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latest update 12 March 2010

Thursday, 15 October 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Wirral Tory leader piles pressure on council law chief over libraries report

Wirral Globe - by Justin Dunn »

WIRRAL Council's head of law is coming under increasing pressure to explain why he excluded the leader of the local Tory group from seeing a confidential report into the library closure programme.

The Conservatives were the only political party on the council not to be shown the contents of the document produced by government-appointed inspector Sue Charteris following a local inquiry in June.

In a letter, which is sure to inflame already strained relations between the Tories and the council's head of law Bill Norman, group leader Jeff Green demands to know what criteria was applied by Mr Norman when considering who was deemed appropriate to read the report.

In all, fourteen people including Mr Norman were allowed to see the report, which is widely believed to be highly critical of the council.

They were five members of the Labour and Liberal Democrat ruling cabinet committee and nine senior council officers.

The names of all those individuals were revealed in an email from Mr Norman to all councillors and senior officers on Tuesday evening, in which he said he had no objection to its contents being passed on to the press and public.

The council was sent the report on July 27 for "fact checking". The cabinet made its surprise announcement that it was scrapping the closures programme on September 30.

Mr Norman received his letter from Cllr Green by email today. The Globe has also obtained a copy.

In it, Cllr Green writes: "I have raised with you and the Chief Executive on many occasions my concerns over how this matter is being handled.

"I have also asked you why Lesley [Rennie, Tory group deputy leader] and I were not deemed suitable to be included in the fact checking exercise and my sincere belief that our knowledge (charged as we are with representing the largest number of Wirral residents) was essential to checking any of the facts Sue Charteris wanted scrutinising in her report.

"Now you have provided a list of those you did deem suitable to see this report, can I to begin with, ask you to provide me with your reasoning (based on the list you have provided) regarding:

"What role you thought [head of tourism and marketing] Emma Degg should play in the fact checking exercise? (Of course I understand that Emma develops and manages the council’s media strategy – but if she was given a copy of the report for that reason it would suggest that it was sent to her to provide expertise on a handling strategy rather than any direct expertise she could provide on the accuracy of any facts contained in Sue Charteris’ report).

"What role you thought the Cabinet Member for the Environment should play in the fact checking exercise? (Of course I understand Gill [Gardiner] is the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group – but if she was given a copy of the report for that reason it would suggest that it was sent to her because of her political position rather than any expertise she could provide on the facts contained in the report).

"I would also welcome your guidance on what the current policy is regarding officers who have told me direct untruths in that a number of the people listed below have told me directly that they had not seen the report and one listed below told me they had seen it but it did not contain recommendations?"

Cllr Green goes on to ask "whether external legal or professional services were used in developing the Council’s response to the draft report?

"Whether the Council has had any direct communication with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport regarding the council’s response to the draft report and when an announcement (prior to the Cabinet’s change of policy) was due or would be made?

"I would also like to know from you whether you have checked with the people listed as having seen the report under the 'obligation of confidentiality' whether they have shared the content of the report or its recommendations with anyone and if they had what the consequences would be?"

The Globe has been asking similar questions of the council since Tuesday morning and last night received the following statement in response:

"The Director of Law, Human Resources and Asset Management shared the initial draft of the report with the senior Members and Officers who were required to provide information or assistance to enable him to respond to Sue Charteris on the content of the draft report.

"He would like to emphasise that this decision was absolutely not intended to be a reflection on any individual Member’s ability to respect confidences."

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

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