All Southend’s libraries will keep at least one paid member of staff – and offer users free wi-fi internet connection – under plans to strengthen the library service.

The news has been announced by Southend Council’s new coalition administration – reversing the previous Tory regime’s plan to radically cut back the library service and save £378,000 over three years.

Independent, Labour and Lib Dem councillors who now jointly run the council say their plans will save just as much, but without laying off more staff.

Under the new programme:

- Every library would have at least one paid member of staff

- Each library would decide its own opening times to suit local demand 

 - Each branch would be expected to rent space to businesses and community groups to raise revenue for the service

 - Southchurch Library’s longawaited redevelopment would be carried out “as soon as possible”

 - Shoebury’s two libraries would merge, probably on the Delaware Road youth centre site

 - Each library would offer free wi-fi connections for users

 - A further review of the service would be carried out in three years’ time.

Graham Longley, Lib Dem councillor responsible for enterprise, tourism, and economic development, said: “We listened carefully to residents, who were greatly concerned about the prospect of libraries being managed entirely by volunteers.

“We have shuffled the cards left over from the Tory administration and I hope we now have the best of both worlds – with full-time staff still at the libraries and some of our own ideas.”

Some libraries, including the one at Leigh, may end up with more than one member of staff under the programme.

The 52 volunteers who offered to run libraries under the Tory proposals will still be asked to help out.

Tory group leader John Lamb was critical of the programme.

He said: “It amazes me this has come from the parties who were part of the working group that drew up the original proposals.

“Where are they going to get the money from?

“Are they putting off cutting services today and what theywill do tomorrow?”

Echo: Councillor Anne Jones outside Southchurch Library

Labour's Anne Jones outside Southchurch Library


Southchurch Library to be refurbished 'as soon as possible'

PLANS to refurbish Southchurch Library should go ahead “as soon as possible”, the review says.

The library, in a temporary building, off Southchurch Road, pictured, is in line for a refurbishment.

The books will move to a nearby empty shop while the building is removed and a new, substantial library is put in, with three floors of flats above it. As many as 20 flats, could be built.

The council would borrow the cost of the project, then rent, or sell the homes to repay the loan.

The council has yet to confirm a timescale for the project.


Shoebury to see libraries joined up

A SHOEBURY youth centre remains the most likely home for a new, merged library. The plan was first mooted by the Tories, and involves closing Thorpedene and Friars libraries and moving them to the Delaware Road youth centre, pictured, though this has yet to be confirmed.

Lib Dem councillor Graham Longley, who led the library review, explained: “The Delaware Centre is the current option, but if someone came in and said we’ve got a fantastic site in Shoebury, we’d take a look.”