Councillors to decide on future for Hertfordshire's libraries

Published: 15 Oct 2018

Councillors will be considering the next steps for our Inspiring Libraries strategy at a meeting of the Education, Libraries, and Localism Cabinet Panel on Thursday. Over the last four years the county council has invested £4 million in library buildings and technology, whilst making savings in the services revenue budget. With continued pressures on budgets across the council, we launched a consultation earlier in the year to get residents’ and library users’ views on proposals to operate our library service in a different way. 

Terry Douris, Cabinet Member for Libraries, said:

“We are proud of what we have achieved over the past four years, through our Inspiring Libraries strategy - improving library buildings in many parts of the county, developing technology and online services, and creating a model for volunteer-partnered community libraries to ensure that we can maintain local libraries in smaller communities. Library usage has increased during this period, and we want this to continue.

“We know how much our residents value their libraries, and we do too.  The reason we are going through this process is quite simply to find the best way to ensure that Hertfordshire libraries continue to thrive into the future. At the same time, we have made savings of around £2.5million from the library service budget, and we now have to find £500,000 of further savings. If we didn’t look at an alternative way of delivering our much-loved service, we would have to consider closing libraries, cutting opening hours, and reducing the range of services and support we offer. We do not want to do any of these things, as all of them would be contrary to the ambitions we set out in our inspiring libraries plan.”

Following the consultation, the council’s Cabinet endorsed an outline business case, which identified from the options under consideration at that time, that the preferred model for the future delivery of library services, would be a form of Public Service Mutual (PSM).This type of model is already used successfully in other parts of the country, most notably in Devon and in Nottinghamshire, and makes it easier for services to be more flexible as well as allowing them to access new and different sources of funding.

In order to move to the next stage in the process, councillors will need to approve plans to commence a procurement process. Any organisation bidding to run the service in the future will have to meet a demanding list of requirements, including the need to deliver the County Council’s ‘Inspiring Libraries’ Strategy and maintain the quality and range of services currently on offer, at the same time as meeting savings targets.

Councillors are also being asked to agree to the creation of a Hertfordshire Library Service PSM. The PSM will develop its plans for running the library service and these will be considered in the same way as any other proposals that are put forward as part of the process.

The proposals are being considered by Councillors at the Education, Libraries and Localism Panel on 18 October and if approved by the council’s Cabinet on 22 October, the procurement process is likely to begin in spring 2019, with a view to starting the new contract for the delivery of library services in the autumn 2019.

Cllr Douris, added:

“This is a really important process and we want to do everything in our power to make sure we find the best future solution for our libraries. Whatever we decide to do, we will not be selling off our libraries – we’ve got a statutory responsibility to provide library services, so any independent organisation will be accountable to the council for the provision of the service and the council will remain accountable to local residents.