You might have read here earlier this week about plans by Greenwich borough’s libraries staff to strike from Friday. Members of the Unite union are protesting about the way Greenwich Council has decided to transfer the service to Greenwich Leisure Limited from next week.

GLL managing director Mark Sesnan got in touch yesterday with the company’s point of view. Here’s what he said – your thoughts and questions, as ever, would be appreciated.

Having read the recent blogs on the transfer of the operation of the Libraries service to us at GLL, I feel it is important to put some of the facts straight.

GLL is a charitable Social Enterprise with s cooperative governance structure born from Greenwich Council and based in Greenwich. We are HQ’d on the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich and our Head Office function brings more than 100 additional good jobs to the borough servicing our (now) extensive operations across London.

GLL has operated the Borough’s leisure centres since set up in 1993 and Greenwich Borough now enjoys one of London’s best used and most comprehensive network of centres. Pricing policies include free swimming for kids and Kids for a Quid, and more than 20,000 financially disadvantaged adults in the borough pay half price or less. Greenwich has the London’s best GP physical activity referral scheme and we take our reponsibility for the activity agenda very seriously.

When Greenwich Council re-tendered its leisure services it issued a public notice in February 2011 which was clear that Libraries operation externalisation was also being considered. This was no secret to staff, users or trades unions.

GLL is passionate about the provision of good accessible public services. We want to see facilities open at weekends, in the evenings, on bank holidays and when more people can access them.

We also think that libraries, like leisure centres, should have good catering, creche and good transport links as well as extensive access to new technology, plenty of study space and a good relevant book stock.

We are very much looking forward to taking over the service and giving the Borough a library service which is second to none in the Capital.
Of course, the staff in Greenwich libraries will be apprehensive about any changes, this is natural. They need not worry really though, because GLL is a staff owned cooperative and ultimately they (the library staff) will be responsible for their own part of the service.

I cannot answer for the trades union view, although it seems to me that striking because yor employer has changed – even though your employment rights and terms and conditions are guaranteed by law – is not really going to get us anywhere.

Whilst writing this, I would also like to point out that the ‘company’ Meridian Link, of which I am pleased to be a Director is in fact a registered charity dedicated to bringing sport and educational opportunities to young people in Tema, Ghana which is Greenwich’s twin town as it is also on the Greenwich meridian.

GLL is happy to respond to any questions about our role in the Borough, we have no hidden agendas. We stand for good services, good jobs and good people.

Thanks to Mark Sesnan for taking the time to write. So, what do people who use Greenwich’s libraries (or those who used to use them but now don’t), and those who work in them, think? It’s over to you…

39 replies on “Greenwich Libraries takeover – GLL boss speaks out”

  1. Thank you to Mark Sesnan for pointing out that terms and conditions are guaranteed by law. What he forgets to point out is that the law that he refers to, covered by the TUPE regulations, only gives protection at the point of transfer. We have example after example where employers have cut pay and conditions after the transfer and legally get away with it. All an employer has to do, is give a reason not linked to the transfer. The report that went to the Council Cabinet Committee made clear that there would be a “harmonisation” process. I think we can safely asume that GLL will not be improving the pay and conditions of its current staff and that what we are in fact looking at is a race to the bottom, with already low paid Library staff looking forward to cuts to pay and conditions.

    Mark also conveniently forgets to point out that his negotiators have confirmed that any new library staff taken on post the transfer will be on poorer pay and conditions than current library staff.

    Unite has asked that GLL provide full details of current GLL pay and conditions. GLL has refused to provide this. In negotiations, we asked the GLL negotiators to confirm that all terms and conditions would transfer. They refused to give this guarantee, even saying that they did not have the time to look at all current Council conditions!

    GLL likes to give the impression that it is a model employer. But what sort of model employer employs four fifths of its total staff of 5000 on a casual basis? We have spoken with GLL casual staff who tell us how it is impossible to plan lives when you may go 3 or 4 weeks without being offered work. The company recently implemented a pay review whereby new staff in roles such as Life Guards will earn less than coleagues carrying out an identical role. So you do exactly the same job, to the same standard but earn thousands of pounds a year less. This is not how a model employer operates.

    As far as consultation is concerned, Mark obviously did not attend the shambolic so called public consultation meetings. Let us not forget that the public were promised an online survey to test out support for the proposal. As soon as public opposition became clear, the promise of a survey was removed from the Council website. We were then simply told that the public meetings were not about asking opinions – they were to tell us what was happening.On the union consultation, right up to December 2011, the Council were still saying that a transfer to GLL was “not the current line of travel”. Clearly, this was more about not telling us what was going on in the hope of minimising the amount of time that those who oppose such a move had time to organise.

    I am very proud of Unite members who have voted to take this stand. In this I am clear from the response we have received from the public that we have a common cause. It is our strong belief that as well as cutting pay and conditions, the service itself will also be in the line of fire. We know, despite denials, that the Mobile Library is under threat. There are no plans to replace the Ferrier Library. It will be the smaller Libraries that face the threat. But if you do not believe us, dont take our word for it – read Greenwich Time and listen to the words of the Council Leader. Both say that Libarries in Greenwich are safe, unless the cuts from central government continue! We have only seen a minority of the cuts. What this is is a cynical political exercise. Transfer the service out and with it transfer the responsibility for making cuts to an unelected body who will not face voters at election time.

    Our union is proud to stand by workers willing to stand up and defend pay and conditions.

  2. I think libraries should remain in the public sector. Having said that, I’d rather they were run by GLL than by Serco or another private company just wanting to make a profit.

  3. Mark Sesnan makes the comment that GLL is worker controlled. We have also heard workers co-op used to describe GLL. What is Mr Sesnans definition of worker controlled??? I would like to ask what do the workers get out of it Mr Sesnan. I would also like to ask Mr Sesnan who made the decision to pay him the huge wage he takes from GLL every year??? The workers???? Isn’t any profit supposed to be put back into the company in a Social Enterprise??? Not into the pockets of the Chief Exec?

    On the assertion that staff, users and the Unions knew that the Library Service had been put out to tender! This is totally untrue. The request for tenders for Libraries was hidden in a couple of paragraphs in the Leisure tender. Nobody knew and in fact the Council were still stating last year that this wasn’t the way they were going and that they were just looking at all options.

    I am also concerned that GLL state that they employ local people in local jobs but as Mr Kasab states a huge percentage of staff are employed as sessional staff. In fact out of 5000 staff employed across London GLL only employ approx 1400 staff on permanent contracts.

    This transfer is a total betrayal by a Labour Council to its workers and the public.

  4. I would like to echo Joe Hill and ask Mark Sesnan to define the term ‘staff owned cooperative’ this is a bold statement and would lead the reader to assume that the staff acctualy own the company. However the only evidence to support this statement would appear to be two employee seats on the board.

    The lack of communication concerning this take over has been quite eye watering. From senior management down when direct questions have been asked evasion and avoidance has been the overwhelming practice. The Council has behaved more like a Stalinist state that a democratically elected Labour council. Any of the information that has finally been gleaned has been despite of the councils best efforts.
    Bearing this in mind is it any wonder that the library staff of Greenwich feel betrayed and do not trust the council and GLL at all when they bandy about vague promises with no substantive information.

    We don’t ask for much just honesty and transparency and a Labour council behaving like it actually cares about its residents and staff (because lets face it they are often one and the same) and does not treat them as if they are the enemy!

  5. Mr Sesnan, thanks for your statement.

    I was in a library this morning (won’t name it for obvious reasons).

    The staff I spoke to were 100 percent behind the industrial action. They have genuine concerns.

    Anyone here been on strike? I have. It’s a decision you don’t take lightly. It may sound obvious but each day you’re on strike is a day’s pay lost. It’s painful. Many people say you’re nuts and in the grip of some creepy and greedy Stalinist union run by wackos. But these are ‘normal’ people with real worries about their futures which have been decided so undemocratically.

    The staff — and let’s face it, they’re not among the country’s higher earners — are so concerned about the future they’re prepared to take this action for themselves and on behalf of future employees.

    They should be supported.

  6. Well done to everyone above. The statement that there was no secrecy around the libraries being handed over to GLL is a complete lie. The council allowed rumours to fester until officially conducting an “informal staff consultation” in November (9months after the leisure agreement was tendered) where staff were consulted, however brought none of the relevant method statements along for us to consider/question. Either this statement is a bare-faced lie or Mr Sesnan wasn’t actually aware of how the tendering process was being run.

    And about our Ts&Cs being protected – Incase Mr Sesnan isn’t quite up to scratch with the TUPE regulations, I’ll repeat what has been said above. If the “Social enterprise” can find an economic reason to change our terms then they are legally allowed to do so. So in the current climate it’s more than inevitable that this will happen.

  7. So everything is sweetness and light according to GLL’s Mark Sesna?

    I don’t believe a word of it – savings on any costs (capital or revenue) is what local councils are expecting to happen by outsourcing services – meaning a “charitable” company that is basically totally funded by the public and expected to provide what the council will not or cannot.

    Such “charities” don’t like unions and collective bargaining and things like libraries that don’t make money.

    The cut here is bound to be staffing costs. And the way transfers of staff works through TUPE regulations which Mark Sesnan says “employment rights and terms and conditions are guaranteed by law” is debatable. The measurements used for this is all about “equivalence” to existing t & cs. This allows new employers, say in about a year from gaining the public sector staff, to undermine their previous terms and conditions – this is pretty standard.

    It usually starts with pension provision – so that those staff currently on the Local Government Pension Scheme will be moved to a far inferior money purchase scheme. This can be portrayed as roughly “equivalent” but is in no way comparable (the employee takes the risk not the employer) and could mean poverty in old age.

    I could go on….

  8. As Mark Sesnan says he is happy to respond to any questions about GLL , I hope he will give clear answers to all of above in the interests of honesty and transparency.
    Plus a few more questions –

    i) How much was Mark Sesnan paid in total last year ?
    ii) How much is Diana Edmonds being paid ?( newly acquired head of GLL Libraries division )
    iii) How was Diana Edmonds recruited ?
    iv) Does Diana Edmonds still retain any connections with Tribal Group , which bought her “Instant Library” company in 2000 after her company privatised Haringey Libraries ?

    “Tribal Group, the public sector outsourcing company, announces the acquisition of Instant Library, the leading UK outsourced managed library services company……..
    Tribal intends to expand Instant Library’s business in the local authority, education and health sectors. Public sector library provision is a £1.3bn industry ……..
    We are going to develop Instant Library’s business in the education, local authority and health sectors. Fast growth in the local government and education outsourcing market is certain now that the government has made education its key priority. The outsourced education market is now worth £1.5bn a year and the overall outsourcing market is put at £10bn a year.

    Tribal Group is seizing an excellent commercial opportunity to grow in this relatively immature market. Gresham supports Tribal’s strategy of development by acquisition.
    *Tribal – Transforming the world’s public services*
    Global trend of acquisition of publicly owned and accountable public services to the private sector .

  9. I am a long-time regular borrower form Greenwich libraries and I have watched with dismay the rundown of the service over recent years.

    Yes , a couple of libraries have been refurbished and a new library opened in Woolwich , but unfortunately it is mostly style over substance – with a general reduction of stock available and no reference library or quiet study areas in Woolwich.

    There is constantly different staff on duty as they are rotated around library locations throughout the borough – losing familiarity with local borrowers and stock built up over many years. As well as the employment of agency and workfare staff , inexperienced through no fault of their own.

    It now appears senior library management have been busy organising this proposed transfer behind closed doors with no communication with staff or public and have been more concerned with arranging their own generous redundacy packages from Greenwich Council.

    How on earth are GLL , with absolutely no experience of running libraries and a poor record of running local leisure centres , supposed to turn this around ?

    I have yet to hear a coherent answer from anybody at LBG or GLL

  10. Dear Mr. Sesnan

    If Greenwich Council tendered in February 2011, why was a “public consultation meeting” not held at Eltham Library until March 2012. AFTER responsibility for Greenwich Libraries had passed to GLL?

    Why were library service users not considered to be “key stakeholders” in this process but merely “a focus group”? Who WERE the “key stakeholders” in this process?

  11. Mrs Holder ( above ) is indeed correct that the Library service has deteriorated recently. I have heard reports of staff being demoralised at the way the service has been managed.
    Staff are constantly moved all around the borough’s libraries ; there was a new computer system installed with no training provided for staff ; an automatic check-in and check-out system that is totally unreliable ; a security system that does not work – with the alarm being set off every time an item passes through , no doubt resulting in the loss of thousands of pounds worth of stock. Agency staff being employed , who cost the council £18 per hour, alongside “workfare” staff who get no pay at all.

    Senior library management have excluded themselves from the proposed transfer they have been organising , while arranging their own generous redundancy packages – as said above….”The whole thing smells fishy”

  12. In light of the lack of public consultation prior to the decision and further to Mark Sesnan’s comments which contradict what has happened in reality and what his own negotiators told the trade unions, I would propose on behalf of Unite that he take part in a public debate. I would be happy to attend on behalf of Unite. Over to you Mark – lets have the debate in front of the public.

  13. First Library Closes. I have just had a call from one of our Unite reps. Yesterday, with no notice whatsoever to staff or public the library on the Ferrier was officially closed at 3.30. We are of course aware of the redevelopment taking place at the Ferrier. The concern is that there are no plans at present to build a new library at the site. The Council will predictably argue that the consultation was covered when residents were originally told about the Ferrier redevelopment all those years ago and that we should have guessed that this would happen. There was certainly no mention of a closure of the library and no prior notice of an actual date for it to close. We can confirm that up to the last minute the library continued to be one used by the public who again were not consulted. No library closures? Lets see the Council and GLL spin its way out of this one.

  14. If one of the UNITE objectives is to keep libraries open. I fully agree with that objective but find it difficult why,then UNITE is determined to close all libraries for a week. Funny old world. Obviously a personal point of view

  15. Does Cllr Fahy still call himself a “Labour” councillor and does not understand workers reluctantly taking stike action to protect their jobs & services ?????

  16. When will these questions be put directly to Mr. Sesnan? When will he be responding and via what medium?

  17. How is experience of running leisure centres relevant? Library authorities have legal duty to provide comprehensive service to ALL local residents, workers & students free of charge.

  18. “GLL is happy to respond to any questions about our role in the Borough” Mark Sesnan , above.

    We are all waiting with bated breath for Mr Sesnan’s response.
    Will he respond here and/or accept Mr Kasab’s invitiation to a public debate ?

    Maybe he will take cold feet like he did when Cllr Fahy arranged a public seminar for him to speak at the town hall a few weeks ago and Mr Sesnan failed to turn up.

  19. Jobs and services are protected. The decision of the Council is supporting not threatening jobs or services.

  20. John Laing in Hounslow, LSSI etc bidding for contracts in Wokingham and Croydon and now GLL in Greenwich! Public libraries should remain publicly funded and accountable, not divested, outsourced or privatised!

  21. Hmmm Mr Fahy, incase you missed all the feeds above TUPE is only valid on the day of transfer and any economical excuse to reduce our terms is accepted by law.

    As for supporting Jobs, I’m pretty sure that the GS Plus cleaning contract is under threat from this transfer, as GLL are not planning to use them in our libraries. How is making less work for these people “supporting jobs”?

    Are you actually aware of anything that’s happening at all? It’s quite worrying.

  22. Yesterday we offered the Council and GLL a compromise. If the library service is to transfer will the Council and GLL agree that the workers are not transfered over but that instead they are seconded to GLL?. This allows them to remain Council employess while being managed by GLL and continue working in libraries.It deals with our genuine concern about pay and conditions while alowing GLL to manage libraries. This would have been a big compromise on our behalf. If GLL and the Council say pay and conditions are safe whats the problem? The answer? No – because GLL want the right to be able to do what they want contractually. That is the official answer.

    Today we heard that GLL has recently increased the working week for some employees with no increase in pay. We also heard more about the Ferrier closure. Basically, the Council were told to close it by GLL because GLL did not agree to run a library on the Ferrier when winning the contract. So there you have it. One library closed already with no library to replace it.

    The challenge of a public debate still stands Mark – or do you prefer to hide behind corporate slogans with no basis in reality?

  23. And still no response Mr Sesnan! We’re all eagerly awaiting… Although I think a well publicised public debate between Mr Sesnan and Onay Kasab is probably the best way forward, that way the public get to have a feel for each person and decide which one they trust more, instead of hiding behind this lacklustre blog that lacks any kind of foundation or susbstance. I think refusing a public debate about this would be very telling of you Mr Sesnan…. especially how you copped out of your last public appearence due in Woolwich. One tends to think that people might suspect a hidden agenda if some kind of WELL-PUBLICISED (being the keyword, seen as nothing else about this whole transfer process has been) public debate is refused by you. You’re choice though…..

  24. hiding behind this lacklustre blog that lacks any kind of foundation or susbstance

    You don’t have to read this website if you don’t like it…

    (Thank you, everyone, for your comments so far.)

  25. I’ve heard now why Mr Sesnan hasn’t responded on here as he stated he would…….he’s been too busy utilising thatcher’s anti-trade union legislation to threaten legal action against library workers on strike.
    What kind behaviour is that for a so-called “workers co-op” ?
    Does he think that would foster good relations with potential future employees ?
    Did the workers at GLL democratically take that decision and also to break off negotiations pre-maturely with reps of library workers ?

    Library workers voted democratically 89% to reluctantly take action and sacrifice their pay as a last resort against consequences of this proposed transfer.

  26. It is striking that since Mr Sesnan initial post on Wednesday morning there have been 27 comments posted here , mostly strongly disagreeing with his views on the proposed transfer and challenging the veracity of his account of events.

    The only two feeble comments in his support have come from his associate Cllr Fahy which has only proved how out of touch and ill informed Cllr Fahy is.

    A simple question for Cllr Fahy : How can you be so confident that the Library service and jobs will be protected by GLL , who have absolutely no experience of running libraries , while Greenwich Council is unable to offer that protection ?

    No one else from GLL , Greenwich Council or senior Library management , who have all colluded behind closed doors in orchestrating this proposed transfer , have taken the opportunity provided here to put any case in support of the transfer.


  27. The use of the anti-trade union legislation by GLL puts the final nail in the coffin to the notion that GLL is a worker-led organisation. As a result of the legal notice issued on Friday evening, the strike action on Monday and Tuesday has been postponed in order to protect our members legal position. A new notice will now be issued to GLL because GLL, in effect, claim that they did not know that there was going to be strike action next week. All this really does is delay any further action for a few weeks. For our part, we appeal again to GLL and the Council to enter into meaningfull negotiations before the next strike.

    On Saturday 5th March, we will be marching in defence of libraries and the workers who provide the service. The Ferrier Library has closed and there are no plans to build a replacement on the new development at Kidbrooke. This really is just the start. Join us at 11.30 at the Eltham Centre, where we will set out at 12noon to march to Woolwich.

    The two days of strike action, with 11 out of 13 libraries closed shows the support among library workers for the Unite action. This campaign will not go away just because GLL chose to hide behind legal action which gives them a temporary reprieve only from strike action.

  28. Apologies, I of course did mean the 5th May for the march in support of libraries.

  29. This delay will, of course, give Mr. Sesnan sufficient time to respond to the points made on this blog. Wont it?

    Is there a strikers fund for the library workers? Because even though I am out of work, I would like to contribute what little I can to it. They deserve it. A free library system is one of the cornerstones of a decent society and we should do all we can to preserve it.

  30. “You don’t have to read this website if you don’t like it…

    (Thank you, everyone, for your comments so far.)”

    Just to make it clear, I love the idea of the blog! Nothing to do with the website, it’s the actual content that is lacklustre!

  31. Donations to the hardship fund can be sent to Unite Office, Middle Door, Old Town Hall, Polytechnic St, Woolwich SE18. Cheques made payable to Greenwich Unite. There will also be a benefit night on 11th May at the Woolwich Theatre, Wellington St, Woolwich,SE18. Tickets are available via the Unite Office or contacting me at

  32. The lack of response from GLL & LBG is indeed very lacking in lustre , to say the least.
    Unfortunately it is what has become expected of LBG’s lack of accountability , under the auspices of the “great leader”. Now it also seems true of GLL. Sad days for local democracy.

  33. I have a response from GLL – it’ll be published tonight or tomorrow morning (can’t get to the site at the moment.)

  34. Tonight I have recieved legal advice in connection with the transfer of the library staff to GLL. The TUPE legislation makes clear what is covered as far as providing information to the trade union is concerned. Unite asked for detailed information regarding what conditions were transfering over and also details of current GLL conditions. In line with the lack of any meaningfull consultation that has been the hallmark of this whole debacle, the Council and GLL refused to provide the information we requested. It is an irony that the Councils failures legally transfer to GLL and therefore it will be GLL who our legal action is taken against. It is now clear that GLL failed in there legal duty as far as consultation is concerned. Papers are now being prepared for our legal advisers. We could now end up with a court declaring that the transfer was flawed.

    I would put to GLL again, get in contact and start negotiating with Unite. I made the request direct this morning. They have the opportunity, prior to the legal action commencing and while there is a break in the strike action to talk. Tonight, I have not yet had a reply.

  35. I think that it is very dangerous in a supposedly democratic society for a company like GLL, which is not well run in my experience, to develop a monopoly in so many aspects of life in the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

  36. Following the transfer that took place on 30th April, GLL did agree to a request from Unite for negotiations on our concerns re staff pay and conditions. While we are disapointed that the public campaign led by Unite did not force a change of heart from the Council on the matter of the transfer, we are pleased to say that assurances have now been given by GLL which we are happy to recommend to our members. These deal with our concerns that the report that went to Cabinet stated that staff would all be on the same contracts and that therefore GLL pay and conditions would mean poorer pay and conditions for library staff.
    Unite remains of the view that public services must remain in the public sector. We will continue to fight to keep public services public and for transfered services to be placed back in the public sector.
    But where transfers do take place, we will fight to win our members the best possible protection, as we have done in this campaign.

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