A consultation into major cuts to Bradford’s library service has been slammed by councillors, with some questioning if it even met equality rules.
And they also raised concerns that the cash-strapped council was having to pay £420,000 a year to lease one of its libraries.
Over the past week, Bradford Council has held a number of public consultations to discuss how it plans to slash almost £1m from its library budget in the next year.
But at a meeting to discuss the cuts, councillors had a long list of criticisms over the way the consultations were carried out, saying they ignored the district’s more diverse areas, that they were hastily arranged, and that one consultation event started an hour late.
No libraries will be closed under the proposed cuts. Changes will see libraries in Bradford city centre, Shipley and Keighley become “community hubs” that will offer a wider variety of services, and oversee work done by other libraries within those hub areas.
But cuts will mean back office jobs are lost, and that library resources are cut.
And all this will be followed by another £1 million of cuts in the 2020/21 financial year.
Consultation events into the changes were held at libraries in Wibsey, Eccleshill, Keighley, Ilkley and Shipley over the past week.
The council’s Regeneration and Environment Scrutiny Committee discussed the cuts at a meeting on Tuesday. During a sometimes heated debate, members questioned why some areas of the District, including Bingley and Manningham, had been ignored.
Coun Mohammed Amran (Lab, Heaton) said: “What about Manningham Library? There seems to have been no consultation in the Bradford West area. Why haven’t you consulted with the people of Heaton, Manningham and Toller? There wasn’t anything in these inner city areas. These are very diverse communities, and it is not acceptable that they have been ignored in this consultation. You need to consult with all communities, to be honest I don’t think this meets equality standards.”
Officers nodded their heads while Cllr Amran was speaking, and he replied: “It’s no good you coming here and nodding your heads. You need to consult with all service users, whether they are in Manningham or Bingley.”
Members of the committee were also told that councillors had not been directly invited to the meetings – although there had been public and press notices.
Officers were quizzed on why the Shipley consultation, advertised to take place at 3pm on Saturday, did not start until 4pm.
They said the issue with the Shipley event was officer availability – as they also had to attend consultation on the museum service at the Industrial Museum in Eccleshill that had been arranged for the same time.
Members seemed unimpressed with that response.
Coun Ralph Berry (Lab, Wibsey) had been asking for a report on how cuts might hit libraries since autumn. He expressed disappointment that that report had only just come to the committee – after the public consultation had already been held.
He said: “We asked for this report in October. We asked to look at options for what could happen, instead we’ve got these proposals, not options. When a scrutiny committee asks for something and that doesn’t happen then it doesn’t really help your proposals.”
Phil Barker, Assistant Director of Sport and Culture, said: “We will try to do that as best we can, but we don’t want to bring you options that haven’t been fully validated.”
He said the cuts to the service in 2020/21 will be discussed with them at a much earlier stage – likely this summer.
The committee were told that the cuts may have been even worse. A report into the cuts said options were restricted due to a “significant budget pressure of circa £420,000 associated with the lease costs for City Library.”
Internal discussions within the council have led to the cost of this lease being moved from the libraries budget to other areas within the council.
Originally £950,000 had to be cut from the service this year. But internal discussions within the council have led to the lease cost being absorbed by other council departments – leaving £530,000 to be saved from the library service this year.
Coun David Heseltine (Cons, Bingley), said: “We still have about seven years to run on a lease where we pay over £400,000 a year. What possessed us to sign a lease like that for such a high amount for such a lengthy period of time? We knew then we were headed towards choppy waters finance wise. Whether it is coming out of the library services or corporate services, it is still rate payers that are paying the bill.”
Mr Barker said: “We’re already trying to come up with a solution for when the lease ends.
“The officers who made that original decision aren’t here tonight, and I’m not sure they are still at the council, so I can’t speak for them. But I do know that when you make decisions like this a lot of things come into play, including the regeneration of the city.”
The committee voted to note concerns over the level of consultation, and the importance of reflecting the diversity of the district when it chooses where to run its consultations.
The public consultation runs until Tuesday.
The budget cuts will be decided by the full council next month.