A SOCIAL enterprise is to take over the running of York’s libraries and archives, despite city leaders admitting there are risks.

Plans for a “community benefit society” to operate the libraries have been approved by City of York Council’s cabinet in the first scheme of its kind in the country, as the authority looks to cut costs by £450,000 over three years.

The Explore Libraries And Archives Mutual will be eligible for VAT breaks and will be two-thirds owned by staff, with the public owning the remaining third.

Unions said the current business plan for was “not fit for purpose”, but the council said it was the best option for preventing library closures.

Coun Sonja Crisp, cabinet member for leisure and culture, said she was convinced it was the right move. She said: “Where other cities’ libraries have been abandoned and closed, York’s will go from strength to strength. Of course there are risks – no enterprise proposal is entirely risk-free – but by far the greatest risk would be failing to grasp the moment.”

Andrea Dudding, general convenor for Unison in York, told the cabinet the plans carried “significant financial risks which are being transferred to employees”.

She claimed some financial forecasts, including income targets, were over-optimistic and the mutual plan meant the libraries and archives were effectively being privatised, also raising concerns about how accountable it would be.

The society will have a five-year contract starting next year, with membership of the mutual costing £1. Library membership will remain separate and free.