Suffolk: New council leader Mark Bee pledges to work with communities over libraries

THE new leader of Suffolk County Council has pledged to work with communities to keep libraries open - while also indicating new ones could be created.

Mark Bee last night stressed he is determined to see libraries put on a “strong and sustainable footing for years to come.”

Meanwhile community groups who have been drawing up plans to run their own services said they are still pressing ahead with their work.

Several groups were formed to save town and village libraries after the council said it could no longer run them and invited communities to come forward to keep branches open.

But after formal proposals were submitted, and after Mr Bee took over as council leader, the authority said a community interest company – owned by the council – would be formed to run the libraries.

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The move leaves question marks over the future of plans drawn up by community groups.

But Mr Bee said: “From the outset this was about finding ways to work with communities to sustain our library services in a way that effectively meets local needs.

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“What’s clear is that our libraries are seen as an important and highly-valued part of the fabric of local communities. But, we know that there will be less money to spend on providing services in the years ahead.

“What we have to do now is square that circle: finding a way to ensuring the library services we all value can flourish, but in a way that we can afford, and which meets the needs of people in the years to come. Having listened closely to people’s concerns, it’s clear that they are interested in running libraries but would need our support with the practicalities of doing so.”

Mr Bee said he was incredibly impressed with the enthusiasm shown in the 4,000 responses to the county council’s consultation on libraries.

“We want to tap into this enthusiasm as we draw up our proposals,” he added. “Whilst we can’t rule out the possibility of some closures, the aim is to keep these to a minimum.

“At the same time, there may be areas where increased demand actually means we decide to plan for new libraries.

“What is absolutely certain, is that we are listening to what people are saying, and will work with them in the weeks and months ahead, to ensure that library services are put on a strong and sustainable footing for years to come.”

Groups formed at Aldeburgh and Framlingham said they had heard nothing from the county council and were continuing with their plans as before.

A public meeting on the subject is still planned in Framlingham, at Sir Robert Hitcham Primary School, on May 20. Eileen Coe, clerk of the town council, said: “We have not been notified that anything has changed and we are carrying on.”

Tony Bone, who is on the steering group for the plans for Aldeburgh Library, said: “We have submitted our proposals in response to the consultation and we are awaiting a response. We have not heard anything yet.”

Other campaigners, such as at Leiston, have insisted libraries had not been “saved” and there remained a real threat to the future of the service.

A report on the next steps for the libraries will go before the council’s cabinet in July.

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