Fylde MP Mark Menzies welcomes Government investigation into Lancashire libraries closure

Fylde MP Mark Menzies with  Paul Rigby outside Freckleton Library

The Government has launched an investigation into Lancashire County Council’s decision to close libraries.

Following complaints from MPs and members of the public, Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson has written to Lancashire County Council leader Jennifer Mein to state the Secretary of State is minded to hold an inquiry.

The authority has until June 9 to make representations to the Government.

Fylde MP Mark Menzies, who has campaigned against the closures, said: “From day one it was clear Labour-controlled Lancashire County Council was playing politics with library services on the Fylde coast.

“While libraries in Preston were protected, they were closed with impunity in Fylde and Wyre, traditionally Conservative areas, by Labour and the Independents.

“The county council desperately needs to change; just this week we have seen the number of people earning more than £100,000 at the authority rise by a third to 32 – the third highest in the country.

“So while Fylde residents watched their libraries close and Lancashire County Council blame cuts, the authority chose to pay eight more of its staff more than £100,000, than in the previous year.

“As a result of my campaigning, and being in constant touch with ministers over the past six months, I’m delighted but not surprised that an initial investigation has brought the Government to the conclusion that something is very wrong about the libraries situation.”

The letter to County Coun Mein states: “As you are aware, the Secretary of State has received correspondence complaining about the changes to the library service provision agreed at the Lancashire County Council meeting of 8 September 2016.

“The Secretary of State has considered whether to intervene by ordering an inquiry under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 into the changes in library provision in Lancashire… she is currently minded to order such an inquiry to help determine whether the agreed changes will offer a comprehensive and efficient library service.”

Before the county cuts, Lancashire hade 73 static libraries, along with mobile services, schools and prison provision.

Following the council meeting, the number of static libraries was cut to just 44 (39 fixed and five satellite sites).

Despite a ‘significant amount of information regarding the changes’ from LCC, Department of Culture, Media and Sport Secretary of State Karen Bradley makes clear in the letter she, “considers the criticisms raise a question as to whether LCC is failing to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.”

In particular, the Government is questioning the county authority over its intention to take into account any of the representations made during the consultation period.

County Coun Tim Ashton said: “I am heartened that the Government is looking into this.

“The county has quite clearly not acted in a reasonable manner.

“How can they keep open eight out of nine libraries in Preston, where the leader and deputy leader represent, yet close all but one in Fylde?

“They cannot target libraries like this. The only one to close in Preston was in a Conservative area.

“Libraries are for young and old, able and disabled, wherever you live.

“It was a terrible decision and one I hope the Government will reverse.”

County Coun Paul Rigby added: “The consultation period was utterly appalling.

“It was purely political how they chose which to close. It simply was not fair.

“The residents of Freckleton are owed a second look into the proposed closures and I welcome the Government’s intervention.”

LCC has been ordered to tell the Government about its consultation process, feedback methods, how responses informed proposals, and how members of the public were told of the changes.

It must also demonstrate that it looked into alternative models of delivering a library service, which the Government is so far unconvinced about.

The letter states: “The criticisms suggest that the closure of particular libraries eg Ansdell will create hardship for many library users, particularly the elderly, who will now be required to use public transport to access an alternative static library.

“The criticisms further comment that the closure of certain libraries, such as Thornton Library or Cleveleys Library will be adversely impacted by the withdrawal of LCC’s bus subsidies, resulting in vastly reduced services and potentially vulnerable and elderly residents no longer having access to library services.

“The criticisms further suggest that LCC’s approach to the location of libraries in certain geographical areas, such as Ansdell and Lytham St Annes is ignoring or is inconsistent with its ‘Older People Strategy’.”

The Secretary of State will make a decision on a full inquiry after Lancashire County Council’s submissions are received.

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