Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has guaranteed that a future Labour government would protect public libraries — on the eve of continued strikes in Bradford over swingeing cuts to its cultural services.
In an interview with Penguin Books published on Wednesday (November 27), Corbyn pledged to save public libraries which have faced unprecedented closures by earmarking a £1bn Cultural Capital Fund to revitalise libraries, museums, and galleries.
“The Conservatives know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” Corbyn said in the interview. “They’ve closed hundreds of libraries because they don’t recognise, and don’t want to recognise, the lifeline that libraries provide as a free service, open to all regardless of wealth.”
The £1bn funding pledge, initially announced on Sunday (November 24), pales in comparison to the £250m pledged by the Tories and has received acclaim from librarians.
In an editorial in Public Libraries News, librarian Ian Anstice said Labour’s policies on libraries went far beyond the other parties’ pledges.
After examining the Tories’, Greens’ and Lib-Dems’ policies, Anstice wrote, “Labour, on the other hand, have clearly been alerted to the sector as they promise £1 billion – not just £250 million – for libraries, galleries and museums but also specifically mention updated IT for public libraries and the reintroduction of library standards.”
“The clear gold star goes to Labour who actually appear to show some understanding of the sector beyond that of the typical person polled at a street corner,” Anstice went on to write.
The latest library closure statistics are stark – more than 100 libraries have closed every year under successive Tory-led governments over the last decade, while the budget for libraries has been slashed by a quarter from £1bn in 2010 to £741m last year.
Pummelled by austerity, libraries are now more and more being run by volunteers. Since 2010, the number of paid library staff in England, Scotland and Wales has plummeted by 7,538, while the number of volunteers has skyrocketed in England by 27,509.
Cuts to libraries and museums in Bradford are emblematic of the cuts faced to such cultural services across the country – Unite has found that the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council has salami-sliced funding for libraries and museums over the last decade.
Most recently, the council slashed £950,000 for the year starting April 2019 and has planned to slash another £1,050,000 for the year starting April 2020, amounting to a jaw-dropping 65 per cent cut. Such cuts will result in less funding for community managed libraries, unsustainable ‘hub’ libraries run by volunteers and a further loss of branch libraries and museums.
But Unite members and the wider Bradford community are not allowing such cuts to go through unchallenged.
In a long-running dispute, Unite members working in Bradford libraries, museums and galleries have already taken nine days of strike action, with more planned for next week.
More than 70 Unite members will stage all-out strikes at the city’s 14 library and museums on Tuesday (December 3) and Friday (December 6), as well as targeted action on Monday (December 2), Wednesday (December 4) and Thursday (December 5).
Unite regional officer Mark Martin said the wider public has thrown their wholehearted support behind the striking workers in an effort to save their local libraries, museums and galleries.
“Given the overwhelming support our members have received during the course of this dispute, it is clear that public opinion is the key to resolving this – after all, Bradford residents have the votes to eject the councillors who are pushing through these flawed proposals,” he said.
“The public is strongly backing our campaign – we receive completed petition sheets every day from the public,” Martin added. “We know that more than 100 members of the public have sent letters to their local councillors calling for the council to get back round the table and to stop cuts to the service.
“We would like to thank members of the public whose fantastic support has really buoyed up our members – people have stopped to talk to the pickets and brought warm drinks for free to the pickets. We are grateful to people for keeping up the pressure on their councillors to reach a resolution.
“However, we are still deeply disappointed at the stubborn refusal of the council bosses to agree to a pause in the cuts’ process and their continual refusal to enter into constructive negotiations.”
You can support Bradford’s striking library, museum and gallery workers by signing their petition here.