CAMPAIGNERS fighting to overturn the controversial decision to axe almost half the libraries in Moray today confirmed they are to mount a legal challenge against the North east local authority.
Leaders of the “Save our Libraries Moray” announced that they are to seek a judicial review in the Court of Session to challenge Moray Council’s independent and Conservative administration’s decision to close all seven libraries at Rothes, Dufftown, Portknockie, Findochty, Cullen, Burghead, Hopeman plus one of the council’s two mobile units.
And they believe their legal challenge could prove to be a test case for the whole of Scotland.
Save our Libraries Moray have previously argued that the council’s decision was in breach of the Equalities Act 2010, in that it failed to take proper account of the adverse impact closure would have on the elderly, people with a disability and families with young children.
But administration leaders have argued that the council had no choice but to press ahead with the closure plans in the face of “frightening budget pressures.”
Alistair Jeffs, the group’s chairman, said: “It is a sad day when we are forced to make a legal challenge against the council administration that should be representing and protecting us.”
Mr Jeffs continued: “It is widely accepted that the libraries are a pillar of our communities. The libraries are a lifeline to users across the community from pre-school groups, adult learning groups and the elderly.
“The libraries help with education, give access to reading material, allow development of free thought, support our heritage and culture, provide access to computers, access to jobs - the list of benefits are endless. Yet the direct savings from closing the seven libraries is only £70,000.”
He claimed: “The administration will not listen to requests from individuals, our community groups, our community councils, our MSPs, our MP, or the Scottish Parliament to keep the libraries open. We strongly believe that the administration has systematically and blatantly ignored its own legal experts, equality officers, library staff, its public consultation and its Equality Impact Assessment. We strongly believe the administration has broken the law.
“We are now united in the belief that there remains only one road available to us and that is to take our case to the Court of Session.”
Mr Jeffs explained that the camping group planned to challenge the council’s closure decision on a number of grounds, including an alleged breach of the public sector equality duty Moray Council has under the Equalities Act, and a “failure by them to consult in breach of legitimate expectations.”
He said: “We feel that such is the gravity of the situation, the legal challenge will prove to be a test case for the whole of Scotland. If it takes £100,000 and 100,000 signatures we will not allow our libraries to be closed.
“Whatever it takes, whatever it costs, the administration will be subject to the law and the democratic will of the people of Moray. We have asked for our libraries to remain open. As decreed by law the libraries have been open since 1887, as decreed by law the libraries are open now, and as decreed by law the libraries will be open in the future.”
The SNP opposition group on Moray Council also announced today that the group is to table a motion, calling on the council to ditch its library closure plans “in light of the legal challenge” being pursued by the protest group.
Councillor Pearl Paul, the SNP Group leader, said: “I welcome the decision by the campaigners for Moray’s libraries to challenge in court the appalling decision taken by Independent and Tory Councillors to shut seven libraries and halve the mobile library service.
“The SNP vociferously opposed this decision, which has been thoroughly condemned by the communities affected and by many others both near and far.”
She claimed: “The Independent and Tory Councillors seem to have no clue about the range of facilities and services that communities have access to in our libraries and no clue about the damage this short-sighted move will cause.
“With this motion to the next council meeting we are giving them the opportunity to ditch the closure plans and focus on other savings options that they have so far failed to take forward, despite the Council Leader having now presented a total of six budgets.”
Richard Lochhead, the area’s MSP, also welcomed the decision by campaigners to challenge the closure decision in court. He said: “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 council’s administration should now reconsider their wrong decision to close seven libraries, which has been roundly condemned by local communities, prominent authors and many others. They should accept they are wrong and back down rather than taking further financial and reputational damage by fighting this court challenge.”