BREAKING NEWS: All of Wirral's closure-threatened libraries to stay open, council leader confirms (From Wirral Globe)
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BREAKING NEWS: All of Wirral's closure-threatened libraries to stay open, council leader confirms
ELEVEN Wirral libraries threatened with closure under the council's controversial strategic asset review are to remain open, it was announced tonight.
The remarkable U-turn by the ruling Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition comes in advance of the pending results of a local inquiry.
Council leader Steve Foulkes told the Globe tonight that the move was the result of "decisive leadership".
The library closure programme was due to begin in April but was halted at the eleventh hour after the then Culture Secretary Andy Burnham ordered the local inquiry.
His move followed massive opposition from residents and campaigners - up to 60,000 people signed petitions against the closures.
The plan was to close 11 libraries and use the savings - some £20m - to build 13 new neighbourhood multi-purpose centres.
We have therefore decided to advise the Cabinet to revoke the decision to invest in 13 neighbourhood centres and to close 11 librariesCouncil leader Steve Foulkes
Cllr Foulkes told the Globe tonight that because of the length of time of the local inquiry, and because there was still no outcome from it, any savings from this year to be used for the new developments had been lost - and so the closure programme had been revoked.
And in a statement, he said: "This is not a decision we have taken lightly.
"We firmly believe that our initial decision to invest £20m in the modernisation of our library service and the creation of 13 neighbourhood centres was the right decision for the future of Wirral.
"The government itself is looking at a modernisation of library services and is carrying out a review of what these should look like in the future.
"There is a major debate now underway about the best way forward for libraries in a technological age, and a review of the current legislation governing libraries.
"We do not want anything Wirral has done, or planned to do, to overshadow this debate, or create precedents which could cause real difficulties for other local authorities facing the same challenges as us.
"We have therefore decided to advise the Cabinet to revoke the decision to invest in 13 neighbourhood centres and to close 11 libraries.
"This will give us the opportunity to work with the government and with our local government colleagues to meet the challenges of the future together.
"We are also running out of time to find the £1m savings needed to balance this year’s budget as a consequence of not implementing any closures so far.
"This decision gives us the certainty necessary not just to balance this year’s budget, but to set the budget for future years as well in the best interests of Wirral’s council tax payers.
"It will also allow us to reassure staff who have been left in limbo for a long time waiting to hear how they would be affected by any re-organisation.
"This does not mean that the challenge facing not only the library service but all our services in the current economic climate has gone away.
"It does mean that we can take the time to work constructively with the government and other local authorities, through the Local Government Association, to find the best possible way forward."
Deputy council leader and leader of the Lib Dem group Cllr Simon Holbrook said: "We always knew that taking the difficult decision to close libraries would be unpopular with some residents.
"However, we still firmly believe that change is needed to ensure the long term future of library services in Wirral and bring our facilities into the 21st Century.
"It is clear that the library service in Wirral must change and we recognise the need to develop a broad consensus to deliver change.
"Wirral Council faces significant challenges – as do all local authorities across the country, not just for libraries but across the full range of services.
"We already know that between 2011 and 2014 this Council will have to find between £50m and £80m from its annual budget as a result of measures already announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget this year.
"This does not take into account the current national political debate taking place within all three major political parties about potential further restraint in public sector spending.
"There is no doubt that there are hard times ahead and that the situation is not likely to improve.
"There will be significant impacts on local services and very difficult decisions to be taken to continue to balance the council’s budget.
"In light of these challenges it is increasingly important that we work together with Wirral residents, our partners and stakeholders to ensure that we deliver the best possible library service for the people of Wirral, without placing undue pressure on other front line services.
"In moving towards that goal, we will work to establish a new consensus which ensures sustainability for the library service.
"We will welcome constructive suggestions for addressing the significant challenges that lie ahead for us all.
"To this end, we are asking Government to work with us to support our delivery of a library service that will effectively meet the future needs of Wirral residents."
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