‘Closure complied with the law’

Lincolnshire County Council’s latest decision to close dozens of public libraries complied with the law to the letter and must be allowed to a stand, a top judge heard today.

Local residents had been carefully consulted on the possibility of ‘outsourcing’ the library service, said the council’s barrister, Nigel Giffin QC.

And, after national charity, Greenwich Leisure Ltd, “expressed an interest” in running the libraries, the council quite rightly announced a public tendering exercise.

Local residents had been carefully consulted on the possibility of ‘outsourcing’ the library service.Nigel Giffin QC

The public had been asked their views on alternative ‘models’ for the library service, but there was no duty to consult them on the detailed procurement options.

The council’s previous decision to transform the service was struck down as unlawful by a High Court judge last year.

But Mr Giffin said the steps taken by Lincolnshire since then had cured any unlawfulness and “matched up precisely” with the judge’s suggestions on the way forward.

Angry library users, led by Simon Draper, say the council’s February decision is ‘perverse’ and want it to reconsider the issue for a third time.

However, the council insists it has acted entirely lawfully and that Mr Draper’s bid to derail the changes has come far too late.

Mr Giffin told the court the council’s plans are already well advanced and many members of library staff have been handed their redundancy notices.

The need for change in the service was driven by the need to cut the council’s £6 million libraries budget by about a third, the court heard.

However, Mr Draper’s lawyers say Greenwich Leisure’s alternative proposals would save the county’s libraries and stick to that tight budget.

They have accused the council of failing to obtain ‘best value’ for money and ‘reaching such a poor decision as to be perverse and obtuse’.

Mr Giffin accepted that the transformation of the library service now being pushed through was “similar” to that overturned by Mr Justice Collins last year.

But he told the court that the council’s plans would produce a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service for the county.

A number of ‘static’ libraries would remain open, alongside a mobile library service, and others would be run voluntarily by community groups, with some council support, he said.

Mrs Justice McGowan is expected to reserve her decision at the end of the hearing but, given the urgency of the matter, she is likely to give her ruling before the end of July.