- Meeting of Tourism, Communities, Culture & Leisure Committee, Thursday, 9th March 2023 6.00 p.m. (Item 69.)
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Gail Jenkinson attended the meeting to ask a question on whether the impact of the loss of library services could be considered before it becomes a budget proposal in future years to save residents the distress of losing lifelines to social interaction and mental wellbeing.
The Chair responded that the context to this was that the External Assurance Report produced by CIPFA and published in November 2021 (as a requirement of the Council’s request for a capitalisation directive) highlighted the following: “Overall Council spending is high compared to similar unitary authorities. This is particularly the case for cultural and related leisure services, where spending in Wirral per head is the highest of the 15 other statistical neighbour councils”. It was for this reason that non-statutory services were a key focus of Council savings plans in 2022/23 and 2023/24.
An equality impact assessment (EIA) was a tool that helped organisations such as the Council ensure that any decisions, practices, and policies are fair, and did not discriminate against any protected groups. Each budget saving and the impacts of, were considered against the 9 protected characteristics where appropriate, as defined by the Equality Act 2010: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race and ethnicity, religion or belief, biological sex, and sexual orientation. An Equality impact Assessment is not a legal requirement; however, The Council did have a legal obligation to take the Public Sector Equality Duty (Section 149) when we make our decisions and deliver our services. EIA’s were therefore undertaken to assist with the Council’s responsibility under equality law. Equality implications were considered at every stage of the process, however, depending on the proposal it was sometimes not possible to be as precise as we would like, until impacts emerge. The Equality Duty was an ongoing obligation and did not stop when an EIA is produced. Factors that were considered as part of the EIA budget process included, but weren’t limited to workforce, communities, and services. As part of the budget process, equality implications were given sufficient weight alongside any other important considerations. Decision makers should consider the impacts and if they feel that the decision would be discriminatory, or the impact too great, they could ask Officers for more information, to reconsider or to not accept the proposal.
As your question references Libraries and Greasby Library in particular;
Wirral Libraries were pleased to report that the budget options that affected the Service were not being taken forward and there were no plans to close or relocate any libraries at present. The Council could now move forward to ensure full delivery of our Library Strategy which will provide a balanced, sustainable, modern, and fit for purpose Library Service which will ensure that all Wirral residents have access to a comprehensive and efficient service.
To that end, there would be extended opening hours in most of our libraries including community libraries. Greasby for example, would now be open four weekdays and every Saturday morning and the extended offer equated to an additional 91 hours per week across the Library Service. A range of activities (most of them free of charge) would be continued to be offered and plans were underway to deliver events for World Book Night and an exciting Summer Reading Challenge for children over the summer holidays.
A supplementary question was asked on whether, given that the majority of single parents and family carers are women, could it be considered discriminatory to propose the closure of libraries. The Chair agreed that a written response would be provided within 10 working days.