Campaigners against Lincolnshire County Council’s decision to cut library services attended the High Court on Tuesday, July 8, for the first of a two-day judicial review of the case.
Some 10 members of the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign group attended the hearing, as Lincoln resident Simon Draper, and his wife Timber, challenged the County Council over their decision to hand over more than 30 libraries to volunteers.
The executive at the council approved plans to save £2 million in December 2013 — a settlement that would cut more than 170 jobs.
In addition, opening hours at the remaining libraries would be reduced and mobile libraries were to be withdrawn from over 100 villages.
Under the plans, the Central Library would remain the only library in the city under the authority’s control.
Speculation over the necessity of the council’s £2 million cutback preceded the review as the Executive reported a significant underspend for 2013-2014.
John Hough, Leader of the Labour opposition at the County Council, said: “The council ignored the overwhelming public opposition to its proposals to demolish and destroy the important and highly valued service that it had provided.
“With the recent news that the council had a huge underspend of more than £62 million last year, the premise on which the original consultation was carried out ‘that it had to save £2 million immediately’ has been shown to be false.”
Phil Dilks, Shadow Executive Member for Libraries, added: “It’s an absolute scandal that Lincolnshire County Council has so much sitting in the bank which was collected in council tax last year and not spent on vital services at the same time as decimating our library service for the sake of saving under £2 million.”
The judicial review argues that:
- Lincolnshire County Council will no longer be providing a comprehensive and efficient library service as required by section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act.
- The consultation process was unlawful on the grounds that the outcome of consultation had been pre-determined and the basis of the information given for it was misleading.
- The council failed to give proper consideration to the needs of vulnerable people including the elderly, children and disabled people as required under the Equalities Act.
- The council did not give sufficient consideration to the bid from Greenwich Leisure to run the library service as required under the Localism Act.
Day one of the review began at the Royal Courts of Justice, at the High Court in London at around 10.30am.
Barrister David Lawson, representing Simon Draper, spoke about the popularity of the service and that cuts will hit elderly users, the unemployed and parents.
In addition, the barrister spoke about the council’s failure to properly consider a proposal by Greenwich Leisure, a charitable social enterprise, to take over the service.
The judge agreed that the bid to take over the facilities by Greenwich was not flawed.
Representatives of the campaign group then accused the County Council of ignoring the Localism Act, which was formulated to give more decision making powers to individuals and communities.
Speaking after the first day of the judicial review had come to a close, Simon Draper said: “It was quite a rollercoaster in the high court today, going from high to low and to high again.
“I was very impressed with our barrister who really got to the heart of the matter, though he is not a Lincolnshire man, the effect of the council’s library plan on the most vulnerable people.
“I am a full time carer to my disabled wife Timber so this point is also at the heart of why I decided to take this stand. I really hope we win this, for all the people who will be crushed if the professional library service becomes threadbare in Lincolnshire.”
Campaign group member Julie Harrison added: “Today seems to have gone very well indeed, the judge certainly understood the points we were making and campaign members feel optimistic but until the defence speaks tomorrow it is hard to be sure.
“The particular issue that seems to be in our favour at the moment is the application by Greenwich Leisure which was not given any consideration by the council, this clearly did get the judge’s attention. Earlier on the judge seemed to think only having Tier 1 and Tier 2 libraries classed as ‘statutory’ was also an issue.
“Tomorrow there are other points to be put by our barrister, then it’s over to the legal team from the county council.”
— Later update: Councillor Nick Worth, Executive Member for Libraries, said: “Now the campaigners have had their say, we’re focusing on presenting our case, which we believe will demonstrate that our decision was taken in a legal and proper manner.
“Under our plans, we’d have even greater library provision while also making substantial savings – we’re determined to do all we can to make sure residents don’t miss out.”
Proceedings continue on July 9 and supporters are encouraged to follow the review’s progress @savelincslibs and #libraryjudicialreview.
The outcome of the hearing is expected to be known several weeks after the Judicial Review.