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Surrey residents win library challenge

Surrey residents have won their High Court judicial review challenge against council plans to remove paid staff from 10 of the county's libraries.

In a judgement handed down this morning (3rd April), the council's decision was found unlawful. Mr Justice Wilkie said actions by the council had fallen "substantially short" of enabling cabinet members to give proper regard to an "obvious equality issue" involved by the library changes.

The judge will decide whether to make an order quashing the council's decision at a separate hearing likely to take place in May.

Nick Dorrington, one of the residents bringing the legal action, said: "I am delighted with the result and I hope that it reminds senior county councillors that they should not forget that we employ them to provide efficient services and, as importantly, represent us the electorate. It is a great disappointment that the council has wasted thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money trying to ignore and ride roughshod over public criticism and outrage."

However Surrey county council said in a statement it was "pleased that a High Court judge had not criticised its libraries plans meaning the proposals could still go ahead." The council argued that Mr Justice Wilkie upheld "a technical challenge" brought by protesters. "The judgement simply said the Cabinet should have had more information in front of it about the work the council had already done to develop equalities training for volunteers, when it made its decision in September," a press statement said. 

Helyn Clack, Surrey council’s cabinet member for community services said: “Today’s decision is no reflection on our plans for communities to run local libraries with support from the county council. Our aim all along has been to keep all Surrey’s libraries open and help them thrive, while elsewhere in the country branches are closing.” 

Surrey is the fourth council to be taken to judicial review over its library cutbacks, with Brent campaigners losing their legal bid to quash local closures, but Somerset and Gloucestershire library users winning theirs.

 

Meanwhile campaigners in Gloucestershire have condemned as "cynical and highly misleading" the new library strategy with which Gloucestershire county council has replaced the plans quashed by the High Court.

Gloucestershire's replacement proposals will see seven libraries losing their council funding with a saving of £1.8m. In November, plans to cut funding for 10 libraries were ruled unlawful.

Council leader Mark Hawthorne said: "We are extremely grateful that people took time to tell us their views as this has helped us shape the final proposals. Changes have been made where people consistently told us they were needed and we've extended the support for community-run libraries in line with the feedback."

But Johanna Anderson of the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries, said: "This is a deeply disappointing strategy. With a few exceptions, GCC has duplicated the same proposals for individual libraries as the original review which was declared unlawful. We believe that GCC has been running down its library service for a number of years, and these further destructive cuts simply continue this trend."

The proposals will be considered at a cabinet meeting on Thursday (5th April).