Lincolnshire campaigners win judicial review

Lincolnshire campaigners win judicial review

Lincolnshire County Council will go back to the drawing board after a judicial review quashed their plans for library cuts.

The High Court ruling today (17th July) said the council's plans were "flawed".

The judicial review was brought up by Lincoln resident Simon Draper with Public Interest Lawyers, contesting the council's plans to cut the library service budget by £2m. Speaking to The Bookseller after the ruling, Draper said: "I'm over the moon with the decision, I think that's the only phrase for it. It's really exciting."

He added: "The judge was really not very happy with the council, he said the consultation was flawed, and their lack of consideration from Greenwich's application to run the service was the final straw. We just want all the libraries to stay open, all the staff to keep their jobs, and all the hours to stay the same. The council can do it. We're ready for whatever comes next."

The plans would have seen around 30 libraries passed to volunteers and community groups, with only 15 larger libraries still staffed by the council.

Mr Justice Collins said in his ruling: "I have decided that the means by which the county council decided and reached their decision was flawed, in two respects. In respect of the consultation, and of their failure to properly deal with an application by a charitable organisations [Greenwich Leisure Limited] which already ran library services for two London boroughs, Greenwich and Woolwich. I have decided that the decision made in December last year should be quashed.

Asked if the council's QC would be able to appeal, the judge responded: "I think she would have difficulty putting in an appeal."

Richard Wills, executive director at the council, said in a statement: “We are, of course, disappointed with the decision. We believe that our proposals would have increased library provision in the county, while also making substantial savings, meaning taxpayers would be getting a much better deal."

He added: "Ironically, although we must consider that proposal as a community offer to take over the council’s services under the Localism Act, it could lead to the library service being put out to procurement and outsourced to a commercial organisation. We will now address the points raised by the judge and remain open-minded."

The proposed cuts were contested on four grounds; that the consultation held on the proposed library cuts was unlawful, as a decision had already been taken; that the council failed to ensure that harm caused by their decision would be prevented, as required by the Equality Act; that the council failed to properly consider a bid to run the service from not-for-profit Greenwich Leisure Limited; and that if the cuts go ahead, the county's library service will no longer be comprehensive and efficient, breaching statutory requirements.

The case was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice on 8th and 9th July.

Phil Dilks, shadow executive member for libraries on Lincolnshire County Council, told The Bookseller he was disappointed that the council seems determined to continue with its plans. He said: "The council response makes it sound like they're determined to carry on, to put their head in the sand and continue as though the highest court in the land hadn't just called their plans 'flawed'. The council last year again underspent its budget by £60m to put in its reserves - forget about the £2m they're trying to save from libraries, that could fund libraries in the county for a generation. We need to invest in libraries to encourage education and employability across the county."