The campaign in Scotland to protect libraries slated for closure by Moray Council has gone a step up – to the courts. Save our Libraries Moray is planning to challenge the Council in the Court of Sessions, on the grounds that its actions are in contravention of its own legal obligations.
The campaign’s own website outlines the circumstances, and the basis for the case, very clearly. “In February the local authority for the region, Moray Council, held a budget meeting to discuss how they might save a projected shortfall of £30 million [$48.3 million] over three years. The shortfall came from a reduction in central government funding levels, itself brought about by the recession. People in Moray, as in all parts of Scotland, recognised that measures would be required in these difficult times,” it states. “However, the local authority appeared to be using the financial crisis as an excuse to cut essential social services that they deemed were no longer essential – and they decided to press ahead with some cuts despite a clear legal and social responsibility to provide them. Included in these is their intention to close seven of the fifteen libraries located in small communities around Moray.” A subsequent assessment against the requirements of the Equalities Act 2010 found the plan contravened the Act, according to the campaign, but “despite that and the advice of their own legal department, the Council voted to go ahead with their closure plans.”
Scottish parliamentarians have already lined up to second the campaign’s actions – although given that the Moray councillors belong to one of the few Independent and Conservative local administrations in Scotland, there may be an element of party politics at work behind the volume and venom of their comments.
“Today’s announcement by Save our Libraries Moray, that are now set to challenge the Council’s decision in court, is to be welcomed,” said Richard Lochhead, SNP MSP for Moray, as quoted on the campaign’s website. “I have been inundated with messages about the decision taken by Moray’s Independent and Tory Councillors and I strongly believe that they have taken the wrong decision and it will have a completely disproportionate impact.”
The libraries earmarked for closure are at Rothes, Dufftown, Portknockie, Findochty, Cullen, Burghead, and Hopeman plus one mobile library unit. Campaigners have asserted that they think the outcome could prove a test case for similar situations across Scotland – which operates under its own corpus of Scots law, distinct from the legal system south of the Border.