The Upper Norwood Library - Croydon's political football

During acrimonious exchanges between Lambeth and Croydon Councillors at the Upper Norwood Joint Library Committee AGM on 30th June 2010, Croydon Cllr Sara Bashford (Selsdon and Ballards and Cabinet member for customer services, culture and sport), with impeccable timing, said Croydon is not trying to control the UNJL committee to implement cuts.

Yet, in a letter to his Lambeth counterpart Steve Reed, received on the same day as the Sara Bashford assurances, Croydon Leader Mike Fisher makes ominous reference to Croydon Council formally requesting termination of the 1994 Upper Norwood Joint Library agreement, if the two councils cannot agree how to move forward.

The credibility of Croydon is further damaged by this, as either Cllr Bashford misled the AGM in her reassurance that Croydon was not trying to implement cuts, or worse, she knew nothing of the true intentions of her Leader.

The CPCA believes that changes Cllr Fisher alludes to are more threats than options, and that the flawed nature of other statements provokes more questions than answers.

In justifying his hostility to continuance of the Upper Norwood Library under joint operation, Cllr Fisher relies heavily upon the current economic climate and the pressure all councils are facing, recent government announcements on grant spending and revenue support, and an even greater obligation to maximise efficiency at all levels.

One level that might benefit from maximised efficiency is Cllr Fisher's own office, as he states that the library services of Upper Norwood could be more economically operated by either Croydon or Lambeth, and integrated into a single borough-wide library service, which would avoid duplication and bring UNJL library costs in line with other branch libraries.

Such claims do not withstand scrutiny, as all this would achieve is that the cost of maintaining UNJL services would be met by one borough instead of two, which would have absolutely no impact on the operating costs of the library.

The 110 year old UNJL has been shown to be one of the most efficient libraries in London in terms of costs and services, and despite acknowledging that the library operates under a unique funding position, Cllr Fisher makes untenable speculation on potential savings in 'comparison with a comparable' branch library in Croydon or Lambeth.

The CPCA is apolitical and as such addresses issues without political discrimination, consistently voicing concerns on profligate spending by local boroughs, and policies that it considers contrary to stakeholder interests.

Such a policy is the recent appointment by Croydon of four councillors to the UNJL Committee from remote wards in the borough, which the CPCA find cynical and divisive.

In a perceptive statement, Dulwich and West Norwood MP Tessa Jowell said, "it is outrageous that Croydon Council chose to totally ignore the constitution of this unique library by trying to plant four councillors from outside the area. It is bound to lead one to question their motive. Do they want to kill off this much-loved library? They will certainly have a fight on their hands if they try."

The sincerity of Cllr Fisher's concern for containment of costs in Croydon would be the more believable had he not recently awarded himself a 34% pay increase, to be taken this year or next, but now, in a desperate damage limitation exercise, 'deferred'.

However, one Croydon Officer who is aware of the evil of greed is Nathan Elvery, who in the verse Poetry in Commotion, published in local authority magazine Municipal Journal, describes money as 'the root of all evil, strife and upheaval'. Nathan Elvery is 155,000 a year Croydon Director of Finance and Resources.

Upper Norwood Library Joint Committee AGM
A report of the eventful June AGM of the Upper Norwood Library Joint Committee is here

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