Essex County Council has announced it is ditching plans to close its libraries and their future is secure for the next five years following a huge community campaign, supported by authors including David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson.
The Tory-controlled local authority had proposed shutting 25 of its 74 facilities, handing over another 19 to community groups or organisations, with 15 others to run in partnership schemes.
Those plans led to a number of large demonstrations, national headlines and high-profile support from authors including David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson. Campaigners said they were pleased by this week's turnaround but remained concerned about continuing plans to have facilities run by the community.
At a full council meeting this morning (Tuesday 9th July), County Council leader David Finch announced the local authority would not shut any libraries and develop an investment plan instead.
Finch said a consultation on the original plans had “galvanised love of libraries”, according to a Daily Gazette report. He added the council would now invest £3m in the service to makes them “fit for the 21st century”.
The consultation, criticised by campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) this week, saw 21,000 responses, with 1,000 letters and more than 50 petitions.
However, he said the council would still seek to work with community groups to keep some of the facilities open – something local campaigners remain opposed to. He said a number of recent groups had come forward in recent months.
Walliams, Wilson, David Baddiel, Michael Rosen, Billy Bragg and A L Kennedy had lent their support to the campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) in recent weeks.
Andy Abbott from SOLE said: “SOLE is very pleased to hear this news. We do believe the u-turn is a victory for people power and the power of protest. They’d never have changed their minds without so many people coming out on to the streets.”
However, he warned celebrations were on hold, saying: “We’re particularly concerned that Essex County Council is continuing to talk about entirely unsustainable plans to run libraries voluntarily. Libraries need paid staff.”
Susan Barker, Essex County Council's cabinet member for customer, communities, culture and corporate, said in a statement: “Our future libraries strategy has changed drastically due to what the people of Essex told us. I am delighted that the consultation ignited such passion for keeping the service alive.
“We assured everyone that their feedback would be taken into account, and it has- all our libraries now have a future.”
“This is a new, exciting chapter for libraries in Essex. It will be a service fit for the 21 century that is genuinely in the hands of communities and local users, who can help mould it to what they want and need. I look forward to sharing the full detail of the strategy with the people of Essex next week.”
A new library strategy for the county will be published on Monday 15th July.