‘Absolute disgrace’: Protesters hit out at council plan to cut library jobs – with union set to vote on strike action

Hackney Unison chair Brian Debus addresses protesters. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Potential job cuts in Hackney’s library service could have a “devastating impact”, campaigners have warned.

Protesters gathered outside the Town Hall this week, with Brian Debus, chair of Hackney Unison, urging councillors to pause a consultation over redundancies.

Debus said the union will ballot members for strike action.

Hackney Council is looking at cutting 76 roles, including weekend assistants, but will create 57 new jobs, putting some people on higher grades and increasing wages and training.

It spends £3m a year on staff costs out of a budget of £5.6m and said it needs to save £250,000.

Culture chief Cllr Chris Kennedy told colleagues at cabinet that “it would be entirely wrong” to pause the 90-day consultation with library staff.

He said the council is “speaking to every single member of staff” about the restructure, and that the proposals are “not in any way different from staff levels that work in other inner London boroughs”.

Cllr Kennedy added: “We spend considerably more in our library service per head than other London boroughs.”

Campaigner Alan Wylie called the plans an ‘absolute disgrace’. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Debus said the plans could affect up to 44 library staff because of part-time roles and job shares.

“I believe it will be a slippery slope,” he added, fearing the proposals will lead to fewer staff at Hackney’s seven public libraries.

Cllr Alastair Binnie-Lubbock (Green) joined the protesters on the Town Hall steps.

He said libraries could be used as warm spaces to help people struggling to stay warm.

“We can’t do more with less staff,” he said.

Library campaigner Alan Wylie said they are an “absolute lifeline” in helping people who are digitally excluded log on for benefits such as Universal Credit.

He said it is “an absolute disgrace” that the council is considering cutting jobs at a “time of dire need”.

The council’s libraries strategy includes better digital provision and more events as well as marketing to get more people through the doors.

It is also looking at using libraries as “touchdown space” for council staff who are out and about.

Other plans in the pipeline are repairing and modernising Homerton, Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington libraries.

The strategy follows a consultation with residents about libraries and number-crunching that revealed that junior borrowers took out 52 per cent of the loans.

People in more deprived parts of Hackney are also more likely to use libraries.

Campaigners are planning to stage another protest at the Town Hall on Wednesday 23 November.