Library Battle Is Not Over, Despite ECC Agreement to Cough up £10,000

Stansted Labour Party warns that the fight to save the community’s local library is not over after Essex County Council agreed this week to pay £10,000 towards rent of the Stansted Exchange and foot the bill for the refit of the library.

Essex County Council had agreed to rent the library space in the £1.2 million building at a rent of £13,000 per annum plus a contribution to running costs. However, just days before the lease was due to be signed, ECC launched a library strategy consultation that put the library in the Tier 4 category, scheduling it for closure. The new multi-purpose building, which includes parish offices, opens next month after years of work, during which ECC committed to supporting the project.

Stansted Labour spokesman Daniel Brett, who is a member of the parish’s library working group that prepared Stansted’s response to the consultation, said: “The parish council was forced to hike its precept by around 10 percent to cover a shortfall that was mostly related to the uncertainty over the lease. It would have been better for residents if ECC could have listened to parish protests months ago so that the parish did not have to resort to raise taxes.

“The offer of £10,000 falls short of the annual rent expected and seems like the ECC is trying to squirm its way out of potential legal difficulty. It also suggests that Essex only plans to rent the space for nine months, potentially withdrawing the service in January next year. We have been handed a small amount of extra time to respond to the consultation outcome due in June, should alternative plans have to be made for the library.

“Labour supports the parish council’s position that there is firm evidence Stansted library has been wrongly classified and, based on past usage, local deprivation and rural isolation, it should be re-categorised as Tier 2 and kept open and properly staffed. We believe no libraries in Essex should face a withdrawal of services and the county council should honour its statutory responsibility to maintain a comprehensive library service.

“If Stansted and Thaxted libraries are closed, Labour will urge Uttlesford district council to step in and pay for the rent – totalling £20,000 across both libraries – and the cost of librarian staff to cover the opening hours as well as creating user groups. This could cost up to £50,000 per annum and is well within the means of UDC’s Communities and Partnerships budget.”

 

Labour Backs Cross-Party Campaign Against Library Closures

Saffron Walden Labour Party supported the demonstration outside Saffron Walden Library on 2 February, alongside the Liberal Democrats and the Residents for Uttlesford parties.

Saffron Walden town spokesperson Simon Trimnell said: “The Labour Party will always be open to working with others to defend our hard-won public services from attack. Opposition parties in Uttlesford are united in opposing these Tory cuts. The Labour party will continue to fight ideologically motivated austerity at all levels of government. It is a sad day when politicians working together a cross party lines for the common good is viewed as a source of suspicion.

“We support keeping all libraries open as a community resource for the young, the old, the poor and needy from the lonely pensioner seeking some relief to the parents with children who want to open their children’s’ minds through reading.”

Research based on freedom of information requests by the local Labour Party shows that libraries that have sustained cuts in opening hours and book stock have seen large decreases in usage and loans.

Until 2011, loans and active membership remained stable. In 2011/12, there was a 14% cut in opening hours across the county’s library service, which led to a 19% drop in book loans over the following two years. In 2014-16, the number of books held by Essex libraries was cut by 11% and this led to a similar decline in library loans and membership.

Libraries that did not see cuts in hours and book stock saw no decline and, in some cases, witnessed growth in use in recent years. In Great Dunmow, which saw the opening of a new library building in the centre of town, the number of active users rose 48% to 4,319 between 2008/09 and 2017/18. Over the same period, opening hours increased from 29 hours per week to 50 hours per week and the book stock increased by 4%. Yet, despite its success, Dunmow’s library is seeing its hours cut as it is downgraded to a Tier 2 library.

At Saffron Walden library, hours were cut by 21% from 61 to 48 hours per week with the popular Sunday opening times ended and earlier closing times during the week. Loans fell by the same amount over the following two years.

Saffron Walden Labour Party believes that further cuts to Saffron Walden town library’s opening hours will lead to a downward spiral of cuts with potential closure in 2024, when Essex County Council says that most of the libraries not closed this year will be moved to shared accommodation. The Corn Exchange could be sold off by the council and turned into yet another chain restaurant.

Click here to complete Essex County Council’s library survey.