FRIENDS OF GLOUCESTERSHIRE LIBRARIES
MEDIA RELEASE Monday 16 APRIL 2012 by John Holland
Gloucestershire County Council announced on Friday 12 April 2012 that County Councillor Antonia Noble had not breached the council’s Code of Conduct. (Decision notice attached).
Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries’ John Holland, who made the misconduct charge against Councillor Noble on 2 June 2011, explained, “The decision is not credible. The County Council self-regulates any misconduct charges made against councillors itself, using its own council solicitor to recommend a decision. This cannot be impartial. “
“The fact that it took ten months for the case to be heard is a further indictment of the council’s process, and of the decision.”
County Councillor Noble, formerly the lead cabinet member for library services, led the first review of libraries which was declared illegal in the High Court in November 2011. She stated in her Cabinet report of April 2011 to the council that “wards found to be in the top 10% of the country’s multiple deprivation indices were assessed as one of the criterion (sic) for evaluating how future library services could be provided.”
Mr Holland commented, “The implication here is that information about the needs of the poorest areas in the county was used to inform the library review. In fact, it was not. Even Councillor Noble states now that it was not. Her Cabinet report statement therefore misled the council and the people of Gloucestershire. It seems extraordinary that the council will not admit this, and uphold the charge.”
“Had we not challenged this in court and won the Judicial Review, the county’s poorest areas – Hester’s Way, Tuffley and Matson – would now be running and funding their own non-statutory libraries, or these libraries would by now be closed.”
“County Councillor Noble led a review of libraries, which, in my view, misled councillors and the public, and was declared illegal in court and cost the people of Gloucestershire hundreds of thousands of pounds. The council is apparently happy to sit on its hands rather than admit it was a huge error-strewn blunder. I call this decision a whitewash.”
He continued, “Bizarrely, the council’s misconduct process requires actual proof that a councillor intended to mislead the council. Councillor Noble simply said that she did not intend to mislead the council and this was accepted. As misconduct processes go this beggars belief.”
- The County Council’s Decisions Notice was published on Friday 13 April 2012. (Please note that the council has made an error in this notice. The word “counties” should read “country’s”.)
- This misconduct charge reached the second stage of the council’s misconduct process. At the first stage, the assessment sub-committee, held on 11 Jan 2012, decided unanimously that this matter be passed to the Monitoring Office (ie the County Council’s head of legal services) for local investigation.
- This is the second misconduct charge against Councillor Noble. In April 2011 the County Council’s Standards Committee considered a complaint that Councillor Noble had both written and stated verbally in public, and on more than one occasion, that, as part of the original review of libraries, “no library needs to close”, when in fact 5 mobile libraries, serving 120 local communities were due to close in July 2011. The Standards Committee decided that this was not a breach of the council’s code of conduct because, and I quote, “there was confusion about the word ‘libraries’.”
- Following the November 2011 High Court Judicial Review, in which the County Council’s library strategy was deemed unlawful, “a substantive breach of the law” and “bad government”, Councillor Noble was replaced as lead cabinet member for libraries by Councillor Will Windsor-Clive. She took no part in the 2012 library strategy, which did use deprivation information as a criterion, and therefore retained statutory libraries in the poorest areas of the county – Hester’s Way, Tuffley and Matson.
- County Councillor Mark Hawthorne, leader of Gloucestershire County Council, confirmed at the cabinet meeting of 20 January 2012 that Councillor Noble was not to be involved in the new library strategy and that he would lead the project himself.
- County Councillor Antonia Noble is the Conservative Councillor for Lansdown, Park and Warden Hill in Cheltenham, and is currently Cabinet Member for people with long term support.
- John Holland worked in public libraries in 5 authorities for a total of 37 years, until he retired as Assistant Head of Libraries for Gloucestershire in July 2010. He is an active member of the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries.
The Gloucestershire Echo reported this on 17 April 2012