Lancashire County Council could be forced to defend its library closures at public inquiry, should a Blackpool MP get his way.
Paul Maynard, the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, has written to libraries minister Matt Hancock calling for a formal investigation into the decision to shut 29 libraries across the county including those in Thornton, Cleveleys, Lytham and Freckleton.
The authority says it has to shut buildings to save cash, with reserves predicted to run dry in three years.
But Mr Maynard – who in a letter to campaigners described the county’s consultation as ‘a sham’ – believes County Hall is in breach of the 1964 Libraries Act due to the scale of the closure programme.
He said: “The act says provision has to be fair and comprehensive. In my view what Lancashire has decided is not comprehensive and is far from fair. The libraries are due to close tomorrow.
“It is too late to save them now but I want Lancashire County Council to be held to account for its actions.”
I hope we can still come up with a community-based solution and I would ask Mr Maynard to work with us to make that happen
Mr Maynard points to a similar public inquiry in Wirral – where the council was proven to be in breach of the act – as precedent for his calls.
He said: “The consultation they carried out changed very little. All they wanted to do was to get these facilities closed down as soon as they could.”
But deputy leader of Lancashire County Council David Borrow made clear there was no need for a public inquiry.
He said the door remained open for community groups to take over the running of the libraries in Thornton and Cleveleys and called on Mr Maynard to work with County Hall to find a solution.
He said: “Mr Maynard is entitled to ask the minister to consider a public inquiry
“However, during the consultation period we worked very hard to engage with the public and ensure the proposals were compliant with the act. This decision was taken within the context of the financial difficulties facing the council
“Figures published by PricewaterhouseCoopers this week confirmed the difference between revenue and expenditure will be around £50m
“We received proposals from community groups to take over the running of a number of library facilities.
“So far no plan has been put forward for Thornton and Cleveleys.”
However Coun Borrow said the door remained open for the Friends of Thornton and Cleveleys Libraries to step in.
He added: “I have spoken with representatives of the group and we will be sending out the finance packs this week.
“I hope we can still come up with a community-based solution and I would ask Mr Maynard to work with us to make that happen.
“I would also hope he could raise the issues being faced by Lancashire with his fellow ministers.”