Strike action looms over 'swingeing cuts' to Bradford library and museum services

Workers in Bradford are gearing up to strike over "swingeing cuts" to the city’s 14 libraries and museums.
Unite, Britain and Irelands largest union, said it will hold a ballot for strike actionof its 50 library and museum membersin Bradford in defence of the services.Unite, Britain and Irelands largest union, said it will hold a ballot for strike actionof its 50 library and museum membersin Bradford in defence of the services.
Unite, Britain and Irelands largest union, said it will hold a ballot for strike actionof its 50 library and museum membersin Bradford in defence of the services.

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said it will hold a ballot for strike action of its 50 library and museum members in defence of the services.

The ballot opens on Friday and closes on Friday, September 27.

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Unite says it has charted a decade of cuts to libraries and museums by the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council – the latest £950,000 for the year starting April 2019 and a further £1,050,000 earmarked from April 2020.

Unite regional officer Mark Martin said: “The council did offer to pause the process to allow for a meaningful consultation to take place over the swingeing cuts to the museums and libraries’ budget, but the council quickly U-turned on this and decided to recklessly press on.

"The cuts would be devastating and adversely impact these services. Our members are being balloted to protect their work life/balance, and terms and conditions, as well as to prevent redundancies.

“The council is hell-bent on destroying the district’s museums and libraries service at a time when it should be supporting them, if it wishes to succeed in its bid to be UK City of Culture 2025.

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“Brutal cuts to Bradford council's funding have meant that some reductions are inevitable, but the authority has a duty to consult with Unite to find alternatives, wherever possible, to cutting staff and/or terms and conditions."

Unite is now calling for the council to urgently reconsider making the cuts, which it says "undermine Bradford’s libraries and museums – an integral part of the city’s social and educational fabric".

Mr Martin added: “The impact of these cuts on users will mean that the council is moving towards predominantly community managed or hybrid libraries.

“These failed models will see libraries staffed by volunteers, rather than professional librarians who do far more than they are credited for, including running classes and assisting vulnerable people to complete benefit forms online.”

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Unite members had voted by 79 per cent in a consultative ballot that they wished to proceed to a full-scale industrial action ballot.

A spokesman for Bradford Council said: "As Unite have pointed out, the proposed changes to libraries are taking place in the midst of the ninth consecutive year of national spending cuts during which time the demand for wider council services has seen a sharp increase alongside rising costs. By 2020-21 we will have delivered over £300m of reductions in the ten years since 2011.

“Since the onset of austerity there has been just one library closure in the district, showing the commitment by the council to sustain services and outcomes by whatever means possible.

“The council has finished consultation for the 2019 changes to the libraries and museums services and they were implemented on September 1. No libraries were closed during this process.

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“Now is the time to prepare to commence a programme of engagement and consultation over the 2020/21 changes to libraries and museums."

The spokesman stressed that the council always consults with its trade unions on matters relating to staff.

He said: "Unite, along with the other trade unions, have been invited to take part in discussions at every stage of the staff consultation.

“We have answered all of Unite's concerns.

“Unite have regularly turned down the opportunities to enter into an open dialogue.

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“We are disappointed that Unite have now taken the decision to continue with the ballot for industrial action just as the library and museums consultation for 2020-21 are about to start.

“The consultation will include undertaking an extensive engagement process, working closely with unions, staff, members of the public and other stakeholders before any decisions are finalised and implemented.

“In the meantime, the door remains open for Unite to continue discussions with us and raise any new concerns they may have."

The spokesman added that Bradford Council was fully behind the Cultural Partnerships’ bid to be UK City of Culture 2025, and maintained the authority was confident in what Bradford had to offer in relation to competing with the other bidding cities.

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The spokesman said: “While a formal bid is yet to be developed, any bid will reflect the totality of the district’s cultural offer, including, for example, the major refurbishment of St George’s Hall for the first time in its history, supporting Bradford Live to help bring the NEC to the Odeon, and the refurbishment of Cliffe Castle, Keighley which has witnessed a surge in visitors since works were completed.

“The bid also provides potential investment opportunities for the benefit of all in the district. The Council is investing £1,435,000 in the bid over the next three years, but has already succeeded in attracting £3,560,000 in external investment. Previous City of Culture, Hull attracted £28 million of investment from external funders and sponsors in the delivery of Hull 2017.”