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latest update 12 March 2010

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Wirral libraries inquiry: Tories quiz borough solicitor over access to confidential report

Wirral Globe - by Justin Dunn »

WIRRAL’S borough solicitor has found himself at the centre of a political storm by revealing the controversial decision over who was allowed to see a top secret report into the library closure programme was his alone.

Bill Norman told a special meeting of the council on Monday that he had used his own judgement as to who he deemed “appropriate” to be allowed access to the draft report by government inspector Sue Charteris.

Asked to name the councillors and town hall officers who had seen the report, Mr Norman - the council’s director of law and also its monitoring officer - said he wanted time to “reflect” on his reply.

Opposition Tories believe all members of the Lib-Lab coalition cabinet have seen the document, widely believed to be critical of its approach to the proposed closure of 11 Wirral libraries.

They called the meeting on Monday night to discuss the administration's U-turn on the closures, which was announced on the evening of September 30.

The Conservative group believes the administration reversed its plan because of what it had read.

But the Lib-Lab administration insists its decision was made because the inquiry had dragged on so long that any savings to be made this year had been lost.

Council leader Steve Foulkes said the proposed savings would have been reinvested as part of a £20m plan to build 13 multi-purpose neighbourhood centres throughout Wirral.

“That opportunity has now gone,” said Cllr Foulkes, during a stormy debate which lasted almost three hours, in which he also accused Tories of calling the meeting not out of any concern for libraries but to make “political capital”.

There is still no date for when Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw will publish his decision, based on the final report, and the Conservatives fear it may never be released.

Moreton Conservative Cllr Chris Blakeley has now written to the borough solicitor seeking confirmation that it was his lone decision on who was allowed to see the report.

Wirral Council had not responded at the time the Globe went to press.


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