Updated: Saturday, 21st July 2018 @ 8:06am

Battlelines drawn in the fight for Old Trafford Library

Battlelines drawn in the fight for Old Trafford Library

By Najeeb Rehman

Opposition to the re-organisation of Old Trafford Library has been growing since plans were announced in December to replace the current library staff with a team of unpaid volunteers.

The plans, which include Hale Library adopting a similar scheme, were announced as part of the Council’s budget proposals to save £16 million in the financial year 2012/13.

Since then a protest has been held outside the library on February 4 organised by the grass roots campaign group Hands Off Old Trafford Library. Petitions opposing the proposals have been sent to schools, shops, mosques and churches and well over a thousand people have signed it so far.

The Old Trafford Community Liaison Group has also issued an open letter opposing the plans and stated: “We will not in any way co-operate in such a transformation. The organisations we represent will not tender for this work, nor will we support, co-operate or network with any organisation that does.”

The lack of any initial consultation is what seems to have lit the torch paper for this confrontation. Kate Green, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, has taken the side of the protesters and said: “I am very disappointed about the lack of consultation with local people in Old Trafford. Volunteers do a brilliant job but they cannot take the place of experienced and qualified staff.”

The Council have taken issue with this and refuse to accept criticism that they have not consulted with local people and organisations. They point to the fact that they are currently in the middle of a 13 week consultation period and have invited all the protests groups to engage in that process.

The big question being asked by the Old Trafford community is why their library has been chosen for this. They have been angered by what they perceive as the completely arbitrary decision to pick Old Trafford and Hale for this experiment.

 

The Council have said that during the budget consultation Old Trafford Library was one of the services that residents showed an interest in being involved with and have had more than 100 enquires so far from people interested in volunteering.

Also, the experiences from other authorities show that high income areas with a prosperous demographic, such as Hale, and places where there are already a large number of voluntary groups, such as Old Trafford, successfully adopt volunteer schemes.

As Theresa Grant, Chief Executive of the Conservative run Council, said of this: “Old Trafford has such a strong community and it is for this very reason that we are proposing to ask volunteers to take over some of the duties currently carried out by Trafford Council staff.”

This provoked an angry response from Tahira Khan-Sindhu of Old Trafford Community Liaison Group who said: “We think it is outrageous that the Council is effectively punishing Old Trafford for having a strong history of volunteering and community activism. What kind of message does that send to other neighbourhoods? Do more volunteering and the Council will thank you by taking away their paid staff."

Other fears raised by campaign groups is that they do not think this plan can work in the long term and expect the library to eventually be run at reduced hours and ultimately lead to closure.

Cllr Alex Williams, Deputy Leader of the Council, said: “We have made a political commitment to keep the library open. These proposals are a response to the difficult national situation with the budget and it should be noted that we have not chosen the option taken by other authorities of closing libraries.

"You can compare and contrast our approach with neighbouring authorities.”

This is a reference to Manchester City Council plans to close nearby Hulme Library.

One of the main concerns is that the re-organisation could diminish the role Old Trafford Library currently plays in helping vulnerable people and those who do not have English as a first language.

Currently 52% of Trafford’s BME community reside in Old Trafford and although an Equalities Impact Assessment has been carried out there is a perception that they are being unfairly discriminated against.

Protestors feel that professional librarians are needed so they can continue to help integrate people into the community and help give them the necessary language skills to find work.

Mike Lewis, Director of Customer Services at the Council, thinks the changes could actually help the library fulfil this role. He said: “We would be replacing four front line staff and a manager, people who are not necessarily from Old Trafford, with more than 20 volunteers from the community.

Each volunteer will get training in customer service skills and new technology, opportunities that might not be available to them elsewhere.”

He went on to say that any group wishing to get involved will have to sign up to a service level agreement with the Council and all volunteers will be CBR checked.

Replacing paid Council staff does go against the Trafford Compact: Code of Practice on Volunteers and Workforce Development. In the good practice checklist it says: “Volunteers should not be recruited to fill the place of paid staff. This could be seen as exploitation of the volunteer and a deprival of someone’s livelihood.”

Cllr William said that this is not relevant as he does not anticipate any compulsory redundancies.

Current library staff will move to other areas of the service and the library will still continue to employ one full time member of Council staff to offer help and advice with council tax and housing benefits.

Tahira Khan-Sindhu voiced hopes that the community can convince the Council to scrap the plans and said: "The library is a place to interact with other people. It should in fact be the hub of Old Trafford. Better libraries mean better lives."

Trafford Council will hold a public forum open to members of the public to discuss these proposals at the St John’s Centre, Old Trafford on February 7, 6.30pm.