2009 Public Inquiry into Wirral Council’s library closures including Bill Norman’s email and Sue Charteris letter
Reading through the Wirral Council’s response to critical reports 2010-2013 there is one report not included because it was published about a month before the cutoff date of 2010, it’s the report written by Sue Charteris following the public inquiry ordered by the Secretary of State into Wirral’s library closure program held at the Floral Pavilion which describes Wirral’s failure in these terms “The Public Inquiry into Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council’s (MBC) Library Service has found the Council’s decision to restructure its Library Service to be in breach of its statutory duties under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, to provide ‘comprehensive and efficient public Library Services for all persons desirous to make use thereof'”
The text of Bill Norman’s email to councillors who received a copy of the draft report, before the final report was published is below along with a link to the letter from Sue Charteris (marked private and confidential).
From: Norman, Bill D.
Sent: 13 October 2009 18:03
Cc: Chief Officers; Lester, Jim L.; Degg, Emma J.; Lyon, Rosemary A.; MacLaverty, Paula K.; Pennington, Abigail; Watts, Margaret
Subject: Extraordinary Council – 12 October 2009
Following last night’s Extraordinary Council meeting, please find attached a copy of the letter dated 27 July 2009 from Sue Charteris to me. The letter enclosed two copies of the draft Report prepared by Ms Charteris following the two day Wirral Libraries Public Inquiry.
The 27 July letter makes it clear that the draft Report was provided to me on the basis of a specific obligation of confidentiality. Because Sue Charteris was appointed by the Secretary of State to conduct the Libraries Inquiry, her requirements as to confidentiality are the requirements of the Secretary of State and are legally enforceable. This has the effect of making the draft Report ‘confidential information’ for the purposes of Part 5A of the Local Government Act 1972.
Confidential information is different to ‘exempt information’. With exempt information, Members may resolve to exclude the press and public from meetings; but it is a matter for their discretion. (In addition, Part 5A of the 1972 Act provides for all Members generally to have an entitlement to receive exempt reports.) Confidential information is different: the Council must comply with the terms upon which the information is provided. Section 100A(2) of the 1972 Act expressly makes clear that nothing in Part 5A authorises or requires the disclosure of confidential information in breach of the obligation of confidentiality.
In line with the terms of the obligation of confidentiality in the 27 July letter, I have only circulated the draft Report to those Members within the Cabinet and those officers from whom I needed comments prior to responding to Sue Charteris. That response by me to Sue Charteris is also covered by the same obligation of confidentiality. The obligation of confidentiality remains in place and no Member or officer should publicly discuss the contents of the draft Report prior to the Secretary of State’s decision being published.
As was pointed out last night, the 27 July letter does not list the names of who may see the draft report. As the recipient of the letter, that judgement fell to me and I accept personal responsibility for my decision in that regard (this was not a matter on which I took any external legal advice). However, I wish to emphasise that my decision was absolutely not intended to be a reflection as to any individual Member’s ability to respect confidences.
I was asked last night to list those persons to whom I have shown a copy of the draft Report. Although I do not believe that there is any legal obligation on me to disclose this information, equally I understand the exceptional level of interest in this matter. I have therefore decided to provide that information.
In order to enable me to respond to Sue Charteris on the contents of her draft report (which was a combination of factual corrections, clarifications and legal arguments) copies of the draft report were provided to the following persons:
Steve Maddox, Chief Executive
Jim Wilkie, Deputy Chief Executive
Alan Stennard, Director of Regeneration
Ian Coleman, Director of Finance
Howard Cooper, Director of Children and Young People
Jim Lester, Head of Cultural Services
Emma Degg, Head of Tourism and Marketing
Rosemary Lyon, Interim Head of Legal and Member Services
Councillor Steve Foulkes, Leader of the Council
Councillor Simon Holbrook, Deputy Leader of the Council
Councillor Phil Davies
Councillor Gill Gardiner
Councillor Bob Moon
Under the Public Libraries (Inquiry Procedure) Rules 1992, the Final report by Sue Charteris will either be published with the Secretary of State’s Decision letter, or will be available on request by any person who appeared at the Inquiry and asked to be notified of the Decision (which I believe will include a number of Councillors who spoke at the Inquiry). Given that the Final report will become public knowledge, in my view there cannot be any ‘public interest’ justification for disclosing the contents of the Report prior to the Secretary of State’s Decision. In the light of this, any Councillor who breaches the obligation of confidentiality would also be likely to be in breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct.
If any Member wishes to have more information of the legal framework for my decision, or on the Public Libraries (Inquiry Procedure) Rules, please let me know.
I have no objection to this email being shared with the press or public. However, the attached letter was written by Sue Charteris and I ask that you seek her permission before disclosing it to anyone else.
Director of Law, HR and Asset Management
Tel: 0151 691 8497
Visit our website www.wirral.gov.uk
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