Cabinet consider new organisation to run Devon’s libraries

The creation of a new independent organisation to run Devon’s libraries could be given the green light next week.

Devon County Council’s Cabinet will consider final plans to establish a new ‘public service mutual’, which will run the  library service from 1 April 2016.

The County Council will remain responsible for the library service, but will commission the delivery of the service from the new organisation, which will be owned by library staff and the community and managed by a Chief Executive and Board of Trustees.

The new organisation’s name will be Libraries Unlimited South West, but will continue to operate in Devon as ‘Devon Libraries’.

Councillors first agreed the proposals in March, and since then work has been underway to develop a rigorous five year business plan to ensure that the new organisation can save money and able to deliver an affordable, sustainable and innovative library service for Devon.

A key factor in the new organisations viability is due to its legal form as a ‘company limited by guarantee with charitable status’. This set up will optimise commercial and charitable benefits, such as up to 80% relief on business rates, and enable the service to work in a more dynamic and entrepreneurial way outside of the local authority by applying for grants and funds not available to the County Council.

Similar models are successfully running library services in other parts of the country and saving council taxpayers’ money.

Members will hear that ambitious plans for the new organisation include developing the library service to become more efficient and generate new income by, for example, maximising the use of libraries by hiring space and working with other local authorities and the wider business community to provide other services.

As well as maintaining reading, learning and information services for communities across Devon, there are plans to expand support for enterprise, digital opportunities and resident’s health and wellbeing.

The new organisation will also give libraries a more concentrated focus and greater opportunities to engage more directly with customers, communities and partners in order to develop the service.

Cllr Roger CroadCllr Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for the library service, explains:

“Our libraries are about much more than just books, they support health and wellbeing, children’s attainment and economic growth at the very heart of our communities.

“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 is core.

“We know that residents value the innovative, dynamic and vibrant service we have worked hard to develop over the years.

“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 represented on the board of the organisation, whose sole focus will be running excellent libraries.

“The library service already benefits from the involvement of over 39 Friends Groups and the new organisation will build their involvement and support, along with the enthusiasm and skills of our professional staff to help the new organisation deliver their ambitious plans to bring ideas, imagination, information and knowledge to our communities.”

Subject to Cabinet approval, the remaining trustees to the Board will be recruited from library staff, Library Friends Groups and Independent trustees over the coming months. The Chief Executive will also be appointed and a restructure of the existing Libraries’ Management Team will take place.

Devon County Council’s Cabinet will meet on Wednesday 11th November at 10.15am at County Hall. You can watch the meeting live online.

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