The Cabinet Secretary for Culture has written to Moray Council seeking a review of their decision to close seven libraries in Moray.
Fiona Hyslop is urging the local authority to heed the concerns of local people over the “grave” equality issues the closures can cause. She has also cited the concerns of the Scottish Government over the example Moray is setting for Libraries throughout Scotland.
Hundreds took to the streets of Elgin at the weekend protesting over Moray Council’s Independent and Tory administration decision to close the libraries with a view to saving around £350,000 each year – while at the same time pressing ahead with a new approach road in Elgin that will likely cost the local authority around £500,000 a year.
The march was supported by local MP Angus Robertson and Banffshire MSP Stewart Stevenson, as well as Ms Hyslop’s Scottish Cabinet colleague, Richard Lochhead MSP.
In her letter to Moray Council, Ms Hyslop 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 and that the Council does not see, in these times of austerity, how much of a lifeline these services can be to the elderly; people with disabilities; those looking for work and families on low incomes where a £10 round trip to the library is not feasible or where the journey on public transport is not practical.”
“I am disappointed and dismayed over the decision and call for the Council to reconsider. It is vital that adequate library services are provided for the good of communities across Scotland, and most local authorities share that belief. Moray’s decision stands in stark contrast.
“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 Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs co-chairs the COSLA Sport, Art and Culture Working Group which is attended by elected members from local authorities across Scotland. Public libraries are the responsibility of local authorities in Scotland.
The Group is keen to consider whether a libraries strategy for Scotland would be useful and COSLA and the Scottish Libraries and Information Council (SLIC) are considering how best to take this forward. The Scottish Government will continue to work with COSLA and SLIC to ensure the importance of libraries is recognised across the country.
Meanwhile the Equalities and Human Rights Commission looked at the Moray decision on Monday and have since said that it would be a matter for a court to decide if Moray Council had acted in an appropriate and legal manner.
The Commission’s Parliamentary and Government Affairs Manager said: “The Commission is not in a position to judge individual budget decisions made by local authorities. Whether an authority has acted reasonably in its decision making is a matter for the Courts rather than the Commission.
“Judicial review has been used in similar circumstances relatively frequently in England, where Court decisions have reached a range of judgements.”