Essex council which U-turned on library closures signs off plans

Library protest Image copyright Debbie Burrows
Image caption Children and parents were among those who joined protests against the proposals

A county council which saw celebrities back a campaign against its plan to shut libraries has signed off a five-year strategy for its loan service.

But campaigners say they are still no clearer how this plan will operate.

Essex County Council wanted to close 25 libraries last year, with 19 more relying heavily on volunteers.

But after a local campaign ,which saw authors Michael Rosen and David Walliams offer their support, the Conservative-run council did a U-turn.

Earlier this month, leader David Finch announced there would be no closures, pledging an additional £3m for libraries over the next five years.

On Wednesday, the council confirmed it was still seeking volunteers to keep the small branches open.

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

Shenfield was identified as a potential community-run branch.

Local campaigner Sue Matthews remained unconvinced at the council's long term aspirations and said it lacked clarity and detail.

"It's all very well saying there'll be a library in five years but it could be for half hours at the back of the Co-op or something," said Ms Matthews.

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

Labour councillor Ivan Henderson said he was not convinced at the county council's ability to ensure proper safeguarding.

"I don't believe we are at the stage yet that we can start opening up some of these libraries to those circumstances," he said.

But Susan Barker, cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, said: "We will make sure everyone working in our libraries is suitably trained whether it be a volunteer or member of staff.

"Just as we do now with our 600 volunteers who help with summer reading challenges."

She added: "Some of our libraries are not fit for purpose," and would most likely move.

The council said the system was broken and needed remodelling to stop further declines in library usage.

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

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