The letter reproduced below first appeared here, Doncaster Free Press Letters page on Thursday July 5th.
A waste of our taxpayers’ cash?
I READ with interest ‘Mayor faces judge over library cuts’ on page 2 of the Doncaster Free Press on Thursday June 28, 2012, which is listed for hearing at the Leeds Combined Court Centre on Tuesday, July 24.
Should not the un-named claimant have invoked the council complaints procedure or the ombudsman service, so avoiding Doncaster tax payers liability of the costs of this unreasonable and irrational judicial review proceedings?
Maurice Field, Kings Road, Wheatley
A response has been sent by Save Doncaster Libraries to the Free Press. In the hope that the response will be published it shall not be reproduced here, the Press Release from our Lawyers regarding this matter, reveals the truth of the situation and speaks for itself.
Public Interest Lawyers
Press Release – 22 June 2012
For immediate release
DONCASTER’S ELECTED MAYOR TO FACE LEGAL CHALLENGE OVER
REFUSAL TO IMPLEMENT DONCASTER COUNCIL’S DECISION ON LIBRARIES
His Honour Judge Gosnell has granted permission to a Doncaster resident to bring an application for judicial review challenging the elected Mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, for his refusal to implement a decision of Doncaster’s councillors to save the authority’s libraries. The case is to be heard in Leeds Combined Court Centre on 24 July 2012. The claim will answer an important question about the balance of power between elected Mayors and Councillors.
The resident is represented by the solicitors firm Public Interest Lawyers.
On 23 February 2012, the Mayor proposed his budget for the forthcoming year to Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council’s councillors sitting together as the ‘full Council.’ The head of the Labour group proposed an amendment to that budget which allocated funds to save two closed libraries and prevent 12 other libraries from being left to be run by volunteers. On 5 March 2012, the full Council voted (by 43 votes to 6 with 3 councillors abstaining) to include the proposed amendment in the budget. The law is clear that the setting of the budget is the responsibility of the full Council and not an elected Mayor.
The following day, the Mayor, an English Democrat, announced that he was not going to implement the budget as set by the Full Council and that the 14 libraries would continue, as he wished, to close or be transferred to community volunteers.
The law requires the Mayor to act “wholly in accordance” with the budget as set by the Council. The claim centres on whether the Mayor’s refusal to implement the budget can be said to be wholly in accordance with the budget. In granting permission, His Honour Judge Gosnell observed that the “claim is clearly arguable.”
Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, said today:
“The Mayor’s refusal to implement the decision of a 2-thirds majority of all of Doncaster’s councillors is not only disastrous for the future of Doncaster’s libraries, it raises a fundamental question about the elected Mayor system. The claim will provide an important answer about the balance of power between an elected Mayor and all of an authority’s elected councillors.”
UPDATE 19TH JULY 2012. The Doncaster Free Press have not published our reponse to Mr Fields’ letter, and have had 2 editions in which to do so. Thus it is reproduced here:-
It is with resigned sadness that I read the letter from Mr Field last week asking why the unnamed claimant whose case has resulted in Save Doncaster Libraries being granted a Judicial Review over Mayor Davies systematic destruction of Doncaster Libraries, a claim which His Honour Judge Gosnell stated “is clearly arguable”, believes this to be a waste of taxpayers money. Does this mean an electorate should never ensure governance appropriately and correctly, nor fight where the opposite occurs, to save ‘the taxpayers money’? The Council would not be forced to defend the indefensible had Mayor Davies not closed his ears and mind two years ago.
The Judicial Review is neither unreasonable nor irrational. It is the inevitable stage to which Save Doncaster Libraries have been driven after all our recommendations, suggestions, call-ins, petitions, protests, provision of alternate solutions (from persons within and without the Council) and evidence provision of the importance of a statutory library service to all those who live, work or are educated in our borough. It is a natural progression resulting from the Mayor’s refusal to implement a budget amendment granting an extra amount of funding to the Library Service which would have enabled a paid member of council staff to work within ALL of the 14 endangered libraries, including those of Denaby and Carcroft which have been closed since the beginning of December 2011. The case itself is representative, all residents would be beneficially affected should we win.
We have been warning of this inevitable legal step for months, and pointed to those successful judicial reviews from elsewhere in the Country (Gloucester and Somerset for example). Save Doncaster Libraries is not happy to have been forced to go this far, indeed it is a step the Mayor could have avoided on many occasions but instead he has chosen to force through cuts of over 50% of the overall Library Service (it is not only local branches that have been attacked, for example back-office services, staffing levels, purchase levels and hours at other libraries have also been cut) despite the overall reduction in our Local Authority budget being 9%. A Mayor is accountable to his electorate and also to the full council as representatives of the electorate and cannot simply ignore acceptable amendments to push through what can only now be viewed as an ideological attack on the access to information and reading materials for all, especially important in these austere times when for many it is the only possible access.
Save Doncaster Libraries is currently reviewing the impact of the changes made already to the closed and closing branch libraries and the overall picture is not a positive one. Soon it will be too late to claw back from the destruction reaped by Mayor Davies and that will be his legacy. Whilst there are actions we can take to prevent this, Save Doncaster Libraries, is proud to lead the way. Information about the non-partisan campaign can be found at www.savedoncasterlibraries.wordpress.com.
Lynne _______, Save Doncaster Libraries campaigner,