Council leaders urged to scrap recruitment freeze that has forced Bristol library closures
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Council leaders are being urged to scrap a recruitment freeze that has forced every Bristol library except the main Central one to close temporarily in the last two months.
All 26 local branches across the city have shut their doors to residents at least once since the local authority ordered a ban on casual employees from November.
There have been 287 full or part-day closures in total, with the worst hit being Filwood which has closed 22 times – six all day and 16 partially – followed by Henleaze, Lockleaze, Henbury and Knowle.
Only Fishponds has avoided having to shut on fewer than four occasions over the last two months, with a single partial closure.
Cllr Tim Kent (Lib Dem, Hengrove & Whitchurch Park) has now tabled a motion to full council on Tuesday (January 9) calling on Labour mayor Marvin Rees’s administration to reverse the decision.
The council says hiring casuals has been paused until February to help balance the books, while Labour has hit back at the Liberal Democrats, accusing the party of “hypocrisy” for starting national austerity under the former Coalition Government with the Conservatives and causing the funding crisis.
Cllr Kent’s silver motion, which means it could be debated depending on time constraints, said: “Bristol City Council is proud that it has protected libraries from closure and notes that in many parts of the country many libraries have been lost.
“Council is pleased that previous closure plans were scrapped and strongly supports retaining the branch library network as a free, affordable, warm, and safe space where people can access knowledge.
“Council notes and supports the previous work on welcome spaces in the city – and notes that for many, that is their local branch library.
“Council is very concerned that the recruitment freeze, enacted by officers following consultation with Labour cabinet members, has created a stealth closure of branch libraries with many now being forced to close once or twice a week.
“Council calls on the Mayor’s administration to instruct officers to immediately end the recruitment freeze for the library service and ensure they have the staff available to ensure branch libraries remain open.”
A Labour group spokesperson said: “Since the Lib Dems started national austerity with the Tories in 2010, a fifth of libraries in the UK have sadly been shut.
“In Bristol, our Labour administration has protected them all.
“One of the Lib Dems’ local election candidates, who served as David Cameron’s Local Government Minister, was held to account for his role in that Coalition Government at the last full council meeting by the Mayor, who pointed out the hypocrisy of [Stephen] Williams cutting local government budgets and then complaining about the pressure facing councils.
“That meeting also saw the Lord Mayor correct the contention of the Lib Dem Group Leader that austerity is somehow unconnected to the rising levels of homelessness seen since the Lib Dems jumped into bed with the Tories to start more than a decade of national decline.
“This period has also seen, despite historic progress under our administration in Bristol, too few new homes built nationally.”
A council spokesperson said: “The operational decision to temporarily pause deployment of casual staff across our library service until February will help support the council to deliver a balanced budget, in a difficult financial climate for councils across the country.
“Since 2010, around a fifth of the UK’s libraries (some 800) have closed permanently.
“The mayor’s administration is proud to have invested in Bristol’s libraries since 2016, protecting them from national austerity.
“Casual staff are sometimes deployed at short notice to help us ensure continuity of service, which is also affected by a number of factors including staff sickness and current or future vacancies.”