Editorial

So the judge has agreed that Lincolnshire Council failed to do things properly on two out of the four grounds that they were challenged on. Here’s the key stuff reported in the media:

  • The consultation was fundamentally flawed, with a key thing being that the decision had already effectively being made. However, as campaigners in Gloucestershire discovered a year or two ago, there appears to be nothing stopping council simply consulting again, this time properly, and then doing the same thing, although in that case significant changes had to be made by the county which, saved three static libraries.
  • Lincolnshire failed to properly consider the alternative proposals made by GLL to run the service.
  • The judge did not reprove the Council with regard to the 1964 Act or over Equalities legislation.
  • Judge says that council “would have difficulty putting in an appeal” suggesting he was not overly impressed by their arguments on the two lost grounds.

For Lincolnshire, therefore, how things move depends on how seriously the council wants to cut the library budget and pass branches to volunteers.  Every indication so far is that they are very set on this and so this may be just a temporary reprieve.  However, it is in no way a waste of time or money for campaigners – for one thing, it means the Council will have to do things correctly, which is something that everyone (including the Council itself, if it thought about this properly) should want.  For another, every month gained is another month closer to the looming General Election.  Do the councillors there really want to close libraries months before a vote? And anything could happen after that election.

Councils should take from this, at the very least, the need to genuinely consult their public before making the decisions.  This is, however, very difficult for some councils who are used to doing things their own way and are in the habit of seeing consultations as, at worse, a tick box exercise or a necessary annoyance.  In their defence of course, it doesn’t help, of course, that councils are under great pressure, often with lack of time and resources to do anything else.  In library circles as well, “consultations” are also often used as a thinly veiled recruitment campaign (or blackmail exercise, depending on how badly it is done) for volunteers to run the buildings the council has already effectively decided it can no longer afford to run.  This, the judge appears to have agreed with today, is an unlawful way to go about things.  Put simply, consult before you decide otherwise you’re not consulting lawfully and you may have to waste money by backing down or doing it all over again.

The other decision here is that the alternative proposal to run the service by GLL was not properly considered.  This will be viewed with decidedly mixed feelings by some who doubt the good intentions of the social enterprise.  Leaving the merits of that case aside, the decision means that councils should beware not considering other proposals for their services other than the one they have their hearts set on.  But hang on, for those councils who seriously want to do the best thing for their libraries, this is what should be happening anyway.  For those councils who do not do things properly – and it’s pretty clear that the Judge thinks Lincolnshire Council comes under this heading – then let this be a warning.

In plain language to any chief librarians reading this (hi there), the judge said make sure your council does its research and consultations properly and that it’s able to show it has.  If enough someones don’t agree then there’s a strong possibility of a legal challenge and then a whole pile of unnecessary pain awaits.

Lincolnshire judicial review

“I have decided that the means by which the county council decided and reached their decision was flawed, in two respects. In respect of the consultation, and of their failure to properly deal with an application by a charitable organisation [Greenwich Leisure Limited] which already ran library service for two London boroughs, Greenwich and Woolwich. I have decided that the decision made in December last year should be quashed.” Mr Justice Collins

“Yay! We are simply over the moon. As soon as the full judgement was reached and read out, we had a bit group hug and started phoning everybody. I want to thank the people of Lincolnshire for standing with me against the council in this, we really are not to be walked over!” Simon Draper, leader of challenge

“One of the great things in our democracy is that governments have to act under the law and respond to public opinion and pressure – and that’s what is happening in Lincolnshire.” David Cameron, speaking on BBC Radio Lincolnshire

“We are, of course, disappointed with the decision. We believe that our proposals would have increased library provision in the county, while also making substantial savings, meaning taxpayers would be getting a much better deal.” He added: “Ironically, although we must consider that proposal as a community offer to take over the council’s services under the Localism Act, it could lead to the library service being put out to procurement and outsourced to a commercial organisation. We will now address the points raised by the judge and remain open-minded.” Richard Wills, executive director of Lincolnshire council.

“The council response makes it sound like they’re determined to carry on, to put their head in the sand and continue as though the highest court in the land hadn’t just called their plans ‘flawed’. The council last year again underspent its budget by £60m to put in its reserves – forget about the £2m they’re trying to save from libraries, that could fund libraries in the county for a generation. We need to invest in libraries to encourage education and employability across the county.” Phil Dilks, shadow executive minister for libraries

National news

  • Elected – Leon’s Library Blog. “It seems a number of reservations have been expressed regarding several areas of the review but overall there doesn’t seem to be that much opposition to the proposals from the wider membership, certainly not in the way that the name change last year generated opposition. Whether this amounts to approval of the suggested changes or just simple indifference is difficult to tell. Maybe librarians are more concerned about pay and conditions than the esoteric maneuverings of their professional body. Certainly there are a lot less of us nowadays in public libraries to be worried about Cilip’s shenanigans.” … “There are some very sensible suggestions in the review and in the main I support more of the proposals than I don’t. However, the recommendations form a single package so it seems a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater to vote against them.”

UK local news by authority

  • Poole – Fears Poole council will axe valuable mobile library service used by vulnerable residents – Bournemouth Echo. “The council is to consult on withdrawing the book van, which visits elderly people in sheltered housing as well as residents in outlying parts of the borough. “The mobile library is sacrosanct,” said Dennis Blackler, chairman of Age Concern Poole. “This is deprivation for the elderly and the people who can’t get out. There will be uproar.” Currently 161 readers who are unable to visit a library borrow books from the van at sheltered housing and residential homes and 136 residents who live far from a library.” … “THE mobile library has an annual budget of £45,274 however its vehicle is due for replacement shortly at a cost of £100,000. The service employs 4.4 professional staff and 41.4 full time equivalent staff and if changes go through there could be one job at risk. “
  • Worcestershire – Wythall Library’s future looks to have been secured - Redditich Advertiser. “The latest national cost-per-visit figure of £1.93 for Worcestershire is lowest of any county council and considerably less than the national average of £3.36. Cabinet’s decision means that in Wythall, a charitable incorporated organisation – Wythall Together – will take on responsibility for the premises management and internal maintenance and repair. The library will continue to be run by the county council.”