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latest update 12 March 2010

Friday, 12 June 2009

Wirral Council facing £20k legal bill for two-day libraries inquiry

Liverpool Daily Post - by Lorna Hughes

WIRRAL council is facing a £20,000 bill for hiring a barrister to represent it at a two- day public inquiry into its decision to close 11 libraries.

Richard Clayton, QC, represented the authority at the hearing into proposals to streamline Wirral’s library service, which took place at the Floral Pavilion in New Brighton on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The council’s head of legal services, Bill Norman, has confirmed he expects Mr Clayton’s services to cost in the range of £15,000 to £20,000.

In an email seen by the Daily Post, he said the fees would be paid for from the council’s legal fees budget.

Wirral’s Conservative group said the decision to hire a barrister was insulting to taxpayers already facing the loss of community libraries.

But the Liberal Democrat deputy council leader, Simon Holbrook, said giving the council only three months’ notice meant it had to call in extra help.

The then culture secretary Andy Burnham ordered the inquiry on April 3, a day before some of the libraries were due to close.

Cllr Holbrook said: “The inquiry was announced late, was unexpected and has then been, quite properly, conducted speedily.

“Preparation for the inquiry has therefore resulted in additional work for the legal services department and the council had to engage additional support.

“We would have been roundly criticised if, for example, in a high-profile planning inquiry, we were to lose because of inadequate legal support.”

Liscard’s Conservative councillor Leah Fraser told the Daily Post: “Instead of a barrister, why didn’t the leader of the council or any of his cabinet take part in the inquiry?

“Once again, Wirral council has confused its priorities and used taxpayers’ money to do it.

“This is yet further evidence the current leadership is out of touch.”

A decision is due on the future of Wirral’s libraries next month

© copyright Wirral News. Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

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