R4U forces ECC to disclose axing Thaxted & Stansted libraries saves only £13k year. Are the cuts politically motivated?

Through a Freedom-of-Information (FOI) request Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) has uncovered that planned closures of libraries in Uttlesford by Essex County Council only saves £13,000 a year and so believes the closures are politically motivated.

Essex County Council recently published its 5 year library strategy which states that it wants to close two Uttlesford libraries that it says are “not required.” Residents, parish councils and many district councillors say the libraries provide many “vital” services and oppose the closures in Thaxted and Stansted Mountfitchet.

FOI shows Thaxted and Stansted libraries best value-for-money in Essex

Neil Hargreaves (R4U) Neil Hargreaves (R4U)

Neil Hargreaves, an R4U district councillor for Newport who is also a qualified accountant, said “The results of our Freedom-of-Information (FOI) request are startling. We asked ECC to provide all of the individual costs for staff, buildings, books, and supplies/services for each of 74 libraries in Essex. Even though these are the 4 categories they are using to decide the cuts, unbelievably ECC say they don’t actually know all of the running costs. However the detailed data they did provide shows that Thaxted is the most cost-effective library in the whole of Essex, and Stansted Mountfitchet is the 3rd most cost-effective. Combined, ECC says that from what they are able to measure these two libraries only cost £13k a year. It is patently obvious that these cuts are not about strategic savings at all.”

This extract from the FOI analysis shows that of the 74 libraries in Essex,Thaxted and Stansted libraries are the best and 3rd best value-for-money and closing them only saves £13k a year according to R4U’s FOI response from Essex County Council

Uttlesford residents not getting fair-share of library funding

Neil Hargreaves continued “ECC are also short changing us. Uttlesford residents pay them to run our libraries, but the evidence from the FOI request proves they’re not giving us our fair share. Uttlesford has 6% of Essex households, but ECC only gives us 4% of the total library funding. The difference is £67k a year, which, using their own figures, would fund 10 libraries the size of Thaxted or Stansted.”

Uttlesford has 6% of households in Essex but only gets 4% of the library funding according to the FOI response from ECC. Uttlesford also has the 4th fastest growing population in the UK and so library services should be expanded not cut.

“It gets worse. Uttlesford residents already pay more than £40m a year in council tax to Essex. This year they want to increase it by a whopping £1.8m, which is an average of £50 per household. That increase alone would pay for all the libraries in Uttlesford many times over. Why do we always get less for more and where is that money going?

Costs already covered by new-home developer payments

Petrina Lees (R4U) Petrina Lees (R4U)

Petrina Lees, an R4U district councillor for Elsenham and Henham added “There is another dimension to this. Uttlesford is the fourth fastest growing district in the whole country, far outstripping anywhere else in Essex. These services need to be expanded not cut, particularly in these communities as they have seen larger population increases.”

“What residents may not know is that ECC has a policy that requires developers for pay a standard fee for each new house specifically to fund library expansion to support the new homes. Over the last 8 years the fees earned by ECC from new homes built in just Thaxted and Stansted should have been enough to cover the cost of their libraries and generate a healthy surplus each year to expand the services for new residents. So where has the money gone?”

Closing libraries politically driven

Cllr Lees concluded “Our FOI evidence proves that these libraries are highly cost-effective, that developer contributions should have completely paid for them, and that they should have been expanded to support growing communities. Announcing these cuts so close to the local elections in May seems to reveal that axing our libraries is a central part of the local Conservative manifesto. If R4U is elected to run the district council in May, we have pledged to keep these libraries open. They are shining examples of modern, multi-functional community libraries. They provide many vital services for our fast growing rural district.”

The ECC public consultation on the library closings runs until to 21 February 2019. More information can be found online at https://libraries.essex.gov.uk/libraries-consultation.

About Residents for Uttlesford