The county council has already made £2m in cuts to the service in the past six years but is now considering setting it up as independent body seperate from the authority.
Named the ‘spin out’ option, it would see the creation of a not-for-profit organisation, through a commissioning contract with the county council.
Yesterday a Bucks County Council select committee was told a total of seven options were considered, but the only other two deemed at all feasible are:
n ‘As is’: Continuing libraries under the existing model of local council management funded by the taxpayer through County Hall’s budget.
n ‘Outsource’: Go out to competitive tender and commission the library service from an external organisation as a county council contract.
Library service manager David Jones said that while continuing libraries as they were was the lowest risk option, they wouldn’t be able to make as many savings or generate as much income as commissioning externally.
Pursuing the not-for-profit route would be more risky, he told the select committee, but would attract tax advantages that would significantly reduce costs and open up new channels of funding such as grants not available to local authorities.
He said: “The financial modelling suggests this option is most likely to achieve our savings targets, while providing a sustainable service for the long term.”
The deeper level of staff involvement in running the libraries service with a ‘spin out’ would benefit the quality of service, with stronger commitment and better staff retention, he said.
He said outsourcing was the ‘least attractive option’: “The risk around the customer perception of the service is high – there is a perception among stakeholders that this option represents ‘privatisation’ of the service – something they find unpalatable.”
Bucks County Council cabinet member Martin Phillips said: “While keeping the libraries in-house is clearly the safest option, because we’re all used to the procedures and processes, we can’t be innovative and exploit the new sources of income that a not-for-profit set-up would allow.
“I want to maintain the ethos of our libraries as a place for everyone, as a facility we value, and I see the ‘spin-out’ option as the best and most cost-effective way to create the stability we want.
“It’s the most positive way forward to keep our libraries open, and to strengthen them as hubs in the community for a wider range of services.’
Select committee chairman David Carroll said: ‘The future of our libraries is an emotive issue, and we’re asking some challenging questions to try to develop a positive outcome for our residents. We’ve asked them to have a look at their business case and a consultation process to satisfy members’ concerns on behalf of our communities.”