SWEEPING changes could still be made to the way Swindon’s libraries are run, despite the cabinet approving a strategy to take them to 2020 just this week.

The council is now considering adopting a trust model for the service, a move that could alter the financial modelling around which the latest plans are built.

Trusts don’t have to pay business rates and have VAT exclusions. They are also eligible to apply for more grants and funding than councils can and are not tied into the often cumbersome purchasing and procurement structures that councils deal with.

Campaigners have welcomed the idea of a trust, indeed they supported it three months ago when the library staff themselves first proposed it. But they are frustrated that the council now appears to be pursuing two parallel strategies at the exact same time.

The trust model originally proposed by the library staff envisaged keeping the same five libraries – Central, North Swindon, West Swindon, Highworth and Park – within the core provision as the council eventually decided on.

However they proposed providing more staffed hours, 31 per week in North and West Swindon and 27 in Highworth and Park, compared to the 15 envisaged by the council’s plan.

In addition, they suggested that the council would cover building costs for the remaining ten branch libraries until 2020, allowing community groups a softer, more viable transition.

The ideas put forward by the staff received the backing, not only of local campaigners, but also South Swindon MP Robert Buckland who called on the council to urgently pursue the proposals.

At Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, Coun Mary Martin said the staff proposal “fell outside the cost envelope” the council were looking for but that, on the issue of trusts more broadly, their thinking had “moved on very quickly.”

Coun Martin attended a meeting with the Libraries Minister and Justin Tomlinson earlier this week during which the minister suggested that the government would be willing to back and provide support for a trust model.

Mr Tomlinson, an outspoken supporter of libraries, has urged the council to seize that opportunity.

Writing in his weekly Adver article this week, the North Swindon MP said a trust would provide “a real opportunity to safeguard our library network.”

Coun Martin said: “Following conversations with DCMS we are jointly exploring alternative delivery models including the possibility of a mutual model.

“We are very keen to move to a trust or mutual model subject to cabinet approval and we have agreement in principle from Libraries Minister Rob Wilson that we can have some assistance in getting this in place.”

What remains unclear is whether the council intends to use the financial advantages offered by a trust model to bring more libraries back under the council’s core financial umbrella, or whether they will be used to further reduce the libraries budget as they pursue £48m of overall savings before 2020.

A report outlining proposals for a future governance model, most likely a trust, will go before the February cabinet.