At 10.30 on Tuesday July 8th, the High Court began a Judicial Review to consider the case of Simon Draper v Lincolnshire County Council, the outcome of which could have major implications for the future of public libraries across the country. Here is a personal account of the hearing from campaigner Julie Harrison.
As the Save Lincolnshire Libraries’ case was revealed by the legal team of two, barrister David Lawson, supported by solicitor Paul Heron, it became apparent how much serious hard work had been undertaken by campaigners and the legal team in the approach to the review. This was clearly a huge advantage.
In the role of spectator and a novice in the court system, it was extremely frustrating that a ruling can only be based on the facts relating to the legal argument. Other significant factors, such as financial mismanagement and the level of County Council underspend at £41 million pounds, cannot be considered in the eventual ruling. Nor can the fact that 15 statutory libraries will not be enough to serve the population of Lincolnshire, across the vast area of this county.
Initially, it seemed that Mr Justice Collins could support the fact that in choosing only the tier 1 and 2 libraries as statutory, the County Council would not be fulfilling the requirements of the 1964 act. As day two progressed, this altered slightly. However, there were definite indicators that the consultation had been flawed.
The failure of the Council to consider the proposal of Greenwich Leisure Ltd was a serious issue. GLL are a not for profit organisation who had submitted a proposal that would have maintained the level of library provision with the stated level of reduced spending. There were gasps of surprise and amazement from the Save Lincolnshire Libraries contingent when the proposals and level of service GLL had offered were revealed. Mr Justice Collins stated that he assumed the campaigning group would have been satisfied had the GLL been considered. It involved no cuts to services, opening times, actual libraries or jobs and have no detrimental impact on vulnerable groups or any library users.
Miss Mountfield QC floundered considerably whilst trying valiantly to counter the case put forward by Mr Lawson. During the afternoon she contradicted herself several times. Towards the end of the afternoon, there appeared to be a claim that under the new system, anyone who could not get to a library could phone in and have books delivered to them! There was also a high reliance upon the Call Connect mini-bus system as the answer to anyone’s difficulties in accessing a tier 1 or 2 library.
In particular, one of Miss Mountfield’s major submissions was that Lincolnshire County Council specifically wanted volunteer run libraries as a matter of policy in line with the Conservative view of The Big Society. This was submitted as reasoning for not considering alternative options. I wonder how all the potential volunteers and more significantly all the library staff past and present would respond to that?
A number of observers left with the impression that the judgement would be delivered much sooner than expected because there were strong grounds that the consultation had not been undertaken appropriately and that the expression of interest by Greenwich Leisure Ltd had not been given due consideration.
As the future of so many library staff and users depends on this judgment, it is still hard to believe that what is just and fair will prevail.
Also well worth a read, the a report on the same hearing from the chair of The Library Campaign. Click here to read that:
A quick reminder of the grounds of the review:
- that the consultation was unlawful as the decision had already been taken
- that the Council failed to ensure that the harm that was going to be caused by their decision was prevented, as required by the Equality Act
- that the Council failed to properly consider the proposal by Greenwich Leisure Limited ( a not for profit agency who had bid to run the library service). As a result the Council had failed in its duties under the Localism Act (1)
- that if the cuts go ahead Lincolnshire’s Library Service will no longer be comprehensive and efficient and therefore will breach the national requirements.