A long-awaited report from the Government inquiry into Wirral Council's plans to close 11 libraries was finally made public just before Christmas.
The report was due to be published in September but Wirral chose to sit on it while they announced their decision to keep all the 11 libraries open. We now know why they did not publish. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport inquiry found that the council were in breach of their statutory duties, had failed to assess the needs of local people and displayed a lack of logic when making their plans.
The report's author Sue Charteris states, “the absence of an adequate plan for and commitment to a comprehensive service would disadvantage relatively isolated and deprived communities… The Council took the decision to close 11 of its libraries in the absence of a strategic plan for or review of the Library Service. Specific needs for adults have not been addressed... [including] for older people, disabled people, unemployed people, and those living in deprived areas.”
The report agrees with most of the points the Wirral Against the Cuts campaign made in its submission to the inquiry, from upkeep of buildings, to illogical financial decisions and lack of consultation.
The response from the council has been predictable and laughable.
Steve Foulkes, Labour council leader said, "There are winners and losers in this situation. Those who lobbied to keep their local library open have what they wanted. But the silent majority who do not use their library, who do not want to see their council tax increase are definitely the losers. The people of Wirral need to understand very clearly what is coming. Between 2011 and 2014, this Council is going to need to save over £67 million, and that is a minimum estimate. We will have to change or go under.”
Just in case we were in any doubt of New Labour's opinion, on 1 December Margaret Hodge launched a two month(!) consultation into library provision, making it clear in interviews that the government favour the model proposed by Wirral council, of new centralised buildings without any consideration for the working class communities affected by loss of local services.
Closures of libraries are going to be part of New Labour's national cuts package. Trade union and community groups fighting the cuts need to link up to defend our services.