OPPOSITION councillors and candidates have urged Southend West MP Anna Firth to join a campaign to protect Southend’s libraries from closure.

Southend Council’s Conservative administration revealed proposals to close two of the city’s six libraries to help tackle its £14 million financial black hole.

While no “firm decisions” have been made, the proposals could see the city’s other four libraries “downgraded” with reduced opening hours.

Last week the Conservative MP was pictured at Leigh Library, helping to promote the Reading Agency’s winter reading challenge.

Ms Firth said almost one million children do not own their own books, despite reading being “key to a child’s success”.

However, when asked how she balanced her beliefs with her Conservative colleagues’ plans to shut libraries, Ms Firth said: “Southend’s libraries are a hugely important community asset and I want to be clear that I stand with my constituents who do not want to see our libraries close.

“I am confident there will be no library closures in the immediate future and will continue to stand up for our libraries.”

Ms Firth says the previous Labour-led council administration’s “reckless financial management” prompted the discussions.

Aston Line, Labour councillor for Westborough – who is hoping to be selected by Labour to challenge Ms Firth at the General Election - described her comments regarding the council’s finances as “complete nonsense” and her position as “incredibly hypocritical”.

However, he urged Ms Firth to help stop the library closures.

He said: “We must put pressure on the Conservative administration to readjust their priorities to ensure the libraries stay open and are not downgraded.

“They provide a lot more services than borrowing books, including NHS services, arts and cultural events, police community outreach, and warm hubs. There is a huge number of services we would lose. It’s not reversible. Once libraries close, you will never, ever get them back.”

Kursaal Confelicity Party candidate and fundraiser Lee Clark echoed Mr Line’s calls, describing libraries as “an important tool”.

He said: “As a child growing up in a low-income family, libraries were my only access to books. They also helped with any homework at school as we didn’t have the resources at home.”