The High Court has today published its full judgement on a legal challenge against plans for a new-look library service, with Lincolnshire County Council threatening to claim back their legal costs which they say saw ‘£350,000 of taxpayers’ money being wasted’.
In February, the council’s executive approved a new way of doings things in light of changes in the way libraries are used and the authority’s substantially reduced budget. Local campaigners then requested a judicial review of this decision.
However, the judge has refused permission on all grounds. Coun Martin Hill, leader of LCC, said: “This judgement makes it abundantly clear that the council acted in a legal and proper manner.
“In fact, the judge is pretty damning in her assessment of the campaigners’ case, even going as far as to suggest one of their arguments was ‘hopeless’.
“Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped their two ill-considered challenges resulting in around £350,000 of taxpayers’ money being wasted.
“This is frankly outrageous, and we will certainly be consulting our lawyers regarding the recovery of our costs.
“It also raises rather serious questions about the rules surrounding legal aid and the way in which it can be used for what some might argue are political purposes.”
Under its plans, the council will continue to provide 15 major libraries, along with online services and specialist support for those unable to reach their nearest library because of, for instance, disability, age or ill health.
These will be complemented by around 30 community hubs, including library services, developed in partnership with local community groups. As well as these groups receive ongoing professional support, they will also be given over £5,000 per year towards their running costs and access to a one-off grant of up to £15,000 for changes to buildings or equipment.
Coun Nick Worth, executive member for libraries, said: “We continue to work with local groups to get the new community hubs up and running.
“14 have already opened their doors to the public, with some even offering substantially increased hours. A further 11 are set to open by the end of November, and there are plans for 10 more as well.
“So despite the uncertainty caused by all the legal chicanery, we still look set to end up with more libraries than we started with.
“That means Save Lincolnshire Libraries are now rather ironically campaigning for fewer libraries.
“Perhaps now they will finally have enough shame to admit they got it wrong and apologise to the people of Lincolnshire for this needless waste of money.”
In addition, the authority is undertaking a competitive procurement to seek an external organisation to potentially deliver library services on its behalf, including the support for the community hubs. This follows an approach by Greenwich Leisure Limited, a not-for-profit organisation interested in running local libraries.
Because of the work involved in a competitive procurement, it is likely to take until the end of 2015 before a final decision is reached on who will run the service.