Campaigners warn of “impossible job” for community groups taking over libraries

Following the decision last week by community groups in Chigwell, Coggeshall, Harlow and Holland-on-Sea to withdraw their Expressions of Interest (EOIs) to take over the running of local libraries, SOLE has this past weekend sent an information pack to town and parish councils across the county warning of the “impossible job” for community groups taking over libraries.

Last month Essex County Council withdrew its proposal to close a third of Essex’s libraries, but has expanded on a plan for “community libraries”.

SOLE has condemned the proposal, where community groups would not only be responsible for staffing and fully running libraries but housing libraries as well, as a “closure plan by stealth”.

In the information pack, prepared by a working group led by a Cambridge University Librarian, SOLE looked at the cost of running libraries compared to the grant being offered by Essex County Council:-

“A Freedom of Information request revealed the current annual running costs, excluding staff costs, for every library in Essex. For example Prettygate Library had premises costs of £33,825 per annum, whereas its acquisition costs came to £14,260 per annum. Essex County Council is proposing to offer community libraries a grant of just £18,000 spread over three years – £8,000 in year one, £7,000 in year two, £3,000 in year three – after year three every ‘community library’ is left to fend for itself.”

In a statement released today, SOLE said: “We see Councillor Barker (cabinet member responsible for libraries) has said she’s ‘confused’ as to why community groups are withdrawing EOIs. Councillor Barker put a gun to people’s heads and demanded they run their local library or their local library would close. Now she’s put her gun away for at least five years and said no library will close in that time, it does seem astonishing Councillor Barker finds this in any way confusing. Is the pressure of fronting this closure plan by stealth getting to her? Should she consider her position?”

“The purpose of our information pack is to ensure every single parish or town council or community group thinking of volunteering to run a library, knows they no longer have to come forward as a last resort to save their library. Furthermore they should also be aware of what an impossible job they’d be taking on, not only having to fully staff and run the library with little or no support, but house it as well. We urge any group that has submitted an EOI to withdraw it. Anybody wishing to receive a copy of the pack can email sole.loaf@gmail.com.”

The information pack will also be found at https://drive.google.com/open?id=1RJgKuJocWd9h6ylE72C0inYmGBLOgM43

Meanwhile at a call-in meeting of Essex County Council’s scrutiny committee last week a move to refer the decision on libraries back to cabinet was rejected.

A SOLE spokesperson said: “We are disappointed but not in anyway surprised by the outcome. Alas at no stage have we see any member of the ruling group on the council prepare to rebel against their leadership. Political careers are put before principle. However the people power of protest has already forced the council into one U-turn. We will keep up the pressure to ensure further U-turns follow, and we are staging a county wide day of action with events across Essex on Saturday 28th September.”

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