It was heartening to see that a legal fund set up by the Save Lincolnshire Libraries group has received a donation of £1000 from the Library Campaign towards the cost of the judicial review, which is set to take place at the High Court in London on July 8th & 9th. A resident has challenged Lincolnshire Council’s proposals to cut the library service by £2 million and the outcome of the case is likely to have wide ranging implications nationally, producing either jubilation or despair depending which side of the argument you are on.
Like many, I am hoping for a judgment that favours the plaintiff and gives pause to other councils thinking of making deep and damaging cuts to library services. If there is a victory then the credit must go to the tenacity of all those involved in the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign.
Although the challenge has been allowed on four grounds the area most of us will be watching closely is:
‘That if the cuts go ahead Lincolnshire’s Library Service will no longer be comprehensive and efficient and therefore will breach the national requirements’
However – and unfortunately there is always a ‘however’ – defining what those national requirements are will be a tricky business indeed. Even if the review is successful I suspect it will be beyond the Court’s ability (or remit) to define what a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service should be and the outcome is likely to depend on the Court interpreting that the extent of the cuts undermines the principle of comprehensiveness and therefore the Council will fail in its obligation under the 1964 act.
Equally, a successful outcome, like previous reviews elsewhere, could be won on the grounds of a flawed technical process such as a poor equalities assessment (one of the grounds of the challenge). Unfortunately, this would be a lesser victory as it could potentially allow the Council to rectify the process and then still carry out its plans.
Regrettably, even a victory doesn’t necessarily mean that no reductions will take place and I suspect the judgement will only require the Council scale back on the proposed cuts and closures. Perhaps the real argument will centre on not that the Council is cutting library services at all, just that they are cutting too much!
The one strand in the challenge that has the capacity to put a twist in the tale is:
‘That the Council failed to properly consider the proposal by Greenwich Leisure Limited (a not for profit agency who had bid to run the library service). As a result the Council had failed in its duties under the Localism Act (1)’
Potentially this could mean that GLL will be given the opportunity to bid to run library services in Lincolnshire once again. The big question will be are they able to do it without implementing reductions and closures themselves? It would be a bold assertion to say they could until the Council actually commits to a figure that it’s willing to pay for the operation of the library service.
It would be rather ironic if Lincolnshire campaigners later found themselves at odds over one of the grounds of the judicial review that they campaigned so hard for!
Obviously, the Court could go the other way and rule in favour of Lincolnshire Council, in which case it really will be open season on library services the length and breadth of the country.