UPDATED - First official line from government suggests council failed to consult properly over Wirral library closure (From Wirral Globe)
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UPDATED First official line from government suggests council failed to consult properly over Wirral library closure
A LETTER from a government minister whose department has received a draft inquiry report into Wirral's library closures says "a clear perception" is being formed that the council failed to consult sufficiently.
Wirral South MP Ben Chapman received the letter from the Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Barbara Follett.
Mrs Follett wrote: “As you know, Ms (Sue) Charteris, who is leading the Inquiry into Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council’s proposed library closures has now considered all the evidence presented and is now finalising her report.
“Regrettably, a clear perception is emerging that the consultation in the Wirral has been insufficient, especially in the case of Eastham library.
"Ms Charteris has been asked to consider what assessment the Council made, including a process of consultation, of local needs.
"However, please be aware that any procedural failures associated with the consultation process will not necessarily mean that the Council has failed in its function under the 1964 Act and they would then fall outside the Secretary of State’s powers”.
Mr Chapman sent the DCMS nearly 600 postcards signed by residents and families from Wirral South who are in opposition to the closures of libraries.
He said: “Eastham has indeed been given a rough deal and I am glad that this has been recognised by the department.
"I have made my feelings known on this particular aspect of the closures since it was first announced that Eastham was on the list.
"But there is, of course, the issue at Higher Bebington and New Ferry which are just as vital to those local communities.
"The campaign needs to continue and I will be seeking further clarification from the Secretary of State.
“But given the response to my letter, it baffles me further as to why the Local Government Ombudsman discontinued her inquiry”.
The council sparked a wave of controversy when it ruled that 11 libraries plus leisure centres, swimming pools and public halls should close.
A local inquiry was held this summer and a top secret draft copy of the inspector's report has been sent to Wirral Council and the DCMS for fact checking.
Liscard Conservative Cllr Leah Fraser said: "For a Junior Minister to comment, instead of the Secretary of State, suggests that there is going to be some criticism of the Labour-led council within the report.
"This perhaps explains why the leaders in the Town Hall have adopted a 'bunker' mentality and are refusing to release their copy of the report or comment on the findings of Sue Charteris.
"It is not acceptable that people in Seacombe and Wallasey Village, and users of the libraries across Wirral, are being kept dangling instead of being given the same access to the report."
A Wirral Council spokesman would only say the authority has been asked to maintain complete confidentiality regarding the contents of the draft report: "For this reason, we are unable to comment until an announcement is made by the Secretary of State.”