Library campaigners accuse Essex council of 'stealth' cuts

Library campaigners accuse Essex council of 'stealth' cuts

Essex library campaigners are planning new protests after accusing the council of planning library cuts “by stealth”.

Last week, Essex County Council performed a u-turn on its proposals to close 25 of its 74 facilities. However, it kept open the option of handing parts of the service over to other groups.

In its new libraries strategy, published this week and due to be considered on 23rd July, the council said it had received 80 submissions of interest from community groups in running 39 of its existing facilities while cabinet member Susan Barker said the authority believes a "combination of council-run and community-run libraries offer the best hope" to increase library use.  

The local authority said successful groups would be given £18,000 in funding spread over three years, alongside an initial book donation, reading materials and support to train volunteers.

Campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) said, despite council claims that the service is secure for five years, the new plans could see libraries taken over and even sold off.

A spokesman for SOLE said the strategy condemns Essex libraries "to a closure plan by stealth."

He added: "People power last week won an important victory, because many local libraries would be facing the chop before the end of summer if people had not taken to the streets of their towns and villages. It is now essential we keep that pressure up to stop a county council so committed to this act of cultural vandalism."

SOLE members will march on Chelmsford County Hall on 23rd July when the plans will be discussed by cabinet members. A day of action is also planned on 28th September.

Essex County Council’s cabinet member for customer, corporate, culture and communities Susan Barker said: "The strategy now commits to no libraries closing within five years. By working with communities we can now keep a library service in every current location. The strategy also aims to revitalise the service through investment.

"The service in its current form isn’t working and we know that there are better ways to run it. We are still concerned about the declining use but believe a combination of council-run and community-run libraries offer the best hope to reverse the trend.

"The future of Essex libraries is bright. This is a new, exciting chapter for the service that will be a service fit for the 21st century and that is genuinely in the hands of communities and local users, who can help mould it to what they want and need.”