Kirklees library cuts plan delayed as scrutiny panel refers decision back to councillors

This story by Dave Himelfield originally appeared in the Huddersfield Examiner.

Plan would lead to closure of two libraries and no funding for 14 of remaining 24

Campaigners against library cuts in Kirklees used a giant lion to get their message across outside Huddersfield Town Hall

Campaigners against library cuts in Kirklees used a giant lion to get their message across outside Huddersfield Town Hall

A controversial plan to cut library services in Kirklees has been delayed after a scrutiny panel referred it back to councillors.

Kirklees Council cabinet members plan to shrink the council’s libraries’ budget from £5.7m to £3.9m.

But the proposal, which would see the closure of two libraries and the end of funding for 14 of the remaining 24, was called before a scrutiny panel.

Now the Labour cabinet has hit another snag after the panel referred the plan, which could lead to 100 redundancies, back to members.

The panel said the cabinet’s proposal failed to supply financial information or evidence as to why certain libraries would be reducing their hours more than others.

Panel chair Clr Julie Stewart-Turner said: “The committee do not feel that the evidence provided makes its clear enough to the stakeholders and wider public about how the hours have been allocated.”

The cabinet was also asked to clarify its categorisation of libraries.

Libraries had been split between ‘community supported libraries’ and ‘town libraries’, affecting what support they would be given by the council.

Kirklees Lib Dem councillor Andrew Pinnock

Kirklees Lib Dem councillor Andrew Pinnock

Clr Andrew Pinnock, one of eight Lib Dems who called the plan in, said the panel had made a fair decision.

He said: “It’s got to be clear for people reading it and it wasn’t.”

But Kirklees cabinet member for resources Graham Turner defended his cabinet’s decision.

Clr Turner said closing two libraries was a ‘real achievement’ considering the Government had slashed his council’s budget.

“I don’t want to close libraries,” he said. “I would love to enhance our libraries.

“I would love to enhance our services but we have budget restrictions from national government. We have had a huge restriction in our budget.”

The Labour member for Denby Dale added: “Closing two libraries – that’s sad. But I would challenge you to find someone who has done so much for so little.

“To close two libraries in this time of austerity is a real achievement.”

It is hoped that libraries, which will remain open but cease to receive council cash, will be run by volunteer groups.

Unite and other unions protest outside Huddersfield Town Hall over the planned library cuts.

Unite and other unions protest outside Huddersfield Town Hall over the planned library cuts.

But ‘keen library goer’ Martin Jones warned the panel of the dangers of leaving community assets to their communities.

He said: “After the initial enthusiasm there is a repeated turnover of volunteers and the need for constant recruitment and training. I don’t feel that has been addressed.”

One protestor at the meeting accused Kirklees cabinet of failing to consider relevant factors while another accused it of making unnecessary, ideological cuts.

But members of newly-formed library volunteer groups were positive about the future of community-run libraries.

Jenny Tomlinson Walsh, from Friends of Mirfield Library, said: “We’ve made good progress and have good expectations for the future of Mirfield Library.

“Though we regret the loss of hours we understand the financial pressures behind this.”

Campaigners against the cuts used a giant inflatable lion in a demonstration outside the town hall.

As the lion was inflated, some of the protesters recited words from Shelley’s epic poem Masque of Anarchy which ends with the words: “Arise like lions from your slumber, In unvanquishable number, Shake to earth your chains like dew, Which in sleep had fallen on you, Ye are many – they are few.”

The protest was organised by Huddersfield, Halifax and Bradford branch of union Unite Community.

Among the protesters was 10-year-old Ava-Maria Dlallo from Salendine Nook, who said: “I’m here because we don’t want the libraries to close. It’s horrible what they’re doing. Everyone likes libraries but they’re closing them down.”

Inside the council chamber protesters handed in a 2,100-signature petition opposing library closures.

Unite Community spokesman Chris Strachan told councillors: “In the Second World War the number of libraries in our communities was increased. If it could be afforded then, why can’t we keep our libraries going now in one of the richest countries in the world? The cuts are not necessary.”

The Labour-controlled council says government cuts are forcing it to make “hard decisions” and that councillors are working to keep open as many libraries as possible.

More on this story: HuddsLibraries