By Local Democracy Reporter
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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