Kirklees customer service staff balloted over strike action

As closure plans loom over Kirklees' customer service centres, workers are being balloted for strike action, says Unison.

Kirklees Council plans to shut the two sites at Huddersfield and Dewsbury as part of its bid to save cash, and Cabinet gave the go-ahead back in February. The local authority’s budget report showed that the closures would impact more than 40 jobs by the end of the 2025/26 financial year.

The centres offer support to the community on issues such as housing benefit and council tax, and UNISON believes any closures would lead to the most vulnerable residents, who rely most on council services, being hit hardest.

Under the council's plans, the centres will be integrated across the borough’s library service and provided by library staff. However, the trade union says there is “no capacity” for some libraries to take on the responsibilities of customer service officers as they are earmarked to be run by volunteers.

Read more: Jay Slater latest as victim of machete attack involving missing teen speaks out

UNISON Yorkshire and Humberside regional organiser Robin Symonds said: “Staff in the customer service centres are obviously worried about their jobs, but they’re also worried vulnerable Kirklees residents would no longer be able to access a key service.

“Striking is always a last resort. It’s time for the council to reconsider its proposals to close the centres and avoid the risk of that happening.” A petition launched by UNISON Kirklees opposing the cuts has received almost 3,000 signatures and been backed by several councillors.

UNISON Kirklees branch secretary Mick Donoghue said: “Council leaders need to listen to the strength of feeling and rethink these plans. Thousands of people have signed a petition against closing the centres. That figure is likely to grow and senior councillors are speaking out against the plans. It's time to look at other options for saving money."

Kirklees Community Independent Councillors leader Jo Lawson said: “The closure of the customer service centres in both Huddersfield and Dewsbury will have a detrimental effect on residents – especially the elderly and vulnerable.

“Vital access to council services will be lost if the two departments close, along with highly trained staff. The proposal for library staff to be trained to deliver the service won’t work. It is planned that a third of all Kirklees libraries are to become ‘Friends of Libraries’, staffed by volunteers. The level of help and support currently provided will be lost.”

Speaking to concerns earlier in the year, Kirklees Council said that there had been a reduction in face-to-face enquiries at the centre following the pandemic. The local authority said that residents will still be able to access the support they need including access to IT and WiFi, and help with completing forms, but from a location closer to home.

Get all the latest and breaking news in Yorkshire by signing up to our newsletter here.