Dear Friend, I am writing as Chair of Friends of Somerset Libraries (FOSL) to ask for your help.
As you may well know, together with many other groups such as Friends of Glastonbury, Milborne Port, Porlock, Priorswood, South Petherton, Watchet, Wiveliscombe, and other libraries in Somerset we have been campaigning together against Somerset County Council’s (SCC) decision to reduce the budget and close a number of libraries across Somerset. With advice from Tim Coates, ex-MD of Waterstones, we have been trying to help SCC understand how to restructure their library organisation and costs to allow all libraries to stay open whilst achieving the cost savings SCC require – but this has fallen on deaf ears.
At the same time, together with Watchet Library Friends, we have worked very hard with Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) to firstly confirm the potential for, and then to launch, a legal action against SCC to stop the library closures. PIL have obtained confirmation in principle from the Legal Services Commission (LSC) that they will fund through legal aid a particular client in Watchet to allow the challenge to proceed as a test case on behalf of the whole of Somerset and all closing libraries.
Unfortunately the LSC have the right under the Funding Code, issued under the Access to Justice Act 1999, to request help from those communities across Somerset who would benefit from the case, and can request a financial contribution from such groups. The attached briefing document from PIL describes in more detail this requirement.
Watchet Library Friends have provided a lot of background information about the areas of deprivation and challenges that apply to our area in Somerset. As a result the PIL lawyers will argue that no contribution is appropriate in this case if all of the circumstances are properly taken into account. But there are very few precedents for the amount that the Legal Services Commission may seek. The lawyers’ best estimate is that the LSC may seek a sum of up to £5,000. If you can pledge £50.00 or £100.00 it will help. £250 would be better and £500 would be magnificent, but any contribution will be gratefully received.
In consequence we are asking for personal pledges or pledges from your organisation towards funding this community contribution. This will give a strong message to the LSC of the commitment from ALL of Somerset – we want to save all our libraries, both fixed and mobile.We would be grateful if you could pass this message to all your members and any other interested groups.
Could you please co-ordinate a reply of any contributions offered to John Irven, who is acting as a Watchet Library Friend to co-ordinate liaison for us all with Public Interest Lawyers (PIL)
Pledges can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Or to John’s Address 3 St Decuman’s Heights St Decuman’s Road
Watchet TA23 0FL
Although at this stage we are collecting ‘pledges’, as the case progresses we will expect to have to convert these to collection of the actual contributions from you.
Please note that if the PIL legal challenge is successful and the case is won outright, then SCC will have to reverse their decision AND it is likely that they will have to pay all the legal costs, so any contributions made could be returned to you.
In addition we would like to draw your attention to the commitment given by PIL on page 2 of the briefing document:
“If individuals or campaign groups commit to raising a certain amount of money, but find that they will fall short of the amount, they will not be liable for the shortfall. The economic viability of continuing with the case may have to be reviewed, however.”
We believe that this legal action is the way to force SCC to change its mind, which they have stubbornly refused to do in our interactions to date.
We are writing to request this help from all Library Friends groups in Somerset, as well as other organisations and individuals who have expressed interest in helping keep our libraries open. Clearly it will be up to you how you want to respond, but we hope that you can answer us favourably. Please let us show our commitment to this action to save our libraries by responding strongly and positively to this request.
Kay Hoskins, Chair, Friends of Somerset Library Tel 01984 624387
John Irven Tel 0198