Jun 24 2012

Harrow thinking about Outsourcing Libraries?

Many in Harrow will be aware of Brent’s recent library closures, and will probably be waiting for the same to happen in Harrow. Last week, it seems that the Council has taken the first step onto what may well be the slippery slope of that journey, when it voted to explore the possibility of outsourcing the borough’s libraries.

Under the proposed scheme, Harrow, along with Brent and Ealing would implement a ‘shared service’ – the following paragraph show what the Council Cabinet approved last week:

Commission both library and leisure management services (libraries with Ealing Council and leisure management with Ealing and Brent Councils) as the Brent, Ealing and Harrow Strategic Cultural Partnership. This option can maximise potential savings whilst at the same time reducing management costs for clienting  arrangements across the three boroughs. The commissioning would be in three packages – libraries alone- leisure centres alone – libraries and leisure as one package. At this stage it is not possible to judge how many organisations in the market are able to provide effective management services for both libraries and leisure management.

Interestingly, the same document also says that, “…market testing confirmed that, while as previously found, the libraries market is much less mature…” – which sounds very much like that whilst Harrow doesn’t want to run a library service, there’s no third parties currently able to do so either.

Clearly Labour’s love affair with our libraries didn’t last long as they went on to sack a third of the staff. – Cllr Paul Osborn

But wait, we hear you say. Didn’t Bill Stephenson – Leader of the Council – say just after his Labour group came to power that they weren’t going to mess with libraries? Well, yes, they did, as Cllr Paul Osborn points out, once he’d  questioned portfolio holder Cllr. David Perry on the issue at Cabinet: “This is a betrayal of one of the most important promises Labour made to Harrow residents in 2010. They were elected on a manifesto which said three times they would not privatise ‘our superb in-house library service’, and now they have laid the foundations to do exactly that. Cllr. Bill Stephenson said mere months after taking power that Labour had ‘an absolute commitment’ to our libraries, which he described as the ‘most loved’ in the country. Clearly Labour’s love affair with our libraries didn’t last long as they went on to sack a third of the staff.

Which is, we’d suppose, fair enough. Councillors, politicians, prime minsters and presidents all over the world seem to develop acute amnesia once elected. But wasn’t there a recent consultation called Let’s Talk last year that said 74% of residents thought that the Council should run libraries? Well, yes, there was. Fortunately, the consultation wasn’t called Let’s Listen, because clearly, they didn’t.

Without wishing to jump on the political bandwagon (but when the Harrow Conservative group make the effort to get in touch with us, whilst the Council remain staunchly reticent on most issues we press them on, we can’t be that choosy when using quotes), we’ll leave it again to Cllr Osborn to say the last word:

“Labour’s manifesto is packed full of pledges which they have either failed to act on, or which they’ve gone back on since coming to power. Yet this triple violation really takes the cake; it’s not just the betrayal, the very term ‘privatisation’ was described in their manifesto as ‘cheap and nasty’ and nearly always ending up ‘inferior and more costly’. It’s a decision they promised they wouldn’t make, carried out via a process they say they hate.”


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