Published: 00:00, 21 May 2014
| Updated: 15:02, 21 May 2014
Kent’s libraries could be handed to a charitable trust to run as part of a drive by the county council to save millions of pounds.
The library service is among the first expected to be hived off from Kent County Council as it embarks on a major outsourcing programme.
The Conservative-run council says it could save the taxpayer millions by transferring a number of its services to a mixture of charitable trusts, arms-length companies and joint ventures.
In the case of the county’s 90-plus libraries, KCC would continue to own them but they would be run by someone else.
One advantage is that a trust, operating with charity status, would be eligible for tax breaks, such as exemptions from paying business rates. It would also have greater freedom to apply for grants from organisations like the National Lottery.
Cllr Mike Hill (Con), the politician in charge of libraries, said no firm decisions would be made until a detailed business case was drawn up.
But he said the trust model was one that had worked successfully in other authorities, with savings achieved by exemptions from business rates and certain VAT exclusions.
“We are looking at a range of options and are drawing up a business case. There are number of different models but in principle, it would work as some kind of trust.”
While some library trusts are working as not-for-profit organisations, Mr Hill said that might not be the case with KCC.
KCC is conducting a wholesale review of every single service through what it describes as “market engagement and service review.”
According to a report to county councillors, a review has concluded the county council could “reasonably expect” to save between £150m to £250m over a ten-year period.
Council chiefs say more than 100 different companies have expressed interest in the outsourcing programme.
The budget for the library service, including registration and archive services, will be £13m this year.
While the idea of libraries being run by a charitable trust is a route several other councils have gone down, in some cases, the results have been mixed.
While there are advantages, some believe they are less open to scrutiny. Trust boards would have councillors as members but would have to place the interests of the trust above those of the council.
And some suspect that the government may act to close down tax benefits as more councils go down the route of passing services to charitable trusts.
More by this authorPaul Francis