Public Interest Lawyers have issued two judicial review claims at the High Court on behalf of clients in Gloucestershire and Somerset challenging councils’ decisions to slash library budgets and close highly valued regional libraries. Libraries to be closed are located in some of the most economically deprived areas of the country.
Gloucestershire County Council have decided to withdraw funding from 10 libraries, and every one of their mobile library services. Somerset are shutting the doors on 11 of theirs, as well as axing 4 of the 6 mobile library routes. Understandably, local residents are doing all they can to stop the councils pulling the plug, and instructed Public Interest Lawyers to launch a legal challenge to these damaging cuts.
There are three grounds to the legal challenge. Firstly, that the councils are in breach of their obligation under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to provide an ‘efficient and comprehensive library service’. Secondly, the councils have not paid due regard to their equality duties. The harmful effect that the closure of many fixed libraries and all the mobile libraries would have on the vulnerable members of society cannot be overstated. Thirdly, our clients argue that the consultation process carried out by the councils was insufficient, and the results were ignored. Somerset consulted for only a month, over the Christmas period, and Gloucestershire’s consultation process was actually still on-going when they made their decision on libraries.
One of the claimants, Rebecca Hird, commented that “it is a disgrace that the library is being closed. Watchet is a small town, and there are very few local amenities remaining since the Council closed the youth centres.”
Speaking today, Phil Shiner said “Councils have a very clear and specific statutory duty to provide a comprehensive library service. That is a duty owed by Councils, not the Big Society. Taxpayers are entitled to expect compliance. Libraries are a lifeline for the disenfranchised.”