Herts libraries to go out to tender to save £500K

PUBLISHED: 12:12 24 October 2018 | UPDATED: 12:22 24 October 2018

Welwyn Garden City library in Campus West.
Picture: Nina Morgan

Welwyn Garden City library in Campus West. Picture: Nina Morgan

Archant

Plans to change the way libraries across Hertfordshire are run have been given the go-ahead by councillors, as part of a drive to save £500,000.

Inside the newly refurbished Hitchin Library. Picture: Danny LooInside the newly refurbished Hitchin Library. Picture: Danny Loo

The running of libraries across the county will now go out to tender to be run by an outside provider.

But members of Hertfordshire County Council’s Cabinet have also backed plans to set up a ‘public service mutual’ which will bid to run the service.

The two decisions were taken at a meeting of the county council’s Cabinet on Monday (October 22).

The tendering process is now expected to start next year, with control of the libraries being handed over by autumn 2019.

At the cabinet, council leader Cllr David Williams said the plans could allow the library service to benefit from additional funding streams, while being underpinned by existing values.

He said: “I am immensely proud of the library service we provide to Hertfordshire residents – and I think those values underscore the sort of library service I am expecting to see going forward.

“I think there is a great future for the library service in Hertfordshire.”

The plans have been drawn up to make savings of £500,000 from the library budgets without impacting planned library improvements.

Hitchin Library. Picture: Danny LooHitchin Library. Picture: Danny Loo

If no change is made to the way the services are delivered, there are fears libraries may have to close, opening hours may have to be reduced and fewer materials purchased.

Public service mutuals are organisations that have left the public sector, but continue delivering public services.

According to the plans, any alternative provider would have to commit to deliver the improvements in the council’s ‘Inspiring Libraries’ strategy.

They would also have to make the required savings, focus on quality provision, invest in the service and be rooted in the community.

Baldock Library, Baldock. Picture: DANNY LOOBaldock Library, Baldock. Picture: DANNY LOO

In April, the council backed an ‘outline’ business case for a public service mutual after consulting with the public and concluding that a public service mutual would have the greatest scope to deliver an affordable, sustainable and responsive library service.

Since then, the council has drawn up a detailed business case.

It could, it is said, achieve significant savings without requiring reductions in services.

That’s largely because – provided it’s accepted as having charitable status – the ‘mutal’ would be exempt from national non-domestic rates (business rates).

The report states that achieving charitable status is “crucial” to the mutual business model.

According to the report the cost of the procurement process would be around £280,000.

Whichever organisation ultimately runs the libraries, the council will retain statutory responsibility for library services.

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