Essex County Council has dismissed campaigners’ criticisms over its library budget as a 'mistaken reading of the figures'.

Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) condemned the amount of funding announced for the county’s library services in its planned budget for 2021/22.

Essex’s original library services budget for 2020/21 was £12.521 million however, due to what the county council has labelled a “one-off expenditure”, that figure eventually rose to £13.185 million.

The proposed budget for this year (2021/22) stands at £12.285 million – a figure SOLE has blasted for being £900,000 below last year’s actual spend.

This year's proposed budget shows a £226,00 reduction on the original 2020/21 budget.

However, the county council has said that comparing last year’s actual spend to this year’s original budget is unfair.

A spokesperson for the council said: “SOLE are unfortunately mistaken in their reading of our budget figures.

"The 2020/21 latest budget figure for Essex Libraries of £13.185m is a figure which reflects increases in budget for one-off expenditure in 2020/21, so not a true comparison to 2021/22.

“A more meaningful comparison figure is to compare the 2020/21 original budget to the 2021/22 proposed budget. This comparison does show a small reduction from £12.521m to £12.295m.”

The council has also committed £3 million of investment over the next two years in the library service, which is not included in the budget.

In a statement SOLE said: “Our libraries have been caught in a vicious cycle of cuts. If a bookshop cuts its book stock and opening hours it would expect to see a loss of customers. It's the same for libraries. As we have seen in the past, County Hall has a habit of cynically using past cuts to justify even more cuts as they claim a decline in use.

“The pandemic has exposed much division in our society, including a digital divide. Many children have been without access to the Internet and with it their education. Many of the ever soaring numbers of unemployed people will need computer access at their library to apply for benefits and jobs' Libraries will provide a much needed opportunity for us to meet and interact with others, with children and parents doing this at rhyme time. Libraries will be needed more than ever in a post-covid world.”