Page last updated at 19:03 GMT, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 20:03 UK

Council in U-turn on library cuts

Library closure protest
The closure programme sparked widespread opposition

A local authority on Merseyside has reversed its decision to axe 11 libraries after a public outcry.

Wirral Borough Council will not push through plans to close the local libraries in favour of 13 neighbourhood centres, it has been confirmed.

Residents have been campaigning against their closure since November 2008 and former Culture Secretary Andy Burnham had ordered a public inquiry.

The council leader said the U-turn was "not a decision taken lightly".

Mr Burnham had stepped in to save the libraries in April - 24 hours before the first one was due to close.

He then ordered the inquiry, chaired by Sue Charteris, to establish whether the council was complying with its statutory duty to provide a "comprehensive and efficient" library service.

With the current economic climate we know local government will be hit by cuts and we need to be ready for that
Steve Foulkes, Council leader

Council leader Steve Foulkes said the inquiry had only been finished in its draft form and that he was not able to comment on the document.

"We have not taken this decision because of the inquiry, that is a separate issue.

"We decided to keep the libraries open because we have our residents and employees to look after. We need to give them some stability.

"We also need to make sure we have the budget sorted for next March.

"With the current economic climate we know local government will be hit by cuts and we need to be ready for that."

'Morally bankrupt'

He said the original proposal to close the libraries and spend £20m on new centres was still a good idea, but the finances needed to be worked out first.

Wirral Council's cabinet is being asked to revoke the initial closure decision at its meeting on Thursday.

Mr Foulkes, the council's Labour leader, has been backed by his Liberal Democrat deputy, Simon Holbrook.

Leah Fraser, the Conservative councillor for Liscard, said the uncertainty over the libraries' future had caused chaos in Wirral's communities.

"It is to the credit of the staff in our libraries that they have, as best they could, maintained business as usual," said Ms Fraser.

"I am now calling on the council's leaders to publish in full, and unedited, the report by Sue Charteris and her recommendations.

"Wirral Council is not just financially bankrupt. After this humiliating U-turn, the administration is also morally and politically bankrupt."

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