CITY leaders say plans for the future of York’s libraries will break new ground as they aim to set up a new organisation to run them.

City of York Council must cut its libraries budget by £250,000 in 2013/14 and a business and financial plan for the service will now be compiled, backed by a £100,000 support package from the Cabinet Office.

Council leader James Alexander and the authority’s chief executive Kersten England met Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude in York yesterday to discuss plans which could see a “mutual organisation” operate libraries, making the service the first in the UK to take this route. Detailed proposals will follow in the summer.

The UNISON union has raised fears about any transfer of staff to a “community benefit society”, saying it opposes social enterprises running public services, although the council has promised full staff involvement.

Coun Sonja Crisp, cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism, said: “We will do all in our powers to protect York’s library and archive service and are committed to a thorough exploration of how this can be achieved.

“As the service is currently structured, it is not viable long-term so we have to look at alternative forms of delivery.”

Coun Alexander said the council was determined to avoid library closures and the mutual approach was “a sensible option worth exploring”, saying the authority wanted “a professionally-led service supported by the community for the community”.

Head of library services Fiona Williams said professional librarians and archivists would lead the service, but “innovation and change” was needed.

Conservative councillor George Barton said a community benefit society could be “a step too far”, saying: “We are concerned this will be rushed through to save money, and more research is vital.”

Coun Nigel Ayre, Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, said: “Labour need to actually ask residents who they want to run the service and explore all options before taking this step, as I think there are genuine issues with these plans.”