A special meeting of the full council was called to discuss an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) on an earlier local authority decision to close seven of its 15 public libraries in the region.
That decision brought protests from the local community and around the country, with leading authors and academics calling on the council to rethink their plans.
Councillors agreed that an EIA should be undertaken – that subsequently recommended three libraries – in Burghead, Dufftown and Cullen – be retained as their removal would pose serious difficulties for the communities they served.
It was widely thought that the EIA would be accepted – however, opposition councillors were stunned when the leader of the Tory/Independent administration, Councillor Allan Wright, said he did not agree with the findings of the EIA and so proposed that all seven libraries be closed.
SNP opposition leader, Speyside councillor Pearl Paul, launched an immediate challenge and a long delay followed as legal advice was taken. When the meeting resumed it emerged that despite legal advice of the consequences of the EIA being ignored, the administration would be pressing ahead with their closure plans.
Subsequent amendments from the SNP that all libraries remain open and from the Labour group that the three named in the EIA remain open were both defeated by 13 votes to 10.
Following the meeting a spokesperson for the ‘Save Burghead Library’ campaign, Joan Megson, told insideMoray: “This is an astonishing decision and one that is quite clearly unacceptable.
“Moray Council called for the EIA in the full knowledge that without it their closure plans could be subjected to challenge – now, it would appear, the administration are unhappy that the EIA went against them and are hell-bent on pressing ahead with closing our Libraries.
“It is too early to say what our group will do next but I think it safe to say that we will not be giving up this fight.”
The decision will be seen by many as a breach of the Equalities Act with a legal challenge against the closures considered likely.