LIBRARY closures and other council cuts in Coventry could face legal challenge, unions warn.
Unison, the largest union representing 2,600 employees of Coventry City Council, said it would consider a judical review of library closures and other cuts to protect vulnerable people from losing vital community services.
The union has formally objected to Labour councillors’ “City Centre First” proposals. Beginning this year, it could axe every council service in most communities in response to government funding cuts to the council of a third so far since 2010.
Services lost in the majority of 18 council wards would include libraries, children’s centres, youth clubs, adult education centres and community centres.
The “City Centre First” plan would retain services in the city centre and in one multi-use building at just four of the city’s most disadvantaged wards, as yet unidentified.
Labour finance cabinet member Damian Gannon says no final decisions have been made ahead of the budget meeting later this month. Education cabinet member David Kershaw last month responded to protests by talking about the crucial importance of libraries in every community.
But sources close to the Labour party allege closing Arena Park Library next to the RIcoh Arena had already been identified as one possibility by council officers, and they fear the closure of the library in Bell Green.
Petitions have already been started to protect libraries in Eardsdon, Finham and Allesley Park.
Dawn Palmer-Ward, of Coventry Unison said the union would consider a legal challenge of any library closures where residents’ needs were not properly considered in consultation, and pointed to successful judicial review against library closures in Merseyside.
She said the union was concerned the cuts were financially driven, pointing to the council already identifying budget savings from City Centre First of £5million a year.
She said: “I would be very surprised if they did something as silly as closing libraries on economic grounds. We as a union would consider legal action.”
She said the union also had concerns about the impact on child protection in the wake of the Daniel Pelka tragedy of closing children’s centres, considered to be important in identifying problems early on in potentially vulnerable families.
The union’s consultation response to this year’s budget proposals also raises concerns about apparently low single-figure millions of pounds “book values” for civic centres near to the Council House, which could be sold under plans to move council offices to a new HQ at the planned Friargate development near the station.
Ms Palmer-Ward said: “We want to know how such money from the sale of these buildings is going to be used to protect jobs and vital services.”
The union has also raised questions over how much money is being taken from the revenue budget for jobs and services to service ambitious future capital projects such as the ambitious City Centre South redevelopment.
Ms Palmer-Ward said the council was concerned about spending on roads and infrastructure to support projects such as Friargate, without clear evidence that ambitions for such schemes to promote jobs and growth will be met.
Invited to comment on all Unison’s concerns, Coun Gannon said “ These budget proposals puts in place a number of reviews that no doubt will be very controversial but have been brought upon us as a result of unfair spending cuts imposed on us by the government.
“No decisions have been made on any closure of any library and we have time to discuss alternatives with residents, community groups and of course the trade unions before we make final decisions in the Summer.”