The Town Hall’s culture chief has heeded a trade union’s calls to allow more time for discussions over the future of the borough’s libraries.
At last Wednesday’s full council meeting (20 July), Councillor Jonathan McShane, Hackney’s cabinet member for health, culture and community services, said it may be possible to forge ahead with the council’s restructuring programme without a single compulsory redundancy being made.
He added that opening hours in some libraries would be increased and said he understood “the frustration” of library workers.
Cllr McShane’s speech at July’s full council meeting followed a protest on the steps of the Town Hall at which staff waved placards condemning staff cuts and what they called the “slow death” of the libraries service.
Hackney Unison secretary Matthew Waterfall said: “We are hopefully going to persuade councillors that restructuring of the libraries is not the way to go. The sacking of staff, the downgrading of staff, the loss of 66 per cent of all events: we want to see an end to that. We believe that if staff and management work together we can find those efficiencies.”
A petition presented to the council by Mr Waterfall was signed by over 1000 people who oppose plans to slash frontline staffing and downgrade library workers’ pay and responsibilities.
The campaigners won a partial victory when Cllr McShane pledged an increase in opening hours and granted union reps more time to negotiate with managers.
Cllr McShane said: “These are difficult times for all councils. I understand the frustration of library workers and I share that frustration, but I feel you need to direct your anger to those who have put us in this situation – the Conservative-Lib Dem government whose apologists are sitting opposite us tonight.”
He said the council had been clear in its promise to keep all Hackney’s libraries open and use new technology to deliver what he said would be a better service.
He said: “It is highly likely that we will be able to carry out the restructuring without anyone leaving the service against their will.”
He added that staff numbers in Hackney’s libraries were currently well above the London average and that self-service machines, which the union has complained about, were widely used in boroughs throughout the city.
Hackney Unison, which is calling for a complete cessation of the restructuring scheme, claims a crackdown on theft of books and CDs and the removal of “inefficient practice” could save large sums of money.
In June the union hit out over what it called the council’s “flawed” public consultation on how the cuts to Hackney’s libraries would be implemented.