Library staff in Suffolk feel “intimidated” and “belittled” over proposed changes to service, union claims

LIBRARY staff in Suffolk feel 'stressed', 'belittled' and 'intimidated', their union claims.

In a strongly-worded letter to Suffolk libraries' general manager Alison Wheeler, the county branch of Unison is highly critical of proposals to reorganise the service's staffing structure.

Unison voices concern that new senior positions would be created while vacancies in frontline services remain unfilled and claim that some proposals would 'decimate' parts of the library service.

It also brands a staff consultation by Industrial Provident Society (IPS) – which took control of Suffolk's 44 libraries in August – a 'sham', saying some workers felt too scared to even ask questions.

It comes just weeks after library staff claimed the service was critically understaffed and 'close to breaking point'.

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Unison's letter, leaked to the media, raises concerns that the organisation could become 'top heavy'.

It states: 'They (staff) feel the money could be better spent on the front line – eg. replacing vacant posts and retaining more staff to ensure an adequate mobile library service to the community... Staff asked why all the pay grades for the new positions are at a higher level than those of the frontline staff who are actually providing the service.'

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The removal of two of six mobile library vans, a vital service for vulnerable people and those living in rural areas, are also highlighted as being of 'considerable concern'.

'It is clear that the task of halving the resources in this area of the organisation is not practical or workable and would only serve to decimate the mobile library service,' the letter says.

It adds: 'It seems incomprehensible that the IPS proposes to reduce the staffing and resource to this front line service which reaches out to some of the most vulnerable and isolated people in Suffolk – and yet can find the money to appoint more staff at higher grades in the organisation.'

Personal statements, which union representatives said came from dozens of staff of the 415-strong workforce, were also included in the letter in a bid to 'change the working atmosphere' within the service.

One worker said: 'It's just so stressful working here – it's like we are being watched all the time'

Other staff members said they felt 'totally belittled and humiliated' while one worker described the atmosphere as 'intimidating and stressful'.

Another comment said staff were too scared to ask questions and described the meeting and the consultation as a 'sham'.

Alison Wheeler, Suffolk Libraries' general manager, said: 'We are currently consulting staff and trade unions on plans to set up a staffing structure that best meets the needs of the library service and our customers going forward. Key to that process is making sure we have the right skills within the organisation so that the charity has a viable future.

'As is the case with all proper consultations, all feedback is welcome – however challenging.

'We have already conducted six staff consultation meetings with over 100 staff and we are due to meet UNISON this week to discuss the new proposed structure further. At every one of these sessions, Suffolk Libraries is there to listen and take on board comments from staff.

'We are acutely aware of the impact that change can have which is why we're working to ensure the process is not drawn out and does not allow uncertainty to cause undue distress. We hope to announce our final proposals next week.'

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