POLITICAL parties will be going head-to-head in a public debate on the future of Essex’s libraries.

Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) is holding the online debate with candidates who are standing in the forthcoming Essex County Council election tonight at 7.30pm.

The future of the county’s libraries has been in doubt since 2018 when a County Hall strategy document set out plans to close 25 of 74 libraries and remove ongoing support for 18 more.

Campaigners forced a rethink in 2019 when plans for the closures were thrown out and a new strategy was formed.

But the strategy still includes plans for some libraries to be run by volunteers.

SOLE is now calling for Essex County Council to recommit support for these facilities and has asked all candidates for next week’s election to set out their position on libraries ahead of the Zoom debate.

Conservative candidate Carlo Guglielmi, defending his Tendring Rural West seat, said: “Just to clarify there are no plans to close any libraries. Following the consultation in 2019, the council gave great and due regard to the huge number of comments received and decided not to pursue any of the proposals which had been put forward for public comments.”

Since the 2019 U-turn, the council has repeatedly reiterated its support of the county’s libraries and pledged not to close any libraries for five years.

Stephen Robinson, the Liberal Democrat leader of Chelmsford Council who is defending his North Chelmsford seat said he would like to see the use of library buildings expanded so they become broader community hubs giving access to a wider range of public services on more days of the week.

Angela Thomson, a Green candidate standing in Chelmsford North, said: “I want to see all existing Essex libraries being funded, run and looked after by paid staff on behalf of Essex County Council as it is their statutory duty to run public libraries for the people of Essex.”

“We need to make sure whoever is running Essex County Council after the elections on May 6 that no libraries will be closed or hived off to groups to be run on a shoestring with volunteer staff.”

A SOLE spokesman said: “Whatever people’s political persuasions, we remind people the current strategy for libraries involves selling off many library buildings, getting rid of the staff from those libraries, and having these libraries housed and run by volunteers.”

You can join the debate on bit.ly/32OinPk.

The meeting ID is 871 8267 5140 and the password is 124732.