Letter to Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I AM writing with regard to Essex County Council's planned library closures.

The council is planning to drastically reduce its library service, closing 44 of its 74 libraries to save £2 million.

If these plans go ahead, they will cause huge social and cultural damage to communities, while saving what is a relatively small sum for the council.

The strength feeling in the community is clear. More than 50,000 people have signed petitions against the plans and recently hundreds of people protested against the cuts across the county.

Libraries are community spaces, places where everyone is welcome and supported in achieving their full potential.

Cutting library services will exacerbate loneliness, disadvantage and digital exclusion, leaving our communities poorer and entrenching inequality.

The council has stated a range of groups have expressed interest in running libraries.

This is laudable that so many people care about their communities and offer so much of their own time and resources to keep their libraries running, but the truth is they shouldn't have to.

Volunteers are important to public libraries, but so are professional staff.

The public should have access to a professional library services with the expertise required to support library users.

Libraries are local cultural hubs and engines of social mobility.

That's why I am asking you to launch an inquiry into Essex County Council's proposed plans to ascertain whether these cuts would be a breach of the council's statutory duty to provide a "comprehensive and efficient" library service.

If these cuts go ahead, precious community resources will be lost in exchange for very little monetary gain.

Tom Watson MP

Deputy leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Culture Secretary