Plans to transfer Herts libraries to ‘Libraries for Life’ now under review, councillors told

The review was highlighted to a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 11:43 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 11:44 am

Plans to transfer the running of Hertfordshire libraries to a ‘public service mutual’ are being reconsidered, it has emerged – as part of a further review of library services.

Libraries for Life’ had been due to take over the running of the county’s libraries last year – with estimates suggesting the move could cut the cost of the service by £500,000 a year.

But as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, the transfer of the service was put on hold ‘indefinitely’.

The results of the review are expected to be reported to a meeting of the council’s education, libraries and lifelong learning cabinet panel next month

And now it has emerged that there is a review is looking at whether the transfer – or an ‘alternative option’ – should be pursued.

The results of that review are expected to be reported to a meeting of the council’s education, libraries and lifelong learning cabinet panel next month (October).

Highlighting that review to a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, September 15, director of resources Scott Crudgington told councillors: “There was a move pre-pandemic to move our library service to a Trust.

“But as we were weeks away from that transfer – the board had all been established, all the arrangement for leases etc had been established – […] the pandemic hit.

“And we decided not to transfer at that point because of the uncertainty at that point – and the ability for the new Trust to raise income going forward.

“So that has been put on pause.

“We have learned a lot about the use of our libraries, as a result of the pandemic and the importance of them to the county council.

“So therefore there are options now being presented for the way forward – about whether we now continue with that transfer or an alternative option is pursued.”

Libraries for Life is a public service mutual that was created by people who work in the council’s library service.

And it had been estimated that a transfer to ‘Libraries for Life’ – which has charitable status – could cut the cost of the library service by an estimated £500,000 a year.

Initially the transfer had been scheduled for December 2019 but was moved to April 2020, amid concerns that neither organisation was ready and that there were “several significant risks” for both parties.

However in the April it then emerged that the plans had been put on hold – for the ‘foreseeable future’ – because of the ‘exceptional circumstances’ of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following the meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the county council confirmed the ongoing review of library services.

“A review into the Libraries Service post Covid-19 is currently underway,” he said.

“And once a conclusion has been reached our findings will be shared at the education, libraries and lifelong learning cabinet panel on 14 October.

“As we continue to evaluate our options we remain committed to delivering an outcome which allows us to provide our residents with the best possible libraries service.”