County Council staff wait for jobs news as cuts row grows

Photo Neil Cross
Elaine Cotterell of UNISON
Photo Neil Cross Elaine Cotterell of UNISON
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Lancashire’s library and museums staff are bracing themselves for confirmation of likely job losses this week following last Friday’s publication of a County Council hit list of buildings planned for closure.

More than 100 buildings, including libraries and children’s centres are - subject to a further round of public consultation - set to close.

Public services union UNISON predicts that on Wednesday and Thursday some 50 library and museums staff will be told they are in line for redundancy, with another 200 plus jobs set to go from the county council’s Children’s Centres next year.

Lancashire branch Secretary Elaine Cotterell, whose union represents 10,000 county council members said council workers are devastated. With so many jobs hanging by a thread and the future of so many buildings and services uncertain, she said staff were likely to be “in shock”.

Tomorrow the county council’s executive scrutiny committee will have an opportunity to look at the proposals for the controversial building closures, which are part of a major reorganisation of council services, prompted by a cuts crisis. The council says it faces £200m Government spending cuts by 2020/21 and has no alternative but to radically change the way it operates.

Building closures will be accompanied by the creation of a network of new Neighbourhood Centres offering a variety of services.

Those library and museums staff whose jobs will go will be subject to a 28 day consultation process. Elaine continued: ”For our members it is obviously devastating. I think they are probably in shock ... I believe there are up to 50 jobs at risk of compulsory redundancy in libraries and museums and those jobs will go by the end of the year. It’s a loss of specialised skills and knowledge - it’s irreplaceable.”

She said union representatives would accompany library and museum staff to this week’s meetings.

The union rep turned on the county’s Tory MPs saying: “ I think those MPs are doing a great disservice to their constituents. They’ve agreed with these cuts. They are in a position to put pressure on (Chancellor) George Osborne to say ‘put the brakes on!’”

Meanwhile she said there was some comfort in the fact that it appears more library jobs had been saved than expected.

The council had originally planned to closed 40 libraries, but has reduced that number to 29 with 44 libraries remaining, seven as self-service satellite centres.

But Fylde Tory MP Mark Menzies hit back claiming that Fylde had been discriminated against with proposals to close Lytham, Kirkham, Ansdell and Freckleton libraries:“To close four out of five libraries locally – and not leave us with a single facility in rural Fylde – is appalling and leads me to believe that this has been a fait accomplis from the start. There can be no doubt that the Labour Party has sought to protect areas where it receives more support. In Preston, it seems the only library to be facing closure is Fulwood Library, with eight out of nine facilities avoiding the cull.”

He added that the Local Government minister will now, at his request, look at the methodology for choosing which libraries are to go.

But County Coun Jenny Mein leader of Lancashire County Council rebuffed claims the council is being partisan in its recommendations for closing certain libraries and keeping others open, saying this was “absolutely not” the case adding: “I do not want to be doing this but we are being forced into it because of the financial situation.”

Responding to the accusations that Preston had been favoured she said she would welcome scrutiny by the Local Government minister on how decisions were reached:“I would very much welcome the Secretary of State looking at our methodology because we’ve used some very hard hitting analysis to arrive at these proposals. The emphasis is it should be on service not buildings. We are trying to consolidate our number of buildings so we can continue to deliver the services to a good standard.”

Stressing the proposals would go out to consultation and could then be revised, she said data on demographics and indices of deprivation had contributed to decisions, adding: “The actual population of Preston is a great deal bigger than the population of Fylde and the needs are different.”

While Kirkham library was recommended for closure the service itself would relocate to the Milbanke building across the road.