High Court rules Northamptonshire library closures unlawful

14 Aug 18

Northamptonshire Council’s plan to close 21 libraries to help make savings is unlawful, the High Court has found.

A judicial review, lodged by a member of the public, has concluded the council failed to consider whether it would operate a “comprehensive and efficient” library service after the closures. 

Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, councils have a statutory duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service.

In her judgment, Mrs Justice Yip said: “I appreciate the real pressure the cabinet and the defendant’s officers were operating under at the time.

“However, this did not relieve the defendant of the need to act lawfully.”

The cost-cutting plans were announced in February 2018 as part of a wider effort to save £10m- another measure was to freeze staff pay.

The council has since put this proposal on hold while it carries out further consultation with interested parties, council leader Matthew Golby said.

All 21 libraries remain open, a council spokesperson added.

Caroline Barrett, associate solicitor at law firm Irwin Mitchell, who represented the complainant, said: “Our client recognises that the council is in a precarious financial position.

“Nevertheless, this ruling confirms that all councils, regardless of their financial position, simply must comply with their statutory and common law duties.”

Golby said he was “pleased” that the judge acknowledged the severity of the council’s financial standing.

He added: “We had already made a decision to pause the proposed changes to the local library service for further consideration and are continuing to work closely with community groups, partners and interested parties within the wider context of the council’s budget recovery programme.

“The county council is committed to finding a way forward that is satisfactory and achievable for all parties.”

The stricken council previously announced plans for ‘radical service reductions’ following an unprecedented second Section 114 notice.


January 2018 – Then communities secretary Sajid Javid sends in the inspector Max Caller to investigate the council’s financial management

February 2018 – The council issues the first Section 114 notice in 20 years, banning all spending except on statutory services

February 2018 – The council plans to sell off their brand new headquarters to generate cash

February 2018 – Auditors warn the council’s budget may not be lawful

February 2018 – The council passes a revised budget

March 2018 – Inspector Max Caller publishes report recommending the county is split into two unitaries

March 2018 – Council accepts the report’s findings; leader Heather Smith steps down

March 2018 – Javid announces that the council will continue to make majority of decisions despite government commissioners’ involvement

April 2018 – Matthew Golby appointed new council leader

April 2018 – Leaseback agreement of headquarters is agreed

May 2018 – Council announces plans to set up improvement board

May 2018 – Council balances its books with the use of reserves

May 2018 – Commissioners are announced by new secretary of state James Brokenshire

May 2018 – Auditor’s interim report reveals potential figure of PHE grant repayment

June 2018 – Final sum of misspent PHE grant is settled

July 2018 – CEO and CFO step down

July 2018 – New CEO appointed

July 2018 – Second Section 114 order is issued

August 2018 – Council produces spending ‘action plan’ in response to Section 114

August 2018 – Core spending plan approved by full council.

August 2018 – Council’s plan to close 21 libraries found to be unlawful.

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