Jobs to go as libraries face shake-up

MOVES to save all Suffolk’s libraries by transferring them into a new independent body have been given a cautious welcome by one of the county’s keenest campaigners.

James Hargrave said he was relieved to hear confirmation from the council that none of its 44 libraries would close.

And he felt it was ironic that the Conservative-controlled county council was using a form of organisation that stemmed from the co-operative movement.

The county is planning to transfer all 44 libraries to an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS), a social enterprise both which would be independent of the council.

Suffolk would be the first county in Britain to transfer its libraries to such a body – but councillor with responsibility for the service Judy Terry thought that if it was successful other counties might join the IPS later.

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The IPS would hold charitable status, be able to benefit from an 80% reduction in property rates and apply for external funding.

It would be mainly funded by a grant from the council – although individual libraries would be invited to contribute 5% of their budget.

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The new model would cost a maximum of �652k to set up but would be nearly 28% cheaper to run than the current arrangement.

It would mean library services in Suffolk would cost about �6.5m a year, as opposed to their �9m running cost in 2010/11, without any closures.

Mr Hargrave said: “This is not really a surprise move. The county has been talking about IPS as a possible model for some time now.

“If it means all the libraries have a secure future then that would be something to be welcomed. I’m not sure it has a great advantage over the current arrangement, but if the service is safeguarded then that’s got to be good.”

But the move could also see the loss of up to 20 jobs – including half the head office support team.

The model that has been drawn up would see 20 of the 160 full-time equivalent jobs go – although Mrs Terry said there had been a recruitment freeze and it did not mean necessarily that 20 members of staff would lose their jobs.

She said 10 of the 19 posts currently based at the council’s Endeavour House headquarters would be likely to go – with a further 10 going from the management structure across the county.

Mrs Terry added: “The savings will come from a reduction in the amount of bureaucracy which will be obtained from transferring the service to an IPS.”

She added: “The model we’ve developed will put Suffolk’s library service on a strong and sustainable footing for the future. It’s fully costed on the basis of keeping the full library network open.”

If the cabinet approves the move next week, the full meeting of the county council in December will decide whether to approve the changes, which would be introduced from April next year.

The cabinet will also be asked to decide on the future of the county’s mobile library service.

Following a six week consultation in which 1,237 people shared their views, councillors will be recommended to reduce the frequency of mobile library visits from fortnightly to four-weekly and stop visiting towns and parishes that already have a library building serving the community. The majority of people who responded said the changes would not stop them using mobile libraries.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader David Wood was very concerned about Suffolk becoming adopting an untested model to run its library service.

He said: “There is a very experienced and a very dedicated workforce in the library service and that is being put at risk to transfer it into an untried system – I have many concerns about this.”

And Labour group leaser Sandy Martin hoped the proposal had been fully investigated.

He said: “I hope the council has looked at all aspects of this. We have to look at whether it will work and whether it is legal – authorities have fallen foul of issues like this before.”

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