FORMAL consultation on controversial proposed changes to the district’s library service is set to start early next year.

Proposed cuts to Bradford Council’s library and museums service have sparked anger, with members of union Unite staging a series of walkouts in protest.

Unite says public support for the action has been strong.

But the council has issued a pledge to commit £700,000 ongoing funding into its library service budget for 2020/21 as part of a wider health and wellbeing initiative.

Council chiefs say the money will help with the reshaping of library services “to sustain a viable and accessible network into the future”.

Councillor Sarah Ferriby, the council’s portfolio holder for healthy people and places, said the inclusion of a health and wellbeing offering in libraries wouldn’t change the primary function of the library as a place to borrow books and read.

But the venues could act as a focal point for people to gather, mix and talk, helping to address loneliness and social isolation.

And they could provide a range of information about events, and employment and training opportunities.

Cllr Ferriby added: “As part of this year’s budget proposal, we want to ensure prudent use is made of funding to support services that impact directly on the health and wellbeing of the district.

“The library service is a key support service, which makes a positive impact on the causes of poverty, while offering aid to those seeking employment, preparing children for school and tackling social isolation.

“We are currently engaging widely around the future of our library service and hope to go to formal consultation with our proposals – taking into account the results of the public engagement – at the start of the new year.

“This extra health and wellbeing investment will allow us a wider scope with regards to these proposals, which is good news for our libraries and residents.”

She said that over the past few years, the council’s public health and children’s and adult social care services had been working to place greater focus on keeping people well – to reduce pressure on NHS and other public services.

Unite says the council is planning to slash more than £1.05m from the library and museums service budget in 2020/21 and its members have staged action at sites including Keighley Library and Cliffe Castle Museum in the town. Regional officer, Mark Martin, said completed petition sheets against the cuts are being received every day from the public.