15 libraries under threat in Wirral

15 libraries under threat in Wirral

Libraries in Wirral will be at risk of closure unless passed to volunteers if the council pushes ahead with its money-saving plans, a report has warned.

The possible cutbacks come five years after the council was forced to abandon proposals to close 11 of Wirral's 24 libraries, after the then Labour culture secretary Andy Burnham intervened.

Now, the council is looking to transfer up to 15 of its libraries to volunteer control. A report to be presented to the council's cabinet tomorrow said that the move needs to be taken to cope with a 50% cut in government grants, and the need to save £43m.

Author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons has written an open letter to present libraries minister Ed Vaizey, urging him to intervene in any cuts. In 2009, Vaizey encouraged Burnham to step in, and said: "If Andy Burnham is not prepared to intervene when library provision is slashed in a local authority such as the Wirral, it is clear that he is ignoring his responsibilities as Secretary of State, which in the process renders any sense of libraries being a statutory requirement for local authorities meaningless."

Gibbons said: "I assume you will intervene, should Wirral council resurrect their library closure programme, as press reports suggest they intend, to call in the decision and prevent it. Anything else would be inconsistent and invite accusations of hypocrisy."

The AGM and open discussion of the Library Campaign, held on 15th June, also rounded on Vaizey. Laura Swaffield, chair of the campaign, said: "All agreed that the whole network of libraries has become a catastrophic mess on minister Ed Vaizey's watch."

She added that the Campaign would take any proposals from a forthcoming Sieghart report into libraries and put them to library users, and canvas all the political parties to make well-received recommendations part of their manifestos.

Ciara Eastell, the incoming president of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), also referenced next year's general election in a her opening speech to SCL, released this week. She said: "a General Election in May 2015 will give all stakeholders, including SCL, the chance to demonstrate to all the major parties the value and potential of public libraries."