Wirral Council faces criticism over sale of Bromborough Library

Wirral councillors have been slammed over the sale of a local library.

The local authority was criticised by a library friends group following a decision on 12 July by councillors at a Policy and Resources committee to put Bromborough Civic Centre up for sale.

The library was up for sale as part of a group of assets the local authority was looking to sell to balance its finances. This is after it approached the government in 2021 for emergency financial assistance, known as a capitalisation directive, or face bankruptcy.

A condition of this funding was that Wirral Council would look to sell off any unneeded assets in order to pay this back and at the meeting, a number of votes were held to sell off car parks, an outdoor centre, an old town hall, and former libraries.

While the vote was held in private, both Wirral’s Greens and Liberal Democrats have said that Labour and Conservatives voted to sell off the centre criticising both parties.

However, the Conservatives said those parties knew the council had to sell off assets when it accepted the emergency funding and accuses them of not facing the consequences of previous decisions.

The civic centre and library were closed in 2022 following budget cuts that year. Since then two highly-rated bids were put forward to take over the running but due to “very clear and unambiguous” advice from financial officers in the council, this process came to an end last night.

Mo Miller, the chair of the Friends of Bromborough Library said they were “bitterly disappointed” about the decision, adding, “Any money generated from its sale is highly unlikely to benefit the community of Bromborough in any way. The health and wellbeing of our community is to be sold to the highest bidder.”

Ema Wilkes, CEO of one of the takeover bidders Neo Community, said, “While we understand the financial challenges being faced by Wirral Council, we are extremely disappointed that our proposed takeover of Bromborough Civic Centre has not been approved.

“We know that there is a clear gap in provision in the area that needs to be filled urgently as we experience this first-hand.” The non-profit said it is now looking for new locations.

Bromborough councillor Jo Bird said, “It’s a very divisive decision that damages the council’s relationship with communities across the Wirral because the council selling Bromborough civic centre for the highest price shows it can mislead any community and sell any loved asset.”

Liberal Democrat leader Phil Gilchrist added, “This is a kick in the teeth for all those who have worked so hard to bring life back to this building. It dashes their aims and hopes. It confirms my worst fears. It is a backward step that will sour relations with the council for a long time ahead.”

However Conservative leader Jeff Green said the committee had a responsibility to look at the finances across the council after “the financial mess that the previous Labour administration got us into.”

Labour have argued cuts to government funding resulted in the council’s current financial position but Cllr Green pointed to historical uses of reserves in budgets. He added, “If we hadn’t got into this mess we wouldn’t have needed the directive and we wouldn’t have needed to pay it back. If it wasn’t this asset it would have been a different one.”

He also accused Liberal Democrats and Greens of not following through on previous decisions, adding, “What was their view when the council offered its capitalisation? Did they say we shouldn’t accept it? Did the Lib Dems say we wouldn’t accept it? But when it comes to the consequences of those decisions they want to say it’s nothing to do with us.”

Wirral Council leader Paul Stuart also defended the decision. He said, “When I was elected leader of Wirral Council, I emphasised the need for honesty and realism in facing the challenges the council and its residents are facing.

“The Director of Regeneration and Place recommended the disposal of Bromborough civic centre & library and the Section 151 officer provided clear advice to the P&R committee to not continue with the CAT (community asset transfer) process and to dispose of the asset.”

He added, “Selling assets that are no longer needed for service delivery is an important part of ensuring Wirral remains financially secure and sustainable. This financial stability will enable the council to provide essential frontline services to the people of our borough.”

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