Hertfordshire County Council funding woes force decision to sub-contract our libraries

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

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

Plans to create an independent organisation to deliver Hertfordshire’s libraries on behalf of the cash-strapped county council are set to be introduced next year, as the library service struggles to find £3 million in savings.

Herts County Council has already identified £2.5million in savings, but must now make a further reduction of £500,000 by 2019/2020.

Cabinet has endorsed an outline business case for a Public Service Mutual – an independent organisation that delivers public services – which is predicted to make savings of £2,340,487 by 2023/24. But this could be considered a high-risk approach, as it will only be financially viable if the PSM is awarded charitable status and is able to reclaim 80 per cent of the business rates.

Lib Dem county councillor Mark Watkin said: “Expecting the 10 district councils, as well as the county council, to forego their business rate income is not a socially acceptable approach to solving the financial challenge.”

The PSM would also be eligible for grant funding not available to in-house council services, and could develop new sources of funding, such as sponsorship and donations.

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Many staff have expressed anxieties about job security and reductions in pay and pensions, but HCC says employment conditions will be protected.

The outline business case states: “Without a radical change in the way the service is delivered, the county council would be forced to contemplate significant service reductions. This may include closures, reductions in opening hours, and staff reductions.

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“The financial pressure on the county council budget seems certain to continue, and the focus is likely to be concentrated on higher risk areas, such as social care and development, which could leave limited capacity to invest in lower risk services, such as public libraries.”

Taryn Pearson-Rose, assistant director for customer services and libraries, said: “A PSM would allow savings to be made without reducing the quality of service customers receive.

“The county council is not privatising libraries or outsourcing services to a profit-making organisation. The council will retain the statutory responsibility to provide library services, so any independent service will still be accountable to the council and residents.”

A detailed business case will be presented to HCC’s cabinet in September, with the scheme set to be launched in April next year.

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