Hackney Council defends plan to restructure libraries as unions promise to fight any job losses

Inside Hackney Central library. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Unions have vowed to fight any job losses in Hackney Council’s planned restructure of the borough’s libraries.

Town Hall bosses say the proposals, which could see 19 jobs cut, will protect libraries from closure and ensure they are “fit for the future”.

They outline a loss of 76 full-time equivalent posts, while the council creates 57 new full-time equivalent roles, “many with higher grades”.

The move follows a management restructure over the summer which the council says has “strengthened” the leadership, but it added a further £50,000 cost, meaning the 2023/24 savings target is £300,000.

The council started a 90-day consultation with library staff in September.

Cllr Chris Kennedy, cabinet member for culture, said he is committed to keeping all of the council’s libraries open: “There will still be the same number of libraries. We are aiming to have longer opening hours.”

This could see libraries staying open until 10pm.

Staff will also get “upskilling and extra training”, according to the council.

Last year, the Town Hall ran a survey and a series of workshops with pupils and community groups about its libraries.

People said besides borrowing items and accessing the internet, they used libraries as a quiet space to study.

Nearly three quarters said they were happy with the opening times.

One resident said: “I can’t speak more positively about the Clapton library staff. They are exceptional, showing genuine care and consideration to children, vulnerable people, everyone.

“It’s a social care service essentially. It’s also the most diverse public institution.”

Some residents said they can use libraries without having to spend money.

One commented: “I would always want to make sure that libraries are a space where people can spend time without spending money. They’re one of the only spaces left where people are allowed to be without spending money to be there.”

Polly Cziok, the council’s director for engagement, culture, and organisational development, said staff will receive more training as part of the restructure and people reapplying for jobs will be given interview questions in advance. Many have not had experience of job interviews for years.

Unite and Unison have voiced concerns over the impact of the redundancies on staff and public safety and vowed to fight any job losses.

It follows a series of incidents at libraries this year, including one in which a security guard was allegedly assaulted after staff were sprayed with water.

At Shoreditch library, there were reports that someone climbed out of a window after a visitor allegedly pushed a member of staff.

A council spokesman said extra security measures were put in place as a result: “More security guards were assigned to the library and we are in the process of installing CCTV cameras and providing security staff with additional training.”

The council said two other incidents – one in which someone tailgated a library worker and ripped up a book in Dalston library, and another in Stamford Hill that saw someone ride a bike into the library – were “part of TikTok challenges that were happening across many locations in the wider area at that time”.

The Town Hall said no-one was injured and staff did risk assessments after the incidents “to ensure that staff and public were kept safe”.

The council also explained that the proposed restructure could see 19 jobs go, not the 30 to 40 feared by the unions.

The plans have to be approved by Hackney’s cabinet and “would create a new working structure with different roles that will support the safety of the building and the public”, according to the council spokesman.

He added that libraries would still have a minimum number of staff on site: “The same health and safety policies will be followed, so there will be no change to staff levels or a reduction of safety across the sites.”

Hackney Council said it had a series of plans to boost libraries, including opening a cafe and shop at Dalston.

It is looking at using part of Homerton library for council staff who are out and about and need office space or somewhere to hold meetings. The council is also in the “early stages of talking to the NHS” about using space there, as well as speaking to Orthodox communities about using space at Stamford Hill library.

The council is also trialling a swipe card entry system at Stamford Hill and is looking into similar schemes run by other councils such Brighton and Hove.

But unions are still concerned about the potential impact of the restructure.

Unison branch secretary Brian Debus said: “We are glad the council has not shut libraries, but if this restructure goes ahead it could ultimately lead to library closures because it does not have the staff to run the service.”