Show navigation

Library News!

Wandsworth and Croydon Councils are now inviting outside organisations to
bid to take over the management of library services across both boroughs.
Read more:

I don't want to jump for my metaphorical gun immediately... but I would be interested to hear from those who understand more about what this will mean in practice. Knowing the Council's cavalier attitude to libraries, I am automatically suspicious but maybe I have no need to be.


Showing 1 - 25 of 44
rachel s

Just means they are outsourcing them - could be a private company or a social enterprise (for example, the library staff could decide to go into a social enterprise).  Loads of services are outsourced - the question is how good are the two councils at procuring and writing a contract becuase the performance measures will dictate how good the service is. 

Kate B

What will happen to the people in the Council who run the library service now?

Jane E

regretfully, one way of running a cheaper library service would be by seeing the job as simply an administrative one of lending books.  This would not be helpful to library users who wanted advice or school students looking for reference advice for homework, etc.  It is also unfortunate that the Council decided to put the libraries out to tender without consulting the "big society" partners at York Gardens.  This would indicate that they see volunteers as just unpaid labour with no role in decision making.

gemini28560 inactive

What I don't understand, is why didn't they do this with ALL the libraries everywhere, including the York Gardens one?!! Sounds to me, like there really IS a case to be VERY SUSPICIOUS of what's going on!  Also, if the total cost of running a library is/was say, equivalent to about 20p a head (When you count the users per week popping in etc)  couldn't they have just brought in a simple 'Door-Charge' to cover all of the running costs?! I know when I suggested this very simple solution to Wandsworth council, they said that they couldn't charge at the door, as it was against the law!!!! I said well in that case, the government should have the law changed! 'simples' as the advert says!! lol No, I think that would have been FAR to EASY, so instead we have this ridiculous situation!! Typical of this country, really, wouldn’t you say?! lol

rachel s

Gemini - they are looking at outsourcing for all Wandsworth libraries and all Croyden libraries - not one or two. 

Secondly law not allowing door charging is a good one - if door charging had been allowed, libraries would not be charging 20p but nearer 10pounds by now (look at exhibition charges by museums).  It changes the purpose of libraries into a profit making rather than the current one of education and empowering communities. 

gemini28560 inactive

Why would they have charged £10 door-charge, if a door-charge of say 20p-50p would have covered the total running costs of a library? Also, isn't the case that libraries are now being made into businesses? Or am I missing something? lol As I keep seeing on the 6pm BBC news, that libraries are perhaps going to have in future, cafes, bars, theatres & the like? Or is that just the very few in London now? I don't know, it all sounds daft to me, when a simple small door-charge could have solved the whole problem! P.S. I'm assuming a door-charge of say 20p-50p would cover everything, as when they told us how much the average library was costing the council, it was only something like 20p per head, per user, per visit, per week! Or have I got that wrong too? Looks like this big society crap is NOT going to work at all, bit like the present, & future unemployed, no hope of ever working, EVER!

Julia Matcham
See article  ...that was in March...Just trying to find out what is going on and what statutary obligations the Council will be thinking of dumping!

'Government puts legal protection for libraries up for review

Initiative to scrap
'burdensome' duties on local authorities will review requirement to
provide 'comprehensive and efficient' library service'

Vasily B

What happens if a private company decides after a while that running the libraries is not as profitable as they initially thought? Is the contract with the outsourcer going to be long enough (say, 5 to 10 years), and will it  include the clearly defined level of service? Also it is worth to perform an audit of the outsourcer before handing over the libraries to them.

Nothing is wrong about the idea itself but the devil is in the details. According to this article:  there is currently only one outsourced library in the UK (in Hounslow) so whether there is a good expertise on the matter is a big question.

Julia Matcham

Vasily, That is a VERY good reference...Thanks.  I wrote yesterday to one of our councillors ...

'Re organisations tendering to run our libraries, could you be kind enough to let me know what their statutory obligations would be?  How wide would their remit be? Could they charge? Would the free interchange of books from all London Libraries (in the event one wanted something particularly specialised) continue as I think it still does now? Would they be obliged to provide technology? Would there be any rules about what proportions of physical space would be proposed e.g. between books and technology, Newspapers and study areas?

Are we ...the public...going to have the chance to see, and comment upon, what exactly the Council is proposing and the basis upon which they are likely to agree to outsource a service that is vital to many people?

I am not saying the service couldn't be run better, but the very fact the Council wants to shed its responsibility and at the same time presumably save money by outsourcing seems to provide an opportunity for it to be done worse!

It would be nice to know upon what terms this outsourcing is proposed and why the Council think it will be an improvement.'
I can see from the Public Library News link that there are many more questions that need answering. As I think they put it 'sweating the staff' 'sweating the content' HOW are they going to save money without it being a deficit to the users?

Vasily B

@ Julia: thanks and yes, this is indeed a good reference to Public Library News. It is enlightening in many respects. I am sorry in advance for a long quotation from there but in my opinion, it is crucial for understanding the expected quality of making decisions on libraries' future.
...California has recently passed a bill specifically to make it harder to privatise libraries.  It's key provisions are that councils must:
• pick a contract after a competitive bidding process.
• give four straight weeks of public notice before enacting a change, doubling the current requirement.
• prove through a broad analysis that a switch away from the free public library system saves the city or county money.
• show that the cost savings are not simply a factor of lower pay for the private company's employees.
• require an audit before hiring a library contractor charging more than $100,000 a year.
• ensure that the public employees don't lose their jobs.
So Americans who have got MUCH MORE practical experience in outsourcing library services to private companies decided to take reasonable measures for the protection of public interest. At least, in California, although this is a good case as California's size, be it population or economy, is significant. Now, compare the California's well structured and quite clear explanation (in the form of LEGISLATION) to the "framework" produced in Croydon (which Wandsworth is likely to join):
...Two other London councils, Croydon and Wandsworth, are considering a joint tendering of their library services to a private company.  The tests that Croydon consider important for the tendering process in their council paper on the subject are important enough to quote in full:
• Seeking to achieve good value for money
• Ensuring a competitive process
• Ensuring non-discrimination, with fair and transparent procedures, and
equal treatment of all potential suppliers
• Encouraging and ensuring continuous improvement in the delivery of
Council services through the application of value for money principles
• Incorporating effective and best practice procedures
• With clarity recognizing the need for clear and understandable rules
• Minimising risks and to protect the Council’s interests and reputation
• Ensuring controls and accountability, and always acting within the law
• Responsive to any weaknesses identified by internal/external audit
• Ensuring that regulations reflect the current procurement environment
• Supporting the delivery of direct services
• Setting out regulations which everyone complies with.
Just "common words" and no good practical direction, in my opinion. It is hard to imagine what sort of results, of a real library service and a regulation for it, can be actually produced if the decision making process seems unclear to its owners themselves. Shall we all agree that a week in California can be invigorating for Croydon and Wandsworth decision makers?

Julia Matcham

THANKS. I wonder how many of them have actually looked at the way these matters have been approached elsewhere.  Croydens list sounds like mother-love, difficult to fault though flexibly imprecise. Perhaps I should send the California list to my Councillor.  As usual, trying to protect the bits of society  that matter more to the poor than the rich is likely to be like fighting jelly!  That is IF they give us a chance to have any input.

Vasily B

@ Julia who wrote: "As usual, trying to protect the bits of society  that matter more to the poor than the rich is likely to be like fighting jelly!"

I am not going to tell the ways this country has to live but trust me, there is a plenty of rich people in the very same California... Although it sounds like they are not just rich but wise and responsible enough.

Perhaps this is what angers us, laymen, most: being rich and trying to be rich is good, also a sound social hierarchy is a necessity; what is hard to accept is when those better off turn inappropriately mischievous when and where they in fact have to care and play their part of the common tune.

Wish you the best with your attempt to knock on Council doors, and please keep us informed on the feedback.


I wonder how much thought Wandsworth and other councils have given to enlisting the help of unpaid volunteers?  After all, we all know that the wage roll is usually the highest cost to be covered by our tax money.  However, with the money saved going to cover the extra heating and lighting in the overheads, with a pool of volunteers involved opening hours could even be extended!

Julia Matcham

Don't encourage them...they would just love unpaid labour to substitute for people trained to do the job...and so would any-one taking over management from the Council. ...Quote from:

10. Voluntary Sector. It is only proposed to invite ‘whole service’ solutions however the jointworking party may explore with Bidders the potential for working with the voluntary sector in each borough.

But there is more to library work than meets the eye. This is a RICH borough, we can afford a civilised society. We need the Council to organise it, not to diminish it. Society can no longer be organised by elders under a tree; we need an enlightened Council to promote it ,not destroy it.

Jane E

Twixt: Wandworth Council have thought about that in the case of York Gardens.  Volunteers did sign up in good faith in order to keep the library open and then the Council, behind the backs of the volunteers, put the whole library service out to tender, having previously told the volunteers that York Gardens would be exempt.

Vasily B: thanks for the research.  The Croydon bit could refer to absolutely anything.  Where does it say anything about what a GOOD library service offers as a service?

Julia Matcham

My local Councillor replied as follows:

Thanks for your recent emails. This is a link to the latest press release (November 30th) about the tendering process which includes an explanation from my colleague Cllr Cook as to why we are seeking competitive tendering bids.

Council library services out to tender
Wandsworth and Croydon Councils are now inviting outside organisations to bid to take over the management of library services across both boroughs

I understand there will be a progress report submitted to the January 17th 2012 meeting of the Environment, Culture & Community Safety OSC. Copied below is the September committee report and the minutes of decisions taken.


Hope this is useful background and with regular reports being presented to committee you and others will be able to monitor how the tendering process is going. Currently all the signs are that there is real interest from a variety of organisations including private companies, social enterprises, library trusts, the council's in-house library team and other councils.

As you will see from the centre page spread of the latest Brightside the Council has to find very significant savings, some £70m, but we are trying to maintain important local services. As you know several local authorities are simply closing libraries rather than looking at imaginative and innovative proposals which is what Wandsworth is doing.

To this was added some references which you can find easily enough on the various sites already supplied here. Nothing concrete in the way of a reply to my questions (my  subsequent reply too long  to burden you with here).

I hope we will all be persistent in following the plot!

Julia Matcham

Oh dear 'WERE added' and the last 4 lines are mine not the quote. Cheers!

Vasily B

@ Julia who wrote: "But there is more to library work than meets the eye".

That's true. I worked for the library a while ago (on IT end) and can only confirm the library professionals cannot be easily replaced by volunteers. The "digitization" of the libraries through e-books and other electronic services is likely to require even more skills. Volunteers are all right but just as additional workforce, and as means of a better cohesion with the community. Librarian is a true, and well respected profession (well, it should be: considering typical librarian's remuneration one cannot tell that).

As to the Council answer: it means they have already launched tendering but looking at that Croydon-born rubbish in place of clear criteria what the selection process is going to be I am not sure. The suspicious mention of "imaginative and innovative proposals" makes me think Council will be mostly appreciating whose pitch is better: company A suggested a funky coffee shop which would be a sort of innovative for the municipal library as institution, and good for cash influx, but company B were more imaginative as they suggested belly dance courses at very competitive rates in extra evening hours. The contract goes to company B as their presentation was more catchy, and as more opening hours is good for Council report on improved library services.

Julia Matcham

Thank you for the laugh Vasily ...exactly what I fear myself.

Chloe inactive

I'm intrigued to know how Wandsworth and Croydon will work together on reviewing the bids. Wandsworth's decision-making on awarding contracts is based:

80% on price

10% on business continuity and only 

10% on quality

I don't know if Croydon operate the same way?

Jane E

the 10% on quality says it all. Is that the difference between throwing a book at a child with "read it" and giving a book saying "I think, whoever you are, you might like this, it's on the recommended reading list"?

This underlines the whole problem with privatising public services - the service is not to the consumers.

Julia Matcham

@ Chloe that inside knowledge ? It sounds about right.

Isn't it sad that those well-educated Councillors do not share the concern we have about standards and our fears for the prospects of young people who will not even know that they are being robbed.

@ Jane, I agree, it has all got turned on its head. The consumers now serve the suppliers who all mass together in such a way that the public is almost impotent to do anything about it. More people = fewer banks; fewer post-offices etc. You can't do anything about it so queue up, pay up, and put up with it. It is depressing. It's the trickle up effect!

Chloe inactive

The Committee Papers on the Council's website show the weightings. Couple of examples:

'In January 2010 the Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Executive approved (Paper No. 10-128) the timetable, specification and related contract documentation for the competitive tendering of Planning, Highways, Economic Development, Contracts and Miscellaneous Legal Services, and agreed that the award of the contract would be based on the most economically advantageous tender in terms of the proposed charges (80%); quality/technical merit (10%), and professional ability (10%)'.

April 2011 with regard to maintenance of the Council's electronic social care record system: ' The contract will be awarded on the lowest price (80%), business continuity (10%) and information security (10%) tender that can fulfil the essential requirements'.

The criteria may be different in this case – either way, it should be transparent, so perhaps the Council could advise their criteria? I've tried to find the invitation to tender to see what that says, but with no success so far. This document from Croydon does have helpful timescales in it though: .

Julia Matcham

Everyone...Before I forget SIGN :

in support of libraries.

@ Chloe Thank you Chloe for all that...I have now read through a lot of the Croyden stuff.  And more on

which is a very comprehensive reference point/site, which I do recommend to anyone keen to understand without reading all the Council documents which are hard going. It gives you an over all picture.

I note from the Croyden docs:

3.4.2 In addition to supervision, the relevant Secretary of State has the duty to

“promote the improvement of those services generally” and...

Reduction in the cost of library services through:

o Economies of scale e.g. maximising use of resources, streamlining of process, and optimum utilisation of assets;

o Developing staff competencies, roles, and responsibilities; and

o Where beneficial and viable, transferring cost liabilities for buildings, stock and maintenance.

It is a pretty open brief. Obviously, there can be benefits of scale, but to go back to the California list of caveats, there is nothing like that written down as far as I can see. And of course there is the implied threat that they will other boroughs... close Libraries if they feel like it!  There will be no problems finding will be keeping taxes down for the sake of the poor. Ironic isn't it!


I have the upmost respect of volunteers but the is a big but. Every charity will tell how difficult it is to get volunteers with the right skills and that ther is a cost in managing and resourcing them. I am of the view that our libraries cannot and anyway should not be staff by vols. anyone who gives their time shd be paid for hours worked.

Int eh circumstances

Comments are closed. Why not start a new conversation?