Somerset library funding cuts could be halted

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Council officers have recommended that a series of library funding cuts in Somerset should not go ahead following a review which ruled them unlawful.

Somerset County Council wanted to make funding cuts but the High Court found they did not comply with equality laws.

If the report is approved, four mobile libraries will be reinstated, opening hours at 23 libraries will increase and 11 will keep their funding.

A final decision on the recommendations is due to be made by 11 January.

Council officers have told councillors that the services should be reinstated to "ensure that Somerset County Council is compliant with the requirements of the court judgement".

The council said in a statement: "The key decision would confirm our actions to restore library services, in response to the judicial review judgment."

April savings

The report said: "Existing staff will be written to and offered extra working hours in order to enable the service to reinstate opening hours to their pre-October 2011 levels as soon as possible."

At the High Court in November, Judge Martin McKenna said the library closures did not comply with "public sector equality duties" owed to vulnerable social groups.

John Irven, one of the campaigners who was involved in the legal challenge, said the council was already looking at savings from April onwards.

He said campaigners had already spoken to the council about potential savings later in the year and had "offered constructive negotiations".

"At the same time we will be holding the county council to account to make sure they are implementing the judgement and we don't just get the same cuts brought back in a different guise."

The council added all of its services were due to be reviewed over the next 18 months.

The final decision, which has to be made by 11 January, rests with councillor Christine Lawrence, who is the cabinet member for community.

The report also recommends £600,000 be spent on self-service technology at Somerset libraries.

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