Essex County Council (ECC) has announced that no library will close for 5 years.
At a full council meeting on Tuesday 9 July, Essex County Council’s Leader Cllr David Finch announced radical changes to the libraries strategy, including the commitment that no library will close for 5 years.
Addressing ECC members before the final strategy is published next week Cllr Finch acknowledged that we have listened to what communities said they wanted and needed.
Next Monday ECC will publish its final libraries strategy for approval at Cabinet on 23 July.
The strategy has been finalised following a comprehensive consultation on the draft strategy. The consultation took place between November 2018 and January 2019.
There was a significant response to the consultation with over 21,000 responses, over 1000 letters and over 50 petitions received. Respondents made it clear that libraries are not just about books or computers – but that they are spaces too for people to meet, learn and exchange ideas.
The new strategy focuses on two key elements:
• Developing an investment plan to improve libraries
• Work with and support community groups or other partners to set up community run libraries, with the aim of ensuring a library service is retained in every current location.
Since launching the consultation a number of organisations have come forward with an expression of interest to run a community library. The new strategy commits to supporting those community libraries with a universal offer of support.
Andy Abbott, from SOLE who has campaigned for the libraries to stay open said: “SOLE is pleased to hear today’s announcement. This is a vindication for the thousands across our county who have protested in its towns and villages. People power has fought back, and is the reason for this U-turn.
“However, we remain cautious. There is still talk of an entirely unsustainable plan to run libraries voluntarily. So SOLE will remain vigilant.
“In the meantime we would urge all those community groups who have offered to run libraries, to withdraw those offers. It’s not their job to run a library, it is Essex County Council’s statutory responsibility. Libraries need paid staff.”
Cllr Susan Barker, Cabinet Member for Customer, Communities, Culture and Corporate said: “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 21st 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”
The future libraries strategy will be published on Monday 15 July as part of the agenda pack for Scrutiny and Cabinet.
The strategy will be discussed at Place Services and Economic Growth Policy Scrutiny Committee on 18 July, before a decision on the strategy is made at Cabinet on 23 July.