Day of protests announced over Essex Council ‘plot to close libraries by stealth’

CAMPAIGNERS are planning a ‘day of action’ across Essex over what they claim are plans to ‘close libraries by stealth’.

Last year, Essex Council launched a consultation over plans to close up to 44 libraries across the county, to save around £2million per year. They included Vange, Fryerns, Great Tarpots, Hadleigh, Hullbridge, South Benfleet and Stock.

The proposal sparked fury across the county. More than 20,000 people responded to the council’s consultation and around 60,000 signed petitions against the plan.

By June, Essex Council said there had been 80 expressions of interest in taking over libraries – but refused to disclose who those expressions of interest came from.

County Hall announced in July that no libraries would close for the next five years, but that the library service would be ‘transformed’ and volunteers would be asked to run some smaller libraries, instead of paid, trained staff.

It said its ‘preference’ was for volunteer-run libraries to move to ‘community premises’, and said it would provide £18,000 funding per community library, to be doled out across three years. Each would also get a ‘one-off donation’ of books, plus a ‘quarterly loan’ of books.

Campaign group SOLE (Save Our Libraries Essex) has since called on community groups behind any expressions of interest to withdraw them, saying it is not sustainable for volunteers to run proper library services and they will instead be aiding and abetting the decimation of the Essex library service.

They accused the council of ‘putting a gun to people’s heads and demanding they run their local library, or their local library would close’.

In a statement today, SOLE said: “Our libraries remain under threat. Proposals to sell off library buildings, sack library staff and have volunteers house and fully run libraries is a closure plan by stealth.”

They added: “Having been reassured during July, when the leader of Essex County Council, David Finch, publicly announced that no libraries would close in the next five years, the truth came out at the cabinet meeting.

“We now know that Essex County Council wants its libraries to be run by volunteers in community buildings. They have asked for groups to put in expressions of interest in running the libraries and have promised the miserly sum of £18,000, over three years, to resource them.

“So dedicated library buildings will go, as will the store of books, computers, resources and trained staff.”

The group has launched a new petition, already signed by almost 2,000 people, and is planning a series of demonstrations on Saturday, September 28.

Demos will take place in Broomfield, Galleywood, Manningtree, Shenfield and Wivenhoe.

Details are also being finalised for events in Castle Point, Harlow and Tendring.

In Broomfield, the demonstration will follow a march, which will begin at 4pm at Broomfield Church Green.

A public meeting about the campaign will be held at Quaker Friends Meeting House in Rainsford Road, Chelmsford, at 7.30pm on Thursday, September 19.

To sign the new petition, visit: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-our-librarians-no-closure-by-stealth

Charles Thomson

Chief Reporter Email: basildon@yellowad.co.uk