16 Nov 2011

Glos plans for library service is unlawful

BREAKING NEWS: The High Court has ruled Gloucestershire County Council’s plans for our public library service to be unlawful. 

Below is the statement from the campaign group - huge congrats to all those who worked so hard. The judge ruled that both Glos and Somerset Councils had failed to take account of their equalities duties when pushing through the cuts, condemning both council’s approach as “bad Government”, and that it was “important to the Rule of Law” that the decisions be quashed.   

Update 10pm: Cllr Hawthorne has apparently told the press that the council "lost on a small technical matter". This is absolutely NOT the case. The judge said "the decisions under challenge were not just unlawful but bad government" hence the total quashing of the library plans and telling them they have to start again.  It was VERY serious that they lost on this point.  The judge said it was a "substantive error of law" and a "substantial breach". 

Many of us have repeatedly warned that the route the Council were going down was clearly wrong. Yet these warnings were ignored. I have been astonished by the party politics played at the County over this issue - some will know that I was attacked in the press over a comment I made about a spoof video on the libraries - later the Press Complaints Commission apparently found the Glos Echo editor in breach of the press code of conduct - I've not received an apology or even a retraction of their articles from their website. I am sure Council Leader Hawthorne was trying to distract from his actions to close libraries....anyway many of us accept cuts need to come and action needs to be taken but the way they did it took no account of vulnerable people. Why did they fail to listen? Now taxpayers face the expense of their failures.

See further coverage on the libraries case see: The Independent: Library closures challenge allowed http://ht.ly/7vaxW

At this morning’s hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, His Honour Judge McKenna ruled in favour of Gloucestershire and Somerset library users on the grounds of equalities. A statement from Public Interest Lawyers gives more of the legal detail.

Here is our statement in response to the news:

We are delighted with the outcome of the judicial review. This outcome follows the proper scrutiny of Gloucestershire County Council’s library plans in court; scrutiny which was never allowed under the councils own processes. The judge’s decision to rule in the claimant’s favour on equality grounds is a real vindication of our campaign, which has long argued that the removal of public library services from the most disadvantaged, deprived and vulnerable members of our community is grossly unfair. We are also pleased to learn that the council have been denied permission to appeal the decision.
However, as Gloucestershire tax payers we regret the inevitable expense that will now be incurred by the county, and which could have been avoided if only the council had listened to and engaged with service users – they have seriously let their taxpayers and electorate down. Over the last year library users and retired professional librarians have repeatedly warned the council that they were in breach of the law, but party politics was always placed before these concerns, which were again and again dismissed.

Gloucestershire residents should never have had to go through this stressful, upsetting and expensive process and serious questions now also need to be answered by the secretary of state Ed Vaizey.  It is Mr Vaizey’s duty to intervene when authorities are not meeting their obligations to provide a library service available to all who wish to use it. Why were Gloucestershire County Council allowed to continue down this destructive path? In opposition Mr Vaizey was a vocal critic of library closures yet our many pleas for help have been ignored whilst library users were left to fight this alone – it is clear that he left his convictions at the door on entering office.

We would like to thank supporters of the campaign locally and nationally, and urge all Gloucestershire library users to keep a close eye on the county council’s activities in the coming months to ensure they do their job properly this time round. We also need to be vigilant to cuts which may be planned for the future. Libraries are more important than ever in times of financial crises, when education costs are rising astronomically and many people are losing their jobs.  We hope that come the next county council elections, voters will remember the arrogance displayed by the Gloucestershire County Council administration on this issue.

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