One of the lines in the Brent Council Budget Proposals reads: "Transfer management of libraries to an established library trust resulting in business rates savings." Given the controversy that has often surrounded Brent Libraries, I am surprised that this has not drawn more attention. It could easily be a form of privatisation. The possibilities that occur to me are:
a) It is a largely technical and legalistic proposal to maximise business rate savings. This would be a minimalist position. The Council would probably have to pay attention to how far libraries would continue to work with the rest of the Council (Would they still host Brent Dance Month for example? Would co-located libraries like Wembley Library continue to interact with the rest of the building?). In an era where the "culture" parts of the Council are expected to work together more and more, it would be a shame to erect arificial barriers to such co-operation.
b) The phrase "transfer management" suggests something more ambitious. Not just founding a Trust but having the management taken over by a private company as in Greenwich or Hounslow. This would be a lot more complicated. A full procurement would need specification of a contract and a full tendering exercise for what would be a sizable contract. In itself that would be a substantial one-off cost. The Localism Act appears to have made this whole issue even more complicated than it was before. The redundancy of senior management is likely to make the whole process even more difficult.
c) The phrase "established library trust" suggests an existing body, and obvious one is the Trust that runs Harrow and Ealing libraries. This option was discussed when I was on the Executive, and rejected. THe business rate saving was largely a piece of accountancy smoke and mirrors (I understand that the rules may have been partly changed since then), and it seemed to me that all the things a private firm could do to cut costs could also be done by the Council. Of course, having direct employees also gives you more control and we wanted to ensure the success of the Libraries Transformation Project by having hands on management. Therefore we only went for the Sports Centre part of the project.
d) Another interesting question is where this leaves the proposed community managed libraries that are seeking to take over various buildings in Brent. These all seem to have largely stalled. FKRL are waiting to get into the building, which the owner is trying to sell. The group at the former Preston Library are running up against numerous difficulties. The group in the former Cricklewood building seem to have moved more to a community centre type solution, and the Barham group are attempting to bid for the cardroom (which has been assessed as uninhabitable and to expensive to upgrade). How these groups might be affected by the Localism Act and a new procurement exercise for library services I don't know.
As with many of the proposals in the Budget papers, the actual shape of the proposed changes is not terribly clear.