29 Sep 2011

Glos libraries case in Birmingham

I have been trying to follow the Glos Libraries case in Birmingham this week - emails and talking to someone attending. It is a huge achievement by campaigners to get the case this far. I remain optimistic that we have a real chance of success with this case as Glos County have in my view failed dismally to consult properly or take account of the impact on vulnerable library users.

Helen Mountfield QC has been presenting the cases against Gloucestershire County Council and Somerset County Council (whose case is being heard at the same time). The main points Helen made in relation to Gloucestershire were summed up by campaigners as:
  • Shortcomings in the decision making process - the needs of local communities and all library users were not taken into account when formulating the library strategy. Several points of evidence (minutes of council meetings etc) were presented showing councillors and officers referring to geographical spread and usage levels as the ONLY criterion in decision making.
  • A great deal of focus on shortcomings in GCC's consideration of equality legislation and disproportionate impacts on particular section of library users (eg. the elderly, disabled, parents, young children, people in deprived areas). It was argued that GCC have only considered these issues retrospectively after the library proposals were formulated and announced, and that they were not properly analysed, taken into account, or mitigated or reflected in the final strategy.
  • Shortcomings in the consultation process were highlighted - the way information about closures and cuts was presented in the consultation documents was criticised (i.e. little reference to mobile closures), no consultation sessions held in several libraries facing severe cuts or closure, and consultation data that was collected was not adequately analysed and reflected in the proposals - not least as the consultation continued after the proposals had been approved by cabinet in February, and some users (i.e. mobile library users) were not consulted until after a final decision to withdraw their service had been made and started to be implemented.
Today, James Goudie QC, representing Gloucestershire and Somerset County Councils, is presenting the defence arguments.

Click read more for press coverage links.

LocalGov.co.uk : 28th September
Library closures face High Court challenge

This Is Gloucestershire : 28th September
Gloucestershire County Council 'didn't listen' to library feedback - court

This Is Gloucestershire : 28th September
Claims council "failed" public with library cuts

Gazette Series : 28th September
High Court hearing underway into proposed library cuts in Gloucestershire

THE GUARDIAN : 27th September
Library closure councils 'neglecting the vulnerable'
Gloucestershire and Somerset county councils failed to take into account the needs of the most vulnerable in society when they announced plans to withdraw funding from local libraries, a court has heard.

BBC News : 27th September
Library closures challenge begins in High Court
"The facts of this case are very stark and should send a very clear message to counties about what they need to do to comply with their legal duties."

This Is Gloucestershire : 27th September
Battle to save Gloucestershire libraries hits the High Court

Wilts & Gloucestershire Standard : 27th September
Libraries across the county including Lechlade, Tetbury and Bourton-on-the-Water face closure
"We believe that the courts will agree with us that a 'comprehensive library service' must mean access to a library with the full range of services including broadband access as well as books for the whole community ..."

BBC's coverage of the first day in court.

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