A number of residents have contacted me over the past couple of weeks regarding Essex County Council’s current consultation on the future of Essex library services. Essex currently has the second-highest number of libraries in the UK and is in the top-five counties nationally for spending on libraries. However the County Council are saying that the landscape is changing with library use across Essex declining since 2008. They tell me, loans of books and other items are down by 52% but use of the e-library service, including e-book loans and online reservations, has more than doubled since 2013. As a result of this decline in walk in library users, ECC is proposing to substantially increase their online library services while downgrading a number of libraries throughout Essex.
Canvey library is classed as a Tier 1 library meaning it is considered as vital to the district. The County Council are not proposing any changes to Canvey library and it will continue to be run by them. However Benfleet, Hadleigh and Tarpots are classed as Tier 3 libraries. With Tarpots library its lease is due to expire and the rent is to be raised substantially. The County feels, they may be able to provide these library services differently perhaps, if alternative arrangements can be made with the community. I do not agree with this classification. Castle Point is a unique constituency and I strongly believe that with the population it has there is a need for an absolute minimum of at least one Tier 1 library on the mainland, not least as the Canvey Island Library is in an impractical location for many residents in Benfleet and Hadleigh.
While I accept that, as Essex County Council state, book lending and library computer use has decreased dramatically over the past ten years, in my view our libraries do more than lend books and provide computers to type documents and surf the internet. They are a focal point for our local community and provide a valuable service for many groups, including the parents of young children, elderly people and those at risk of social isolation.
I accept that Essex County Council have a responsibility to squeeze every last drop of value out of council tax payer's money but they also need to make sure they are spending tax payers money how tax payers want it spent. I have made it clear to Essex County Council that I expect them to listen to your concerns. The consultation documents and survey can be found here: https://libraries.essex.gov.uk/libraries-consultation/. The Consultation closes on the 20th February and I urge my constituents to have their say.
I will be making a formal consultation submission and I have written to Cllr Susan Barker, the portfolio holder responsible at Essex County Council, making clear my concerns about the consultation process and about the proposed changes. I have also requested a meeting with Cllr Barker to further raise concerns that constituents have raised. I will keep residents informed of any further developments.