Moray library closures: Culture Secretary urges council to reconsider
Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop has urged Moray Council to reconsider the closure of seven of its 15 libraries.
The council voted to axe the Burghead, Cullen, Dufftown, Findochty, Hopeman, Portknockie and Rothes facilities, to save more than £350,000.
The decision came despite a recommendation to retain the libraries at Burghead, Cullen and Dufftown.
Ms Hyslop said: "I am disappointed and dismayed over the decision and call for the council to reconsider."
In a letter to the local authority, she said: "There has been widespread and well-founded concern for the people of Moray around the closure of these libraries, with implications for the community as a whole and, as reported, especially for disadvantaged members of the community.
"I am very concerned that Moray Council cannot see the value in continuing to provide library services in these rural areas.
"I have also asked that, should the decision not be reconsidered, Moray Council work with the Scottish Library and Information Council to allow them to review the remaining service to ascertain whether it meets the needs of the area."
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which was asked to review the council's decision to shut the libraries, has ruled that an "apparently comprehensive" quality impact assessment was carried out.
The assessment was to ensure access for the elderly, families with young children, and people with a disability.
The commission said in a statement: "In respect of Moray Council's decision to close library services, council officials have produced an apparently comprehensive equality impact assessment.
"Councillors are obliged to take account of this in their decision making."
It continued: "Court decisions in England (which are not binding in Scotland but are persuasive) have indicated that decision makers must consider the question of equality 'with rigour and an open mind'.
"The Commission however is not in a position to judge individual budget decisions made by public authorities; whether an authority has acted reasonably in its decision making is a matter for the courts rather than the Commission.
"Should those affected by this council decision have concerns that equality was insufficiently considered or that the council acted unreasonably, it is open to them to challenge the decision in court through judicial review."
The Save Moray Libraries campaign insisted the case for retaining the libraries is overwhelming, but the council - which acknowledged the strength of opposition to the closures - said cuts had to be made.