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Posts Tagged ‘High Court’

On the 24th July Surrey County Council Cabinet is due to reconsider plans to remove staff from ten libraries across Surrey and replace them with volunteers.

In reconsidering the decision SCC must, by Court Order, abide by the judgment handed down on 3rd April 2012. The Council must this time show due regard to its public sector equalities duty (PSED) and it must this time make a reasonable decision*.

Whether SCC will have done enough to abide by the court order by the 24th July remains to be seen. This is a battle that could run and run…and run.

But we don’t think it is in anyone’s interest for us still to be arguing over the libraries policy in another year’s time. We have, therefore, written a letter to council leader, David Hodge, proposing a compromise that will enable all parties to move forward.

We have proposed that paid staff and the library management system remain in place for stability, sustainability and to meet the needs of vulnerable groups, but that volunteers could assist in the delivery of services and be able to have a greater say in what additional services are offered.

We have further suggested that a community consultative group (CCG) is set up at each library – a forum in which volunteers can contribute to a shared vision of how their library can provide better and new services for the local community.

Our proposal costs no more, and probably less, than SCC’s current proposals and it is a solution around which the whole community can unite.

We hope that SCC gives the compromise serious consideration.

*(in failing on Wednesbury principles – para 109 of judgment – Mr Justice Wilkie judged that SCC had made a decision that was “so unreasonable that no other reasonable authority would have made it”)

CILIP’s policy on volunteers in public libraries

CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) reformulated its policy on library volunteers in June 2012 (http://www.cilip.org.uk/get-involved/policy/statements%20and%20briefings/pages/use-of-volunteers.aspx). We reproduce the policy below:

CILIP believes that society benefits from the contribution that trained and skilled library, information and knowledge workers make to developing and delivering services. We do not believe that volunteers should undertake core service delivery or be asked to replace the specialised roles of staff who work in libraries.

Volunteers have long supported and provided highly valuable additional support, working alongside qualified and paid staff, and they should be acknowledged and valued for this role. They should also be given appropriate role descriptions, training and management.

CILIP is opposed to job substitution where paid professional and support roles are directly replaced with either volunteers or untrained administrative posts to save money. This applies to all library and information services in every sector.

If this happens services will suffer and will be unsustainable. What remains would be a library service unable to serve the community comprehensively, support people’s information needs or provide everyone with the opportunity for learning and development.

CILIP will not assist in recruiting or training volunteers who will be used to substitute the role of qualified, trained and paid library and information workers.

We acknowledge the difficult times that we live in, but now more than ever, high quality information services are vital to people’s lives, and local communities, learners, workers and businesses need the support of a trained and skilled workforce to thrive.

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We sent an open letter earlier this week to Peter Milton, Head of Cultural Services at SCC, pointing out the myriad ways in which SCC’s current equalities survey is fundamentally flawed.

The outcome of the Judicial Review gave SCC an opportunity to take a step back, review its policy and make some adjustments that would make the policy more agreeable to Surrey residents. But instead of taking that opportunity, SCC has got hung up on trying to overcome a perceived “technicality”, only consulting with the minimum number of people to satisfy the “technicality”, and only on questions that it feels the High Court judgment demands.

The result is the overly complicated, fussy and poorly administered equalities consultation and monitoring we now see.

The consultation documents have been to sent to some library users many times over whilst many other library users have received no documents at all. The questions themselves are complicated to answer and demand too much knowledge of regulation, training and equalities law for a library user to reasonably answer.

As one resident put it to us, SCC has tried to be “too clever by half”.

SCC could have avoided all this confusion and complication, and it still can. We recommend that the Council sends out a simple referendum to all residents in the affected communities with this simple question:

Given that there is no financial saving in replacing paid, professional staff with volunteers, would you rather your local library was run by

A. Experienced, paid, professionals (with volunteers providing additional services where appropriate)

or

B. volunteers only

We have evidence that leads us to believe that most people will vote for option A. But if we are wrong and the majority of people vote for option B, then we will accept defeat gracefully and wrap up this campaign. You will hear from us no more.

Come on Surrey County Council, let’s see localism in action.

LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

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Things happening apace at the moment. Hot on the heels of our open letter to Surrey County Council, Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture (including libraries), weighs into the debate in an interview with BBC Radio Surrey this morning.

BBC Radio Surrey was interviewing SLAM Chair, Mike Alsop, about SLAM’s open letter to the Council when the presenter, Mark Carter, suddenly introduced Ed Vaizey to the interview, to the surprise of SLAM’s Chair.

Ed Vaizey said that he would expect there to be a “discussion” when an authority attempts to reconfigure its library service, in direct contrast to SCC’s non-consultative approach.

He went on to say that he “fully supports” SLAM’s right to campaign against SCC and to change their mind over the library plans.

The most telling part of the interview, though, was this:

Mark Carter: “You are quite happy with the direction Surrey County Council is taking?”

Ed Vaizey: “Hold on. I don’t want to get too pedantic because I don’t think your listeners are interested in, sort of, me dancing on the head of a pin…”

Mark Carter: “But from what you’ve heard and what you’ve read, you are happy with the direction Surrey County Council is taking?”

Ed Vaizey: “If the local population and the local campaigners think that the County Council has taken a decision in the wrong way they are entitled to Judicially Review it, which is what SLAM has done to Surrey County Council. They won that Judicial Review and the County has been asked to look at the way it made its decision again… I can’t say whether I am happy with Surrey’s plans because I have to wait until I’ve seen the final shape of them before I make a decision about whether it’s appropriate or not to have an enquiry into whether or not they are providing a comprehensive library service.”

There are three very important points raised here by Ed Vaizey.

Firstly, he accepts that the claimants (supported by SLAM) won the Judicial Review. SCC has, absurdly, yet to accept this and has said it is “pleased” with the judgment and that the judge did not criticise its plans.

Secondly, Ed Vaizey says that the judge has asked the Council to look at the way it made its decision again. This is clearly the Minister’s expectation, too. Yet SCC has said that it intends to press on with its plans regardless of the High Court ruling and without reviewing its decision.

Thirdly, the Minster for Culture says that he “can’t say whether he is happy with Surrey’s plans because he hasn’t seen the final shape of them,” before deciding whether to hold an enquiry. It is very clear that Ed Vaizey expects the Council’s plans to change, which chimes with the Judge’s ruling that the plans fell “substantially short” of what is required by the law. The Minister also makes it clear that he is holding the threat of an enquiry over SCC’s head.

It can not be clearer that SCC needs to mend its ways and to fundamentally change its plans to run 10 libraries with volunteers only. Our letter sent this morning spells out how this process of change may be started.

The ball is firmly in the Council’s court. Will it defy Surrey residents, the High Court and, now, the Minister for Culture (risking a full-scale enquiry) or will it see the error of its ways?

We say the easiest way for SCC to get out of the tremendous mess it has made for itself is to drop its library plans and have a fundamental rethink. But if it really does “insist on this policy” then it has an awful lot of hard work and expense ahead of it.

Over to Surrey County Council.

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Sorry for the late notice but we have just heard that the judgement from the Judicial Review is to be handed down in writing tomorrow.

We are not sure exactly what time it will be handed down yet but we would hope to know by tomorrow afternoon at the latest.

More then…

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The long wait for Surrey County Council’s library plans to be held up to scrutiny is coming to an end. The campaign to halt the Council’s controversial plans to force “volunteers” to take over statutory library service provision in 10 Surrey communities is over a year old.

The Council has given an ultimatum to local residents: “volunteer” to run your library or we will close it! The Council has not consulted local residents or library users over what they refer to themselves as a “radical” plan. SCC has not listened to sensible alternatives that will actually save money AND improve the service. Instead, they have ploughed on regardless with a policy that is unwanted, diminishes a service that consistently ranks the highest in satisfaction surveys of all Council provided services, and has cost more money to implement than it claims to save.

And let us not forget that the claimed savings amount to just 1/10,000th of the Council’s Budget in any case (and yes, I have counted the zeros properly). That’s like a person on a salary of £25,000 needing to save the price of a cup of coffee from their annual spending.  You really have to ask whether it was worth the Council letting this go all the way to the High Court, with its attendant cost and effort, rather than just drop the plan or make suitable and sensible adjustments.

It is regrettable that the only way that Surrey residents can hold their Council to account and have a say on the library plans is through the High Court. If only the Council had consulted with residents and library users, and done so in an open-minded and collaborative way, then all this may have been avoided.

The Judicial Review will take place on Monday and Tuesday at the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand in London. The case will be put before Mr Justice Wilkie in Court 19 starting at 10.30am. All are welcome to attend.

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The High Court of Justice in London has issued an injunction today preventing Conservative-run Surrey County Council proceeding with plans to create Community Partnered Libraries in 10 communities across Surrey (See About SLAM tab for details of libraries).

The injunction was issued by The Hon Mr Justice Wyn Williams and orders that:

The Defendant [Surrey County Council] shall take no irrevocable steps towards implementing the Community Partnered Libraries (CPLs) decision impugned in these proceedings until further order of this court.

The injunction was issued to stop CPLs being completely set up before we can seek permission for a Judicial Review.

We were surprised that the injunction was issued so soon  – we were expecting this stage to last about three weeks – but see this as an endorsement of the strength of our case.

We are, nonetheless, very happy that this decision was reached and can begin to prepare the full case without worrying about SCC going too far with their plans.

We still need help with funding

If you can help at all with funding, we would be very grateful. Our case is strong and, should we win, our costs are likely to be returned to us. If that happens then we will return the money to whoever donated.

If you can help, then please donate to:

Lloyds TSB
Account Title: SLAM
Account Number 48371668
Sort Code: 30-99-80.

If you are kind enough to do so, please also email to let us know at slamtreasurer12@gmail.com  so that we can return any money should we win.

If you want to pay by cheque then please Contact Us and we will provide the address of our Treasurer.

Many thanks

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