A HANDFUL of community groups have withdrawn offers to run their libraries in what is being described as a blow to Essex County Council.

Groups in Coggeshall, Holland-on-Sea, Chigwell and Harlow have pulled their offers in a move which has been welcomed by campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (Sole).

Sole has condemned County Hall’s revised libraries strategy, which will see volunteer groups given a small grant over three years to keep services running, as “closure by stealth”.

A spokesman said: “Community groups are starting to realise it would be an unsustainable burden to not only run a library but house it as well, with just an £18,000 grant over three years from the council. After that, so-called ‘community libraries’ would be left to run the lot without support.

“It would be their job to raise enough money, buy every book, pay every bill, find every volunteer.

“Sole will be sending an information pack to parish councils and community groups across the county in the coming days warning them of the dangers of trying to run a library.

“We are sure many others will follow this lead and withdraw their expressions of interest.”

County Hall’s revised plans for the future of libraries were rubber-stamped last month.

Under the proposals, the council has promised no libraries will close in the next five years.

However the authority has come under further pressure from campaigners, who say the council has a statutory duty to run libraries, and not to pass the buck to volunteers.

Tracey Vickers led a group of Coggeshall library users who had made a bid to run the facility in the town.

She said the group had felt “pressurised” into it by County Hall.

Ms Vickers said: “Further down the road we realised that the expressions of interest were being misrepresented as support for the proposals when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

“Coggeshall have withdrawn our expression of interest and we eagerly await clarity on what ‘open’ actually means.”