A CAMPAIGN group has criticised County Hall bosses for revising the opening hours of libraries across Essex.

Save Our Libraries Essex was initially launched by activists in response to Essex County Council’s proposal to shut 25 libraries.

The authority also suggested handing 19 of the 74 branch libraries to community volunteers who would take on the responsibility of running the facilities.

Following multiple demonstrations and protests, County Hall eventually performed a U-turn but SOLE and the council have remained at loggerheads ever since.

The campaigners are now concerned about a reduction in opening hours after school, in the evenings and on Saturdays in certain parts of the county.

The reduction was made prior to Tier 4 restrictions being introduced in many parts of Essex, which have since seen their libraries close.

A spokesman for SOLE believes the decision to reduce opening hours could result in less people being able to use the libraries, which could result in their closure.

“A very clear pattern is emerging, and Essex County Council has failed to even consult on these changes,” he said.

“When will school students be able to visit and carry out their studies? What about all of us working nine to five jobs?

“To base future opening hours on the events of 2020 - with many furloughed and working from home, and schools closed - is patently absurd.

“We all know "temporary" measures all too often become permanent. The real danger is that these revised opening hours could lead to a reduction in use.

“Just as Essex County Council has cynically done in the past, it will be used as an excuse for even more library cuts.”

A spokeswoman for Essex County Council, confirmed it has temporarily adjusted library opening hours from January until March 2021 in response to customer behaviour during the Covid pandemic.

“When libraries re-opened over the summer after the first lockdown, like other authorities across the country, we noticed a significant change in customer behaviour and visits to libraries after 5pm had significantly reduced," she said.

"In light of this, we have temporarily changed our core opening hours to 9am-5pm, with one library in each area open until 7pm every night of the week.

"This temporary change has allowed us to make our library opening hours more consistent across the county and easier for customers, for example, we have removed lunchtime closures to increase the amount of time during the day that residents can visit.

"These temporary changes have actually increased library opening hours by 27 hours overall across Essex.

“It is vital that we respond to the needs of our residents and these temporary changes are aimed at increasing the use of libraries by ensuring they are available when people want to use them.

"We continue to monitor library usage and are confident the introduction of these temporary hours will mean people have plenty of time to visit us during daylight hours and on Saturdays.

"We welcome any comments about the new temporary hours via the online feedback forms on our website.

"All comments will be taken into consideration when the temporary hours are reviewed at the end of March 2021.”