The Silence of the Tories: Labour councillor describes day at vital library meeting

From Councillor Tony Edwards
Toddbrook Ward

I attended the Extraordinary Meeting of Essex County Council.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Essex Library Strategy which includes plans to close three of Harlow’s Libraries – Staple Tye, Tye Green and Mark Hall.

Attending on behalf of the people of Harlow were three out of four Conservative Essex County Councillors, Mike Garnett, Clive Souter and Eddie Johnson.

These County Councillors also happen to be Harlow District Councillors, who on the 18th of December passed a unanimous vote at a Harlow Council meeting which expressed concern at the proposed closure of the Libraries and urged the County Council to keep them open.

On 7th of January Cllrs Mark Ingall (Labour Leader of Harlow Council} and Andrew Johnson (Conservative Opposition Leader) wrote to Cllr Susan Barker (Essex County Council Cabinet Member responsible for the Library Strategy) – explaining the Council’s concerns. They stated that that “The threat to close three Libraries in Harlow runs completely against the needs of the Town”, and requested a meeting so that they “could look to find a solution which would ensure the long term future of Harlow’s Libraries”. To date no reply has been received.

So my question is why – when there was an opportunity to advocate on behalf of the residents of Harlow did the town’s Conservative County Councillors remain silent?

Other County Councillors spoke about their Libraries in Colchester, Basildon, Saffron Walden, Chelmsford etc., in all over 30 County Councillors spoke – but there was no Harlow voice, it was as if Harlow didn’t exist!

So what is the position of Harlow’s Conservative County Councillors on this matter and how will they stand up for the Town and oppose these proposed closures? The fight to save the libraries goes on and the people of Harlow have a right to know.

Cllr Tony Edwards
Toddbrook Ward

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5 Responses to "The Silence of the Tories: Labour councillor describes day at vital library meeting"

  1. tenpin   March 13, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    I am afraid that deeds are worth far more than words Tony. If more money was to be available either by way of government grant or council tax rises then I suspect most people would wish it to be spent on social care services, children’s services and many others before library services.

    The Harlow Alliance Party are of the opinion that if local councillors wish to see libraries remain open they should be prepared to contribute to the cost and provide local access/information points like many other authorities do. This gives people on low incomes who have no computer or people that have difficulty in using them a local access point. Services could include using the choice based lettings system, reporting repairs to council homes and making payments using a debit card. In the longer term a proactive approach to local groups to encourage them to use this valuable local community facility could be undertaken.

  2. tony edwards   March 13, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    The point you raise at first sight is not an unreasonable one – however for every one pound of council tax collected only 15p is retained by the District Council to maintain the services for which the District is primarily statutorily responsible – the rest goes to Essex County Council, The Police and Fire Service. And Essex County Council have the statutory responsibility for Library services.

    The District Council are prepared to meet with County Council to explore what can be done, as is evidenced by the joint letter sent to County Cllr Susan Barker on the 7th January and signed by Harlow District Cllr’s Ingall and Johnson. Unfortunately however, as yet there has been no reply from the County Council.

  3. m ingall   March 13, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    Dear Tenpin,

    The comments you make about using Libraries to provide local information access points is an excellent one. It is a point Harlow Labour having been making throughout the consultation, because that is exactly what Libraries are doing now.

    Every threatened library has computers that allow visitors free access to broadband, an essential service for those that cannot afford it at home. Importantly this means everybody, regardless of income, can not only access all of Harlow Council and Essex County Council on line systems, but can also access the DWP website to update UC information and to seek, apply for jobs and so much more. More than that the librarians are at hand to guide those that need support to use the computers, in fact they are excellent at doing this.

    The problem is that this vital aspect of the service already being provided, that you are right to flag up, is not considered by Essex County Council in their assessment of library usage and this is one of several reasons why Labour have joined hands with SOLE to assert that the consultation is badly flawed and that all the libraries need to be kept open.

    Harlow’s four Tory Essex County Councillors have repeatedly been made aware of this, and yet the three that attended the meeting have said nothing to help prevent the closures, even though the leader of Harlow Conservatives said in a Council debate that not one of them wanted to see libraries shut.

  4. tenpin   March 13, 2019 at 6:42 pm

    Dear Cllr Ingall.

    You are right about how ECC have compiled library usage numbers, I have visited a library hundreds of times in the last few years, using one of the free internet services and far more often looking at local newspapers. I have not taken out a book or CD etc for probably 30 years so as far as ECC are concerned, I am a member using the library only occasionally.

    The type of information point I am referring to is one solely dedicated to Council services, the type used by many Councils. Very easy to navigate, with say half a dozen key headings as described in my earlier email. I might suggest that if library staff are already helping people as you describe, it would be a good idea to contribute towards their salaries. I have to say however that this practice does give me some concerns about data protection as the staff are ECC rather than HDC ones, which is why we believe that some HDC staff should be present in each neighbourhood, utilising space in each library.

  5. D.p.l   March 15, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    And you lot are no better cllr Edwards, when it comes to Making sure the residents receive a good service for what they pay for through their council tax which your party has increased 6 times in the past 6 years.
    The councillors of both the Labour Harlow administration party and the Conservatives Essex county council administration party are like school children in a playground, who is better than who and showing off and playing the cry wolf when put straight, especially the Labour administration councillors.
    your adults now grow up and do what you was elected to do, and that is serve the residents of Harlow who elected you in.
    Oh sorry I forgot, none are you are in for the sake of the residents of Harlow, your all in it for your own self importance and pockets.
    The residents of Harlow deserve and better service and deserve change.
    So who knows, come May the 2nd this change may be or with luck will be in place then the Harlow the residents will most definitely recieve a much better service.
    Love Harlow vote ukip.

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