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latest update 12 March 2010

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Revealed - the councillors and senior council officers with access to the draft Wirral libraries report

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Wirral Globe - by Justin Dunn »

THE IDENTITIES of thirteen councillors and senior officers given access to the confidential draft report into the Wirral library closure inquiry can be revealed tonight.

The Globe can also reveal that the selected group had been in possession of the draft report since July 27, weeks earlier than commonly thought.

Those with copies of the report include Labour group leader Cllr Steve Foulkes, who is the council leader, and Liberal Democrat leader Simon Holbrook, who is the deputy council leader.

Senior officers who received the report include council chief executive Steve Maddox, his deputy Jim Wilkie, regeneration director Alan Stennard - whose department came up with the idea of closing eleven of the borough's 24 libraries as part of the borough's controversial Strategic Asset Review - and tourism and marketing chief Emma Degg.

The names of all recipients have been released this evening in a letter to all councillors and senior officers from Bill Norman, the borough solicitor - who it has always been known was in possession of the report.

His revelation follows an extraordinary meeting of the council last night in which Mr Norman was asked by opposition Conservative Cllr Ian Lewis to name those who had access to the draft report prepared by inspector Sue Charteris following her two week local inquiry in June, which was passed on to Mr Norman for "fact checking" purposes on July 27.

The Conservatives believe the contents of the report led to the surprise announcement by the ruling Lib-Lab cabinet on September 30 that it was revoking the controversial library closure programme.

The cabinet insist the decision to scrap the closure programme was made because the inquiry had dragged on so long that any prospective savings could not now be realised this year.

No Conservative councillors had access to the report.

In his letter this evening - in which he makes clear he has "no objection to this email being shared with the press or public" - Mr Norman, the council's director of law, lists those he shared the draft with.

They are:

Steve Maddox, Wirral Council chief executive

Jim Wilkie, deputy chief executive

Alan Stennard, director of regeneration

Ian Coleman, director of finance

Howard Cooper, director of children and young people

Jim Lester, head of cultural services

Emma Degg, head of tourism and marketing

Rosemary Lyon, interim head of legal and member services

Cllr Steve Foulkes, council leader and Labour group leader

Cllr Simon Holbrook, deputy council leader and Liberal Democrat group leader

Cllr Phil Davies, deputy Labour group leader and cabinet member for children's services and lifelong learning

Cllr Gill Gardiner, deputy Lib Dem group leader and cabinet member for the environment

Councillor Bob Moon, Lib Dem cabinet member for culture, tourism and leisure

In his emailed letter this evening, Mr Norman writes that he was sent the draft report from inspector Sue Charteris on July 27.

He says he "only circulated the draft report to those members within the cabinet and those officers from whom I needed comments prior to responding to Sue Charteris".

The email adds: "As the recipient of the letter, that judgement fell to me and I accept personal responsibility for my decision in that regard (this was not a matter on which I took any external legal advice).

"However, I wish to emphasise that my decision was absolutely not intended to be a reflection as to any individual member’s ability to respect confidences.

"I was asked [at last night's full council meeting] to list those persons to whom I have shown a copy of the draft report.

"Although I do not believe that there is any legal obligation on me to disclose this information, equally I understand the exceptional level of interest in this matter.

"I have therefore decided to provide that information."

Mr Norman moved to allay fears that the Charteris report may never be published, insisting in bold letters that it will, once it has been considered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which ordered the local inquiry.

Tory group leader Jeff Green, speaking to the Globe during a break in the Wirral Youth Parliament debate at Wallasey Town Hall tonight, said: "There is something very rotten within Wirral Council.

"It seems indicative of the way this administration is run. One person has already been in touch with me to apologise for saying 'no' when I asked them previously if they'd seen a copy of the report.

"I'm the leader of the largest group on Wirral Council. How come the officers don't seem to think I am an appropriate person to see the report?"

Cllr Ian Lewis - who had challenged Mr Norman during Monday evening's council meeting to name the recipients of the report - said: "Obtaining any information on the library closures has been like pulling teeth.

"While I am grateful to finally receive the list of the selected few who have been given access to the report, I am disappointed that we still do not know what is in it.

"The councillors in the areas affected by the cuts should have been given the same access to the report for 'fact checking', rather than just the 'in crowd' of the most senior officers and some of the ruling cabinet."

Liscard Conservative Cllr Leah Fraser said: "This is yet further evidence of the secretive way in which the people running this council choose to do business.

"It's as though the Freedom of Information campaign has passed them by.

"What we are seeing is 'the state knows best' and that the taxpayers and library users of this borough can't be trusted by the current cabinet running Wirral.

"This cannot go on - it is time for a fundamental change in the way the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral operates."

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

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