The Independent and Tory administration group at Moray Council has said that they will reverse their decision on Library closures at a meeting of the Full Council on Wednesday.
In a dramatic statement today, the leader of Moray Council, Councillor Allan Wright, said that in the face of a legal challenge by the Save our Libraries Moray group they will now revisit their decision.
However, the administration will oppose an SNP opposition move to retain all seven libraries and instead put forward a counter motion that will adhere to the recommendations of the Equalities Impact Assessment presented in September and rejected by the local authority.
Councillor Wright said: “We will be challenging the motion put forward by the SNP at this Wednesday’s meeting of the Full Council with an alternative.
“Clearly we cannot commit to a lengthy period of litigation, with all the uncertainty that will bring and costs to the public purse. As an administration we have been tasked to cut spending by an unprecedented amount, which we warned would result in unpopular decisions.
“Cutting the number of libraries to what we still consider to be an adequate number was one of those decisions. We knew it would be unpopular, but unpopular decisions are part of the job of any elected representative.
“We still believe it was the correct decision, but we recognise that defending it that would distract us from the task in hand of cutting our annual spending. We are focussed on the bigger picture, which is for the council to live within its means.
“Therefore we are proposing that we close four libraries, not seven. Those to close will be Hopeman, Findochty, Portknockie and Rothes.
“This reflects the equalities impact assessment undertaken and advice given by council officers.”
This evening a spokesman for Save our Libraries Moray said the decision was a “victory for common sense” but called on the Administration to retain all seven libraries. He said: “For months the administration councillors insisted that this was a correct decision – even now they do so despite the evidence to the contrary.
“We are delighted that the Administration is now reversing the dreadful decision they took in September to close all seven libraries. They were warned at that time to expect a legal challenge and yet still they pressed on – our decision to launch a legal challenge was not one taken lightly.
“Our group will now look at the decision when it is actually taken on Wednesday and then seek further consultation with our Solicitors if that is required.”
The SNP opposition group at Moray Council confirmed this evening that they remain fully committed to all seven libraries remaining open.
Cllr Mike Shand, said: “To hear that The Moray Council’s so-called Independent and Tory Administration have been dragged kicking and screaming back to the position they were in 2 months ago is a shocking indictment of their failure to support the clearly stated priorities of their communities. It is abundantly clear that the campaigners strength of purpose and unity have brought the Administration to this position.
“The SNP are absolutely committed to the case that all seven libraries should remain open and we will make that argument very strongly on Wednesday.”
Moray’s MSP Richard Lochhead said: “This is a major climb down by The Moray Council’s Administration but it still does not go nearly far enough. There is a strong case that all seven of the libraries under threat should remain open and my SNP colleagues in the Council’s Opposition have my full backing on making that case.
“The library campaigners from communities across Moray are making their case extremely well and have received backing from people across our region and far beyond. The community impact of library closures far outweighs any cash savings.”
Meanwhile Moray’s MP, Angus Roberson, added: “The resolute campaigning against the libraries closures in Moray has clearly rattled the Council’s Independent and Tory Administration and forced a major u-turn. While this change of tack is good news for some of the libraries it still does not go far enough.
“The fundamental lack of understanding of the Independent and Tory Councillors of what libraries do for our communities is really quite shocking and shows an administration that remains completely out of touch.”