A Mercury report published last year pointed out the good news that “Libraries in Leicester have bucked the national trend after the number of visits to them increased in the past year” (December 22). Active library users in the city was “at a five-year high” of 86,432, which is also significantly higher than the 58,048 active users of 2002/03.
At the time, Councillor Sarah Russell, assistant city mayor responsible for neighbourhood services, said “what’s clear is that they are still incredibly popular and important resources that are highly valued by our communities.”
However, contrary to the high regard in which libraries are held by the people of Leicester, funding for our libraries seems not to be a priority for our Council as it is drying up day-by-day, with dozens of library staff having been made redundant in recent years.
So our Labour Council’s enforcement of further funding cuts and an axing of even more dedicated librarians is sickening, and, as Unison puts it, will “decimate” effective provision of services (August 21, Mercury).
But it is not just jobs being cut, but wages too. Thus, Senior Library Assistants, along with having all mention of libraries erased from their job titles / job descriptions, face a pay cut just shy of £5,000.
Yet such cuts are not necessary! If our Labour-run Council chose to fight the government cuts to public services they could do so, and they certainly have the money to prevent the cuts in the short-term. I say this because last year our Council proudly added a further £7 million to the £49 million they had hidden away in their reserves.
Our Labour Council has always said that it is impossible for them to do anything other than carry out the Tories bidding. But this is not true: the likely future leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has made this perfectly clear.
At a packed rally in Liverpool he boldly stated: “There has to be a unity of local government in opposing [central government] cuts” (July 9, Liverpool Echo). Corbyn recognises that for Labour to move forward it must differentiate itself from its political opposition, and this will entail opposing cuts, and the very corporate-friendly logic that even says cuts to public services are necessary in the first place.
Ironically the Con-Dem’s 2011 Localism Act gave local authorities a “power of competence” to do “anything apart from that which is specifically prohibited” so there are no problems of legality in opposing government cuts. For our Council it is simply a question of political will.