Let Someone Else Run Wirral's Libraries; Liam Murphy Reports as Dozens of Campaigners Give Evidence at the Public Inquiry into Wirral's Library Closures

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), June 10, 2009 | Go to article overview

Let Someone Else Run Wirral's Libraries; Liam Murphy Reports as Dozens of Campaigners Give Evidence at the Public Inquiry into Wirral's Library Closures


Byline: Liam Murphy

ACAMPAIGNER has told an inquiry into Wir ral's controversial library closures that the Gover nment should step in and hand control of them to a neighbouring authority.

For mer Waterstones managing director Tim Coates, now a writer and library campaigner, said Wirral council's existing service was poor and its plans to shut 11 venues might have implications for services across the country.

His comments were heard early on yesterday in the public inquiry chaired by Sue Charteris, who was appointed by the for mer secretary of state for culture, Andy Burnham MP.

He had stepped in just hours before the first libraries were due to close and ordered the public inquiry, which started yesterday at the Floral Pavilion Theatre and Conference Centre, in New Brighton.

Ms Charteris made it repeatedly clear that the inquiry was focused on Wirral's library service.

She said it would examine whether the set-up would meet the requirements of the 1964 Libraries Act, which requires the local authority to provide a "comprehensive and efficient service", following the proposed closure of 11 of the borough's 24 libraries.

Mr Coates, who was unable to attend to read his evidence in person yesterday, after being taken seriously ill, had his statement read by Irby library supporter Donald McCubbin.

He said campaigners across the country fear "this model would tempt other councils".

He said Wirral showed nothing in its decisions which "attempts to show understanding of either the weak performance of their past operations, or of the library needs of residents, and what would be needed to make them comprehensive and efficient".

Mr Coates said: "I submit that Wirral council has demonstrated that it is not competent to provide a public library service for the standard to which local residents pay." He said there should be "another management structure, possibly involving one of the more competent neighbouring councils taking over the role of library authority".

The inquiry started with comments from Alan Stennard, Wirral council's director of regeneration, who said "rationalising" libraries would save the borough pounds 800,000-a-year from its revenue budget.

He said the council's budget estimate for 2009-10 for 24 libraries was pounds 6,418,500, but with 13 libraries, it would reduce to pounds 5,542,400. But he also said delaying closing libraries, as recommended in the council's Strategic Asset Review, would cost pounds 68,000 per month.

Mr Stennard said the closures would still see 99% of people within two miles of a library, or 30 minutes' travelling time, and the closures would allow for extended opening hours into evenings and weekends.

But he was criticised for this by Alec McFadden, of Merseyside TUC, who said many people would have to get two buses - at a round-trip cost of pounds 8 per person - to get to their nearest library.

Mr McFadden said: "It is interesting the council says it will be 30 minutes to get to a library, but is that by bus, car or helicopter? "As usual, the council is being va gue." Earlier, Bob McKee, of CILIP, the professional body for library workers, said the council's library plans had implications for library services, "not just in Wirral but all public authorities facing financial challenges".

He insisted there "seems no logic to the proposed closures".

It was following applause during Mr McKee's evidence that Ms Charteris asked the public to minimise interruptions, although every speech critical of the plans received loud rounds of applause during the day.

Mr McKee said: "Better services in fewer sites is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it is backed up by careful assessment of local needs and provision.

"Our concern is that the SAR is not complemented by a library r eview." Evidence also came from Unison, which represents most public authority workers in Wirral. …

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