Judge rules Surrey County Council decision to hand libraries to volunteers was unlawful
4th April 2012
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Campaigners are elated after a high court judge ruled a decision by Surrey County Council to hand 10 libraries over to volunteers was "unlawful".

Mr Justice Wilkie passed down the decision today, April 3, following a two day judicial review last month prompted by campaign group, Surrey Libraries Action Movement (SLAM) which launched legal action against the council earlier this year.

Under the council’s plans, 10 libraries, including Ewell Court, Tattenhams and Stoneleigh library, would be passed over to volunteers with professional librarians removed in a bid to save cash.

The judge concluded that the decision, taken by SCC on September 27 was "unlawful" as the cabinet had not been made aware and did not give sufficient regard to how removing paid staff would impact protected groups such as children, elderly, and the disabled under the Equality Act 2010.

A spokesperson for Public Interest Lawyers representing SLAM said: "Witness statements in support of the claim argued that paid staff were crucial in providing assistance to vulnerable users.

"Paid staff were able to develop knowledge, both of the library service and its users, which community volunteers spending a few hours in the library could not be expected to provide.

"In advising the cabinet on September 27, 2011, officers had simply made short reference to the need for training of volunteers, without any analysis of what training might be needed and whether it would even be possible for training to mitigate the impact of removing paid staff."

Lee Godfrey, of SLAM, said: "We are just elated that we have raised these concerns over the last year and now it has been ruled illegal.

"Our lawyers are very confident that now the judge has decided it was a substantial breach the decision will be quashed."

But despite their actions being ruled ‘unlawful’, SCC has said it is "pleased" the judge "had not criticised its libraries plans" and indicated its proposals could still go ahead.

The council played down the judge’s decision, which they said "simply said the cabinet should have had more information in front of it about the work the council had already done to develop equalities training for volunteers when it made its decision in September".

Helyn Clack, Surrey County Council’s cabinet member for community services and the 2012 Games, said: "Today’s decision is no reflection on our plans for communities to run local libraries with support from the county council.

"Our aim all along has been to keep all Surrey’s libraries open and help them thrive, while elsewhere in the country branches are closing.

"We’ve listened to disability groups to develop training programmes for volunteers from the start and the judge recognised this."

The court will reconvene in May when the judge will decide what happens next as there is an injunction in place preventing SCC from continuing with its plans until the end of the hearing.

Article by Lauren May at YourLocalGuardian

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