Residents in Surrey have succeeded in a High Court judicial review challenging the decision of Surrey County Council to remove all paid staff from ten community libraries, leaving them to be run entirely by volunteers.
Heather Wakefield, Head of Local Government for UNISON, said: “This judgement has significant implications for local authorities seeking to withdraw funding for a publicly accountable and professional library service and to instead pass the burden to unpaid volunteers as part of the ‘big society’.
“Community groups should not be forced into taking over services, as many will not have the capacity, or numbers to keep them going. This will lead to a postcode lottery, with some communities doing without libraries altogether if groups fail to rise to the challenge.
“UNISON is clear that library services should be run as public services, staffed by librarians and library assistants, who are able to access support and training to enable them to deliver a quality service.”
The decision follows a year of hard campaigning by Surrey Libraries Action Movement (SLAM) after a public value review recommended a ‘community partnership’ approach at specified libraries across Surrey. The community partnership model would involve the Council providing the library building and stock but all staffing being provided by local volunteers.
The decision was challenged on the basis that the Council had failed to discharge its public sector equality duties under the Equality Act 2010. Under the Act, the Council is required to determine how removing paid staff would affect the accessibility of libraries to protected groups, including children, elderly, and disabled persons.
Heather Wakefield went on to say: “However the council choose to spin the judgement, this is a damning indictment of their ill-thought through proposals which would jeopardise the quality of the service delivered to the local community – and crucially those groups who depend on services more than others.”
Chris Leary, Communications Officer for Surrey County UNISON, said: “This is brilliant news, for library staff, library workers and for library users. Mr Justice Wilkie’s decision has shown that the Council’s plans for volunteer run libraries were ill-thought out.
“Library staff and library users are united in the knowledge that Surrey libraries need paid, trained, professional and reliable staff – a point that proper scrutiny would have discovered much earlier.
“Surrey County Council members now need to sit down with SLAM, with UNISON and with local communities to design and implement a plan for Surrey libraries which gives communities the professional and reliable service they need, as well as being sustainable for the future.”