IN what some may see as a setback for Essex County Council, plans to hand over the running of libraries to volunteers, community groups in Coggeshall, Chigwell, Holland-on-Sea and Harlow have all decided to withdraw their offers to run libraries.
Library campaigners have condemned the plans as “unsustainable” and a “closure plan by stealth”. Essex County Council claimed to have received offers from eighty different groups after it threatened to close a third of the county’s libraries if nobody came forward to take over the service. Last month the council U-turned on its original proposals.
Tracey Vickers led a group of library users and Coggeshall residents who made a bid. She said:-
“When the original strategy was released, Coggeshall asked on several occasions for a meeting with Councillor Barker to discuss their proposals. We were repeatedly refused on the grounds that they were ‘too busy and couldn’t meet every community group’. Each time they refused, they asked if we’d submitted an EOI [Expression of Interest]. Rightly or wrongly, Coggeshall felt pressurised into submitting one as a ‘requirement’ or a pre-qualification for a meeting.”
“Further down the road however, we realised that the EOIs were being misrepresented as support for the proposals when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Coggeshall have withdrawn our EOI and we eagerly await clarity on what ‘open’ actually means.”
Similarly in Chigwell its residents association had made a bid. Chigwell Residents Association treasurer Jacquie MacLeod said:-
“We only made an offer to run our library under duress as at such a crucial time Essex County Council was going to close our library if nobody came forward, it was our only hope to save it. Essex Council County has made a subsequent statement that ‘no library will close’ and they have confirmed they will invest and work to keep libraries open. We want to take Essex County Council at its word and see them honour their new commitment, after all it is their job to run a library, it’s their statutory responsibility.”
In a statement SOLE said:-
“We are delighted the closure plan by stealth is beginning to crumble. Community groups are starting to realise it would be an unsustainable burden to not only run a library but house it as well, with just an £18,000 grant over three years from the council. After that so-called ‘community libraries’ would be left to run the lot without support. It would be their job to raise enough money, buy every book, pay every bill, find every volunteer. SOLE will be sending an information pack to parish councils and community groups across the county in the coming days warning them of the dangers of trying to run a library. We are sure many others will follow this lead and withdraw their EOIs.. In the end it’s not their job to house and run a library. It is Essex County Council’s statutory duty.”
In another development, opposition councillors have called in the cabinet’s decision on libraries to the scrutiny committee. Labour’s Julie Young, Lib-Dems’ Mike Mackrory and independent Chris Pond have outlined sixteen reasons why the decision was flawed. The meeting takes place at County Hall at 10am this Thursday (08/08/19).
Popularity: 1% [?]