Department for Culture Media and Sport

wirral library service inquiry

Following an announcement by the former Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, DCMS has carried out a local inquiry into the library service provided by Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, to gather further information to help the current Secretary of State decide whether the Council's plans are consistent with their statutory duty to provide a 'comprehensive and efficient' library service.

Final Report of the Inquiry

On 30 November 2009 the Culture Minister issued a statement explaining that the Secretary of State had concluded that, since the local authority subsequently revoked their earlier decision to close 11 library branches on the Wirral, it was no longer appropriate to rule on whether this earlier decision was in breach of the 1964 Act.

The final report of the inquiry, which was led by Sue Charteris, has now been published. Frequently Asked Questions about the inquiry are also available and the inquiry terms of reference are below.

The Inquiry took place at the Floral Pavilion, New Brighton, on 9 & 10 June 2009. All correspondence on the library services in the Wirral sent to DCMS and received prior to the Inquiry being announced was taken into account as part of the Inquiry. Wirral MBC was also asked to disclose such correspondence received by them for consideration as part of the Inquiry. Individuals who had not already commented through such correspondence, or who wanted additional points to be taken into account were encouraged to do so through representative groups such as residents associations, library user groups or national interest groups.

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Representative groups and individuals who submitted a formal statement of case and, where required under the Public Libraries (Inquiries Procedure) Rules 1992 ("the Rules"), a formal proof of evidence by 5pm on 25 May 2009 gave oral evidence at the inquiry on 9 June.

Fact finding site visits and pre Inquiry meetings with library user groups took place at the following public libraries:

Thursday 21 May 2009
Prenton (9.00 - 10.00 am)
Ridgeway (10.15 – 11.45 am)
Woodchurch (12.10 – 13.00 pm)
Irby (2.45 – 3.45 pm)
Hoylake (4.00 – 5.00 pm)

Friday 22 May 2009
Eastham (9.00 – 10.00 am)
New Ferry (11.00 – 11.45 am)
Higher Bebington (12.00 – 1.00 pm)
Beechwood (2.00 – 3.00 pm)
Seacombe (3.30 – 4.30 pm)
Wallasey Village (4.45 – 5.45 pm)


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DCMS Local Inquiry into the Library service provided by Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council  -  Terms of Reference

The role of the inquiry is to:

Gather information and provide advice in order for the Secretary of State to assess whether, in taking the decision to implement the proposed changes to their library service, The Wirral is in default of their statutory duties under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, including the provision of a comprehensive and efficient library service.

In formulating this advice and recommendations the inquiry should consider the following questions:

  • Did Wirral make a reasonable assessment of local needs in respect of library services and, in any event, what are those needs?
  • On assessment of local needs, did Wirral act reasonably in meeting such needs through their proposals in the context of available resources and their statutory obligations?

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2. In considering the question of local needs, the inquiry should consider what assessment was made by Wirral (through the process of consultation) of local needs, and may wish to comment independently upon the following local factors:

  • Local Authority context: equalities and population (including deprivation, geography, demography), budget, local priorities and sustainability;
  • Service operation: infrastructure (incl. buildings, mobiles, digital and outreach services); resources; staffing; opening hours; service budget;
  • Service delivery: value for money; performance data (incl. visits, book issues, user satisfaction); library leadership/management capacity; local partnerships and cross-authority working;
  • Strategic vision: links between library service and key local strategies; current and future vision for the service.

3. In considering statutory obligations, the inquiry should consider and make an assessment, with reference to best practice where appropriate, on how effectively The Wirral’s library service addresses and meets the ‘guidance factors’ contained in the 1964 Act relating to the desirable elements of all library services, which can be summarised as follows:

  • Securing and keeping a wide range of free resources (including books and other printed matter, pictures, sound recordings, films and other materials) , to browse and borrow in sufficient number, range and quality to meet the general requirements (and any special requirements) of both adults and children (living, working or studying in the local area);
  • Free independent information and advice from staff;
  • Encouragement for use and participation of the service; for example, through clear and easy ways to join, access, shape and influence the service.

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4. Recommend, in the event that Wirral MBC is found to be in breach of its statutory duties, the practical steps they could be ordered to take by the Secretary of State in order to address this failure;

5. Execute all these responsibilities in accordance with the scope of the 1964 Act.


Consultees

The inquiry should give interested parties the opportunity to comment, and take their views into considerations.  Particular emphasis is placed on securing the contribution of the following groups:

  • Local communities – those resident, working or studying in the area – including representative organisations;
  • Community leaders including local Members of Parliament and Councillors;
  • Key partner organisations
  • Council officers – leadership, library managers, library staff and their unions.

 

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