At today’s meeting of the Education, Libraries and Localism Cabinet Panel. The Liberal Democrat team voted against the County’s plans to outsource their much loved and highly popular Library Service while the Labour Group leader abstained. In spite of this, the Conservative led Panel agreed to the County developing a detailed business case before finally deciding whether to go ahead with the scheme.
The Conservative run County Council is being forced into making swingeing cuts across all of its services, and in particular is looking to save £1min the Library Service as a result of the withdrawal of funding from the Conservative Government. It aims to do this by establishing a public Service Mutual (PSM) company to operate all the existing libraries which it will hope will result in achieving the necessary savings. To do this it is paying significant sums for consultancy advice from Mutual Ventures which could have been used to improve the current service.
The Council admits it is a high risk approach as the financial benefits of over £600k per annum will only be achieved if the PSM is awarded charitable status and is able to reclaim 80% of the business rates that the Libraries pay.
Mark Watkin, opposition spokesperson for Libraries explains “By their own admission, the County Council recognises that the current Library service is relevant, versatile and innovative. Its total usage through visits and online access is increasing. However the outcome of the recent consultation showed that more residents opposed the proposals than supported them, similarly so did a majority of the hard working library staff. The Council needs to have greater confidence in their ability to generate income from a wider use of their facilities. Expecting the County’s 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.”