Report of first council meeting since library plans ruled unlawful

On Wednesday 30th November GCC held a full council meeting at Shire Hall. This being the first full council meeting since the High Court ruled GCC’s plans for our public library service unlawful, and the first opportunity for members of the public and opposition councillors to question Councillor Hawthorne and his administration about their response to the ruling, several FoGL supporters attended.

One of the attendees, Patrick, has sent in this report:

I attended the first part of the County Council meeting on 30th November in order to hear questions from council members and from the public on libraries and the recent High Court judgment against Gloucestershire County Council. I am afraid that the answers I heard were not helpful and did not appear to show that GCC have taken on board the meaning and intentions of the High Court ruling against them.

A member of the public asked whether we could expect that the new proposals for libraries would be any more lawful than the last ones. Cllr Hawthorne’s reply was that the judge had ruled that volunteer run libraries were lawful, and that what GCC did was within the 1964 Public Libraries Act. His reply was irrelevant and did not address the question seeing that the plans were judged unlawful on equalities grounds.

Later Cllr Hawthorne said the High Court ruled that GCC had had regard to equalities, but had not had sufficient regard. Surely this was just playing with words. Cllr Hawthorne said that he considered the court’s ruling was a subjective judgment! I felt that he was deliberately misinterpreting the High Court ruling and was very likely to be about to lead the Council into a breach of its conditions.

In answer to another question Cllr Hawthorne went over the same points again – that GCC was judged to be not in breach of the 1964 Act and that public consultation was judged sound. He claimed that the Council’s Equality Impact Assessment was considered by consultants to be “well embedded” and simply said he was disappointed with the court judgment. This is hardly surprising since the Court’s findings were entirely in favour of the complainant, and all costs were awarded against the County Council.

Cllr Hawthorne told the meeting that GCC “has never planned to close any libraries”. I still do not understand how he can claim this when the original plans were to close every mobile library in Gloucestershire, including the Home Link service to Elderly People’s Homes. Way back in April, a ruling on a misconduct charge against Councillors Hawthorne and Noble’s repeated assertions that ‘no libraries are closing’ (ignoring the mobiles and Homelink), found that they had made this statement in error as ‘there was some confusion over the meaning of the word libraries’. It seems they are still thoroughly confused over 6 months on!

In reply to a question from opposition leader Cllr Hilton, Cllr Hawthorne said “we did three Equality Impact Assessments but did not do them quite sufficiently” He again used the phrase “small technicality” and did not acknowledge that the High Court had come to a substantial judgment against the County Council and had considered them guilty of “bad government”.

All in all, the GCC response was depressing and most unpromising. The County Council and especially Cllr Hawthorne gave no indication they are going to put things right in our libraries. I came away with a strong impression that the County Council may well be about to waste a lot more of our time and money before they restore our library service.

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