15 Jul 2011

Delay caused by Judicial Review is fault of GCC

I read in local papers about a couple of library community groups saying they don't welcome the delay caused by the legal challenge. I wonder if really this is the case? A few months delay they say looses momentum re volunteers. Well if they can't manage a few months delay then one has to question whether the project is sustainable at all. Managing volunteers over many years is a challenge that needs creativity, energy, stamina and lots more; it is not something to take on lightly.

I therefore was delighted to see this response below by one of the campaigners - it is a good summary of the issues. The delay caused by the Judicial Review is absolutely right. We need to ensure that the county are acting within the law and indeed the very fact that a Judicial Review has been granted indicates there is a case to answer - such reviews are not granted lightly. It is the County who have caused the delay by, what many of us see as, inadequate consultation and plans that don't take full account of the more vulnerable members of our communities. Click on Read more to see the letter.

For many months library users have warned Gloucestershire County Council that their library strategy may be contravening the law. The county-wide campaign to save our libraries from the drastic scale of cuts proposed by GCC has received support from thousands and has received wide press coverage. Concerns about the legalities of the plans have been raised many, many times and have been well documented in the local and national press. It therefore surprises me to read in this paper that community groups in Berkeley and Wotton "do not welcome" the delay caused by the legal challenge as they are "enthusiastic" about running their own library.

I know that communities have been put in a difficult position, being told "run your library or lose it", but surely it is preferable to ensure that the county council are acting within the law, rather than continuing down a possibly illegal path that residents, authors, teachers, literacy experts, health professionals, elderly-persons charities, retired library professionals and local politicians have all expressed grave concerns about?

Permission for judicial review is not granted lightly and in this case was granted on three counts: Potential failure to consider the statutory requirements of the 1964 Public Libraries Act, 2. Potential failure to properly consider equality impact assessments, 3. Potential failure to consult adequately.

It is worrying that it is reported "enthusiasm may wain" now community groups have to wait until the outcome of the court case before they can implement their plans for local libraries. If there is as much enthusiasm to run this service as the article claims then surely that enthusiasm can last two months more until the legalities are sorted out? If not then perhaps further consideration is needed of whether they really want to take on responsibility for running an important and valued public service. What happens if enthusiasm wanes after the deal with these community groups is signed and GCC have withdrawn or severely reduced  the public library service, or even a few months or years down the line?...the library will close forever. Under GCC’s plans ‘community libraries’ such as proposed in Berkeley will be permanently cut-off from the public libraries network - there is no ‘plan B’.

What this article did not report is that many people from the Wotton and Berkley areas signed a petition asking the county council to review their possibly illegal plans. These people want to keep their council run public library service. They want the same equal access to the county library network that other residents in Gloucestershire will have, and to which they are entitled to and fund (and will continue to fund even if the service is removed from their local area) through taxation

I would encourage those who are ‘excited’ about running their own library to spare a thought for these people, as well as the dedicated, wonderful library staff who have trained for years and have a wealth of experience and who are being made to join the dole queue after being told that anyone can do their job, for nothing. It is also important to remember that it is not only Berkeley and Wotton which are affected by these plans, and that the outcome of this challenge will impact upon library plans county-wide.

Spare a thought for the housebound people who are having their mobile library cut entirely, for the rural communities who are being cut off from the library service altogether due to mobile library closures, for the poorer communities (some of which feature in the top 25% of areas of deprivation in the country and top 10% in the county) who are having a lifeline cut through the closure of their branch libraries - all this despite Cllr Hawthorne claims that he is protecting the vulnerable. Then consider if it will really be that bad to wait for two more months, before our county-wide public library service might be changed, irreversibly forever. This challenge is, for many, the last ray of hope.

Johanna Anderson

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