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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Unison call on council to scrap customer service centre closure plans for sake of domestic abuse victims and others with “nowhere to turn”

The union says "it's time to reconsider, and explore other options"

Domestic abuse victims will be “let down” if Kirklees Council goes ahead with the closures of its Customer Service Centres, trade union UNISON, has said.

Back in February, Cabinet gave plans to close the two centres at Huddersfield and Dewsbury the go-ahead. This came as part of the local authority’s bid to save some cash and would see the services currently provided across the sites integrated into the borough’s library service.

With Kirklees Council planning to shift some of its libraries to community-run models, the union fears the centres will no longer have the capacity to provide essential services like those which help people in desperate situations. The move will also impact 40 jobs but the council says many of the affected staff members have found new roles within the council.

According to UNISON, in the last few days, a customer service officer in Kirklees, based in one of the centres earmarked for closure, provided key face-to-face support for a resident who sought help to escape violence at home. The union said the worker was able to navigate the language barrier in order to help the customer, and says this instance highlights the “vital need” to maintain such services at the centres.

Staff at the centres are currently being balloted for strike action by the union.

UNISON Kirklees branch secretary Mick Donoghue said: “Staff in the customer service centres are providing vital support for the most vulnerable members of the community.

“The level of care and help given by the member of staff to a scared and desperate woman simply cannot be delivered in the way the council is proposing.

“It’s time to reconsider, and explore other options.”

This isn’t the first time the impact of the closures on the borough’s most vulnerable have been expressed.

In February, we spoke to a worker from one of the centres who wished to remain anonymous. They felt that people would “struggle to get by” or “fall through the net” without the support of the Customer Service Centres.

We put the latest concerns to Kirklees Council, and a spokesperson said: “We currently have two Customer Service Centres in Huddersfield and Dewsbury and 24 libraries across Kirklees that offer a range of digital and face to face support for customers.  Customer Services and libraries have been co-located in Huddersfield and Dewsbury for some time and we would like to build on this approach by integrating both service offers.

“Following the pandemic we have seen a continued change in the way that people are choosing to access services, seeing more and more people opt to access advice and information online so we want to make it easier for people to do that, whilst also making sure people can still speak to someone face to face if required.

“The new offer will provide access to support via online or over the telephone support from 10 of our library locations. It will also build on the skills and experience of library staff to support and signpost visitors to access the right information the first time.

“The approach in each library will reflect the local community, and we will look to explore what support can be offered in response to need. In addition to this we will be continuing to work with a range of partners who deliver an extensive variety of support and social groups in our libraries.’

“The new offer will mean customers can still be enabled to access the support they need – online or in person- but this will be from within the libraries staff team. The council is going through the necessary HR processes in consultation with unions and affected staff with the intention of minimising the impact on employees where possible by managing vacant posts and supporting staff to move into other roles within the council.  We are pleased to report that many affected staff have already found alternative roles in the council.”

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