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Brent hails libraries judicial review verdict

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Brent LBC’s success in defeating calls for a judicial review into its library restructuring programme has
been widely interpreted as a milestone for other local authorities defending unpopular cuts.

High Court judge Mr Justice Ouseley dismissed an application for a judicial review against the north-west London authority’s proposal to close half of its 12 libraries to provide a better service with the remainder.

He rejected claims by residents’ group Brent Libraries SOS, backed by household names including writers Alan Bennett and Colin Dexter, that the decision process was flawed.

The decision has encouraged Gloucestershire CC which, along with Somerset CC, is awaiting the results of a judicial review into restructuring programmes.

Meanwhile, Warwickshire CC and Bolton MBC advanced their own proposals for library closures.

Brent chief executive Gareth Daniel said he believed the case, which was closely watched by councils and residents’ groups in other areas, had significance beyond its boundaries.

“What the judicial review decision shows is that it’s possible to take difficult and controversial decisions and overcome legal challenges,” he said.

“I think it’s a landmark decision that demonstrates that if you have a clear vision for your services, you do a proper consultation, and you’re thorough and methodical about the way you approach it, you can get a decision that’s going to be carried through.”

Council leader Ann John (Lab) said she was particularly pleased the judge’s decision had found in favour of the authority on each ground for complaint.

“It means we can push ahead with our exciting plans to improve Brent’s library service and offer a 21st-century service for the benefit of all our residents,” she said.

“This has been a very unsettling time for libraries staff and I would like to pay tribute to them for being so professional and hard working in continuing to deliver a first-rate service to Brent library users, in spite of these difficulties.”

However, Unison’s head of local government Heather Wakefield warned that Brent’s success with its plans should not be seen as a green light to other authorities.

“This case should serve as a stark warning to authorities looking to make changes to ensure they consult staff and local communities,” she said. “The government must act to stop local authorities rushing through changes to services with no consultation.”

Bolton’s proposals, which have already undergone consultation, seek to close five of the authority’s 15 libraries in an attempt to save about £400,000.

Warwickshire plans to reduce its network of libraries from 34 to 16, with the remaining branches either closing or transferring into community ownership as part of a £2m savings programme for the service.

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