Surrey announces review of its volunteer-led library plans
Surrey County Council has announced that it will look again at its controversial plans to create 10 community-run libraries.
As part of a judicial review Mr Justice Wilkie upheld a technical challenge over the council's decision to create the community-run libraries - including Ewell Court, Stoneleigh and Tattenhams - staffed by volunteers, but did not criticise the policy itself.
Under the plans, volunteers would take over the day-to-day running of 10 smaller libraries in Surrey, with the council continuing to provide the building, stock, computer and internet facilities.
Mr Justice Wilkie concluded on April 3 that the decision, taken by council on September 27, 2011, was "unlawful" as the cabinet had not been made aware and did not give sufficient regard to how removing paid staff would impact the use of the libraries by protected groups such as children, elderly, and the disabled under the Equality Act 2010.
He 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.
The matter was due to go back to the High Court in May as part of the judicial review, but the council feels it is not in the best interests of library users or taxpayers to return to court.
It will re-consider the proposal in a cabinet meeting on June 19 when it will assess the work that has been done to develop a comprehensive training package for volunteers.
In the weeks leading up to the meeting, the council will carry out further consultation about equalities training for volunteers at community libraries.
Councillor Helyn Clack, cabinet member for community services and the 2012 Games, said: "Our aim all along has been to keep all 52 of Surrey’s libraries open while elsewhere in the country branches are closing.
"Allowing communities to run libraries enables us to do this and it is still the council’s policy.
"Although the council had done a lot of work to develop equalities training, the High Court ruled there should have been more detail in the cabinet’s papers about it at the meeting last September, so we are going to take the decision again, with all the information we need about volunteer training.
"A huge amount of work has already gone into ensuring volunteers are properly trained to help all library users.
"I’m certain that this training would enable volunteers to provide an excellent service. There are a lot people eager to begin running their local library."
The council’s lawyers are working on the wording of a legal agreement, a consent order, with solicitors acting for the claimants, the Surrey Libraries Action Movement (SLAM), who brought the judicial review against the council.
Lee Godfrey, of SLAM, said: "Surrey County Council has now accepted that it cannot just carry on with the proposal and must review its decision."