Kirklees libraries campaigners buoyed by High Court ruling

A LIBRARIES shake-up in Kirklees could face a legal challenge after a High Court ruling, campaigners have warned.

A LIBRARIES shake-up in Kirklees could face a legal challenge after a High Court ruling, campaigners have warned.

Kirklees Council wants to hand over seven village libraries to volunteers from April next year.

But a similar plan from Surrey County Council was yesterday ruled unlawful by the High Court in London.

Two local residents took their council to court and won a judgement which could have national implications.

Denby Dale-based libraries campaigner Biddy Fisher OBE said the High Court ruling created a “precedent” which Kirklees would ignore at its peril.

“The Surrey case is very similar to Kirklees and it has created a precedent, which is the important thing,” she said.

“It could open the door to a legal challenge in Kirklees and if there was any member of the community who wants to take this forward I would give them my absolute support.”

Mrs Fisher, a former president of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) awarded the OBE for her services to libraries, urged Kirklees to review their plans in light of the ruling.

She said: “It is not too late for the council to launch a proper and meaningful consultation with the public.

“No-one wants to see this go to court. All it takes is communication.”

Denby Dale, Shepley, Honley, Golcar, Slaithwaite, Lepton and Kirkheaton libraries are under threat from council cuts.

The council has pledged to keep the libraries open for another 12 months provided volunteers come forward to run them. The existing library staff would lose their jobs.

Mrs Fisher, a spokesman for the Friends of Denby Dale Library, accused the council of “cynical” tactics.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that the library threat was made in a report to the council’s Cabinet last July.

The threat to the seven libraries had not been made public until the council had decided to push ahead.

Mrs Fisher said: “The council has been cynical and arrogant and the Cabinet has been sitting on this for months when they could have been consulting communities, which is the best practice recommended by the Government.”

Mrs Fisher said it was likely that volunteers would be found to run libraries but, in other parts of the country, such a move had proved unworkable without paid, professional staff to guide them.

She said the plans had not been properly thought out or costed.

She said volunteers would be unable to access reader records due to the Data Protection Act and Public Lending Right monies could not be paid to authors in volunteer-run libraries.

Mrs Fisher said she had trained for many years to become a librarian and was “insulted” that the council thought her role could be taken on by volunteers.

Another campaigner, Suzanne Dufton, of the Honley Library Book Group, also urged Kirklees to think again.

She said: “The Surrey case is a mirror image and Kirklees should look at their plans again.”

Surrey County Council wants to hand over 10 libraries to volunteers to protect the remaining 52.

Residents Nicholas Dorrington and Lucy Williams brought the case claiming the move would hit the vulnerable who relied on local library services.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Wilkie said the local authority failed to have regard to “equality issues”.

Campaigners launched the Surrey Libraries Action Movement (SLAM) to raise funds for the legal challenge. They also won the support of writer and media personality Stephen Fry.

A spokesman for Kirklees Council said: “We have been aware of the Surrey case for some time. In Kirklees we are currently at the consultation stage with communities.

“It is important to recognise that to date no decisions have been made on community-run libraries and will not be until the results of the consultation are known later in the summer.”

 

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