A FLAWED decision to close 11 libraries - including two in West Somerset - cut opening hours and axe four mobile routes is likely to cost Council Taxpayers more than £600,000.

Somerset County Council this week revealed that its legal costs for fighting a judicial review that resulted in the controversial proposals being overturned in the High Court totalled £71,332.

But ruling Conservatives on the authority sparked a backlash from opposition Liberal Democrats for failing to reveal the true cost of the debacle.

In addition to the legal costs, the council will also have to find the £240,000 annual running costs of the libraries earmarked for closure, which include Watchet and Porlock, as well Nether Stowey and Bishops Lydeard on the fringes of West Somerset.

Added to that will be a £205,000 cost for restoring previous opening hours at 23 libraries across the county and a further £120,000 in annual running costs of the four reinstated mobile libraries.

The council's Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Sam Crabb claimed the initial statement released on the judicial review costs had been "very misleading" and had failed to show the cost to Somerset residents.

"Why the Tory-run administration is trying to spin down the overall cost is obvious," said Cllr Crabb.

"The cost of their error is enormous and if they had listened to the public and the Liberal Democrats last February these losses would not have happened."

Cllr Crabb said the Conservatives would shortly be presenting their budget proposals for the forthcoming year.

"I very much hope that they have been listening and have consulted properly this time.

"They should note that the only department within the county council that has grown and not faced severe cuts is the press and publicity department."

Cllr Crabb said it was vital that frontline services, such as the youth service, care for the elderly, recycling and the library service were maintained.

The council's legal costs for fighting the judicial review include £24,573 for internal solicitors' fees, £44,034 for external counsels' fees, £135 court fees and £2,590 in travel costs and accommodation for people attending the hearing last September.

The cash-strapped authority was also ordered to pay the legal costs of campaigners who fought the cutbacks and took it to judicial review.

It said it had yet to be informed how much this would be.

But John Irven, treasurer of Watchet Library Friends who co-ordinated the fundraising to cover the £9,000 contribution towards legal costs campaigners were forced to pay, said he found this hard to believe.

He said the campaigners' contribution had already been returned.

"I estimate that our side's total legal costs will be around £40,000 but I believe there is probably another £50,000 of council officers' time to add to the overall bill.

"We are talking about a huge amount of public money that has been wasted."

Mr Irven said he had contacted individuals and organisations who had contributed to the legal fighting fund and 99 per cent had been happy for the money to continue to be held n case further action was needed.

The council's decision to close the libraries and make the other cutbacks was quashed because it failed to take account of the impact on vulnerable people.

Following the High Court ruling the authority called in equality experts to advise it but in the last few weeks it has announced that a new review of the library service will begin in April.

Mr Irven said campaigners hoped Somerset would not follow in the footsteps of Gloucestershire County Council, which was also judged to have acted unlawfully in its attempt to close ten libraries but which in the last month has announced fresh plans to close seven libraries.

He said Somerset had indicated it was willing to negotiate with campaigners on the way forward.

"We are more than prepared to talk about cost saving measures that would allow the libraries to remain open," he said.

Mr Irven said the money raised by campaigners would be retained in an account until the council's plans on the future of the library service became clear and in case further action needed to be taken.

The council's initial plans were aimed at cutting £1.35 million from the library service budget, part of £75m of savings it says it needs to make over a three-year period because of a reduction in central government funding.