Libraries are set to be “outsourced” across Herts, in a cost-cutting measure by the county council.
In a vote of the full council, the Conservatives endorsed plans for a ‘Public Service Mutual (PSM) model’, which will make the libraries services independent of the authority.
Council bosses say such a scheme has already been introduced successfully in other parts of the country, but critics say it is a “high risk” plan.
Council officer Taryn Pearson-Rose said: “Our ultimate aim is to ensure that the library service continues to deliver quality services and be in the best possible position to thrive into the future.
“By pursuing a public service mutual the county council is not privatising libraries or outsourcing services to a profit making organisation – the council will retain the statutory responsibility to provide library services, so any independent service will still be accountable to the council and local residents.”
Liberal Democrat councillors voted against the plan.
Cllr Mark Watkin said: “The Conservative-run council is being forced into making swingeing cuts across all of its services, and in particular is looking to save £1million in the library service as a result of the withdrawal of funding from the Conservative government.
“The council admits it is a high-risk approach, as the financial benefits of over £600,000 per annum will only be achieved if the PSM is awarded charitable status and is able to reclaim 80 per cent of the business rates that the libraries pay.
““By their own admission, the County Council recognises that the current library service is relevant, versatile and innovative.
“The recent consultation showed that more residents opposed the proposals than supported them, similarly so did a majority of the hard working library staff.”
The recommendation will now go to cabinet for approval at the end of April.
A full business case will be developed, alongside an implementation plan, which will both be considered by the cabinet in September, with a view to launching the new model in April 2019.