PROTESTERS in a 14-day strike have called Bradford Council’s cuts to library and museum services “absolutely misguided” following its recent entry in the Capital of Culture bid.

The Unite union, which represents around 50 striking library and museum staff, described the bid as a “speculative gamble” which is taking money out of the district’s historic and cultural hotspots.

One striker explained how City Library’s move from its eight-storey building is the perfect example of the library system’s fall from grace.

Rallying outside City Library in Bradford City Centre, campaigners shouted ‘no cuts to culture’ after seeing a £950,000 cut to their library budget for 2019/20 alone.

The libraries budget, which is currently £2,824,000, will be cut by £1.5 million in the year of 2020/21 - a slashing described as “completely wrong” by Unite.

John Giles, Unite representative for libraries, museums and galleries, told the Telegraph & Argus: “That’s an 85 per cent cut in 10 years. There’s no other area within the council where they’ve been hit by that amount of money.

“This is the same time they’ve found £1.4million to spend on a speculative bid for Capital of Culture.

“To put so much money into what I call a speculative gamble - they failed in that gamble previously because there wasn’t enough places in Bradford for centres of culture.

“Literacy rates are among the lowest in the country. Absolutely misguided.

“Why they feel it’s appropriate to do that? It’s completely wrong. There has been a total lack of respect for the people that run these services and the people that use them. It’s almost as if they don’t care.

“I feel that without investment into the cultural services they stand very little chance of winning any sort of bid for Capital of Culture.

“The staffing budget for libraries alone is £1million. It’s absolutely untenable.

“We’ve had City Library going from an eight storey building to a two storey retail outlet which is £420 million in rent.”

Now the union is calling for a complete rethink of the decision by consulting with representatives and library staff.

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling on the council to reconsider the cuts but council chiefs say they have no choice due to reductions in funding from central Government.

Mark Fieldhouse, political officer for Unite, said: “We understand the climate that we’re living in, which is massive cuts. Our main request is to get round the table to have meaningful talks.”

Council officials have drawn up plans to carry out a a needs assessment for each library, looking at changing demographics of different areas, usage statistics and taking into account the views of library users.

Bradford Council said in a statement: “We are disappointed that around 50 Unite members, which is around 39 per cent of our overall libraries and museums workforce, have decided to vote for strike action.

"It remains unclear why Unite have adopted this position and this is compounded by the fact that Unite representatives have so far turned down a number of invites to present their concerns regarding our consultation process to date.

“The Council has finished consultation for the 2019/20 changes to the libraries and museums services and they were implemented on September 1. No libraries were closed during this process.

“We believe that Unite would be better served working with us, offering their views on what can be done to achieve the savings required of the library service in the face of prolonged government cuts and helping to shape the future of our library service, rather than taking this action which will primarily impact library service users and be of no benefit to staff or residents.

“Faced with prolonged government cuts, we are committed to working with residents, staff and unions on how best to provide an effective library service into the future within our reduced budget. We will continue with plans to start a programme of engagement and consultation with all stakeholders about the future of the library service in Bradford District and our door remains open to Unite.

“Meanwhile during the course of the strike action, Bradford Council will take steps to help ensure that, as far as possible, library and museum services are still provided to residents.”