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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Kirklees Council ‘can’t give assurances’ about the future of its services, as closure of Customer Service Centres get green light

Deputy Leader, Cllr Paul Davies, said the council needs assurances of fair, adequate funding from the government

A senior Kirklees councillor says the local authority ‘can’t give assurances’ about the future of its services without adequate government funding, as plans to close the borough’s Customer Service Centres and reduce library services get the green light.

Yesterday (20 February), Kirklees Council’s Cabinet approved plans to close its two Customer Service Centres – one at Huddersfield’s Civic Centre 3, the other temporarily at Dewsbury Library to allow for repairs in its former location in the Walsh building. Instead, customer services will be integrated into libraries across the borough.

The council says its plans will make the services more easily accessible for people, being located at a library closer to home. However, some members of the community are not convinced, with fears that vulnerable residents who rely on the services for support might ‘slip through the net’.

The ten integrated libraries will be situated at Huddersfield, Holmfirth, Heckmondwike, Dewsbury, Batley, Cleckheaton, Birstall, Ravensthorpe, Almondbury and Kirkburton.

Also approved were the next steps for making eight of Kirklees’ libraries at Honley, Meltham, Marsden, Kirkheaton, Skelmanthorpe, Denby Dale, Mirfield and Shepley, community-managed. This will see the council explore the feasibility of moving to its proposed library model, and engagement with voluntary groups, the community and staff.

In addition, six libraries will be community-supported but still council-run, and these are located at Birkby, Lindley, Deighton, Slaithwaite, Golcar and Dalton.

Cllr Adam Gregg Image: Colne Valley Council

The overarching plans would see around 47 jobs lost and a saving of £1.86m made – £950k from the Customer Service Centre move in 2024/25, and £912k from the community-managed libraries approach in 2025/26.

The libraries proposed to be community-managed have been chosen due to factors such as community capacity, strong library friends of groups and other volunteers, and the presence of community infrastructures like town or parish councils.

Several councillors attended today’s meeting to raise questions and concerns around the plans. Cllr Adam Gregg (Con, Lindley) sought assurance that the eight libraries set to be community-managed won’t be closed if the engagement finds that the plan is unfeasible.

Cllr Paul Davies Image: Kirklees Council

In response, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Corporate, Cllr Paul Davies said: “In terms of assurances, I’m certain that every member of the Cabinet and the Leader would be very happy to give assurances about the future of all services and assets within the council.

“Unfortunately, there’s not one of us who could sit here and give assurances about any of that while we continue to see a situation where we are chronically underfunded, where we don’t have long-term funding settlements provided.

“Not only would it be extremely difficult to give assurances around that, around this particular element – the libraries – it’s difficult to say that in terms of all of our services.

“Now, of course, we’re not sitting here and closing down services, we’re not going to sit back idly and let that happen but I’m making the point that this is a partnership and the partnership is between us and the community, but also between us and the government, and the government are simply not playing their part in this partnership.

“And so, assurances, we want from the government in terms of adequate funding, fair funding going forward so we can do the best for our citizens.”

Cllr Alison Munro Image: Kirklees Council

Speaking of the transition to a community-managed model, Cllr Davies continued: “We will work hard to support any community group going forward. There Is a very, very strong theme within this administration of fighting hard to keep our libraries. We see our libraries as an essential part of our communities and we will continue to do this, so I can assure all citizens that will be the case.

“This is an opportunity to keep our estate going in very difficult financial times, the challenges we’re facing, but certainly assurances are not easy to come by in the current situation and the current financial funding model that we have.”

Cllr Charles Greaves Image: Kirklees Council

Cllr Alison Munro (Lib Dem, Almondbury) was concerned the plans will “further dilute” the borough’s “already dwindling” library services. She called on the council to carry out the consultation before integrating the Customer Service Centres.

Holme Valley North Independent, Cllr Charles Greaves felt that communities could feel “betrayed” by the council where volunteers have stepped forward to support their local library with the support of council staff, but could now be asked to manage the libraries without this help.

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