Bradford libraries face further £2m cuts

Beleaguered service is facing fresh funding squeeze, with budget set to shrink by two-thirds and professional staff under threat

Bradford’s libraries are facing a £2m cut over the next two years, reducing funding by two-thirds and raising fears of widespread job losses, and for the continued provision of the service in the West Yorkshire district.

Plans to turn existing libraries into “community hubs” are due to be put before the council on Tuesday, including proposals to share resources with other local authorities and cut the book-buying budget by 30% in the next financial year.

The authority directly runs 10 libraries in the district, with a further 19 run by volunteers. In 2010, the authority maintained 30 professionally-run branches. Despite the council’s stated ambition to avoid further closures, there are already plans to expand the volunteer programme and current staff vacancies are not being filled. According to unions and campaigners, job losses are inevitable.

At a packed public meeting in Ilkley library on Friday, Maggie Pedley, Bradford’s head of libraries, museums and galleries, said that in future existing libraries would offer “a range of community services” such as health information. This would offer “cross-departmental employment opportunities”, she added, insisting that the traditional role of the skilled, trained librarian would continue to exist.

According to library campaigner Alan Wylie, the plans raise the spectre of librarians becoming “customer service staff” for the council, with library buildings losing space to other community services.

“I’ve seen it happen so many times,” Wylie said. “They’ll reduce the service, then usage will plummet, and the council will say that now they’ll have to either close the libraries or make them volunteer-run. It’s death by a thousand cuts.”

Residents at the Ilkley meeting shared Wylie’s concerns.

“What I have always loved about this library is that I can find new books to read and I can talk to the staff about books,” said Sarah Pressley. “If I’m representative of how people enjoy using this space, then we want to know what we need to do to make sure this is a place where people can enjoy books and improve literacy.”

Another resident added: “I am not fussed about the library becoming a community hub. I brought my children here and now I bring my grandchildren here. It’s already a wonderful resource for reading.”

The plans envisage a cut of £950,000 for the financial year 2019-20, with £420,000 of savings from changes to the lease for the central city library. The remaining £530,000 is due to come from the transformation of libraries into community hubs, reduced staffing and 30% cuts to what Pedley called the “materials budget”.

New book purchases would not necessarily fall by 30%, Pedley told the meeting, with savings achieved through reductions in DVDs and other library stock, as well as negotiations with suppliers. But with a further £1m due to be removed from the budget from April 2020, she was unable to rule out library closures.

“I obviously can’t make a guarantee that no libraries will ever close,” Pedley said. “But I hope not.”

Pedley added that if the proposals are ratified they are unlikely to be put into place before July, with more detailed consultations due across the district. But the local authority union Unite has already suggested there might be a legal challenge to the cuts because of a failure to consult library staff properly.

“As of January 14, there have been very few meetings arranged to consult on the council’s initial budget proposals,” Unite said in a report submitted to the council. “The impact on the local economy, service users and staff is immeasurable.”


David Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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