Five organisations have been shortlisted as potential partners under new plans to deliver better and more cost effective library services in two London boroughs.
Wandsworth and Croydon Councils are working together to find new ways of managing libraries in the 21st century - with the aim of improving services, becoming more responsive to customer needs and offering better value for money for local tax payers.
Last year the two boroughs began exploring new ways of running libraries and the potential benefits that external organisations could deliver. This market-testing process led to private sector companies, councils, a social enterprise and a voluntary organisation expressing interest in providing the service.
Now, following a detailed evaluation of their submissions, the two authorities have drawn up a shortlist of five organisations that have been able to demonstrate they have the vision, the expertise and the financial backing to deliver 21st century library services.
The five have now been invited to the next stage of the procurement process. They comprise a mix of local authorities and commercial companies.
Wandsworth’s environment and culture spokesman Cllr Jonathan Cook said: “The libraries in our two boroughs are among the best loved and best used in London. Our aim is to build on these achievements and deliver a new and improved service that’s fit for the modern age.
“Our partnership with Croydon will utilise the latest innovations from new providers with new thinking while also allowing us to generate savings by sharing overheads and purchasing power.
“Both boroughs have a wealth of experience of market testing that dates back three decades, across a vast range of services like leisure centres, refuse collection and street cleaning.
“Bringing in this outside expertise has led to major improvements in these services and greatly reduced running costs. It is one of the reasons why Wandsworth scores so highly in resident satisfaction surveys and at same time has been able to levy the country’s lowest council tax bills for the past 30 years.
“In these tough economic times we must ensure libraries continue to evolve and keep pace with fast changing needs and demands from the public.”
Croydon’s cabinet member for culture and sport Cllr Sara Bashford said: “Over the years we have seen substantial cost savings and service improvements through contracting arrangements such as these and our intention is to see this repeated through this exercise.”
If a bid is eventually accepted all core library services would remain free to use and the buildings would still be owned by the local authority. Councillors would also remain in overall control of their library networks and would specify the exact terms of service delivery including opening times.
Across the country as many as 600 libraries have recently been shut down or are facing closure as the national debt is brought under control.
Cllr Cook added: "Like every other council we have to reduce our spending but the aim here is to keep our libraries open and thriving. We want to avoid what has happened elsewhere which has been the closure of many local branch libraries.”
This was echoed by Cllr Bashford who added: “Our primary concern is to prevent any of branch libraries from being closed. We consulted with our residents last year and they made it quite clear that this has to be our priority.”
February 9, 2012