Moray Council looks set to lose its five-star status in library provision – and looks likely not to be meeting basic legislative requirements.
That was the view expressed at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday as MSP’s debated the Council decision to close local libraries in Findochty, Hopeman, Rothes and Portknockie.
The claim was made by SNP member Fiona McLeod MSP, who ahead of the debate declared a personal interest in library closures in her capacity as chair of the Scottish Library Information Council (SLIC).
Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson called for the debate that was largely overtaken by events, with Moray Council last month backing down from their original intention to close seven libraries in the region.
The threat of legal action by Save our Libraries Moray forced a U-turn from the Independent and Tory administration in retaining three of the threatened libraries as recommended in the original Equalities Impact Assessment they had ignored previously.
Several members of the Save our Libraries Moray group were at the Parliament to hear Ms McLeod highlight that SLIC was looking at how library services were assessed and benchmarked against each other.
The MSP said: “There are seven quality indicators for assessing libraries in Scotland. Previously when we looked at libraries, Moray came out as one of our five-star
“I found it quite interesting to take my seven quality indicators and cross reference them with the paper that Moray Council wrote on 10 September 2013. I want to highlight a few indicators to show that Moray’s five-star library status is definitely in danger.
“Indeed, not only is its five-star status in danger; I believe that it will no longer be providing an adequate library service. Therefore, Moray Council will not be meeting the legislative requirements, whether we have a definition of adequacy or not.”
Highlands and Islands Tory MSP Mary Scanlon defended the actions taken in Moray, saying: “At the end of the day, we know that difficult decisions must be made, and Moray Council will save £286,000 annually through the budget savings in the library service.”
However, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Rhoda Grant, said that there were doubts over the accuracy of the Equalities Impact Assessment used to close the four libraries.
She said: “The equalities impact assessment was clear that the closure of Burghead, Cullen and Dufftown libraries – which have now been saved – would have impacted on equalities in those villages.
“However, from speaking to people who live in Rothes and use the library there, I know that they strongly believe that the impact assessment for their library was not carried out properly. It was conducted at the wrong time and there was little information about the assessment.”
Present at the debate was Save our Library Moray vice-chair Dr Joan Megson. She said: “It is a pity that this debate could not have been held before Moray Council took the decision to close four of our libraries.
“We are grateful to Stewart Stevenson for pressing ahead with the debate in Parliament – from the start of our campaign we stressed that while we were fighting library closures in Moray there was much more to this.
“It was and is a national campaign as there are other Councils in Scotland looking at closing local libraries.
“While we did manage to halt the closure of three branches in Moray our fight goes on not only for the four communities that have now lost their libraries but to ensure that Moray Council do not attempt to re-visit further library closures in the future.”