Councillors agree plans for future of Hertfordshire libraries

Published: 17 Apr 2018

Councillors have today (Tuesday 17 March) recommended a new approach for providing library services in Hertfordshire. A Public Service Mutual (PSM) model has been endorsed, subject to a full business plan, which could result in the creation of a new independent organisation to provide library services on behalf of the council. The decision follows a public consultation, which received more than 2,000 responses, which asked for views on a range of different approaches.  The PSM model has already been successfully implemented in a number of other areas in recent years, including Devon, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk and York. 

Taryn Pearson-Rose, Assistant Director Customer Services and Libraries, said:

“We have seen Hertfordshire Libraries make significant achievements in delivering the ‘Inspiring Libraries Strategy 2014- 2024’, which has seen refurbished and new library buildings, new digital services, closer working with local communities and increased popularity with residents.   We want our libraries to continue to flourish long into the future and given the financial pressures we are under and the savings we need to make, a Public Service Mutual is a model that would allow savings to be made without reducing the quality of service customers receive.”

The results of the consultation confirmed the value residents place on library services, with 67.2% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing with the ambitions set out in our Inspiring Libraries Strategy. In terms of the proposal to adopt a new model, there was no majority in favour or against the proposals. Although more people (41.7%) disagreed, than agreed (30.6%) the remainder (27.7%) expressing no preference.  Comments suggested that respondents’ main concern was maintaining the quality of library services.

By adopting the new approach, we can potentially access a range of benefits which we can’t access at the moment, including immediate savings on non-domestic rates.  It will also allow a greater degree of commercial freedom, allowing us to develop new sources of funding such as sponsorship and offer greater flexibility, enabling the service to respond quicker to opportunities or changes in customer demand.

Taryn Pearson-Rose, added:

“The County Council has worked through an in-depth process, with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport support, exploring and challenging every option available to us. Our ultimate aim is to ensure that the Library Service continues to deliver quality services and be in the best possible position to thrive into the future. By pursuing a Public Service Mutual 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 local residents.”

The recommendation will now go to Cabinet for approval at the end of April. A full business case will be developed, alongside an implementation plan, which will both be considered by Cabinet in September, with a view to launching the new model in April 2019.