July 6, 2021
As facilities gradually reopen and normal services resume, there is a sense of unease in some parts of the country that Covid is being used as a smokescreen for the permanent closure of much needed local services. Plans to close swimming pools and libraries are traditionally the actions that evoke the strongest local reaction and Glasgow’s Whiteinch community are in no mood to lose their library. They believe that the grounds for their legal challenge are well founded and indeed could be used by any other community in Scotland facing a similar threat.
As we inch towards the end of COVID restrictions, the crisis in Scotland’s libraries will not go away easily. As many as a quarter of Scotland’s public libraries remain closed, of those that are “open” they operate a limited service. In some cases libraries have been moved to ‘Community Hubs’ or ‘one-stop shops’ with experienced Librarians and Library assistants being replaced by Customer Service Assistants. In Glasgow the crisis is worse than most other places, the Council and their offshoot company Glasgow Life are using the cover of COVID to implement a programme of closures sell-offs and mergers. Campaigns have sprung up across the city to fight against these moves, with weekly read-ins, protest actions and representations to the City Council. Of these local campaigns perhaps the most proactive and forthright is the campaign to save the historic library at Whiteinch.
Whiteinch, for those who don’t know it, is a district on the banks of the River Clyde in the West of Glasgow. It was, at one time an island, back in the days when the Clyde was a wider and shallower free flowing river, before the days of dredging to make it a centre for trade and shipbuilding. When the island disappeared the area nearest to the banks was named after it. It developed as an industrial area, linked to the shipbuilding industry and became a ferry crossing until the opening of the Clyde Tunnel in 1963. The library was built in 1926 and has been a central focus of the community ever since. But last year plans emerged from the City Council to close the library and move the service to a leisure centre in a neighbouring district. The reaction from the community has been an overwhelming rejection of these plans.
Built on strong community links forged in active and existing community groups, the users of the library and a strong and proactive Community Council a small group of organisers were quick off the mark, organising weekly meet ups at the library where children would have read-ins, performers would play music and people would come together to share their ideas and skills. A small organising committee was formed bringing together a group of people with the right range of skills and experience to challenge the Council’s plans.
They quickly gathered the information and data that they needed to combat the plans, pointing out the demographics of the area, the high levels of poverty and the diverse nature of their local communities – people who relied on the library, who needed the resource and saw it as a central point of Whiteinch. They launched their own Community Consultation in response to the lack of consultation by Glasgow City Council and Glasgow Life.
A series of targeted FOI requests were sent off to the Council, they analysed the community based on the SIMD index and, building on the fact that information is strength, have proved to be a very effective example of good old-fashioned community organising.
Whiteinch is a community that has faced devastation over the years due to previous Council plans, the building of the Clyde Tunnel took away their main shopping centre and a large portion of the local park, they lost (like many Glasgow communities) their local swimming pool, but this time they are not for giving in.
Last week the campaign engaged the campaigning lawyer/activist Mike Dailly to launch a legal challenge to the closure, seeking a judicial review. Dailly maintains that a judicial review at the Court Of Session is appropriate based on three point of challenge.
- GCC has not carried out an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) in advance of its decision to close or never re-open the library. As a public body, local authorities are subject to the public sector equality duty (PSED) in section 149 of the 2010 Equality Act. The closure of the library is having – and will have – an adverse impact on people who would otherwise use it. That includes groups with “protected characteristics” in law in relation to age, sex, race and disabilities. Those groups include children and young people; the visually impaired, those with dementia or mental health problems; asylum seekers and those from BAME communities; and young mother’s groups.
- GCC has not discharged its Fairer Scotland Duty under section 1 of the 2010 Act. This duty concerns the need to make strategic decisions that reduce inequalities that result from poverty. The Whiteinch Library catchment area covers some of Clydeside’s most deprived areas: Whiteinch, South Scotstoun & South Yoker. Many of these communities are recognised as being in Scotland’s poorest quintile in the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. The library is an essential lifeline for those who are unemployed and looking for work.
- The final area of challenge is the lack of any consultation with local people. Giving some local groups three minutes to speak to a council committee last week wasn’t formative consultation by any stretch of the imagination. The courts have held that a duty of consultation will exist where there is a legitimate expectation of consultation arising from an interest sufficient to create such expectation. Rights to consultation have been found to exist where a council proposed to close a care home without consulting the residents and where schools were to be closed without consulting parents.
This legal challenge could prove a key moment for all of the local campaigns fighting to save local assets in Glasgow and across Scotland. All of us will be watching closely to see the result of this action.
In the meantime, if you are concerned about services in your own local area, you could do worse than look to Whiteinch as an example of how to organise and fight back against decisions taken over your community’s head, behind closed doors.
Please sign the petition at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-whiteinch-library. And if you are local to the area please fill in Whiteinch Library usage survey, which is being used to collect information on library users’ needs: https://forms.gle/xNPfx6YYCeuzJHVT6
Finally, all good campaigns need a campaign song, local songwriter Iain Mutch rose to that particular challenge – enjoy!