Ombudsman 'pulls out of Wirral library inquiry'

A WIRRAL MP has criticised the local government watchdog for ending her inquiry into highly-controversial plans to close 11 of the borough's libraries.

The Local Government Ombudsman, Anne Seex, has said that she will discontinue her probe into Wirral Councilís Strategic Asset Review following the announcement by culture secretary Andy Burnham that a local inquiry will be carried out.

Last week, it was announced that Sue Charteris is to chair the local inquiry, which will be completed by the end of May, with her report to Mr Burnham expected in June.

Wirral South MP Ben Chapman said constituents, especially those who have written personally to the ombudsman, will be unhappy to learn her review will be abandoned.

He said: "The inquiry to be conducted by Sue Charteris has a different remit from the investigations undertaken by the ombudsman.

"I have consistently emphasised that the councilís decision was in some instances wrong in both form and substance.

"While Ms Charteris will examine whether the decision is consistent with the councilís statutory duty to provide a Ďcomprehensive and efficientí library service, her inquiry will not necessarily cover issues such as the councilís failure in some cases adequately to inform or consult residents or staff in a timely and sufficient manner.

"I am not clear that the remit of Ms Charterisí inquiry covers all the same ground as the ombudsman would have done."

His Parliamentary colleague, Wirral West MP Stephen Hesford, who had handed over a dossier of evidence to the ombudsman some weeks ago, said: "I am rather disappointed she has written to constituents indicating she is withdrawing from the library inquiry.

"However, it seems to me she is taking a back seat while the 'big guns' of the Secretary of State's review come into action.

"In the meantime, I have once again written to her asking she presents that review with all the information collected so far to ensure that material is considered by Sue Charteris."

Ms Charteris has said all interested parties will be invited to present their views to her inquiry.