LOCAL government union bosses are calling on Herefordshire Council to halt plans to ‘privatise’ the running of county museums and instead give them the funding they need.

David Stevens, UNISON secretary of Herefordshire’s local government branch, also called on council bosses to lobby Whitehall for more funding if they believed culture in Hereford should be valued.

The council is currently considering ‘outsourcing’ the operation of its museums, libraries and archives through closed competitive tendering, as a way of saving money and will debate proposals at a cabinet meeting on June 28.

But union representatives feel this could lead to job losses, a ‘woefully undermanned’ service, or even the closure of services.

Mr Stevens said: “What concerns UNISON is that the decision to outsource is based on a number of flawed reasons; for example, expectations of the level of revenue that the services will raise through sales.

“These services do not have the capacity at this time to be solely self-funding.

“The council is clear it wishes to make savings, and the only way we can see that this can happen is through a continual reduction in the funding of the budget given to an outsourced provider, resulting in staff redundancies, and loss of specialist passionate staff, and ultimately, potential closure of the services.

“Sadly, the council has a history of completely cutting its funding, as we have seen with two other leisure and culture providers, Halo and the Courtyard.

“While we understand the pressures on the council, it is saddening that the only option being considered is outsourcing. There are always other ways.

“If, as a city we believe we are one of culture, then more resources should be demanded from Whitehall.

“Ultimately, as we saw with the moving exhibition, ‘The Weeping Window’ there is a passion in Herefordshire for Culture.

“We have seen the interest and success tourism can generate in the county.

“Now is the time to see if this council will change its approach, stop the cuts to staffing, who are woefully undermanned, and instead give these services the resourcing and support they deserve, and remain in the public sector.”

A Herefordshire Council spokesperson said they recognise the value of museums, libraries and archives and plan to retain the opening of all its facilities.

“The council has continued to invest in these services through the Herefordshire Archive and Records Centre, The Masters House in Ledbury, and ongoing investment in Hereford, Ross and Leominster libraries,” he said.

“The Cabinet meeting on June 28 will explore the potential of the museum, libraries and archive services and their sites, along with considering the opportunities commissioning services could bring to ensure there is a long term future for museums, libraries and archives in the county.

“Halo and the Courtyard are well respected services which are independently run, not-for-profit organisations providing a range of leisure and cultural services, adding to the quality of life and health of the county.”