The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is investigating whether Lincolnshire County Council is providing a “comprehensive and efficient” library service.
The investigation – a preliminary step to enable the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid to decide whether a local inquiry is necessary - follows a complaint by Maurice Nauta, the retired chief librarian of the county's library service, who wrote to the DCMS on behalf of the Save Lincolnshire Libraries’ campaign, objecting to the proposed changes to Lincolnshire’s public library provision.
Campaigners against cuts to Lincolnshire’s libraries won a judicial review last year, in which Mr Justice Collins found that the council’s process leading up to the decision to cut library services was “flawed”, because the authority failed to consult properly and to consider an application by a charitable organisation that put forward plans to run some libraries.
The council was forced to go back to the drawing board, and earlier this year put forward plans to provide 15 major libraries plus up to 40 community-run hubs – the same proposals that were previously quashed by the High Court.
The changes were approved by Lincolnshire County Council’s executive this month, with the council saying that it will seek an external organisation to potentially deliver library services on its behalf, including the support for the community hubs.
On February 13th Keira Shaw, head of libraries at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, confirmed in a letter to Nauta that his objection to the proposed changes to the public library service provision in Lincolnshire was being treated as a formal complaint.
The Secretary of State can intervene if he feels a local authority is failing to carry out its duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act, following a local inquiry. However under the current Conservative government no local inquiries have been instigated, despite repeated requests from hard-pressed campaigners in locations including Bolton, Lewisham and the Isle of White.
The most recent library inquiry was in Wirral, instigated by Labour culture secretary Andy Burnham in 2009.
The DCMS will write to Lincolnshire County Council to inform them of the complaint, and will make a request for information and “clarification on relevant issues relating to their duty under the Act to deliver a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service”.
There is no timetable for investigation of the complaint.
Nauta said: “I am delighted that the Minister has decided to treat my letter as a formal complaint in accordance with Section 10 of the Public Library and Museums Act 1964. I have not had chance to discuss this development with any colleagues within the Save Lincolnshire Library Campaign, but as soon as that discussion has taken place, we will give our full response as soon as possible.”
Jonathan Platt, county libraries and heritage manager at Lincolnshire County Council, told The Bookseller: "We've kept the DCMS informed of our plans throughout the decision-making process, and will, of course, provide them with any further information they require. We're confident that our proposed model meets our legal duties, and in July 2014 a judge concluded that the model developed by the council complied with the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 and the Equality Act 2010."