Ministerial Support Team
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
100 Parliament Street
London SW1A 2BQ
Barnet Library Services – Minded to Representations
Dear Mr Richardson,
We write with reference to the letter dated 18 December 2017 (“the Letter”) in which the Minister, John Glen MP, informed Barnet Council that the Secretary of State was minded not to order an inquiry into library provision in Barnet.
We wish to make further representations to the Secretary of State and we attach the following evidence under appendices numbered as follows:
I. Our letter to the Department of 21 October 2017 updating our complaint together with the attached evidence (personal impact statements and email correspondence with the library service).
II. Thirty-one additional personal impact statements collected via our website from library users across the borough that have not yet been submitted to the Department.
III. Letters and emails from teachers, headteachers and governors, also sent directly to the Department. (We are aware that additional correspondence from schools and others, which we have not seen, has been submitted directly.
IV. Results of a survey carried out by Save Barnet Libraries on Survey Monkey.
V. Opening times at Barnet libraries from the Council’s website.
VI. Press release from Barnet Council website dated 13 October 2017.
VII. Responses to public questions at Barnet Council’s Children Education Libraries and Safeguarding (CELS) committee meeting on 15 November 2017.
VIII. Response dated 6 December 2017 to FOI submitted 20 November 2017 from Anne Clarke to Barnet Council
IX. Response dated 11 January 2018 to FOI dated 17 November 2017 from Barbara Jacobson to the Department.
We contend that the reasons set out by the Minister for the proposed decision not to intervene are inadequate and wrong in law. In particular, the Letter indicates that the previous Secretary of State had asked herself the wrong question, and had not addressed the complaint as it is now. The Department has also failed to obtain or consider evidence about the library service as it is now, and the impact of the changes on users. In any event, the evidence we present is sufficient to raise a prima facie case that material facts in the Letter are inaccurate and/or incomplete and therefore that there is serious doubt or uncertainty as to whether the Council is complying with its legal obligations to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.
Further, we contend that the Secretary of State and the Council have failed to perform their continuing legal duty, under the Equalities Act, of monitoring the impact of the changes in service on certain groups of people.
In the circumstances, if the Secretary of State were to decide as he is said to be minded, we contend that his decision would be unlawful.
A. FAILURE TO CONSIDER UP TO DATE EVIDENCE OR ADDRESS THE COMPLAINT AS IT IS NOW
1. It is apparent from the Letter that the Secretary of State has failed to ask the right questions or to address the true nature of our complaint as it is now (or as it was at the date of the Letter). The Department appears to have failed to consider evidence concerning the state of the library service now, which is the relevant time for the purposes of the Secretary of State’s decision.
2. Our complaint was made first by letter dated 10 December 2016. But the complaint cannot be dealt with as though the substance of it were only as is set out in that letter. In the year that it took the Department to respond to our complaint, much took place, and in particular:
1) Barnet Council implemented its plans, ending with the reopening of Hendon library on 24 October 2017;
2) We wrote to the Department, by letter dated 21 October 2017, to say that the plan implemented in practice did not fulfil promises made by Barnet, in material respects, and that fears we had expressed were proving to have been well-founded;
3) At this point, we provided the Department with a large number of personal statements from library users expressing dissatisfaction with the new service (for example showing that the implementation of the library plan was indeed having an exclusionary effect on disabled users and children);
4) And, since then, a wealth of evidence has accumulated about the effects of the new service on access and user numbers. Some of this evidence, including from Headteachers and others, as well as the results of a survey, we present in this letter; other evidence available to the Council should have been requested and considered by the Secretary of State as part of the investigation of this complaint.
3. To make a properly informed and lawful decision about whether to order an inquiry, therefore, it is incumbent on the Secretary of State to consider the position now, given that the implementation period for the Barnet library plan has been completed, and consider the extra evidence provided by us, and all the material new evidence available. The Letter fails to do so or even to refer to our October letter.
4. In particular, as is set out in more detail in our substantive comments below, we showed or provided to the Department evidence that certain risks in the Barnet library plan, identified beforehand as likelihoods, were indeed coming to pass; and that mitigation measures promised by the Council had not been implemented.
5. That amounted to evidence, on the face of it, that there was a doubt over whether the service, following the changes, was in fact comprehensive. To answer the complaint properly required addressing that evidence, asking what other up-to-date evidence was available, and monitoring use and take-up.
6. The Letter does not address any of this new evidence. To fail to do so is, we contend, an error of law. If the new Secretary of State were to follow his predecessor’s Letter, he would be misdirecting himself. We therefore urge the Secretary of State to reconsider and revisit the Letter. Alternatively, we submit that the Secretary of State must now consider all evidence presented by ourselves and other library users in Barnet, and request such information from Barnet Council that is required “for carrying out his duty of superintendence”, before reaching a final decision on whether he is minded to intervene.
B. PARTICULAR EVIDENCE GIVING RISE TO DOUBTS THAT BARNET’S LIBRARY SERVICE IS COMPREHENSIVE AND EFFICIENT
7. According to the Council’s published figures, as of 18 January 2018 17,000 library users have registered for a pin code, a small increase of 2,000 on the figure reported in our letter of October 2017. We note that Barnet Council presents this as “a very positive uptake with the self-service facility, with more than 17,000 people having signed up” [Ham & High 18 January 2018]. But, in fact, this remains a very small percentage of eligible users: as we set out in our October letter, there were 187,165 borrowers in 2016-17.
8. The drastically low take up of pin codes is of particular concern because the opportunities for doing so are now so much restricted, with the ending of the so-called “Here to Help” transition service referred to in your Letter (where staff are available for additional hours for a short period after the reopening of each site, to help register users for a pin code). Hendon library, the last library to be re-modelled, reopened on 24 October 2017, so the new service has been in complete operation for several months.
9. We contend that a significant reason for the low take up of pin codes is that library users and other Barnet residents have not been properly informed about the changes to the service as they have come into effect and there are too many obstacles to registration, particularly after the end of the very short and very badly publicised “Here to Help” transition sessions. The Letter implies that the Council is “offering support and guidance in using out of hours services” on an ongoing basis. We refer to a press release dated 13 October 2017 issued at the opening of Church End library which makes clear that the “here to help” team is “on hand for the first few weeks”. It goes onto suggest, incorrectly as it has transpired, that “the opening hours will then be extended once people have become familiar and comfortable with how the self-service facility works”. [Appendix VI ]
10. We contend this is a substantial failing and of crucial importance to the Secretary of State’s decision because the Letter takes as a core criterion “Whether the Council has failed to explain, analyse or properly justify its proposals”. The duty to explain and justify does not end with the final vote on the proposals, but continues throughout the implementation of the plans and the importance of this is recognised at a number of points in the EIA. But there has been a notable paucity of publicity and explanation since the reopening of the libraries. The cumulative effect is seen, we believe, in the extremely low number of registrants for pin codes, the reasons for which are at least in part illustrated by our evidence, including the comments from participants in the survey explaining why they have not obtained a pin code, and in personal statements from library users.
11. We note that at the Children Libraries, Education and Safeguarding (CELS) Committee meeting on 15 November 2017, the Council refused to provide any library usage figures on footfall or loan rates and stated “statistics will be available at the end of the financial year” [CELS answers to public written questions, question 2, Appendix VII ].
12. It was due to the lack of council figures and the seriousness of our concerns about the extremely low level of take up, that we organised a survey, within the short time available, asking respondents to say whether they had registered for a pin code, and their reasons, and to tell us the effect of the changes to the service on their library use. The results are presented in an appendix to this letter [Appendix IV]. In summary, a majority of library users (who already had a library card) had not obtained a pin code. Of those who had not, about half said it was because they did not want to use the library when unstaffed, and a quarter said that they had tried to register but had been unsuccessful. Of those who had tried to use a library when unstaffed, more than 40% reported difficulty getting access. Overall, more than 70% of respondents said they used the library less since the changes.
13. One particular area of concern to us arising from the low take up of pin codes, that appears not to have been anticipated in the Council’s planning and is absent from both the EIA and Needs Assessment, deserves prominent mention here although we will also discuss the implications further below. Namely, that, without an adult registered with a pin code, no children under 15 are able to use libraries at all during unstaffed access. This has wide ranging implications for the library service in terms of meeting children’s need. We note that, previously, children represented 33% of library users and that children’s fiction borrowing had either maintained its level or continued to increase prior to the changes being implemented. Our survey results indicate that over 60% of respondents with children under 18 answered that their children go less often to the library since the changes [Appendix IV]. Not a single respondent answered that their children go more often to the library. The personal impact statements back up this picture, as does substantial evidence from Headteachers and other educators that the changes are having a marked impact on their pupil’s access to the library service [Appendices II and III].
14. As for the Secretary of State’s response, we were concerned to note that our comments in our October letter, the evidence we presented from users and the low number of registrants were all ignored. The Letter does not engage with these arguments at all and it appears from this that the Secretary of State has not fulfilled his duty to request such information from Barnet as is required to carry out his duty of superintendence.
15. This is a fundamental error. The Secretary of State cannot determine whether the system is comprehensive unless he knows how many people are using it and what has been the impact of the changes. The available evidence points solely in one direction, that of a library service that is no longer generally accessible to those it is meant to be available for, the very definition of a service that is not comprehensive.
16. This is particularly a cause for concern where, as in Barnet, the unprecedented adoption of new technology goes to the heart of how the library service is now provided.
17. The Secretary of State states that opening hours across the static library network has increased from 634.5 to 904. This is wrong, ignores the evidence in our October letter and appears to be based on the original plan. According to the Council’s website, there are now 567 opening hours (including staffed and TEO) across Core and Core Plus libraries. Adding the opening hours of partnership libraries, the total comes to 647.5 hours, an overall increase of only thirteen hours per week over the previous service, and over 250 hours less than claimed by the Council [See timetable available on Council’s website Appendix V]. This difference is of fundamental importance. The Council’s plans and the Secretary of State’s Letter both attach crucial significance to the extension of hours and for the Council, the extension is repeatedly portrayed as the core benefit to be obtained from the plans and the central mitigating factor for the reduction in staffed hours.
18. Therefore, we contend that the lack of extended opening hours is not a small factor, due to be soon remedied, but goes to the heart of the failures of the new system, as well as to the issue of whether the service changes can be said to be efficient. It is clear to us that the Council cannot increase opening hours while at the same time maintaining the presence of a security guard during all unstaffed sessions, as they have done at all core and core plus libraries since they re-opened. The decision to employ security guards in this way is contrary to their plans and represents substantial additional revenue costs, threatening the very savings by which the plans were justified to the public and subsequently to the Secretary of State.
19. Yet the reason for this ongoing failure to extend hours was not explored in the Letter, despite the fact that we referred to it in our October letter and it would have been apparent from any cursory examination of the service by the Secretary of State. We note the reasons given by the Council in November 2017 for the presence of security guards were related to “hosting” construction staff, “being available during the opening and closing of buildings whilst new routines were embedded” and “providing a reassuring presence whilst residents become familiar with self-service opening”. [Answer to Question 5, CELS public questions, 15 November 2017, Appendix VII ]. However, the buildings are now all complete and the “Here to Help” transition phase has finished, yet the Council has so far been unable to provide an end date for the security guards or for the roll out of extended opening.
20. The evidence points to the conclusion that the Council believes unstaffed sessions are not safe without a security guard and it is clear that a service that is not safe cannot be comprehensive. On the other hand, if hours cannot be extended because of the need to provide security guards, the library service is so fundamentally different than envisaged in the plan that it also cannot be comprehensive or efficient. In relation to this we note the £14 million costs of implementation as highlighted in our October letter. That this enormous sum has resulted in a far worse service, must be investigated by the Secretary of State. It also raises a serious concern when libraries are staffed by security guards in place of trained librarians.
21. In connection with this, we note that there have been widespread and frequent problems of operation of the new technology, as is evident from the evidence and survey data we attach to this letter. In our original complaint we raised concerns about the robustness of the pilot study and accompanying risk assessment at Edgware. Concerns have also been raised repeatedly by Unison library staff about the operation of the new technology. Meanwhile, it appears that the Council does not collect data in order to monitor these problems. In response to a Freedom of Information request dated 6 December 2017, the Council told us that “We do not hold an error log as such…We cannot easily find the number of unsuccessful attempts [at entry]” [Appendix VIII ].
22. We note that the likelihood of these and other serious problems with completely unstaffed opening were raised repeatedly by us and others during the consultation process and subsequently in our complaint of December 2016. The Council appears not to have succeeded in addressing these issues and so their goal of such unmanned opening remains illusory.
23. A key element of our original complaint was and continues to be the impact of the reductions in access, resources and facilities on young people aged 15 and under (who are not yet in school Year 11) who cannot enter an unstaffed library unless accompanied by a registered adult user and who suffer disproportionately from the reductions in the service.
24. The Letter contends that this impact is lawful in particular because the Council has sought to timetable sessions in the afternoon and has planned opening hours so that if one library is unstaffed, there will be a staffed library nearby “easily accessible by public transport”.
25. Other mitigating factors are said to be: that the removal of the charge on book reservations would increase availability of library material “to all Barnet residents”; that the mobile library service visits schools; that there is an “enhanced digital library”; and that libraries are open on more days than before.
26. We also note the Letter states that the Council intends to “extend the online enquiry service…to help with information and homework enquiries”. However, as we refer to in our October letter, this was proposed in the original plan and the Council has failed to provide any explanation for why it has not already been put in place.
27. We contend that the Secretary of State provides an inadequate response to these issues and that this results from a failure to take account of any up to date evidence about the use of the library service by young people. The Letter fails to address the cumulative impact of the reductions in service and flawed implementation on young people’s library use. As we highlight above when discussing library usage, the Letter also completely fails to consider whether the needs of young people are in fact being met by the new service.
28. The fact that the Council has not extended evening opening hours as planned is also an important consideration, as this was a primary justification for preventing young people from accessing unstaffed libraries (on the grounds that extended hours provided sufficient opportunity for an adult to accompany them). The fact that most adults do not have a pin code is, again, of fundamental importance in this context.
29. Other key failures of implementation affecting young people that the Letter does not address include:
1) A number of children’s/teen rooms have been closed. It is not adequate to ignore the impact of this in saying that children’s spaces remain, as we discussed in our October letter.
2) The digital library service remains very poor, as set out in more detail on our October letter and can in no way compensate for the reductions in service and physical resources, even more so for the many families who cannot afford the necessary technology for reading digital fiction (as compared to reference material available on computer).
3) Study space (and computer access) has been much reduced and there is no evidence of any attempt to address this (although this is mentioned as a mitigation measure in the EIA). A number of personal statements reference this, as do the letters from Headteachers.
4) The schedule of partnership libraries has not been co-ordinated with the rest of the system which means that, particularly for children near these libraries, the co-ordinating of library hours within the locality model does not have a mitigating effect. This is compounded by the decision to end most staffed sessions at 5pm, leaving insufficient time after school hours to travel to a library, and still have time to use it. As an example, a child living in Child’s Hill cannot reach a staffed session in their locality after school on Monday or on Friday.
5) The choice of which libraries to turn into partnership libraries ignored evidence relating to children’s need. For example, the Council’s Needs Assessment referred to the fact that children’s borrowing was increasing at South Friern Library, yet the decision to turn South Friern into a partnership library meant that book stock and space as well as overall access would be reduced for children. We note the Head of Hollickwood school has been forced to cease to use the library for school visits because of lack of available library staff. [Appendix III ].
6) Further, the thirty minutes’ travel time referred to as acceptable in the Council’s plans is not in fact the reality for children seeking a staffed session, particularly where they depend on travelling free by bus. This was not anticipated in the Council’s plans, as we describe in more detail in our October letter.
7) Young people are disproportionately affected by the need to plan their library use given that they will be required to travel to a different library each day to reach a staffed session. This in an unfair burden and a further discouragement to library use.
8) The reductions in stock also have a disproportionate effect on young people, contrary to the contention in the Letter that the removal of reservation charges will “increase the availability of library materials to all Barnet residents”. This ignores the fact that children must first access a staffed session to place a reservation, before returning to that same library during another staffed session to collect their book.
9) The introduction of fines for children’s and teens books compound the discouraging effect on children’s library use. We note that the Council has failed to carry out the mitigation planned in the EIA that the introduction of children’s fines will be “advertised widely”.
30. In sum, we contend that the Secretary of State has failed to consider the real impact on young people of the reduction in service, resources and facilities, which has been well set out in the anecdotal and survey evidence we have collated. As an early illustration of the scale of the problem, the Council confirmed that only 1,566 children took part in the Summer Reading Challenge last year, compared to 4,216 children in the summer of 2016 [CELS answer to question 6, Appendix VII]. The impact of the failure of the Summer Reading Challenge was mentioned by the Head at Hollickwood primary school. [Appendix III ] Our survey and personal statements also provide stark evidence of the degree to which children are excluded and discouraged by the changes to the service.
31. As for library use by young people in Year 11, we note the double obstacle of having to obtain both permission from a parent and a stamp from the school before a pin code can be obtained, while for children ages 16 and 17, parental permission must be obtained. Our evidence suggests that this is one of many examples (and see further below) where the Council’s failure to publicise the new procedures has had an adverse impact. The Council’s justification for the parental procedure is that “by requiring parental permission, parents and carers are made aware of the late opening hours which self-service opening will offer” [CELS 15/11/17 answer to public question 10, Appendix VII ]. That statement rings hollow, given that late opening has not occurred except at one library. The overall discouraging effect is disproportionate.
32. Where there is a strong likelihood of impact from such drastic changes in the provision for young people, and clear evidence of impact in practice, it is the duty of the Secretary of State to take steps to investigate and assess what the impact has been by holding an inquiry. To fail to do so, as the Letter envisages, would be a serious breach of duty and an error of law.
Older people and people with disabilities
33. We make the same point in relation to the impact on older people and people with disabilities, for whom, again, core measures of mitigation have not been implemented, as we outlined in our October letter. In our October letter we referred the Secretary of State to our serious concerns stemming from substantial anecdotal evidence of the exclusionary impact of the new service. We present further such evidence now, including statements from several library users with severe disabilities who are now only able to use the library service in staffed hours and, where this is not possible, are unable to use it altogether.
34. We note that volunteers during unstaffed sessions were repeatedly referred to in the EIA and elsewhere, due to play a central role in mitigation, particularly for older people and those with disabilities. Further to the evidence presented in our October letter, we have now established that there are NO volunteers currently in this role. In contrast, we note that the Letter states an unclear and tentative position in that the Council “indicated that intends to work with partners to recruit volunteers” to assist with “additional” unstaffed sessions. There is no explanation provided by the Council for why this has not already happened nor evidence that the Secretary of State questioned this. We contend this is a fundamental omission on what is clearly a central plank of the plan.
35. The Letter also refers several times to the User Manual but ignores the comments we made in our October letter. We complained that it was incomplete and difficult to follow, with particular reference to those with learning disabilities (who were supposed, in the mitigation described in the EIA, to be provided with “easy read symbols”) and fails to evaluate whether the manual is capable of performing its intended function, or the impact on users if it has failed to do so.
36. Where there is a plain risk of exclusionary impact on older people and people with disabilities, and clear evidence of impact in practice, it is the duty of the Secretary of State to take steps to investigate and assess the evidence and what the impact has been, by holding an inquiry.
The Department’s policy
37. The Letter says that one factor informing the Secretary of State’s view is “Whether the local proposals are likely to lead to a breach of national library policy”. However, in the substance of the response set out in the Letter, no further reference is made to this criterion, nor to the aspect of our complaint that made specific reference to it.
38. We pointed out that according to the guidance produced by the Department, (the “Libraries shaping the future: good practice toolkit”) the proper use for technology-enabled opening was to extend opening hours beyond the regular staffed opening hours, and not to replace staffed opening hours; and that the guidance said that it was important that staffed hours meet the requirements of children and young adults who wish to visit the library unaccompanied.
39. We consider it to be a very serious omission, that the Letter does not address these significant departures from the Department’s own policy.
C. FAILURE TO PERFORM THE CONTINUING DUTY, UNDER THE EQUALITIES ACT, TO MONITOR THE IMPACT OF THE CHANGES
40. The Equalities Act imposes a duty on Public Authorities to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and to advance equality of opportunity for those in protected groups. This duty arises when a Public Authority carries out its functions, not merely when the Public Authority makes decisions. It is therefore an on-going duty, not a “snapshot”.
41. The Council recognised the potential for serious adverse impact on protected communities at the time the library plan was formulated, and addressed these in its EIA, considering the mitigation required. As set out above, many of the steps identified in the EIA as necessary to mitigate these adverse effects have not in fact been implemented. Additionally, protected outcomes or hopes for the new service have not come to pass. Further, evidence has been gathered and provided to the Council alerting them to the significant difficulties for some user groups with the changed service.
42. As far as we are aware, the Council has not taken any steps to evaluate the impact of the changed service now it is running, despite the fact that it continues to be under a legal obligation to continue to do so. The only EIA was that conducted at the time the plans for the changed service were being formulated. The EIA prepared at that time cannot be an effective and reliable measure of the impact on protected groups now that the plans have been implemented.
43. The Letter recognises the role played by the EIA in planning the new service: “the Secretary of State is of the view that BC did take into account the impact of technology enabled opening when it developed its plans, and sought to minimise the risks and negative impacts it identified.”
44. However, the Secretary of State does not appear to have then considered whether the relevant steps were taken to mitigate negative impacts; if so, whether they had the desired effect; and if the steps were not taken, what impact that has had on the service and service users.
45. This consideration is a key aspect of assessing whether the service is comprehensive or whether, as our evidence indicates, it has been made difficult or impossible to access for certain people.
46. Where, as here, a prima facie case is raised, the Secretary of State must investigate 1) what impact there has been on usage figures 2) what are the causes of reductions in usage 3) whether the service remains compliant given these factors. In this context, we note that Barnet Council published highly detailed data in 2013-14 providing a very extensive picture of library use including for example events, computer access, and so on. We believe that this data was used to inform the Needs Assessment. However, since then there has been no equivalent collection of data and in fact there are important gaps in more recent years. We query whether the Council can properly measure or the impact of the changes without this.
D. DUTY OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE TO ACT FAIRLY AND TRANSPARENTLY AND TO SUBJECT THE COUNCIL’S RESPONSE TO PROPER SCRUTINY
47. We wish to express our concern that the Department has not acted fairly towards our complaint. In our letter to the Department of 21 October 2017, we asked it to disclose the evidence provided by the Council to the Department in response to our complaint. This request was repeated by a Freedom of Information request submitted by Barbara Jacobson on 17 November 2017 [Appendix IX].
48. The Department rejected substantial elements of Ms Jacobson’s request, relying on the public interest exception. We believe that to be unfair and unlawful, given that the evidence of the Council’s library plan must be open to public scrutiny. Our complaints were submitted to the Council for its response. Surely, we are entitled to know and scrutinise how it responded? We renew our request now for provision of all the information we requested.
49. Further, we do not consider that the Letter’s treatment of the evidence has been even-handed. The Secretary of State has not fulfilled the quasi-judicial role of testing and assessing the evidence presented. Rather, incorrect statements by the Council have been presented as unquestioned fact, and positive statements have exaggerated the true picture.
50. For example, the Letter says “…the introduction of digital technology has enabled BC to extend opening hours at its Core and Core plus libraries offering early morning and more evening access, as well as a number of libraries open more days per week”. In fact, days of opening have been increased at six libraries but reduced at five libraries and six libraries have very short opening hours on some days (the Partnership libraries, plus Burnt Oak and Golders Green). There is no extension to evening opening hours apart from at Edgware library, where the opening hours from the pilot have been maintained. It appears in this, and other examples, that the Secretary of State has been content to follow the Council in overstating the positive aspects and not referring to the negative.
E. DUTIES UNDER THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT
51. We believe that the evidence shows that there is a real risk that the Council’s library plan has had and will continue to have an adverse impact on educational standards within the Borough, particularly, but not exclusively, in the area of literacy (both orthodox and digital). That impact will be felt throughout the Borough and particularly in relatively deprived areas where ownership of books and/or computers is below average. This is illustrated, for example, by reference to letters from the headteachers and governors of Hollickwood primary school, Holy Trinity primary and Archer Academy, among others [Appendix III]. It is also mentioned as a crucial factor throughout the personal statements [Appendix II].
52. The statutory duty imposed on public library authorities by s.7 of the 1964 Act must be interpreted not only by reference to ordinary principles of statutory interpretation, but, by virtue of s.3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 ('HRA98'), also by reference to rights secured under the European Convention on Human Rights.
53. In this case, the relevant right would appear to be that to an effective education set out in Article 2 of the First Protocol to that Convention ('A2P1'). There is a real risk that the effect of the Barnet library plan has been to restrict the benefit of that right and therefore to operate as a partial denial thereof.
54. By virtue of s.6 of HRA98, public authorities must act in a manner compliant with rights such as those set out in A2P1. It is no answer to say that A2P1 does not make specific provision as to libraries because the Convention of necessity sets out, in general terms, rights, which those public authorities applying it must flesh out as applicable.
55. The Secretary of State, in deciding whether intervention under s.10 is appropriate, must take account of the legal requirements of HRA98, and the evidence of the impact, in relation to education, of the changes to date and their likely future impact, carrying out appropriate investigation where the evidence is incomplete. As we have said above, the Letter indicates that the Secretary of State’s assessment of the impacts has, to date, been thoroughly inadequate.
56. As we have set out above, there is a significant body of evidence to contradict the Council’s assurances of a continuing comprehensive service for all those desiring to make use of it.
57. Where there is this doubt or dispute on the evidence, we submit that the Secretary of State is bound to enquire, in order to determine what level and quality of service is in fact being provided, before being in a position to consider whether the service complies with the Council’s legal duty.
58. And for all the reasons given above, the Secretary of State is not entitled to reach the conclusions provisionally stated in the Letter. We consider that it cannot be properly said, on the evidence, that the Council is complying with its duties by providing “appropriate access to encouragement, advice and information in respect of library services”; nor that “BC has given careful thought to ensuring that their library service continues to meet the needs of the community”.
59. Further, it appears from the Letter that the Secretary of State has given little consideration to the novelty of the Council’s service and how this relates to wider public interest. It would be perverse, in what is effectively a test case where the Council’s technology solution is being touted as of interest to other local authorities, to wave the new service through untested. This is doubly so where all the up to date evidence suggests that its impact has been severe, and certainly far worse than the Council’s blithe assurances.
60. The wealth of material available since implementation, including what we present, show that this Barnet library service is fundamentally, and detrimentally, different than that envisaged or that so far considered by the Secretary of State.
61. We urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the Letter and to order an inquiry so that the true impact of the Council’s plans may be assessed properly.
Emily Burnham Robert Strang
for Save Barnet Libraries