‘Co-op’ proposal could save county’s libraries

Bury ST Edmunds Library
Bury ST Edmunds Library
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ALL 44 Suffolk libraries will be saved thanks to a unique, cost-saving co-operative.

The plan is to set up an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS), which is a social enterprise with charitable status overseen by the Financial Services Authority. It is also a co-operative with libraries part of it and sharing any profits.

Councillor in charge of the county’s libraries consultation Judy Terry said: “Nobody else in the country is doing anything like this. An IPS came out as the most cost-effective option with about 27 per cent savings.”

She said that setting up an ‘arm’s length’ company should cut bureaucracy and avoid pulling in overheads like a share of County Hall’s running costs. The annual library bill should fall from £8.961 million in 2010/11 to £6.487 million.

She added: “There are lots of management policies in local government that don’t equate to running a business. An IPS will run it as a business.”

Officials stressed that community involvement will depend on the enthusiasm of the community. Local library organisations will raise five per cent of the costs which would be £100,000 across the 44, but could be as little as a few hundred pounds for small libraries.

Cllr Terry praised the ‘passion’ people had for their libraries. “They came up with some very positive ideas,” she said. “They didn’t just say ‘we don’t want our library to close’ they said’ we don’t want our library to close, why don’t you try this?’

“Some of the smaller libraries may have been sacrificed if people hadn’t been so passionate about keeping them.”

The move is expected to cost ‘fewer than 20 jobs’ but the county’s assistant director for culture Guenever Pachent said there would be no compulsory redundancies.

She added: “The jobs will be from tiers of management and people at the centre. There are four tiers [of management] and we envisage having two.”

Staff transferred to the IPS will retain their county employment terms, salaries and pensions, though new staff may have different conditions.

Seven pilots, including Thurston library, have shown they can raise small funds and, if the full county council approves the plan next month, they will become the first IPS libraries from April 2012.

Chairman of Thurston Library Working Group Richard Fawcett said: “When I look at what some authorities have done, the fact all the libraries will stay open shows they’ve taken notice of all the representations. Keeping them all open has to be good for Suffolk as a whole.

“We’re certainly keen to make sure Thurston library remains open and will do all we can to make sure all its services continue to be run for the community as a whole.”

The county is also proposing mobile libraries will reduce visits from every two weeks to four and no longer call at places served by a fixed library.