Hertfordshire libraries transfer to outside contractor delayed

PUBLISHED: 09:39 07 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:40 07 February 2020

Hertfordshire County Council is delayed in transferring control of its libraries to an external contractor. Picture: Archant

Hertfordshire County Council is delayed in transferring control of its libraries to an external contractor. Picture: Archant

Archant

Plans for Herts county council to transfer the running of libraries to an outside provider have been delayed.

'Libraries for Life' - a public sector mutual set up by the county council - was awarded the contract to run the council's 46 libraries last year, and the organisation has been expected to take over the service on December 1.

However it has now emerged the transfer of the service has been delayed until April, amid fears that neither organisation was ready. This means that the council will not make the £179,000 that they had been counting on in the current financial year.

At a meeting of the education, libraries and localism cabinet panel on Wednesday, February 5, councillors were told that the transfer was a "substantial and complex endeavour". They were told that while "tremendous progress" had been made, challenging time-scales created several significant risks for both parties, had the transfer gone ahead as planned.

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The panel heard that when the decision to delay the transfer was taken in November, Libraries for Life had not appointed a chief executive or a finance officer, and just four of the 11 seats on the board of trustees had been filled.

They were also told that pension information had still been required, occupation rights for library premises not owned by the council had not been organised and the contract between the council and Libraries for Life had not been signed.

Since the decision to delay, work had continued and councillors heard that the transfer of the running of the library service is now due to occur on April 1.

Taryn Pearson-Rose, assistant director for customer services and libraries, said she was not concerned by any 'fundamental issues' for the transfer - though she suggested Libraries for Life may not have a chief executive at that stage.

The decision to 'contract out' the running of the libraries was made in October 2019, and Libraries for Life were awarded the contract in July 2019.

It is estimated that Libraries for Life, which has charitable status, could cut the cost of the library service by an estimated £500,000. And, as an organisation separate from the council, it will also be able to consider income from event sponsorship, philanthropic donations and alternative options.

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