Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson speaks out against possible closure of Essex libraries

LABOUR’S DEPUTY LEADER ASKS MINISTER TO INTERVENE OVER LIBRARY CLOSURES

SHADOW culture minister Tom Watson has asked the Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Wright MP to launch an inquiry over Essex County Council’s plans to cut library services in the county. The West Bromwich MP and deputy Labour leader submitted a written parliamentary question earlier this week. In the letter Tom Watson told the minister: “If these plans go ahead, they will cause huge social and cultural damage to Essex communities, while saving what is a relatively small sum of money for the Council.”

“The strength of feeling in the community is clear. Over 50,000 people have signed petitions against the plans, and this last weekend hundreds of people protested against the cuts across the county. Libraries are community spaces, places where everyone is welcome and supported in achieving their full potential. Cutting library services will exacerbate loneliness, disadvantage, and digital exclusion, leaving our communities poorer and entrenched inequality.”

“The Council has stated that a range of groups have expressed interest in running the libraries. It is laudable that so many people care about their communities and offer their own time and resources to keep their libraries up and running, but the truth is that they shouldn’t have to. Volunteers are important to public libraries, but so are professional staff. Over-reliance on volunteers means that some communities can slip between the cracks. The public should have access to a professional library service with the expertise required to support library users, wherever they live.”

“Libraries are local cultural hubs and engines of social mobility. That’s why I am asking you to launch an inquiry into Essex County Council’s proposed plans to ascertain whether these cuts would be a breach of the Council’s statutory duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient library’ service. If these cuts go ahead, precious community resources will be lost in exchange for very little monetary gain.”

A spokesperson for SOLE said: “We are pleased that this act of cultural vandalism and the opposition to it of the people of Essex is being brought to the attention of government. Not only that, but our concerns that voluntary led libraries are not sustainable have also been highlighted. If the County Council doesn’t listen to reason, we hope the government will.”

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