back to the other tenderers.
A motion was submitted for debate proposed by Councillor Tim Godfrey and seconded by Councillor Tony Newman.
"This Council regrets the incompetence of Councillor Fishers Administration over the failed privatisation of Libraries to John Lang."
The Mayor made an announcement about the importance of the subject matter of the motion. He pleaded for courtesy and politeness during debate. The council solicitor then reminded members that the subject matter under consideration was still within a procurement process and covered by requirements of confidentiality. She urged caution in debate but explained that If Members could not properly discuss the matters without reference to confidential material then the meeting would have to resolve to move into Part B.
Councillor Timothy Godfrey moved the motion of the debate. He urged the administration to do the right thing and to move on from a failed partnership. He reminded members that the council had originally consulted on proposals to close 6 libraries. The consultation was not on what could be done but how it could be done, Cllr Godfrey believed that 44.8% of the cost of running libraries was on the back office. The budget was out of control in an obscene way and labour would not back down from tough choices. Cllr Godfrey urged the council to end expensive contracts. He wanted the council to move back into the neighbourhoods and not create an expensive corporate HQ. This library privatisation will create fresh bureaucracy of back office contract managers not front office staff and the library service would suffer. He urged consensus on a common sense approach which would reduce back office costs and put residents in charge of libraries. He urged a co operative approach where staff were treated as partners. If the motion was passed he was willing to enter into discussions to create a locally devolved service within months. Cllr Godfrey then outlined the labour party position which would be on day one of the Administration to serve notice on JLIS and to end the culture of secrecy and privatisation and introduce a new culture of openness and engagement. He urged the chamber to support the motion.
Councillor Tony Newman seconded the motion and reserved his right to speak.
Councillor Sara Bashford was the first to reply to the motion. She said that it was a ridiculous motion borne out of petulance. This is a major contract conducted in accordance with EU (European Union) rules. The process was robust and well run. In accordance with EU procedure the bidder raised an issue. In compliance with the EU procedures the issue required the process to be moved back a stage. It was not a failed procurement. Moving the process back a step was the right thing to do. The new issue will delay the process but doing it properly will save money. She argued that the use of volunteers as urged by labour was unlikely to benefit the public.
In summing up Cllr Bashford reminded the Chamber that Labour's 27% increase in Council Tax had not prevented Labour from closing services such as Crossfields. The Labour Group in Croydon, she said, had run out of ideas. Following Lambeth ideas was going to cost the council £350,000 more per annum. The decision to move back a step was designed to provide a better provider.
Councillor Kathy Bee spoke in support of the motion. She urged the Chamber to have the courage to revisit what was not working out and to think of a more imaginative process. She would talk about libraries not about processes. She continued by saying that the community had been rightly appalled at the proposal to close libraries hence this enthusiasm to find a solution for keeping the libraries. There is no market for library services. The bidders are all new to this public service. The one bidder who appeared to tick all the boxes now wants to revise their bid because of their lack of experience. Cllr Bee gave examples of the types of services provided by libraries and which were valued by the community but could not be commoditised. She urged the Chamber to learn from this experience. Cllr Bee then gave examples of Hillingdon and Lambeth which showed what could be done by trusting council staff to come up with solutions. She conceded that times have changed and so libraries have to change with the times. A cheap solution is not the change that was required. In closing she urged the Administration to abandon the outsourcing plan and to back a community library service which Croydon could be proud of.
Councillor Lynne Hale spoke against the motion. She said it was rubbish to say that the procurement had failed. 20,000 residents had shown that they wanted all the libraries open. Volunteer run library was not the main driver of the outsourcing. Cabinet responded to the consultation and sought an external provider to avoid library closures. This exercise is about avoiding library closures. It is hardly the fault of the council that the designated procurement process requires that we go back one stage. Not doing so would leave the council vulnerable to challenge. The proposal is still for one library service for Croydon not different models for different communities which are uncosted and unbudgeted. She urged the chamber to oppose the motion.
Councillor Tony Newman spoke in support of the motion. In his speaking he asked if this change in process was a hiccup or a humiliation. He stated that the overwhelming response to the consultation was no privatisations. Outsourcing was not on the conservative manifesto and so the Administration had no mandate for it. He urged the Administration to support his idea of a Library Commission. Cllr Newman then spoke about a culture of secrecy, surrounding the luxury Headquarters with lack of information and hidden contracts. He alleged that councillors were not allowed to refer to public documents. In relation to the libraries he was offering discussions and when in power he would expect contractors to work with the council to ensure that public libraries remain public. He concluded by stating that he wants public staff to run the libraries and for the private sector to keep their hand off our libraries.
Councillor Tim Pollard spoke against the motion. He was highly amused at the labour group preaching against outsourcing when the IT and FM functions had been outsourced by Labour. The library model proposed was uncosted, untested, confused and unsustainable. Cllr Pollard stated that he had tried to look at the Lambeth Cooperative model but could find nothing about it apart from an article by the Fabian Society. The key features of this were shared buildings, own budgets, and an open mind about whether or not they were community run. On the face of it this looked ok. However, it remains untested whereas outsourcing is a well worn path.
Cllr Pollard continued by saying that the model is uncosted even in Lambeth. The Lambeth model proposes a standstill service. In Croydon we are proposing innovation. He then listed all the difficulties with the Lambeth model. It would have 13 different models of operation one for each area. It would inefficient in staff terms. There would be devolution, but devolution to whom or to which areas, was not clear. The Governance of the 13 models remains confused. You would have 13 libraries which would be difficult to monitor. There was no evidence of capacity within the community to take up this model. There would be no council wide library membership - residents would be members of their local library only .There would no access to a central library or access to books in other libraries. In short, Cllr Pollard concluded they (Labour) want to ditch a tried and tested model for a leap of faith.
He asked the chamber to oppose the motion.
The motion was put to the vote and following a show of hands was lost by 30 votes for and 35 votes against.