Jun 10 2009 By Matt Hurst
THE public inquiry into council attempts to close eleven libraries concluded today, with a verdict expected by the end of July.
Wirral Council's director of regeneration, Alan Stennard faced questioning from inquiry chair, Sue Charteris, who has been charged with discovering the best route forward for library provision by Culture, Media and Sport minister, Ben Bradshaw MP.
Mr Stennard was pushed on whether assessments of need were carried out by the council, ahead of the recommendations that formed a large part of the controversial Strategic Asset Review (SAR).
He conceded that no specific assessments were made.
Sue Charteris continued to quiz Mr Stennard for most of the morning, making it clear she was less concerned by the merits of his argument for less libraries, and more interested in how those conclusions had been reached and what evidence had been collected.
In the afternoon, Wirral Council's QC Richard Clayton reminded those assembled of the remit of the inquiry, which is to determine whether the authority has breached the Libraries Act 1964.
The key requirement of this is to provide a "comprehensive and efficient service".
Richard Clayton QC said: "'Here we are concerned with a judgement made, that makes it necessary to impose restrictions on provision to sustain a budget.
"The question, in these circumstances, is is there a breach."
As the inquiry concluded, Craig Westwood, appearing on behalf of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, said: "The Secretary of State recognises the difficulty for local authorities in making decisions for allocation of resources.
"In the context of the current economic environment the Secretary of State does not believe library closures are inherently a bad thing but it is important library closures are taken in the context of a reasonable understanding of what local need is."
Sue Charteris finished with: "I do leave with a very good impression of the borough.
"Thank you very much for the time and consideration you have all given me and wish me luck in being wise, as I work my way through some complex issues and tyr to do justice to points that have been made."