Suffolk County Council reveals how it will keep every library open

ALL 44 of Suffolk's libraries will remain open and be helped to flourish by a new, slim line and cost-effective organisation, if councillors approve plans put before them next week and then in December.

The proposals would see Suffolk County Council create an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS), an organisation working with, but independent from, the county council to support the county's library network.

The IPS would hold charitable status, be able to benefit from an 80% reduction in property rates and apply for external funding.

It would predominantly be funded by a grant from Suffolk County Council, and use its resources to provide central support to all of Suffolk's existing, and future, libraries.

The new model would cost a maximum of �652,000 to set up but would be 27.6pc cheaper to run than the current arrangement. It would mean library services in Suffolk would cost �6.487m a year, as opposed to their �8.961m running cost in 2010/11, without any library closures.

Much of the savings come from reducing management tiers and central staffing costs which would no longer be needed in the more slim line organisation. Staff currently working in libraries would be transferred into the IPS under TUPE employment rules.

Eventually, every library will have a community group involved and having a direct say in its day to day running. Supported by the IPS, community groups will be able to opt for a level of responsibility they feel able to take on. Seven pilot projects are currently being developed and will, from April 2012, be the first of these arrangements in action. Organisations running local libraries would become members of the IPS and elect its board.

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Some of the pilot projects have demonstrated that it would be possible for libraries to raise a small amount of money through activities like fund raising, membership schemes and generating income. Local library organisations will therefore be asked to contribute just 5pc of the direct running costs of their library, �100,000 a year in total, significantly less than the financial contributions being discussed at the beginning of the year. Through the IPS, the county council would fund 95pc of the direct costs of running the libraries.

Councillor Judy Terry, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for libraries, said: 'The model we've developed will put Suffolk's library service on a strong and sustainable footing for the future. It's fully costed on the basis of keeping the full library network open.

'We want to free the library service from unnecessary council bureaucracy so that it can thrive and move with the times. Giving people a genuine say over how their library is run is also important and this model does exactly that.'

Suffolk County Council Cabinet members will also be asked to decide on the future of the county's mobile library service. The service costs �600,000 a year to run with six mobile libraries (plus a back up) serving approximately 7,000 people in 361 communities across Suffolk. Over the last decade, mobile library customer visits have reduced by 32pc and loans have decreased by 37pc - even though customers can borrow up to 20 books at a time.

Following a six week consultation in which 1,237 people shared their views, councillors will be recommended to reduce the frequency of mobile library visits from fortnightly to four weekly and stop visiting towns and parishes that already have a library building serving the community. The majority of people who responded said the changes would not stop them using mobile libraries.

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