Vote of no confidence in Essex Council leaders over library closure controversy

By Local Democracy Reporter
Piers Meyler

ESSEX County Council is being asked to agree it has no confidence in its leader and the councillor in charge of libraries following the plan to close around a third of them in the next five years.

The council’s cabinet, including leader David Finch and Cllr Susan Barker in charge of the library service, is set to hear some difficult questioning after the council’s plans to close 25 of its 74 libraries, given especially that it is set to spend millions on fighting a waste contractor through the courts over the performance of a waste plant in Basildon.

Moved by Councillor David Sargeant and seconded by Councillor James Abbott, the full council next week will hear that “this council has no confidence in the ability of the Leader and Cabinet Member for Customer and Corporate to deliver in the future a comprehensive and effective public library service for Essex, which is the county council’s statutory duty.”

Councillor Abbott added: “They have slashed the youth service, halved money into road safety schemes through local highway panels, they are now proposing to close dozens of libraries – and yet they can find tens of millions to fight UBB in the courts.”

A cabinet meeting at Essex County Council (ECC) approved a consultation on Thursday, November 22, on whether or not to close a third of the county’s libraries, with the potential for 19 to be run voluntarily.

The council is hoping to save an estimated £3.7 million with the closures and implemented changes to modernise the service provided.

ECC says there are 31 per cent fewer people using Essex libraries now than there were in 2008 – over 100,000 fewer active users – and loans of books and other items are down by 52 per cent.

But the proposals have been met with widespread criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.

Chelmsford SOLE (Save Our Libraries Essex), one of the campaign groups set up in opposition to the plans, have now announced they will be hosting two protests.

They plan to gather outside County Hall on Market Road in Chelmsford in anticipation of the full council meeting on Tuesday, December 11, at 9am.

Another demonstration will take place on February 9, 2019, where protesters plan to march to Essex County Council HQ ahead of the consultation’s closing date.

Cllr Abbott said: “ECC is statutory obliged to run a library service so the motion basically says that given the scale of the cuts proposed – that is the direct closure of a defined number of libraries, plus another tranche of libraries which could be closed unless volunteers come forward, then they are not delivering their statutory duty.

“We will be exploring the juxtaposition between the county council’s apparent desire to save money on libraries against its profligacy in other areas including London lawyers.

“The council is a very corporate entity and a very ivory tower entity without much empathy for local communities – it claims it does but if you look at what it has done to youth services, children’s centres and now libraries, they take money out of those areas but always find money for those other corporate areas and this is really impacting on local communities.

“Sometimes it comes down to choices – do you want to spend millions of pounds on well-heeled lawyers. Or do you want to keep the libraries open?

“If you took a poll on the street I’d think you’d get a fairly high proportion on the latter.”

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6 Responses to "Vote of no confidence in Essex Council leaders over library closure controversy"

  1. m ingall   December 6, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    I was at a presentation last night on the proposals for library closure by Cllr Barker. Despite the flannel the plain truth is they plan to close tier 4 libraries, that’s Tye Green Library and Mark Hall Library to get a saving of £1m across the County. Tier 3 libraries can remain open, if volunteers from the community will staff it, rent or buy the building, pay the Council tax, heat the building and pay all other costs associated with the building – so in effect that’s tier 3’s like Great Parndon library closing too, providing another saving of £1m across the County.

    No consideration of planned future population growth. Minimal consideration of the economic make up of the community and the need for the worst-off in society to access internet services in libraries. No plans for what to do with the empty buildings.

    These plans show that Mrs May lied when she said austerity is over. Only Labour have plans to properly invest in community services.

  2. MickyB77   December 7, 2018 at 9:58 am

    When was the last time that you and your colleagues used this facility, how often, and when ?

  3. m ingall   December 7, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    Micky, for your information my wife and children are all members of Tye Green Library, they use it regularly. A friend of mine from Birmingham, staying with me for a few days, registered at the Library yesterday so that he could use the computers to download a list of charitable items needed by a children’s charity in Mozambique. But my personal use of the library isn’t the issue.
    What matters is that Tye Green Library was a part of the original Harlow Town plan, an integral part of the community, whilst book loans are declining it provides an invaluable resource for the least well off who need broadband computer access to apply for jobs, update UC records if the work they find is temporary and occasional, apply for school places for their children, even to order school dinners.
    Closing libraries damages communities, costs,jobs and impacts the least well off the most.

  4. tony edwards   December 7, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    Whilst Robert Halfon and I have and will argue about the huge cuts (60%) his government has made to local authority budgets since 2010 – I agree totally with his latest statement

    “In a potential act of barbarism and cultural vandalism, Essex County Council is threatening to close libraries in disadvantaged and deprived areas of my constituency of Harlow—a disgraceful decision. These libraries are treasured by the community and schoolchildren as an important place of reading.” (Robert Halfon MP)

    We now need to do all we can as a Harlow Community to save these libraries and ensure that they continue as a professionally run local authority service.

  5. MickyB77   December 8, 2018 at 8:06 am

    As I commented earlier, computer usage is the main factor for the footfall that they enjoy, at the moment. Not enough, would appear to be the case.
    The old adage, ” use them or lose them”.

  6. tenpin   December 8, 2018 at 10:47 am

    I had a chat with staff at Staple Tye Library earlier this week. Amongst other things they advised me that the Harlow U3A have six groups using the library for activities, each paying a small fee helping towards the cost of the library service. More interestingly, one of the staff is the manager of the Dunmow Library, where the local council have a housing officer using office space to see local residents about council issues. She said she had been promoting the idea that library space be used and shared by other services. Signing petitions and ‘fighting these closures’ are Labour’s answer to the proposal to close branches. The Harlow Alliance Party in the meantime have been campaigning to see the decentralisation of Harlow Council services back into the neighbourhoods and sharing space at the threatened libraries now gives an ideal opportunity for Labour Councillors to think outside the box and show just how valuable they really think local library services are.

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