The Government is investigating whether the county council’s bid to shove 30 of its 45 libraries into the hands of volunteers is legal.
The move comes as leading national figures, author Tim Coates and The Library Campaign chairman Laura Swaffield, attacked the “disgraceful” and “pig-headed” step to dump libraries and sack 160 staff – when the council was shown it could keep them all open and still make its planned £1.9million saving.
Tim Coates, a former boss of Waterstones, said: “The behaviour of Lincolnshire County Council and the Conservative Party in Lincolnshire is nothing short of disgraceful and contemptible in the extreme.”
Laura Swaffield said: “They (the council) have been made fools of in the High Court last July – the judge said their so-called consultation was worthless, and they were at fault for not looking at a professional plan to – I repeat – make all the savings they want, without this mad destruction.”
Labour county councillor Phil Dilks, from Deeping St James, said Lincolnshire Tory MPs John Hayes, Sir Peter Tapsell and Sir Edward Leigh have called for a re-think on the county’s library plans – and it’s a cross party campaign to save them.
Coun Dilks said: “It was Conservative MP John Whittingdale who chaired a Select Committee inquiry into the future of libraries who concluded that ‘wholesale handing over of library branches to volunteers was unlikely to fulfil a local authority’s legal requirement to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.’
“This week the Government has announced that it is to take the rare step of investigating whether Lincolnshire’s plan fulfils those legal obligations following a complaint from former head of Lincolnshire Libraries, Mr Maurice Nauta, who is a member of the campaign group Save Lincolnshire Libraries, which succeeded in winning a judicial review in the High Court last year when a judge ordered the original plan to be quashed following a flawed consultation process.”
Jonathan Platt, county libraries and heritage manager, said: “We’re confident that our proposed model meets our legal duties, and in July 2014 a judge concluded that the model developed by the council complied with the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 and the Equality Act 2010.”
Executive member for libraries Coun Nick Worth said: “By the end of this decade the council’s overall budget will have been more-or-less halved.
“We chose to protect funding for areas like child protection, adult care and gritting icy roads – services that can be the difference between life and death. Because of that, we’ve had to look elsewhere for the savings – including within the library service.”