Essex library U-turn after celebrity-backed campaign

Image source, Debbie Burrows
Image caption,
Children and parents were among those who joined protests against the proposals

Libraries across a county will remain open following a council U-turn over cost cutting.

Conservative-run Essex County Council had considered shutting 25 of its 74 libraries but leader David Finch has announced there will be no closures.

However, the authority said volunteers would be sought to keep several smaller libraries running.

Campaigners said they were cautious about using volunteers and wanted to see detailed plans.

Many celebrities backed the campaign to keep the libraries open while hundreds of people joined protests.

Mr Finch told a full council meeting he was pleased a consultation had "reinvigorated" the public's desire and love for libraries.

"This is superb and just what we were looking for," he said.

Image source, Tessa Hallmann
Image caption,
Poet Michael Rosen was one of the celebrities backing the campaign

He added communities had come forward wanting to run their own libraries and the council would seek to help them "thrive as vibrant local hubs that truly serve the public".

An additional £3m will be invested in libraries over the next five years, Mr Finch said.

The consultation received more than 21,000 responses, while the council had more than 1,000 letters of objection and 50 petitions.

The final plans will be published next week and will go before the council's cabinet for approval on 23 July.

The authority said the proposals would involve developing an investment plan for improving libraries as well as working with groups to set up community-run libraries.

Image source, Tessa Hallmann
Image caption,
Author and performer AL Kennedy lives in north Essex

Campaigner Andrew Coburn, a member of trade union Unison, said: "It is great that they are not going to close but what I am concerned about is there was reference to the use of volunteers so I am not convinced everything is as it should be or as we want it to be.

"If a library is entirely run by volunteers then there is the risk that they would not come forward."

Chris Pond, leader of the non-aligned group at Essex County Council, said "people power" had been impressive in turning around the decision.

He said: "It is a significant victory for the people of our county to have made the Conservative administration with its huge majority think again.

"[It would not have happened] if it was not for the public pressure, Save Our Libraries Essex, members of opposition and the Conservative councillors who have said something in private."

Celebrities including David Baddiel, Michael Rosen, David Walliams and AL Kennedy offered their support to the Save Our Libraries Essex campaign.

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Image source, David Walliams/Twitter
Image caption,
David Walliams found fame on television shows including Little Britain
Image source, Tessa Hallmann
Image caption,
David Baddiel writes children's books as well as performing comedy

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