Another piece of library history was made today as Surrey’s plans for its libraries were declared unlawful in a judicial review.  Surrey County Council wanted to have volunteers run ten of its libraries.  SLAM (Surrey Libraries Action Movement) opposed the move on the grounds that paid staff would be better at dealing with vulnerable users (such as children, elderly people and disabled people) and that the Council had made insufficient account of this in its plans.  In his ruling, today, the judge agreed with SLAM that the council “failed to have due regard to equality issues” and so the move was unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.  This requires “authorities to give ‘rigorous regard’ to how removing paid staff would affect the accessibility of libraries to protected groups, including children and elderly or disabled people“. A full ruling on the issue will be made in May.  This is the second time that equalities legislation has been used to prevent cuts to libraries, the first being in the joint Gloucestershire and Somerset case

“In my judgment, the reliance by the Defendant on the same bland assertions that training would be required and monitored fell substantially short of enabling the cabinet members to give due regard to this obvious equality issue at the stage the process had reached in September.” Mr Justice Wilkie

“[this is] ..a sharp reminder to local authorities up and down the country that a need for budget cuts is not an excuse for cutting local services without careful consideration of how such cuts will impact upon vulnerable groups” Phil Shiner, Public Interest Lawyers.

“I am delighted with the result and I hope that it reminds senior county councillors that they should not forget that we employ them to provide efficient services and, as importantly, represent us the electorate. It is a great disappointment that the council has wasted thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money trying to ignore and ride roughshod over public criticism and outrage.” Nick Dorrington, one of the campaigners.

Surprisingly, the Council have said that this ruling did not suggest its scheme could not go ahead as it was only a “technical challenge”.    It also said it was “pleased” that the judge had not criticised its plans.  It is indeed true that the Judge will only hand down his full decision next month but the Council seems to be remarkably upbeat about breaking the law.  One suspects that the Council only had one press release and decided to go with it, regardless of outcome.  In a rose-tinted we’re-going-to-do-it-anyway-just-like-Gloucestershire-are-trying-to-do-regardless-of-what-the-judge-said, a spokesman made the statement that “The judgement simply said the cabinet should have had more information in front of it about the work the council had already done to develop equalities training for volunteers, when it made its decision in September.”.   The Council has even made it clear that it will continue with plans for its “community-partnered libraries” in the meantime.  In this school of thought. it may have to rewrite its equality impact assessment and not much else.
The other school of thought on the impact of the decision places far more importance to it. As long as the Judge continues calling the move “unlawful”, some say, the decision means that Surrey needs to start its whole decision making process again. At the most, the Independent suggests that the decision could halt the “national roll-out of Big Society libraries” which saw 35 being turned over to volunteers in the last year with many more being scheduled for the same treatment.  This bad news for the Big Society comes the day after it emerged that volunteer-run libraries may be breaking copyright law by not being part of the Public Lending Right.
The minister for libraries, Ed Vaizey has, unsurprisingly, not commented at all on the Surrey case: he after all did not mention libraries once even in a whole Guardian article on the arts today. His opposite number with Labour, Dan Jarvis, shows more dedication:

“Today is the fourth example [after Brent, Somerset and Gloucestershire] of the High Court doing Ed Vaizey’s job for him… The Tory vision of the ‘big society’ is an ideological cloak for diluting the basic premise that these services are a fundamental duty of a decent society, and should be treated as such.”

Other News

  • If  it isn’t broke don’t fix it, warn delegates - Morning Star.  “Schools Minister Nick Gibb may have been playing to the gallery at Tuesday’s ATL conference but the critics have not been kind. The member for Bognor Regis was a hapless figure at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers annual conference in Manchester on Tuesday, with delegates openly laughing as he ducked their questions. Delegates asked why, if the government was closing public libraries, was it not making school libraries mandatory? “I passionately believe that every school should have a school library,” Mr Gibb replied, admitting that his government did not have a policy at the moment.”
    Under the PLR legislation PLR only applies to public libraries administered by local library authorities as defined by the Public Libraries Act (1964). This, therefore, would exclude library branches no longer run by the local authority and taken over by voluntary groups. It’s a bit of a grey area in some parts of the country. For example, where a local authority is allowing volunteers to run branches but still under the umbrella of the local authority and using the local authority library computer system, then loans from that library would still count for PLR. But if an authority closes a branch and an independent voluntary group, for example, takes it over and runs it outside the local authority service then PLR would not apply.

    This raises the wider question about what should be done in cases like this about remuneration for authors whose books are being lent out. My understanding is that under the UK’s copyright legislation book lending is a copyright act and a licence may be needed – except where PLR applies. In the past all public library lending was covered by PLR. But if we are to see more branch libraries dropping out of the statutory service and being reconstituted as privately-run libraries the government may want to look again at the existing legislation.” Dr JG Parker, Registrar, Public Lending Right.

Changes

Leeds - Otley Library now merged with One Stop Shop. 
Wiltshire – Box and Ramsbury libraries will be open half a day longer each due to volunteers.   

Local News

  • Durham – “It’s your duty to run our library, not hand it to a Trust” - Teesdale Mercury.  “The Friends of Barnard Castle Library have raised concerns that Durham County Council’s plans would make it possible for the authority “unilaterally to cut its grant” to the service.” … “Concern was expressed at the meeting that the council was effectively negotiating terms for the transfer with itself and that the first trustees would inherit a done deal”
  • Kirklees – Library closure cost in Kirklees just does not add up - Huddersfield Daily Examiner.  “he Denby Dale library is a real hub of the community and through the organising skill and experience of the paid staff hosts a wide range of activities and facilities in addition to loaning books. Such services could not be provided by volunteers even with telephone support for the proposed ‘hub libraries.’ The only reason for such a drastic proposal we are told is to save money, but it is by no means clear how this saving is to be made.”  Closing seven libraries will result in the loss of two staff thus meaning a tiny cut in budget compared to the big impact to the local communities.
  • Leeds – Otley’s one stop shop moves into library - Wharfedale Observer.  “councillors have accused Leeds of not consulting enough with the local community and fear providing both library and one-stop facilities under one roof could lead to problems.”
    “While I would support the concentration of council services at one point I am concerned there will be a conflict between users for space. Otley is one of the busiest libraries in Leeds and, though we have been assured there will be no reduction in service, there will certainly be a reduction in space. There will also be confusion about which member of staff to talk to, and about the role of other services which use the library.”

  • Warwickshire – Community spirit praised as Studley’s new library opens - Redditch Standard.  “Tuesday’s launch follows months of hard work to relocate the service into the village hall after Warwickshire County Council announced last summer Studley Library would be axed as part of £2million of spending cuts. The new community library cost about £10,000 to set-up and has been supported by money from communications firm Talk Talk, Warwickshire County Council and Studley Parish Council which will also take on the day-to-day running costs.”
    • Labour Lord hits out over closure of Bedworth Heath Library - Coventry Telegraph.   “A Labour Peer has hit out over the closure of Bedworth Heath library. Lord Bassam of Brighton expressed shock when he was shown the boarded-up building as he paid a visit to the area at the invitation of borough councillor Danny Aldington and local party chairman Brian Hawkes.”
“As an alternative they stuck an A frame bookshelf in the entrance to a community centre and claimed it’s a library, even though there is no librarian or no other facilities. It’s a con.”

  • Wiltshire – Two Wiltshire libraries to open longer - Gazette & Herald.  “Since last September volunteers have been involved in running both libraries, helping customers to borrow books using the self-service technology and supporting them in accessing the public computers and finding new reading material.”