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Brent libraries closed: a shocking failure

The speed with which Brent Council in North London moved to board up half its 12 libraries yesterday after it saw off a legal challenge by libraries campaigners is shocking.

There must have been another way. Here in Suffolk where financial cuts faced by the council are just as great, if not greater, we have won an assurance that all libraries will stay open.

The financial savings still have to be made but we (the council and supporters of libraries) are now, after a difficult start, working to find a way through. It is going to be a difficult and hard discussion and there are bound to be compromises by the council and community groups.

The Suffolk story began with badly handled consultation based on the threat that 29 libraries would close if they were not taken over by community groups. It looked like a pistol to the head implementation of “big society”.

The message across the county was clear. People wanted and valued their libraries. The campaign was tough and hard and contributed to the departure the council’s leader and its chief executive.

The way in which libraries will be run in future is yet to be decided but it will involve much greater community involvement. Pilot schemes for various libraries are being negotiated.

The great thing is that there is an assurance that no libraries will be closed.

Once a library has been closed, as they have been in Brent, it is very difficult to restore it. It is like closing half the roads and digging them up, a destruction of infrastructure.

Libraries in Suffolk are going to be in for a tough few years but they will remain open with the prospect of better funding when the economy recovers. We should also find more efficient and better ways of running them.

Suffolk is not the only authority finding ways to keep libraries open despite austerity. Brent is guilty of failing its people.

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