Re-run AGM farce as Croydon refuses to honour Joint Library Agreement

Croydon Council’s continuing failure to meet the terms of their partnership agreement with Lambeth Council, caused yet another meeting of The Upper Norwood Joint Library Committee to be abandoned last Thursday, 15th September, when more than seventy people attended the Library Annual General Meeting, where the future of the 111-year old Library was to be considered.

The meeting turned to farce when it became apparent that the Lambeth representatives had not turned up; concerned that their presence could be seen as legitimising Croydon’s repeated decision not to nominate two local councillors to the Committee. In a well rehearsed show of disingenuousness, Croydon Cabinet Member, Cllr Sara Bashford, speculated that, “..if they are stuck in traffic” they would let her know.

However, the CPCA has been made aware that, on the afternoon of the meeting, Lambeth Cabinet Member, Cllr Florence Nosegbe, telephoned Cllr Bashford to advise her that Lambeth members would not be attending as a consequence of Croydon’s continued refusal to appoint two local Croydon councillors to the Committee – a fundamental requirement of a 2006 amendment to the Joint Library agreement, agreed by both parties.

Attending, as a Library Committee member, was the ubiquitous Cllr Steve O’Connell, previously described by the press as the highest paid councillor in the country. In a preposterous statement of justification, Croydon Cabinet Member Cllr Sara Bashford referred to him as, “your elected GLA member” that “people in Upper Norwood have voted for”. However the Library Agreement makes no provision for such nomination, stating; “Furthermore at least two Members from each party should represent the Upper Norwood area and at least one should have some executive responsibility for libraries”.

Despite Croydon-produced evidence to the contrary, Cllr Bashford refused to accept the legality of the agreement and asked their legal officer, Solomon Agutu, to justify her stance. Mr Agutu said that “those who wish to challenge the legality of the Agreement should do it in the right place and not here” and he invited those who wished to contest Croydon’s position to do it “…through the courts.”

Note: CPCA and Library Campaign representatives recently met at Chambers with barrister, Professor William Rees who advised that any meeting of the Upper Norwood Joint Library Committee that did not satisfy all the requirements of the agreement would be unconstitutional and unlawful.

There are concerns at the prospect of a Joint Library Committee dominated by Croydon Cabinet Members – particularly when the latter chair the Joint Library Committee. The Committee chair holds a casting vote in the event of any deadlock or failure to agree on future Joint Library policy, possible cuts, or even closure of the service.

The current administration in Croydon have a history of misrepresenting the Joint Library’s value for money, as a means of justifying low levels of funding and the scrapping of the library’s popular independent status. Independent studies have shown that the Joint Library service is proportionately around 50% cheaper than the Croydon library service.

Croydon Council leader, Cllr Mike Fisher, knows that by meeting the terms of the Joint Library agreement he would be obliged to nominate two opposition members to the Committee. This would remove his ability to force through the sort of damaging measures that are being inflicted on Croydon’s own libraries, such as significant staff redundancies, reduced opening, privatisation or closure.

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