SOMERSET County Council has come under fire from a local councillor as the authority’s library fiasco is set to cost over £600,000 to set right.
In our last issue Frome Times reported that following a judicial review, libraries across the county will have their opening hours reinstated, including Frome library, as well as the reinstatement of four county-wide mobile libraries.
Somerset County Council had planned to close 11 libraries across the county in April and had already started reducing opening hours in 23 others, including Frome.
Mendip District Councillor for Frome Berkley Down, cllr Sam Phripp, said that the overturned decision to reduce the library service demonstrates how “out of touch” Somerset County Council is.
He said, “Nobody denies that the county needs to make savings, but closing libraries isn’t the way to do it. The fact that the High Court told Somerset’s Conservative administration that their decision was illegal shows just how wrong they got it. I first got involved with the ‘Save Somerset’s Libraries’ campaign by helping them collect signatures to force Somerset to take a second look at this policy – had they listened to the campaign to begin with, this money wouldn’t have been wasted.
“I’m afraid that this is just another example of councillors making decisions in Taunton regardless of how they affect people in Frome and the surrounding villages.
“I consider it a privilege to represent one of the most deprived wards in the area – this monumental waste of money is a real slap in the face for hardworking taxpayers. This is sadly just another example of where their drastic cuts have been ‘penny rich, but pound poor.’
It has emerged last week that Somerset County Council’s legal fees for the judicial review will cost £68,742.46 in internal solicitors’ and external counsel fees; £135 court costs; and £2,590.78 in travel and accommodation a total of £71,468.24.
Furthermore, the authority will have to pay out £240,000 in annual costs for not closing the libraries; £120,000 annual cost of operating four reinstated mobile libraries with the annual cost of reinstating the reduced opening hours at £205,000.
On top of this, the authority has been ordered to pay the other side’s legal costs which, at the time of print, were unavailable.
In February 2011, Somerset County Council decided to apply a 25 per cent budget reduction to the library service, amounting to a sum of about £1.35m.
A judicial review challenged the decision made at the February meeting and, following a hearing in September, a ruling was made in November.
It concluded that the council was within its rights to reduce funding to libraries and that it had consulted appropriately on its plans. However, the decision from the February meeting was ruled unlawful because the council had not complied with public sector equalities duties.
The council was therefore directed to restore services to their pre-decision state.