Hertfordshire County Council is to hand the running of its 46 libraries to a new ‘public service mutual’ organisation – in a move that will save £500,000 a year.

Until now the libraries have been run directly by the county council. But in October councillors decided to contract out the service.

At the same time they agree to set up a ‘public service mutual’ organisation – ‘Libraries for Life’ – to bid for the five year contract, worth around £10 million a year.

It has now emerged that Libraries for Life has been awarded the contract by the county council after beating competition from other bidders.

“Following a very detailed and robust procurement exercise, which was undertaken in accordance with EU rules, I am delighted to say that Libraries for Life is to be awarded the contract for the provision of library services,” said Cllr Terry Douris, the county council’s executive member for education, libraries and localism.

Crucially ‘Libraries for Life’ – which has ‘grown out of the senior management team of the library service’ – has also been awarded charitable status.

By operating as a charity, Libraries for Life will save an estimated £500,000 a year in business rates.

And, as an organisation separate from the council, it will also be able to consider income from event sponsorship, philanthropic donations and alternative options.

Cllr Douris says library users shouldn’t notice any difference in the services provided by their local libraries.

But he says the change will help library services play a part in a council-wide drive to make necessary savings.

“We still have to make savings from the corporate budget,” said Cllr Douris. “This is a way of contributing to those savings on behalf of the library service.”

Despite the change, Cllr Douris stresses that the county council – which has a statutory duty to provide the service – is committed to Hertfordshire’s libraries.

“Library services are fundamental to our services for people, young and old – and one of the few services that transcend all age groups,” he said.

“We are absolutely committed to our library services.”

Meanwhile Libraries for Life chair of trustees Robert Wilson MBE says he is “immensely excited and honoured to be involved in taking Hertfordshire libraries forward into the future”.

He said: “The county council is rightly proud of its public libraries and we have created Libraries for Life as a new, Hertfordshire-based charity, to build on the talent and creativity of library staff and volunteers to ensure that the library service can thrive into the future.

“Libraries are places of transformation, of possibility, inherently inclusive.  We believe in local access to lifelong learning and culture – where better than the local library, now and into the future?”

As a ‘public service mutual’, Libraries for Life is designed to deliver a public service with a positive social impact and to be run with a significant degree of input from staff, volunteers and local communities.

It is separate from the county council – but there will be a county councillor who will act as a trustee.

Current library staff and volunteers will transfer to the new organisation.

A meeting of the county council’s cabinet determined that the contract should be awarded to Libraries for Life earlier this month (July). But in line with EU procurement regulations the decision has just been made public.