Library services in Hertfordshire WILL continue to be run by the county council

The council had drawn-up plans to transfer the library service to ‘Libraries for Life’

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 3:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 3:02 pm

Hertfordshire councillors have decided that the library service WILL continue to be run by the county council.

The council had drawn-up plans to transfer the library service to ‘Libraries for Life’ – in a move that was expected to cut the cost of the service by £500,000 a year.

But the planned transfer was initially delayed and then – when the pandemic took hold – put on hold ‘indefinitely’.

Library services in Hertfordshire will continue to be run by the county council

And on Monday, October 18, – at a meeting of the county council’s cabinet – councillors decided to keep the libraries ‘in-house’.

Speaking at the meeting of the cabinet, executive member for education, libraries and life-long learning Cllr Terry Douris pointed to continuing uncertainty in the wake of the pandemic.

And as a result of that, he said it had been ‘appropriate’ to look again at the transfer decision, which he said had been initially considered in April 2018.

He told the cabinet that although there had been ‘a recovery of sorts’, footfall in libraries remained lower than before the pandemic and virtual visits higher.

And he pointed to the additional costs and ‘challenges’ of continuing with the transfer after the delay – such as the need to survey library properties for a second time, as well as additional costs associated with HR changes, insurance and pension facilities.

As a result, he said they had decided it was ‘not appropriate’ to continue with the transfer.

“All of those draw us to the belief that we need to now have a level of absolute certainty and consistency going forward,” said Cllr Douris.

“And on that basis, I think […] that it is not appropriate now for us to continue with the transfer of the library service to Libraries for Life and that the library service should remain in house.”

At the meeting, executive member for the environment Cllr Eric Buckmaster said he agreed that it was appropriate to review the decision, because so much had changed.

He highlighted the role of libraries as community hubs, as well as for the borrowing of books.

And he said that retaining the service in-house would retain the flexibility that was now needed.

“I think a really useful opportunity to rethink the service and how we deliver it for the benefit of all our residents,” he said.

Meanwhile, executive member for resources and performance Cllr Bob Deering said Hertfordshire had a library service to be proud of – and he said the expense of transfer would be disproportionate.

Libraries for Life is a ‘public service mutual’ that was set up by the council specifically to take over the running of the libraries.

And in 2018, it was estimated that a transfer would achieve savings of £500,000 a year – while continuing to offer an affordable, sustainable and responsive library service for residents.

That transfer had been expected to happen in April 2020 – but with just two weeks to go the council and the Libraries for Life board decided to delay the transfer.

According to the report to the cabinet, the work to establish the public service mutual and other costs associated with the proposed transfer come to around £460,000.

At the meeting, Cllr Douris also highlighted the work of the library service staff and volunteers.

And he paid tribute to the patience of the members of Libraries for Life’s shadow board.