Be Careful, DMBC, You Could Be Next…

This news came from our fellow campaigners at Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries on Friday:

The High Court today issued an Injunction against Gloucestershire County Council stopping its planned library closures in their tracks. Public Interest lawyers obtained the Injunction as part of the judicial review case being brought on behalf of a Gloucestershire library user opposing the library cuts. The case has the support of a large number of Gloucestershire library users.

The Injunction prevents the Council from:

1. Withdrawing funding from any library which it currently funds;
2. Transferring or agreeing to transfer any library building or lease or responsibility
for running any existing library;
3. Transferring or agreeing to transfer any mobile library or other library asset (such
as computers, shelving etc.); and
4. Closing or taking any steps to close any library.

The injunction is effective immediately.

The Injunction preserves the status-quo to allow the Court to fully review the lawfulness of the Council’s cuts to library provision at a hearing on 7 July 2011. If the challenge is successful, then it will proceed to a full hearing quickly thereafter. Until today, Gloucestershire County Council was pressing ahead with the library cuts, despite strong public opposition with the county. Mobile libraries, issuing over 100,000 books a year to care homes and children in deprived areas were due to be taken out of action over the next few weeks. The Council wants to reduce the number of libraries with full opening hours from 38 to 9 and to withdraw funding from 10 of those libraries altogether. The scale of the cuts is more than twice the percentage reduction in central government funding.

Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers said as follows:

“The High Court has stopped Gloucestershire County Council’s library cuts in their tracks today. It cannot proceed with closures, and must continue to fund libraries, until the legality of these cuts has been properly decided by the Court.”

Daniel Carey, also a solicitor at Public Interest Lawyers, added that: “The Council was in such haste to push these cuts through it couldn’t even wait until the consultation period was over. It has tried to do the same with the court case, but the High Court has today ensured that these cuts will receive the full scrutiny of the law. The Council has very clear statutory duties to provide libraries and these plans breach them.”

DMBC is dangerously close to similar legal action. Like Gloucestershire County Council, DMBC seeks to cease funding or close a significant proportion of its libraries. GCC threatens to close over a quarter of its branches (10 out of 38) if communities do not step forward to run them- DMBC demand that communities run over half (14 out of 26) of the existing branches, or they will close. GCC is axing all its mobile libraries and its homelink service to the housebound, care homes and disadvantaged children – DMBC will be significantly reducing its level of paid staff and increasing its reliance on volunteers. Neither council has assessed whether the communities whose libraries are under threat have the capacity to take on such a burden. Despite Doncaster being the largest metropolitan borough in the UK with some of the most deprived and struggling areas in desperate need of educational support, the council believes it has “too many libraries”. These cuts will all have a detrimental impact on citizens in ways that both councils have failed to identify.

DMBC has failed to respond to the needs and requests of its citizens in a remarkably similar way to GCC – the library cuts plans are based on surveys of less than 1% of the county/borough population, but the councils still seek to push these through despite petitions of over 15,000 (GCC) and over 10,000 (DMBC) in opposition to the cuts and closures. Both council leaders have expressed woeful ignorance of the role of public libraries. It is as a result of poor leadership, misinformation, a failure to assess or respond to community need, and hasty ill-thought-out plans that GCC finds itself in such a regrettable position.

Save Doncaster Libraries urge Mayor Davies to prevent the same happening to DMBC. The council cannot afford the cost, neither financially nor to its already shattered reputation, that would come about through the senseless plans to destroy its network of libraries, or the legal challenge that is likely to come about as a result of months of poorly-thought out, unjustifiable and disproportionate library cuts.

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