This morning BBC Breakfast discussed Wednesday’s landmark High Court ruling against Gloucestershire and Somerset County Council’s unlawful plans for public library services.
Chris White, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Programme Board, appeared on the programme, and we were astonished to hear him mirror Cllr. Hawthorne’s claims that the case was lost on a ‘technical issue’, and seriously downplay the implications of the ruling.
We have sent the following letter of complaint to Mr White (and the BBC) and await his response:
Dear Mr White,
We watched aghast whilst you spoke about what you thought the ruling handed down at the High Court against library closures meant this morning on BBC Breakfast. You absolutely have the interpretation of the judgement wrong. You said when asked “what do you read into what is happening in the courts?”
“well, not a great deal because the decision was made on a technicality. The key issue I think for many of the campaigners was that the 1964 Act should give the Secretary of State the power to intervene and the judge ruled against that”
This is absolutely and fundamentally incorrect and I am extremely surprised that a man in your position should appear on national television making such ill-informed statements. The judge made it very clear, and I quote “The breach of equalities legislation is substantive, not a technical, error”. He then said that the councils were guilty of “bad government”, and so it was important that the whole of the plans were quashed, especially as it was necessary to send a clear message to other authorities.
He also DID NOT rule that the Act did not give the Secretary of State the power to intervene, but he deferred the decision TO the secretary of state. Perhaps if you had asked us “what campaigners think” instead of wrongly guessing then you would have known this. You would also have known that, given Gloucestershire County Council is cutting funding to some of the most deprived areas in the county (top 10%) and the rural isolated, and that their cuts will hurt the most vulnerable, equality impacts were our biggest concern, and are what we have been warning the council about for the last year!
Further, you say “Our feeling is that these are local issues that should be decided locally”. You then said people should campaign locally and “involve themselves with councillors”. This indicates that you actually have no idea about the background of this case or campaign. We have done everything locally, the problem is that councillors here need to “involve themselves” with local people instead of ignoring them.
The bottom line is that the council acted unlawfully. It was a substantial breach and bad government, and to dismiss it at a “technicality” is a gross misrepresentation.
We are writing to the BBC to ensure this correction is made and we would like you to issue a correction also. It may have been wise for you to get legal advice on your interpretation of what happened, and look at the court transcript before commenting on this matter.
Johanna Anderson (for Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries)
Mr White should also be aware that the Secretary of State already has the power, and indeed it is his duty, to intervene under the Public Libraries Act (we are still waiting for him to fulfil his obligations and do his job). Therefore it was not for “the judge to rule against that”. Mr White clearly did not know what he was talking about and had not familiarised himself with the subject at hand.