Ipswich: Campaigners welcome news that the libraries are saved

SUFFOLK: The county’s much-vaunted New Strategic Direction lies in tatters today with another flagship policy being abandoned by the new broom at the top of the Tory tree at Endeavour House.

Two hours after he was voted leader of the Conservative group at the county, Mark Bee stepped in to save school crossing patrols.

Now, two weeks after becoming leader-elect of the authority, he has abandoned plans to divest the library service.

And three weeks after The Evening Star summed up the concerns of people across the county and called for the New Strategic Direction itself to be consigned to the dustbin of history, it is clear that is happening right now.

The county is to abandon proposals to hand over the running of libraries – it is to set up a “community interest company” to organise the running of individual branches.

That would be owned by the county – but its board would include councillors, officials and community representatives.

However the buildings and the service itself are to remain part of the county council.

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Mr Bee does not become county council leader until its annual meeting on May 26, but he is using the time before then to review policies.

The proposals for the library service were outlined by cabinet member with responsibility for the service, Judy Terry, after consultations with Mr Bee and interim council leader Jane Storey.

And while there is no guarantee that all branches will be retained, Mrs Terry said she expected the overwhelming majority to stay open.

She said: “I really hope that all libraries will remain open. Ultimately we would like to be able to see new libraries created for communities across the county.”

She said involving communities in the running of the libraries would lead to a reduction in the amount of bureaucracy and should help to make savings needed by the county.

Councillors and officers have been impressed by the strength of feeling seen in towns and communities across Suffolk.

A momentum built up during the county’s three-month consultation period which finished on April 30.

Mrs Terry said: “Actually, I am glad to see how important people feel their local libraries are.

“When you look at how vocal people have been you realise how valuable their libraries are to them. I would much rather have that than a kind of indifference towards the future of library services.”

Mrs Terry emphasised that the proposals that were being drawn up by the council for the future of the library service would not become official policy until they had been approved by the new cabinet which is due to discuss them on July 16.

n What do you think about this U-turn? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstar letters@eveningstar.co.uk.

n For more on libraries, see Bryony Rudkin’s column on p16

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