Many congratulations to our fellow campaigners in Somerset and Gloucestershire, who have won their Judicial Reviews. Voices for the Library report:
Gloucestershire and Somerset library campaigners heard today that they have won their claim over library cuts and closures. The judge ruled in favour of their claims regarding the councils’ neglect to consider or address the findings of the Equality Impact Assessments that had been conducted. A quashing order means that the campaigners have put a halt to the council’s current plans for libraries – both local authorities’ plans will have to be rethought.
Regarding the councils’ failures to comply with the public sector equality duties, His Honour Judge McKenna ruled:
“The real question on this aspect of the case, it seems to me, is whether there was a conscious directing of the mind by the decision makers to their obligations under the legislation and in particular to the need to exercise the duty to have due regard in substance and with rigour and based on sufficient information, appropriately analysed.
“In my judgment, on the preponderance of the evidence, no such due regard was had in substance. In order to discharge their respective duties, GCC and SCC should have undertaken a sufficiently thorough information gathering exercise and then properly analysed that information. In this case I conclude that both GCC and SCC failed to comply with that obligation, accepting as I do the substance of the Claimants’ criticisms made of their respective information gathering and analysis to which I have referred above.”
Roger Harvey from DMBC’s Legal and Democratic Services department referred to the recent decision in the London Borough of Brent – campaigners were not granted permission for Judicial Review against the cuts to library services there (this decision is under appeal). DMBC should therefore also take heed of the outcome of this Judicial Review. The council has conducted an Equalities Impact Assessment and is aware that there will be significant negative impact to communities in Doncaster. For example:
- Bawtry: “many reported a difficulty in doing so [accessing alternative branches] due to inadequate transport provision and inconvenience. A specific impact on Wilsic Hall Autistic School was identified. Many responses concerned elderly residents unable to access alternative venues, and parents and grandparents similarly unable to access other venues to access reading materials and resources for children.”
- Bessacarr: “The main issues identified preventing residents from accessing services elsewhere are: inability to travel, cost of traveling, and convenience of local services with relevant opening times.”
- Denaby: “A number of respondents did report lack of comparable local alternatives. Travel and transport are the main issues affecting usage at alternative venues”
- Edenthorpe: “The main issues identified by the impact assessment for this community are:
– The need for relevant opening times
– Specific feedback regarding customers with disabilities needs to be addressed
– Inability to use public transport / inability to travel to other locations easily
– Suitability of current library location
– Need for professional support to make informed choices raised.”
- Intake: “The main issues for residents interviewed related to:
– Inability to access comparable services by the elderly or residents with mobility issues.
– Need for service provision amongst children and families.
– Need for information and support for residents looking for work.
– Prohibitive cost, or lack of transport infrastructure, to enable residents to access services easily elsewhere.
- Moorends: “Travel and transport infrastructure impacts upon ability for some customers to access services elsewhere. Parents and the elderly reported a specific concern relating to inability to access comparable services in other locations.”
- Rossington: “Change in service provision will specifically impact upon:
– Elderly residents and customers with visual impairments and / or impaired mobility
– Disabled customers
– Customers unable to access public transport or without personal modes of transport.
- Scawthorpe: “Some customers reported difficulty traveling to nearest other library at Bentley. Mobility and health-related issues reported, as well as responses regarding low income (and therefore inability to access resources in other locations or methods). Need for professional support to make informed choices raised.”
- Sprotbrough: “Groups and individuals consulted in the EIA reported a need for:
– Local social and democratically available space
– Professional support to make informed decisions
– Access to resources for parents and children
– Access to information
Residents reported difficulty in accessing comparable services elsewhere due to cost or opening times. Residents also reported the need for a library building in the current location within the community.”
- Stainforth: “Groups and individuals consulted in the EIA reported a need relating to:
– Accessible services for the elderly
– Service provision for residents currently unemployed
– Concerns regarding proximity and accessibility of other libraries
– Inability to afford personal or public transport, and lack of adequate transport provision to other libraries”
- Warmsworth: “The main areas of impact reported:
– Age-related conditions making other locations unviable
– Need of parents and children to access locally available resources
– Cost of accessing resources in other locations”
- Wheatley: “Children interviewed using the library reported a specific requirement for computer and internet access, and would not be able to access provision at other libraries. For adults interviewed, a lack of free alternative venues was reported. Specific issues from customers related to:
– Inability to afford cost of travel to alternative sites
– Issues of unemployment, and need for provision of information and support.
– Difficulty for parents, children and families to access comparable library services”
The council is aware that closure of these branches would result in a significant negative impact on its citizens. It is also aware, despite claiming that over 700 volunteers are waiting in the wings to take over running 12 libraries, that realistically a very small proportion of those who gave their contact details will be willing and able to follow through with their offers. The discussion of the volunteer plans in Overview and Scrutiny made it abundantly clear that arrangements have not been made and that there is “no Plan B” if/when volunteer library provision fails, and it is apparent that volunteer provision is likely to fall short of the equalities duties, particularly with regard to access to professional support in order for people to make informed choices.
The council should not force its own citizens to take it to court for failing to address their needs and legal rights. The council knows that these library cuts will impact those most in need – young people, the elderly, unemployed, the poor and those unable to travel, for example – so why is it taking such a risk? The council must scrap its volunteer plans and take responsibility for the provision of a library service across the whole borough, not just the lucky half.
The law takes public sector equality duties seriously – DMBC can’t afford not to.