Select Committee sees the shape of county libraries to come

The library servicein Buckinghamshire could be converted to run as a charitable trust in the future.

Severe pressure on council budgets in the coming three years means the county library service must save at least £1 million.

Library Service Manager David Jonessays the service, which has already found £2m savings in the past six years, needed to look more radicallyat the way things are done to save more money.

Today (Tuesday 1 March), the County Council’s Transport, Environment and Communities Select Committee were presented with three options for a future library service, from a thoroughly researched ‘options appraisal’.

The research, said David, aimed to identify ways to save money while protecting and enhancing the service.

With Cabinet Member Martin Phillips, David had looked at seven options butonly threeheld any kind ofpromise:

1: ‘As is’ – continuing libraries under the existing model of local council management funded by the taxpayer through County Hall’s budget.

2: ‘Outsource’ -go out to competitive tender and commission the library service from an external organisation as a County Council contract.

3: ‘Spin out’ – set up and run libraries as a new, independent not-for-profitorganisation, through a commissioning contract with the County Council.

David Jones said that while continuing libraries as they were was the lowest risk option, they wouldn’t be able to make as many savings or generate as much income as commissioning externally.

Pursuing the not-for-profit routewould be more risky, he told the Select Committee, but would attract tax advantages that would significantly reduce costs and open up new channels of funding not available to local authorities.

‘The financial modelling suggests this option is most likely to achieve our savings targets, while providing a sustainable service for the long term,’ he said.

The deeper level of staff involvement inrunning the libraries servicewith a ‘spin out’ would benefit the quality of service, with stronger commitment and better staff retention.

The next move, he said, would be to work up a detailed business case exploring this option, double-check the potential costs, savings,procurement options and implications, andundertake extensive public consultation.

Martin Phillips said: ‘While keeping the libraries in-house is clearly the safest option, because we’re all used to the procedures and processes, we can’t be innovative and exploit the new sources of income that a not-for-profit set-up would allow.

‘I want to maintain the ethos of our libraries as a place for everyone, as a facility we value, and I see the “spin-out” option as the best and most cost-effective way to create the stability we want.

‘It’sthe mostpositive way forward to keep our libraries open, and to strengthen them as hubs in the community for a wider range of services.’

Select Committee Chairman David Carroll said: ‘The future of our libraries is an emotive issue, and we’re asking some challenging questions to try to develop a positive outcomefor our residents. We’ve asked them to have a look attheir business case and a consultation process to satisfy Members’ concerns on behalf of our communities.’