In November 2010 Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) announced plans to close eleven public libraries, to reduce opening times to three hours per week at seven, and to axe the entire mobile library service. As a direct result of Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries' (FoGL) campaign and the determination of local residents to fight for their service, four public libraries in the most deprived areas of Gloucestershire and two mobile libraries remain open. The 7 libraries with opening hours to be reduced to 3 per week now have a minimum of 12 hours. This follows a November 2011 ruling by the High Court, initiated by FoGL, that GCC had acted unlawfully in neglecting its equalities obligations. The Judge stated that GCC was guilty of 'bad government' and a 'substantial breach of the law', and quashed the plans entirely, forcing the council to go back to the drawing board.
However, seven public libraries are still closing, including in deprived areas and in areas where library usage is high. We have strong doubts as to whether the equalities impacts of these library closures and service reductions have been adequately considered and addressed. These plans are now being implemented and there remains a real danger that some of our county's most vulnerable residents will lose out on access to this important and cost effective public service, which pre-cuts, cost GCC just 1% of its annual budget.
Over the last two years, FoGL and local communities have faced an uphill struggle in getting their voices heard by the administration and senior officers. GCC's actions have made a mockery of local democratic procedures. The valid concerns of local residents about the feasibility of volunteers running and funding libraries themselves have been disregarded, and sensible and cost effective proposals from local communities, such as Lechlade, to save their library service have been dismissed out of hand. We are heartened to see that in communities such as Minchinhampton, local residents continue to campaign for the survival of their service, and residents in Hesters Way, Matson and Tuffley remain vigilant to future plans by GCC to cut the service they have fought so hard to keep. FoGL has taken the difficult decision not to pursue further legal action on a county-wide basis. We have been informed by Public Interest Lawyers, the firm who successfully represented Gloucestershire library users in the High Court, that there remain serious concerns around GCC's revised strategy, but that these are better addressed by the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Ministers with responsibility to superintend library services, Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey. We will continue to keep DCMS informed of developments in Gloucestershire and encourage other local communities to do the same, and are pursuing this matter through the Parliamentary Ombudsmen.
Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries.