YORK’S libraries could be the first in the country to be run by a social enterprise.
Council chiefs are to investigate the development of a mutual organisation, following warnings from senior councillor Sonja Crisp that the existing council-run service is “not viable in the long term” given ongoing Government funding cuts.
Officials are to start detailed work on a business and financial plan, assisted by expert advice and support from the Cabinet Office through a scheme to support imaginative solutions to future budget pressures.
The council says the aim is to build a library service that gives the staff and the community a clearer stake in the service, helps build innovative partnerships and opens up access to new sources of income.
York has 15 libraries, including the recently refurbished York Explore, in Library Square in the city centre.
But the proposals have been blasted by Coun Nigel Ayre, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for leisure and culture, who said his worst fears appeared to have been realised.
He claimed: “Labour has decided to sell off libraries without proper public debate or scrutiny.
“We have not seen any details of the plans, the support on offer from the Cabinet Office, or any feedback from the public consultation.
“There appears to be no guarantee that all libraries will remain open or existing staff and service levels will be maintained.
“Urgent answers are needed as to what, if any, public library service will remain in York after Labour has finished with it.”
Coun Crisp, the council’s cabinet member for culture, leisure and tourism, said public libraries were vitally important. “Their work on literacy, employability, digital inclusion and promoting the joy of reading are key to the community they sit in; providing a welcoming community space for all,” she said.
“Continuing to run York’s library service as it is currently structured is not viable in the long term; with ongoing Government funding reductions: we have seen closures happening across the region.
“York is committed to supporting exemplary and innovative libraries and explore centres, and we feel a mutual approach is a way of doing this.”
The city’s libraries are thought to employ up to about 100 people across the city, including many part-time staff.
Social enterprises have explicit social aims such as job creation, training or the provision of local services.
They have ethical values and their profits are principally reinvested to achieve their social aims. They can be directly involved in business activity, supplying goods or services to a market and can earn incomes as a result.
City of York Council has stressed that it has not yet decided on the details of how a libraries social enterprise would work.