Formal complaint: Decision by Northamptonshire County Council in respect of statutory library service
Find below the letter written by CILIP CEO Nick Poole to the Secretary of State Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP lodging a formal complaint with regard to the Northamptonshire County Council's proposed library closures.
The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
100 Parliament Street
London SW1A 2BQ
Dear Secretary of State,
Formal complaint: Decision by Northamptonshire County Council in respect of statutory library service
I am writing on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) formally to raise a complaint concerning the management by Northamptonshire County Council (hereafter ‘NCC’) of their statutory public library service.
Our complaint is in 4 parts:
i) Failure to consult
That at a duly-constituted public meeting of the Council which took place on Wednesday 28th February 2018 and despite the advice received from KPMG and the representations of Local Councillors and interested parties (and the representations already received during the 12-week consultation period), we understand that the Council voted to adopt a budget which de facto mandates the implementation of a reduced library service which was not included in the Options made available for public consultation.
Specifically, having supported ‘Option 1’ in the original consultation documentation, we understand that the Council changed to support ‘Option 2’, but the ‘Option 2’ put to vote was not the same as that which was included in the consultation documentation.
In this case, the Council would, in our view, be materially failing in its responsibility to implement meaningful consultation prior to agreeing changes to a statutory service.
ii) Inaccurate Equalities Impact Assessment
That we understand that the Equalities Impact Assessments (EIA) undertaken as part of the Council’s statutory duty were based on the modelling set out in the Options presented for consultation and not in fact the model set in force through the Council’s budget decision. Specifically, it is our understanding that the EIA do not account for the fact that the ‘retained libraries’ decided summarily at the Council meeting are solely based in large or medium-sized urban areas, significantly disadvantaging rural populations.
We further note that the EIA were completed in respect of individual sites, and that these focus on the distance from libraries situated in other counties . We are not aware that an Equalities Impact Assessment was completed to cover the overall impact on residents in the county.
The EIA could not, therefore, be taken to present a balanced assessment of the Equalities implications of the model which is in the process of being implemented, and the Council is therefore at risk of being held to be in breach of its statutory duty under the Equalities Act 2010.
iii) Failure to act appropriately on financial advice received
That we are given to understand that the Council has been advised that financial modelling which was used to inform their decision about changes to the service, which include significant cuts to staffing and library opening hours, was flawed and that the proposed service reductions will not meet the financial targets used to justify them. The Council in this matter appear to have failed to take into account the costs of closing libraries and that they have therefore failed in their primary duty of fiscal responsibility in respect of their statutory service.
iv) Failure to meet statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service
That in our consideration the resulting service, which will result initially in a reduced provision of just 1 day (4 hours) per week in 21 of the libraries for which NCC is responsible and subsequently to the closure of a significant number library service points and mobile services, cannot in any sense be construed as consistent with a reasonable definition of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service (please see note below).
We further note that the Council has presented a binary option – that libraries should be either retained in toto in the statutory service or ‘spun out’ entirely to independent services. It does not appear that the option of a community-managed service supported by professional staff within the statutory service has been considered.
Notwithstanding statements made on social media by NCC subsequent to the decision, the fact remains that (by their own admission) alterations to the proposed staffing levels for the service do not materially change the overall decision ultimately to close or transfer out of statutory provision a large part of their public library service points.
Note concerning definition of ‘comprehensive and efficient service’
We note that as Secretary of State your duty under section 1 of the 1964 Act requires you inter alia to issue statutory guidance to local authorities in England in respect of their duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient library service” under section 7.
Your duty to issue guidance on this issue is reinforced by your obligation to act compatibly with Convention rights under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Our view is that it is therefore arguable that the current lack of definition of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport fails to provide sufficient legal certainty concerning the extent to which local authorities may cease to provide library services notwithstanding their statutory duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” service under section 7, contrary to the rights of library users to respect for their private lives, to receive information and to non-discrimination under Articles 8, 10 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights respectively.
We would further argue that your duty to issue guidance must be read in light of the duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and to advance equality of opportunity among protected groups, particularly given that such groups are likely to be disproportionately affected by any further reduction in library services by local authorities.
In considering the need for appropriate guidance, we would ask you to refer to the following cases in which the duty of Local Authorities under Section 7 of the 1964 act has been considered:
R v London Borough of Ealing and others ex parte Times Newspapers Ltd and others (1986) 85 LGR 316;
Attorney - General v Observer Ltd and another  1 All ER 385;
Bailey and others v London Borough of Brent  EWHC 2572 (Admin);
R(Green) v Gloucestershire County Council  EWHC 2687 (Admin);
Draper v Lincolnshire County Council (No 1)  EWHC 2388 (Admin), and;
Draper v Lincolnshire County Council (No 2)  EWHC 2964 (Admin
We further note that several of these decisions make reference to the finding in the 1962 Bourdillon Report that considers "the basic requirements of an efficient library service" to include the following: -
"There are certain functions which should be within the capacity of any library unit setting out to provide the basic range of library service to its readers. The scope of a public library increases in relation to the size or density of the population served but in some fundamental respects the requirements which can be laid down for the basic service remain valid all the way up the population scale" (paragraph 13).
"There are areas where the population is too small or too sparse to justify the provision of a full library service, and where reliance must be placed on mobile units or small branches" (paragraph 13).
"The provision of books and other printed materials has two aspects: the provision on the spot of a wide range of books and related material for reading in the home or for reference in the library itself, and the ready acces s which the public library should afford to the far wider range of material which is not immediately at hand. Unless the public library performs both of these functions it is not doing its job properly" (paragraph 14).
"In urban areas no person should normally have to travel more than one mile to a library" (paragraph 103).
We further note the following finding in the Charteris Report which constituted the basis of the inquiry into public library services in the Wirral:
"The Inquiry has accepted the implicit and explicit interpretation of the 1964 Act that a comprehensive and efficient service is one that is based on local needs (hence why there can be no single definition which is true to all library authorities in Engla nd) and if those needs are not fully assessed and taken in to account, it becomes a rational impossibility for a library authority to provide a service which comprehensively and efficiently meets those needs in a demonstrable way".
In respect of this report, we note that the NCC decision has not taken into account the impact of the proposed cuts to services on the population with due regard to population density, accessibility and the availability of transport infrastructure.
In light of developments with Northamptonshire County Council, and as formal element of this complaint, we therefore petition you as Secretary of State to take immediate action to provide satisfactory guidance for Councils on the definition of what constitutes a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service such that they may comply with the letter and intent of the 1964 Act and their other statutory duties.
Additional points for consideration
In light of the above complaint, we would ask the Secretary of State to take due consideration of the following points:
That the decision of the Council, the manner in which it has been made and the fact that the financial conduct of NCC is currently under independent review commissioned by The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP constitute reasonable grounds for serious doubt or uncertainty over whether the Local Authority is (or may cease to be) complying with its legal obligation to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.
That the manner in which the Council reached its summary decision despite advice received from KPMG and others is such that they may be construed as acting in a careless and unreasonable way in respect of the statutory library service.
That because the decision was effectively made on a budget which presupposes a delivery model which had not itself been the basis of consultation, NCC has failed to consult affected individuals or to carry out significant research into the effects of its proposals.
That NCC has failed adequately to respond to concerns raised regarding its financial model and that it has therefore manifestly failed to explain, analyse or properly justify its proposals.
We are aware of the circumstances in which NCC finds itself, and of the issuing of a Section 114 Notice relating to its ability to bring forward a balanced budget. This does not, however, change the statutory basis of the services for which they are responsible nor does it excuse them from observing proper process, particularly in respect of consultation over its proposals and the appropriate modelling of the Equalities implications thereof.
In our view, the summary action taken by Northamptonshire County Council is clearly equivalent to the breach of statutory responsibilities which prompted an inquiry by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (passim) in the Wirral in 2009, and that specifically on the failure to consult this constitutes clear grounds for an inquiry on your part.
In general, we note that other Councils across the UK may find themselves similarly obligated to issue a Section 114 Notice and to take summary action in respect of their financial affairs. In our view it is therefore essential that the outcome of this inquiry is clear and definitive in respect of the duty to consult and the definition of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service provided by you as the Secretary of State duly mandated under the 1964 Act and the Equalities Act 2010.
We are happy to make ourselves available to your officers to discuss the matter of this complaint and we look forward to your urgent attention.
Mr Nick Poole
Chief Executive, CILIP
You can check out formatted pdf version below with a download available from the SlideShare website.
Headline image: Northamptonshire Library and Information Service and the Northamptonshire Local Enterprise Partnership from CILIP's Flickr feed, Cropped and re-sized. CC BY-NC 2.0