Protest groups join forces over Suffolk library cuts

Communities threatened by the closure of their local library are joining forces in a bid to protect all book-lending services in Suffolk.

Residents in 29 towns and villages across the county have held protests and demonstrations against a Suffolk County Council consultation that will shut their library if no one comes forward to save them.

Now campaign groups are joining forces to call for all public libraries in Suffolk to be protected from local authority spending cuts.

An online petition went live on Suffolk County Council's website yesterday and campaigners are hoping to get more than 3,600 signatures, which will force the authority to discuss the petition at a future meeting.

The county council is looking to hand over the running of 29 of Suffolk's 44 libraries in a bid to slash 30pc off its libraries budget.

James Hargrave, spokesman for the Save Stradbroke Library group, who formed the countywide petition, said the county council appeared 'hell-bent' on transferring frontline services to communities or contracting to private companies.

'They are trying to talk to us individually, but if we join together, we are a bigger force. The response from people has been fantastic and every community wants to keep their library open,' he said.

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Suffolk campaigners added that they were watching closely the progress of a judicial review in Gloucestershire and Somerset where legal action has been brought over proposed library closures.

Josiah Meldrum, of the Save Bungay Library group, which is staging a read-in from 7pm on Thursday to mark World Book Day, added that the consultation had been 'badly thought through'.

'We are campaigning to say 'do not close the libraries' and no one voted for the process, but because they have got us over a barrel, we are working on alternative ideas. We have a plan B, but unfortunately, the council has not given us the information to put together a proper business case,' he said.

Felix Williams, of the Love Our Library campaign in Eye and deputy mayor, welcomed the Save Suffolk's Libraries campaign.

'The only strength we have is together and we are very interested in working with all our neighbouring parishes to move forward. I do not know what it will achieve - the whole thing gets me very angry. The savings they will achieve by gutting 29 small communities does not make financial sense,' he said.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said the authority was holding meetings with residents and trying to find ways for communities to take on their public services.