Private firms could run Wokingham's libraries

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Wokingham council has unveiled plans to outsource its 11 libraries to private firms in a move it believes would save £170,000 a year.

The authority said it has to save money and paying companies to run its sites could save them from being closed.

Under the plans, the private sector would be invited to come forward next month to bid for five-year contracts starting from May 2012.

Councillors will discuss the proposals at a meeting on 26 May.

It is hoped private investment would also improve services, including IT provision, and boost visitor numbers, the authority said.

'Lose influence'

The Conservative-led council currently pays out about £2.1m a year to run its library service but said it believed it could pay firms less to take them on.

However, in a report to councillors the authority said there could be an "increase in staff turnover" and "loss of influence" over the service.

If agreed, Wokingham would be one of the first councils to effectively privatise its libraries following a similar move in the London borough of Hounslow.

Richard Alexander, libraries and information manager, said: "We continually see news concerning library closures in the press and on TV, but it is a different story altogether here in Wokingham.

"We are pleased the council's decision-making executive will consider these proposals next week which would, we believe, help secure the continued future of the community's library service, and enable us to undertake improvements we would otherwise struggle to achieve."

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