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Devon libraries to be outsourced to private company owned by staff

Devon County Council is set to approve the creation of a new private organisation next week (11 November) to run its libraries, to ensure the service remains economically viable.

The council’s cabinet will look into final plans for the library service, first agreed by councillors in March, to assess whether services should begin from April 2016.

The new company would be a public services mutual, for which the county council would still be responsible. The delivery of services would be commissioned from the new organisation – which will be owned by library staff and the community and managed by a chief executive and board of trustees.

Although the company’s name will be Libraries Unlimited South West, it will retain its former character by operating as Devon Libraries. It will legally be a ‘company limited by guarantee with charitable status’, optimising commercial and charitable benefits – including up to 80% relief on business rates.

The council also expects the new model to work in a more “dynamic and entrepreneurial” way by being able to apply for grants and funds outside the council’s reach.

cllr-roger-croadCllr Roger Croad, the county council’s cabinet member responsible for the service, explained: “These ambitious plans will give our libraries the opportunity to grow, and the communities who enjoy the services on offer, and the staff that enjoy providing them, will have a real stake and influence over their future.

“They will have a more direct say in the running of the library service because they will own the new organisation as part of the public service mutual, and their interests will be directly presented on the board of the organisation, whose sole focus will be running excellent libraries.”

Plans to ensure the organisation will remain cost-effective were partly based on similar successful models across the country.

These will include developing a service that can generate income by hiring space and working with other councils and the wider business to provide other services, thus maximising its use.

There are also plans in place to expand the traditional reading, learning and information services to include support for enterprise, digital opportunities and residents’ health and wellbeing.

Croad said this is because Devon’s libraries are about “much more than just books” – they are also meant to support the community’s wellbeing, children’s attainment and overall economic growth.

“This new independent organisation will secure the future of Devon’s library service and ensure it continues to develop to meet the changing needs of these communities who are at its core,” he added.

If the cabinet approves the service next week, the remaining board members will be recruited from library staff, Library Friends Groups and independent trustees over the coming months.                                                                         


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