Internationally-renowned poet Simon Armitage has thrown his weight behind a campaign to save public libraries in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
Unite Community has revealed that the Labour-controlled council planning the closures is sitting on £100 million in reserves.
Kirklees council, whose main town is Huddersfield, is planning to shut most of its libraries or hand them over to unpaid volunteers.
Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield branch of Unite Community is resisting the closures, with a campaign that has included petitions, demonstrations and lobbies of councillors.
Its next protest is on Friday, October 23, at 09.00 outside Huddersfield town hall, where the council’s scrutiny committee will discuss the closures.
A survey by a local newspaper revealed that 71 per cent of the electorate oppose the closures.
Now the campaigners have won the backing of poet Simon Armitage, Professor of Poetry at Oxford and Sheffield universities, who lives in the area.
In a message to campaigners and councillors, he said: “I wholeheartedly support all efforts to save the libraries in Kirklees, especially those in outlying communities.
“As well as providing a vital resource and an essential service, offering access to the world through reading and the internet, they are part of every community's identity and an important cultural and democratic presence in our society.
“They stand for learning, understanding and sharing, and in a region like West Yorkshire with its incredible legacy of artistic expression and intellectual curiosity, dismantling the library system would represent a permanent break with a long and distinguished tradition.
“If the council goes ahead 18 libraries will shut unless volunteers come forward to run them One hundred jobs will be lost.”
June Holmes of Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield Unite Community said: “More than one person has told us that the library is their lifeline. We want more libraries not less and we want libraries for the 21st century that are well resourced and properly staffed.
“Volunteers can enhance the work of the library but not in place of paid, experienced staff. We are against this model of running libraries because we do not believe that it is sustainable.
“The council has £100 million in reserves and balances and for less than £2 million the libraries can be kept open and fully staffed.”
The union branch has written to councillors asking them to abandon the closure plans.
The letter said: “Unite Community is the section of Unite for people who are not in full-time work, such as carers, disabled people, students and unemployed workers.
“We feel our members would be hit particularly hard by these cuts, as would rural and less affluent communities.
“We also feel very strongly, that while volunteering is of immense value throughout our communities, it should bring added value to services but should not be used to replace professional librarians.
“As fellow members of the labour movement we know you all recognise the centrality of open access to education in shaping our history and enabling working people to build a better society.
“The campaign to Save Kirklees Libraries has garnered support from members of the public, union members and activists across Kirklees and has attracted the support of one of our most esteemed local sons, Simon Armitage.”
Notes to editors:
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- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.