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FOURTEEN libraries in Suffolk have been chosen for a pilot project that will test whether or not community groups can run the service.

The announcement was made yesterday by the county council and follows months of negotiations.

Dedicated groups will now take over part or all of the running of the libraries, which are set to “go live” in April next year.

Suffolk County Council will work with the organisations - including town and parish councils, community groups, a staff collective and an independent community company - to deliver seven pilot projects.

The schemes will be used to assess the effectiveness of the council’s new approach to library services.

Among those chosen was the Wickham Market Partnership, which will run the library in the resource centre in Chapel Lane.

Trustee Colin Owens said: “We considered at length the pros and cons of continuing with our bid to run the library, and also of being a pilot.

“We felt that it would be advantageous to be in at the start. This is very much a community project, and I would stress that we do still need people to come forward and offer their skills to develop the business plan that is required and to take the project into the operational phase.”

Also selected was Sudbury Town Council, which will manage the library on Market Hill.

Deputy town clerk Jacqui Howells said: “The library is another facility the town council is eager to ensure remains in Sudbury.

“As well as being a vital service, the building itself is of great historic importance being the former Corn Exchange.

“Sudbury Town Council is pleased to have been appointed as one of the pilot schemes and is looking forward to working with Suffolk County Council.”

Bosses had said that 29 libraries would have to shut unless people came forward to run them themselves.

However after a tidal wave of public concern the council made a U-turn and instead said it would oversee a new organisation to help run them.

A decision on how that will work will be made in November following a best value evaluation.

The options include an in-house county council business unit – similar to the existing Schools Library Service, an external but wholly-county council owned company or enterprise, or an independent company or enterprise managed by Suffolk County Council through contractual arrangements.

The chosen organisation would manage the libraries’ budget and be designed to support libraries with services such as the countywide book network, employing staff, training and developing outreach services.

The changes to Suffolk’s library services will mean the council is able to save 30% of its libraries budget over three years, whilst keeping the county’s libraries open.

Judy Terry, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet lead for the libraries review, said: “The groups we’re working with have told us they are very keen to be pilot projects and help develop the council’s new approach to a library service.

“We are very grateful for their support and will do everything we can to make their plans successful.

“We are of course still open to working with other groups who share our ambition of making Suffolk’s library service a strong and sustainable model for the future.”

The chosen libraries

Aldeburgh

Bungay

Eye, Debenham and Stradbroke (working together)

Gainsborough, Chantry, Ipswich, Stoke, Rosehill and Westbourne (working together)

Sudbury

Thurston

Wickham Market

Timeline

August to September 2011

Discussions and work with groups, information sharing, developing levels of delegation and beginning to work up local business cases.

October 2011 to March 2012

Finalising business plans, consulting with communities and preparing to go live

April 2012

Pilot areas go live

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