A total of 12 expressions of interest in community-led library services have been received by Swindon Borough Council following the adoption of the town’s new library strategy.
The council’s cabinet agreed in December that the council would support a network of five core libraries throughout the borough including Central, North Swindon, West Swindon, Highworth and Park.
The new service also maintains professional library services, while providing support to develop community-led local library services.
Local groups or individuals had until 31 January to submit expressions of interest in the non-core libraries and the council’s officers are now supporting 12 groups to develop their plans and business cases.
They are also looking at the different ways that these library services could be run as the council’s cabinet earlier this month (8 Feb) agreed to authorise an options appraisal to consider alternative delivery models for the council’s core library service.
The council, in conjunction with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), has already been working with Mutual Ventures, an independent organisation which specialises in developing charitable and public service mutual enterprises, to look at various delivery models for the town’s library service.
This work responds to feedback from last year’s public consultation to look at the best approach of delivering the service.
The delivery models that will be considered include keeping the library service in-house so it continues to be run by the council, setting up a Local Authority Trading Company wholly owned by the council with services delivered via a contract, or creating a Public Service Mutual (PSM).
A PSM would be a new organisation that shares ownership of the service between the council, communities and staff. Library Services would then be delivered via a contract between the council and the PSM. The final model which will be assessed includes establishing a Joint Venture with an existing library service provider.
The options appraisal would also look at whether the delivery model would take the form of a Limited Company, Community Interest Company, Co-operative or Community Benefit Society and whether it should be a social enterprise or charity.
Following last week’s cabinet meeting, the council will consult with the DCMS to secure appropriate external expertise and involve local councillors, library users, staff and other stakeholders to help inform the most appropriate approach and recommendations will be brought back to cabinet on 26 April.
Cllr Mary Martin, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, said: “I am delighted there is such strong interest from a number of groups in keeping our community libraries running.
“We will be working with the groups who have come forward to talk through their plans and ensure their proposals are robust enough to provide a sustainable service. At the same time, we will be working hard to find the best model for delivering our core service through the options appraisal so those five libraries have an equally sustainable future in the years to come.”