Wednesday, 23 February 2011

How not to make cuts - a lesson from Bradford


I’ve been pretty straight when asked about the cuts – they are needed because we can’t afford to spend money the way we have for years. At the same time I think we should do local communities and local people the justice of being transparent, open and honest.

On Saturday – just a few days before Bradford Council sets its budget – my ward colleagues and I received the news that the Council’s Labour leadership intended to close the two small libraries in Bingley Rural ward (Denholme and Wilsden). This will realise a saving of some £12,000, we’re told (although it is rolled into the closure of 5 libraries to save £70,000). We got the news from reading the local paper not from the Council itself.

Now it may be the right decision to close these libraries – certainly the levels of usage aren’t great and the opening hours have diminished with each passing year – but the manner in which Bradford’s Labour leaders have gone about it is appalling.  We are being forced into a situation of trying to find ways to keep the libraries open set against a deadline that is now just a few hours away.

I could point out that the Council pays for full-time trade union convenors – to the tune of £300,000 and more. I could observe the team of ‘climate change’ officers costing local taxpayers approaching £500,000. And I could observe that we’re still paying 55p per mile to car users when every one else is paying just 40p per mile.

And I could go on listing example after example of achievable, affordable savings that have, at worst, a marginal impact on front line services. Yet I shan’t – instead I’ll talk about giving local communities a chance. A stay of execution so they can explore, with council officers and others, the opportunities to take over running these local facilities that Labour – out of political spite – has chosen to close.

Here’s what Wilsden Parish Council has to say:

In terms of process there has been no consultation whatsoever with the Parish Council or any other element of the community and the timescale from the announcement in the Telegraph and Argus on Saturday to a decision process on Thursday makes a total mockery of democratic process. The time scale available makes it impossible for the Parish Council to convene a meeting that complies with standing orders to discuss the proposal.

It is also difficult to determine the rationale for the selection. The budget proposal before Council on Thursday recommends closing the smallest libraries referred to in the Bradford Library Service Review 2010.  Size appears to equate with opening hours. The Library Service Review simply records Wilsden as being one of five libraries to have opening hours of less than 10 hours per week (para 3.12)

 However the report then goes on to say in paras 3.22 and 3.23 “in resource terms the provision and use of the thirteen village libraries is broadly commensurate with the staff resources and opening hours allocated” and “given the relatively small floor space available at these thirteen village libraries the levels of use are relatively strong”. Wilsden  (and indeed the other four libraries recommended for closure) does not therefore appear to be a failing library that is not worth retention.

It seems to me that Labour are seeking the maximum service pain so as to realise the biggest political gain.


Update: At tonight's Wilsden Neighbourhood Forum the nature of Labour's spite was revealed - the saving from closing Wilsden library is a massive £8,000.  That's less than the Executive's travel bill.



Pam Nash said...

Councils are going for headline grabbing cuts, what a surprise. Quite WHY councils pay ANYTHING towards Trade Unions is beyond me; these are the same unions that make substantial donations to the Labour Party, so are hardly strapped for cash. Sadly, a lot of councils are seizing on cuts to score cheap political points.

SadButMadLad said...

Shroud waving. Make the cuts where they will be seen even though they are ineffective but will cause the greatest amount of publicity.

I bet even when they have closed the library that they will not allow the local community into the property to run it as they want - no that just will not be on, you can't have people doing things for themselves. The council would disappear into nothingness if everyone did that!

Anonymous said...

Have a look at what the people of Jesmond did some years ago when the local Labour Council closed their swimming pool in revenge(some thought) for them having the temerity to return an SDP councillor in an election..

That was more than a decade ago and they are still going strong, independent of the Council, run for and by local people, and as an award-winning, not-for-profit social organisation.

It can be done