Tag Archives: law

The Community Right to Bid

The Community Right to Bid , along with ‘Community Asset Transfer’, ‘Community Right to Challenge’ and ‘Community Right to Build’, is part of the Localism Act and came into force in 2012. Under the Act, voluntary and community organisations and parish councils can nominate an asset to be included on a list of ‘assets of community value’ which is managed by the local authority. If the owner of a listed asset wants to sell the asset, a six month moratorium period will be triggered during which the asset cannot be sold. This period gives community groups some time to develop a proposal and raise the required capital to bid for the property when it comes onto the open market at the end of the moratorium period. The Act does not, however, give community organisations the power to force a sale. Similarly, the vendor retains the right to reject a community organisation’s offer in favour of another offer.  This is all in accordance with Part 5 Chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011 (Assets of Community Value) (“the Act”) and The Assets of Community Value (England) Regulations 2012 .

In order to advise communities the My Community Rights online hub and advice service has been set up along with a £19 million Community Ownership of Assets programme offering grants to communities wanting to take control of a local asset such as a pub, shop, or library. In Brent, campaigners have been successful in adding Kensal Rise Library to the Brent Local Authority “List of Assets of Community Value”. The owners of the building, All Souls College, may now have to rethink their deal with property developers to build flats on the site, but All Souls can appeal against the decision. In West Somerset the owner of a pub that was recently listed has challenged the decision on the basis that he has lost money due to the property having to be taken off the market, so it will be interesting to see what All Souls do in this situation.

The TUC and the National Coalition for Independent Action have recently produced a report in which a range of contributors discussed the Localism Act.  In particular, concerns were raised in the report about the ‘Community Right to Challenge’, which was seen by many to be a ‘trojan horse’ for privatisation but another general concern was:

“…the lack of capacity within local community and voluntary organisations to make effective use of powers to buy community assets or produce neighbourhood plans. To many, this is seen as a way of empowering those in the community with the loudest voices, the most resources and the sharpest elbows to influence local decision making.”

In the article below from the ‘Local Government Lawyer’ website concerns are raised about the financial and time constraints forced on Local Authorities trying to administer the ‘Rights’.

“Worth noting is that land that used to further the social wellbeing and social interests of the local community ‘in the recent past’ will still be caught by the definition if it is realistic to think that there is a time in the next five years when it could be used to further (whether or not in the same way as before) the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community.

This definition is potentially very wide and would include amenities that have closed ‘in the recent past’ (which is up to the local authority to decide) but could be re-opened as something else, as long as the new activity still serves the community.

The net effect of this is likely to cost local authorities both time and money, as they will need to set up (in a form to be prescribed by regulations), publish and maintain, a list of nominated assets and a list of unsuccessfully-nominated assets, deal with requests to add or remove assets from the list, act as an intermediary between the landowner and the community group wanting to bid for the asset, publicise notices of disposal, compensate landowners and enforce the provisions.”

All in all, the right of the property owner to challenge a listing linked with the communities lack of power in forcing sales and the right of the vendor to reject an offer appears to put the whole basis of the ‘Community Right to Bid’ on very shaky ground!

Our evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee

Following our submission of evidence earlier this month to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into library closures, we have been given permission to publish it on our website.

In summary we felt that:

  • A comprehensive and efficient library service should be accessible, should be adequately resourced, should have a wide range of services and content, should have sufficiently skilled staff, and should be available to users at their point of need.
  • The English public widely value libraries as a force for social good which should be provided free.
  • Many planned library cuts and closures are incompatible with the requirements of the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964: removing qualified and trained library staff will result in a failure to provide adequate services under the terms of the Act and in many cases, councils are making decisions to close libraries based on misleading statistics, an inadequate definition of ‘comprehensive and efficient’, and the outdated Act itself.
  • There is strong evidence that communities value local public libraries and that closures would therefore have a negative impact in several ways: on children; on the physical, mental, and emotional health of communities; on lifelong learning; on community cohesion and inclusivity; and on local economies.
  • The powers of intervention given to the Secretary of State are not deficient. The failure lies with the Secretary of State’s lack of willingness to exercise these powers, coupled with lack of guidance from senior ministers and appropriate Government departments.

Our full response to the Inquiry can be found here.

We have also been invited to give oral evidence to the Committee leading the Inquiry.

Outcome of Brent Judicial Review

Voices for the Library would like to express our disappointment with this morning’s ruling over the future of Brent libraries.  We would also like to re-state our support for library campaigners in Brent who have fought so hard to protect their library service for the good of the broader community.

The victory for Brent council sends out a very worrying message for library campaigners everywhere.  Council leaders across the country may look to this ruling to justify library closures and will see this ruling as the legal backing they require to go ahead with planned library closures.  They would be wrong to do so. Mr Justice Ouseley remarked during this morning’s proceedings that he did not believe the ruling in Brent had wide significance across the country, but instead reflected a judgement purely on how Brent council had approached its local situation. Councils should not, therefore, see this outcome as an excuse to cut their own services in a similar way.

Libraries across the country provide a vital service for many across the boundaries of society.  From young and old to rich and poor, libraries provide services for everyone. In the age of the internet it is easy to assume everyone has access to a wealth of free information.  The reality is that there are 9 million people in this country who are not connected to the internet.  For those 9 million people, the library is the only resource they have.  For parents of young children, the library plays an important role in supporting their development and improving their literacy skills.  For the elderly it is a vital lifeline to ensure they are not excluded from society.

Those who care about libraries across this country must come together and ensure that this ruling does not have the effect that many council leaders desire.  Together we can make a difference.  Together we can put pressure on Ed Vaizey to fulfil his commitment as Minister for libraries and ensure that library services across the country are truly comprehensive and efficient.  Write to Ed Vaizey and your councillors, get involved in local campaigns, encourage everyone you know to support and use their local library.  Together we can stop our library service being totally destroyed by those that do not understand the benefits they bring to local communities.

To the campaigners in Brent, we also say that whilst we share your disappointment, we hope you continue to fight your case at every turn.  You can be assured that we will stand and fight with you.  Today has undoubtedly been a setback but the outpouring of support for public libraries throughout the day should remind us that our cause is right.

Campaigners from Brent and around the country will be meeting on Saturday 22nd October at  University of London Union to co-ordinate efforts. See here for more details.

See here for a response from Unison and here for a response from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

Update: 20/10/11

Brent campaigners have been granted permission to appeal the decision made by Mr Justice Ouseley. The appeal is due to be heard in three weeks.

Key Library Service Judicial Reviews Underway

It’s an important time for UK public libraries. Following on from severe proposed cuts by local councils’, a number of library campaigns have managed to force the decisions to Judicial Review. Brent library campaigners were the first to go through this process and are waiting for a decision to be made on their claim. Following on from this, Tuesday of this week saw the start of the second Judicial Review in the High Court for Gloucestershire and Somerset libraries. Gloucestershire and Somerset claims are being heard together in a joint procedure. So far, the QC representing Gloucestershire and Somerset claimants has presented the case against both Councils’ and tomorrow the defence QC will present the case for the Councils. Further details from the Gloucestershire perspective can be found here.
The challenges raised in the judicial reviews’ can be summarised as:
  • Brent: “Brent Council has closed its mind to alternatives to closure, did not assess community needs or the impact of closure properly, made significant mistakes about the facts, misunderstood its legal duty to provide a library service and acted unfairly.” (Further details here)
  • Gloucestershire and Somerset: “The Councils have breached their legal obligations to residents by: 1. Failing to provide a “comprehensive and efficient library service” as required by the Libraries and Museums Act; 2. Failing to adequately assess and have due regard to its statutory equalities duties; and 3. Failing to consult residents in a fair, effective and open manner and to take into consideration the results.” (Further details of Gloucestershire campaign here; and Somerset here)

Even though there are differences in the challenges raised, the common ground is that claimants and campaigners all want to ensure that legal duties to provide a library service aren’t ignored; and that they want their local council’s to listen to the opinions of local residents and communities… The people they represent… The users of the library services they are destroying.

Many other campaigners, besides those in Brent, Gloucestershire and Somerset, are in much the same position – still fighting to get themselves heard by their local councils, who are forcing them down a similar route.
The outcome of these reviews may well have an impact on other campaigns throughout the country – at this stage they are giving hope to those who aren’t as far down the campaigning route; and we imagine they are making local council’s think twice about cutting services so drastically and removing paid staff. Once the decisions of the judicial reviews are announced they are likely to influence any future decisions around libraries throughout the rest of the U.K.
We’re unsure when the decisions will be made at this stage, but we hope that all the campaigners’ hard work and efforts pay off, and that the local communities who will be affected by the cuts, get the library services they deserve and are entitled to.

Decentralised Power Via The Localism Bill

The Localism Bill was introduced to Parliament via the House of Commons in December 2010. Its aim is to decentralise power “back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils.”

Here are a few things to consider about the Bill in relation to the provision of local services, including public libraries.

1.) The plain English version states that central government currently imposes too much bureaucracy in the form of centralised decisions, targets and inspections, which “leaves people feeling ‘done to’ and imposed upon.”

It’s true that the removal of Central government bureaucracy would allow development of services at a local level, but at the same time Central government bureaucracy also serves to ensure that local councils/authorities continue to provide essential services they are expected to.

2.) It also states that Central Government should be there to help people and their locally elected representatives to achieve their own ambitions.”

This would be beneficial, as long as the local people and representatives who get their voices heard are (1) representative of all local people and (2) that their wishes ensure this does not affect the lives of those whose voices aren’t heard – commonly people in society who are in most need of public services.

3.) The Bill indicates that “Local authorities can do their job best when they have genuine freedom to respond to what local people want, not what they are told to do by central government.

In an ideal world this would be a great opportunity for councils to work with local communities and I’m sure some will, but as we have seen in some library campaigns, local councils do not always listen to what people want. Campaigners throughout the country have raised petitions containing over 15,000 names asking councils to stop closure of libraries, but councils still appear to do what they want, rather than what the communities ask them to do.

4.) The General power of competence in the Bill states local authorities should be free to do anything – provided they do not break other laws.” and that this power “does not remove any duties from localauthorities.” Alongside this, the Secretary of State will have the authority toremove unnecessary restrictions and limitations where there is a good case to do so, subject to safeguards designed to protect vital services.”

It is important that local authorities are free to be innovative, as long as they don’t break the law and their duties are not removed. However, if the Secretary of State can over-rule restrictions, how will this affect councils actions and duties? Could this over-ruling have a negative effect on services that are provided to communities, as well as a positive effect?

5.) “the Government will abolish the Standards Board regime. Instead, it will become a criminal offence for councillors to deliberately withhold or misrepresent a personal interest. This means that councils will not be obliged to spend time and money investigating trivial complaints, while councillors involved in corruption and misconduct will face appropriately serious sanctions.”

Even though some complaints may be seen as trivial by Central Government, often it is the only way for an individual citizen to address concerns they may have about a councillor.

6.) Even though a councillor is there to represent his/her local community some are warned off doing such things as campaigning, talking with constituents, or publicly expressing views on local issues, for fear of being accused of bias or facing legal challenge. The Localism Bill will make it clear that it is proper for councillors to play an active part in local discussions.”

It’s important that in the future councillors will be given the opportunity to get involved, rather than shying away from involvement and discussion and saying “I can’t do anything. I’m not allowed to.”

7.) ”The Localism Bill will give more cities the opportunity to decide whether they want a mayor.”

Having an elected mayor could work either way. A mayor who has not been elected by his/her political peers would have more freedom to go against party lines, but at the same time the elected mayor does not necessarily need any experience of local politics to become mayor, which in itself could lead to problems via a lack of understanding.

8.) “We want to pass significant new rights direct to communities and individuals, making it easier for them to get things done and achieve their ambitions for the place where they live.”

Hopefully this will give campaigners fighting council decisions a stronger voice than many of them have at present.

Eric Pickles at Conservative Party Conference

Eric Pickles at Conservative Party Conference (c) conservativeparty / Flickr

9.) The Bill will allow groups, parish councils and local authority employees the right to express an interest in taking over the running of a local authority service.” Local councils must respond to this interest and where it accepts it, run a procurement exercise for the service in which the challenging organisation can bid”

This will obviously give local communities an opportunity to be involved in the provision of services they receive, but wouldn’t this increase bureaucracy and expenditure by local authorities who have to run a procurement exercise and assess any bids? Will it also mean that co-ordinated groups of small numbers in the community may have a louder voice than a larger local population who are happy with the services as they are?

10.) ”When listed assets come up for sale or change of ownership, community groups will have time to develop a bid and raise the money to buy the asset when it comes on the open market.”

It is important that assets are kept in the community they belong, but at the same time this may also give some local authorities the notion that selling off its assets is a good idea.

11.) ”The Localism Bill will give local people the power to initiate local referendums on local issues that are important to them. Local authorities and other public bodies will be required to take the outcome of referendums into account and consider what steps, if any, they will take to give effect to the result.”

Where we have seen local library campaigners wishes ignored, even with overwhelming support from the community, the ability to raise a local referendum may be more effective in highlighting support for an initiative.

12.) ”Right to approve or veto excessive council tax rises”

The current situation in this country has seen council taxes capped by Central Government, even though a minimal rise may allow vital services to be developed in a local area. The ability to vote on council tax rises may ensure vital services are kept in the future.

13.) “Reform to make the planning system clearer, more democratic and more effective.” Currently “planning does not give members of the public enough influence over decisions that make a big difference to their lives. Too often, power is exercised by people who are not directly affected by the decisions they are taking.”

This will allow communities to have a greater say over planning in their area. This could mean that communities put together a local development plan that includes the services/facilities they want, such as a local library.

14.) Finally, the Localism Bill enables the removal of duties for local authorities to inform citizens about how local democracy works. If this happens it would mean local communities are at a disadvantage in ensuring that their voice will be heard.

So, in summary, the Bill will enable local communities (people, councillors and local authorities/councils) to have a greater impact on the development of services in their own area, but at the same time the Bill proposes the removal of restrictions that are currently in place to ensure local councils continue to provide essential local services.

The next stage for the Localism Bill is the report stage in the House of Lords (September 2011), which gives members of the House of Lords the opportunity to consider changes to the Bill.

Public libraries are protected by law

This letter is reproduced with permission from Mr. Francis Bennion, a retired barrister and active writer and academic, who drafted the Bill which later became the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, the law which makes public libraries a statutory service. It is in response to the article written by Caitlin Moran, which is reproduced with her permission here. The paragraph that was omitted from the published letter (in square brackets) may be of particular interest to campaigners who are currently working on, or considering, legal challenges to library cuts.

I read Caitlin Moran’s account of the debt she owes her threatened public library as the only alma mater she has ever had (The Times Magazine, 13 August 2011) with particular sympathy. Nearly half a century ago I was struggling to draft appropriately the Bill that became the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. I was instructed to draw a reasonable line between the requirements of the public and the limited resources of local authorities. The Act is still operative. Various attempts to enforce it by judicial review are pending.

The Act says a local authority which is a library authority must “provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons . . . whose residence or place of work is within the library area of the authority or who are undergoing full-time education within that area”. Its stock of “books and other printed matter, and pictures, gramophone records, films and other materials”, must be “sufficient in number, range and quality to meet the general requirements and any special requirements both of adults and children”.

[Under this provision a severe reduction now in the public library facilities which were being provided by a particular library authority two or three years ago is likely to be unlawful. This is because there is a presumption that the earlier provision did not exceed what was required under the Act.]

The Act also says that the Government must “superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England and Wales, and . . . secure the proper discharge by local authorities of the functions in relation to libraries conferred on them as library authorities”.

It does not appear that the statutory duties I have mentioned are being adequately fulfilled at present. The Act does not contain any provision for reduction of the duties because of a need for “cuts”. [1]



[1] Published in The Times 16 August 2011. The important passage in square brackets was omitted.