Branch Secretary :

Unite victory in Bromley

Bromley’s volunteer-run library threat is quelled

We have reported on struggles in Bromley and Unite branch secreatary Kath Smith has spoken at our meetings so it's good to report on a step forward.

"A big, big victory"


Unite secured a massive victory in its fight against Bromley council’s privatisation agenda, after its campaign forced a main plank of the local authority’s proposals to fall.


Bromley has planned to privatise 14 libraries, and replace all paid, professional staff at eight libraries with volunteers, but now thanks to Unite, the threat of volunteer only-run services has been quelled.


After a concerted campaign working with the local community to leaflet, lobby and organise a march, Community Links Bromley, the volunteer organisation tasked with replacing paid staff at the six libraries, has now pulled out.


Unite regional officer Onay Kasab noted that this effectively means “the proposal for volunteers is dead.”


“It’s a big, big victory,” he said.


“Replacing paid staff with volunteers doesn’t work – if the proposal went through, it would be only a matter of time before those libraries would shut down,” Kasab explained.


Indeed, a recent BBC investigation has shown that libraries are closing at an unprecedented rate as more and more of them rely on volunteers to run services after thousands of professional, paid staff have been shed.


To put a stop in Bromley to what’s happening in councils across the UK, Unite identified Community Links Bromley (CLB) as the organisation that would staff the eight libraries with volunteers, and then relentlessly piled on the pressure.



“We leafletted outside their building whenever they had any events,” Kasab noted. “Their building is also used by other organisations and we leafletted them as well to raise awareness.


“We also contacted Community Links Bromley itself several times, in which we explained to them the impact replacing paid staff with volunteers would have on library services.


“The organisation is a non-profit charity which claims to have community values at its heart – we reminded them of this and highlighted the role they would be playing in destroying the community’s libraries.


“At first they tried to blame the council, saying that there was nothing they could do,” Kasab added. “But we pointed out that they very much had a hand in making sure the council’s proposals went through. If they dropped out, the plan to run volunteer-only outfits would be done for.”


Together with a well-attended march organised by Unite and embraced by the local community, CLB finally relented and pulled out on Tuesday (September 6).


Now all Bromley libraries will go through a normal tendering process, a move that Unite will vigorously fight.


“The importance of this news in our wider fight against privatisation in Bromley cannot be overstated,” he explained. “Now we can fight the standard tendering model for all the libraries without our members being split. Winning the volunteer campaign has meant that our members and the community are now even more galvanised to take on the council and fight their proposals.”


The next step, Kasab noted, is finding out which companies are bidding in the tendering process.


“At the moment, they are hiding behind so-called ‘commercial confidentiality’ agreements, something which we will fight. And as soon as we find out which companies they are, we will be targeting them in the same way we targeted Community Links.”


Kasab called the latest news “an immense victory”.


“Although trade unions have certainly helped protect library workers’ pay and terms and conditions before, it’s not very often that we can say a trade union actually saved libraries from closing – and that’s exactly what we’ve done here.”


“We had the entire community on our side and we’ve shown that if we work together, we can take on councils and their privatisation agenda and we can actually win.”


Hajera Blagg, Friday, September 9th, 2016 Cross posted from Unite live:


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