This one is for Basildon people whose libraries are run by Essex County Council. As Thurrock is a unitary authority, this probably doesn’t apply although the less than open and helpful approach to ‘consultation’ will doubtless ring many bells.

Despite Essex County Council’s deputy leader Louise McKinley refusing to grant an extension to the consultation into the draft strategy for libraries, campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) maintains its view the consultation needs to be extended beyond January 21st to be meaningful. In an email from former Essex Librarian Andrew Coburn to the deputy leader the group points to what it sees as failings in the way the consultation is being conducted. The campaign believes the consultation has been poorly publicised, and as an example, pointed to a lack of publicity in libraries, and difficulties in accessing paper copies for those who are not online.

“We are extremely concerned that, as with the 2018 consultation, paper copies are not available unless requested by phone and even the phone number is not well publicised. This does not fit well with the statement on page 14 of the draft plan that ‘We will improve our communications to help engage with our existing users and new audiences.’”

“In light of all this we earnestly request that the consultation period be extended. Having a two month period including Christmas and the New Year effectively shortens the availability that many people will have to find time to respond by up to two weeks.”

SOLE is also seeking assurances that the previous boast to set up the “country’s largest network of community libraries” – or as SOLE called them “charity shop libraries” – have been shelved.

“We would like a definitive statement that ECC will not accept bids/ offers from community and other groups to run libraries as was proposed in the 2019-2024 strategy.”

SOLE has also raised concerns about other issues, including reducing library space when libraries also become home to other organisations, and plans to charge for library services, fearing libraries will need to become profitable, or face closure.

“On the surface, many SOLE supporters are encouraged by the draft strategy, but several have used the phrase ‘the devil is in the detail’. If you are able to answer the points above this may provide some of that detail. If we could have answers to this email early this month we will use them to inform people and encourage them to complete the survey. We will encourage them anyhow but more clarity will help.”

The full letter will be found here: https://www.facebook.com/2198820073666446/posts/3100984406783337/

The draft strategy and the consultation will be found here: https://libraries.essex.gov.uk/everyoneslibrary/