Lawyers “seriously concerned” as Gloucestershire County Council approve library plan

Today, at a Cabinet meeting, Gloucestershire County Council approved its ‘new’ library proposals go forward to a six week public consultation starting 30 January. Gloucestershire County Council is being watched closely by the lawyers who represented library users in Gloucestershire in a successful high court legal challenge, in which Judge McKenna ruled GCC guilty of “bad government” and a “substantive breach” of equalities legislation when forming their previous proposals. In response to the ‘new’ proposals, the legal team has shared “serious concerns” with Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries. They are

“Gloucestershire County Council, unlike Somerset County Council (who also had their library plans quashed at the hearing), are rushing this process to hit the new financial year deadline. This risks putting the cart before the horse for a second time. Despite telling the court that they had taken deprivation into account, it is gratifying to see that, now that it has, Hester’s Way and other libraries in deprived areas have been saved. But we are concerned that there are still serious flaws in the council’s approach:

  •  It recognises that its equalities and user information is deficient. But this has to be the foundation of the proposal, so the proposal as now put forward can be no better than highly provisional. We expect real changes in response to the consultation. And the consultation must gather the necessary data. If it doesn’t, then it should be modified and extended.
  • whilst there is a lot of pressure therefore on this consultation, there is virtually no information about its content, how it will be conducted, how equalities groups will be specifically targeted and how taxpayers can really have their say and be listened to this time around.
  • there is insufficient information about the state of the proposed community partnerships, their viability and service levels. Taxpayers need this to make an informed response.
  •  there are still analytical flaws in the EIA, and a failure to modify the proposals in light of it.
  • What is happening to the mobiles? The council must be clear.
  • the council needs to make clear what factual scenario it has assumed in order to evaluate equalities impacts. What level of success, if any, of the community partnerships has it taken into account?
  •  If the council is assuming success of community partnerships, then it must guarantee that it will step in to maintain service in the event that they fail.

Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries are extremely concerned at the very short time frame the County Council is restricting itself to, and, given that the ‘new plans’ are nearly identical to the last unlawful ones, we fear it may be making the same mistakes again. There is no evidence that the new review was approached with a “completely open mind” as claimed. Like the lawyers, we expect to see big changes to the proposals in response to the consultation, and the thorough collection and analysis of user needs. Therefore, we cannot stress enough how important it is that the people of Gloucestershire engage with the consultation process, and that community leaders and councillors make sure the people they represent are listened to. No one wants to end up back in court.

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4 Responses to Lawyers “seriously concerned” as Gloucestershire County Council approve library plan

  1. joyus1uk says:

    It was so disheartening to hear the few comments and questions of the Cabinet members at todays meeting. It was very clear that Jo Grills ( Operations Director, Education, Learning and Libraries) was fully on top of the process and clearly had an understanding of the need to comply with the statutory duty conferred by Section 7 of the Museum and Libraries Act 1964 and section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. Jo also had an understanding that the plans may need to be seriously modified following consultation. What will the position be if the results of the consultation are at real odds to the councils proposals? After all these proposals are founded on historic information.

    The whole meeting seemed to be led by Councillor Hawthorne with explanation being provided by Jo Grills. I wonder just how much questioning is allowed or is being carried out on this matter by Cabinet members. Surely it is a collective responsibility not a fiefdom in the control of Councillor Hawthorne.

    It felt that the Cabinet members had only just realised that section 149 of the Equality Act was important to the process and it would appear that the group had only just received training on their responsibilities. The Act has been in force for some time surely the Cabinet would have had to use the Act before in their deliberations on the services they provide to Gloucestershire residents? Instead of the complainant who sought the Judicial Review, campaigners and librarians being vilified by Councilor Hawthorne they should be praised. We all know just how valuable a librarian and a fully functioning library can be to all members of society. Librarians 1 G.C.C nil.

    Regarding the mobile libraries. The answers provided related to cost, cost per user or cost per transaction, rather than on the fact that this is one way that the County Council can reach the very people that are the concerns of the Equality Act. Cost is important but so are the councils responsibilities under the Act.

    I also have concern regarding the Community Libraries. It was revealed that local groups would be offered the existing library premises at a pepper corn rent with further support and assistance being given by G.C.C. Will the community group be responsible for maintaining the buildings? Berkeley is in a very poor state of repair and according to information supplied under F.O.I requests other libraries will require substantial monies being spent on them. Will local groups be made aware of the problems with buildings? The building estate, maintenance and repair costs seem to be the elephant in the room that none is willing to talk about openly. Any group wishing to run a local library will need a substantial budget to just keep up with these costs let alone with the costs of book stock, utility bills, training and equipment.

    Section 149 of the Equality Act makes it clear that ” A person who is not a public authority but who exercises public functions must, in the exercise of those functions, have due regard to the matters mentioned in subsection (1).”
    That is they are also covered by section 149 of the Equality Act and hold responsibilities under it. Running a library is therefore a very complicated enterprise.

    Gloucestershire County Council again seem to be rushing ahead to fulfill a budget figure with little regard to the service they provide. Little real thought is being given to the future. We have a chance to produce an excellent service integrated across the councils full service responsibilities. We now have a chance to get a library service that is comprehensive and efficient and will be forward thinking. We need to engage with all members of the community in Gloucestershire library users and non library users. Conservative county councilors you are part of this process to. You are also part of the consultation.

    Campaigners, librarians, FoGL and Jo Grills get this. I fear that Councilor Hawthorne does not. It interferes with his panic over making budget cuts above service and user need.

    • You are spot on. I don’t know what part of “bad government”, ” substantive breach” of the law and “quashed” that Cllr Hawthorne does not understand. What is more astonishing is that the administration approved this and seem to unquestioningly follow someone who made such a monumental mess the first time around!

  2. Joe K says:

    I already know how out of touch Jeremy Hilton is about deprivation in Barton & Tredworth, after his facile Facebook comment about Tredworth having a ‘very good bus service’, but I wonder how clueless his Tory and Labour counterparts are about our ward?

  3. Alan Wylie says:

    It’s a mixture of not giving a damn and amateurism! I’ve seen it duplicated by councils all over the country especially when it applies to consultations and Equality Impact Assessments etc! Keep the pressure up!

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