THE council has moved one step closer to finally agreeing a delivery model for the five libraries that are to remain in borough hands following cuts to the service.

On Wednesday, cabinet members voted to consult on the establishment of a ‘public services mutual’ to oversee the running of Central, West Swindon, North Swindon, Park and Highworth libraries.

If implemented, the mutual would be set up as a charity, with ownership of the service shared between the council, communities and staff.

A mutual was just one of a number of delivery models considered during a review led by an outside consultancy firm.

Among the other options was continued in-house delivery, a council owned but arms length trading company, or outsourcing delivery to an external provider.

The council had previously held talks with leisure provider GLL about library provision and the greatest fear among campaigners was that they would be gifted the service to deliver.

Introducing the recommendations at Wednesday’s meeting, the cabinet member for libraries Mary Martin said: “We’ve gone through a rigorous process of looking at the criteria for the management and governance of the core library service.

“We appointed Mutual Ventures as external advisers to support that review work and we were able to secure government funding to cover the cost.

“They facilitated a series of workshops involving members, officers, library staff and stakeholders to develop a set of criteria against which the various options were assessed.

“I was pleased to see the recommendation that came forward which is for a public services mutual. Personally I had hoped that we would just be able to move straight to a decision but the advice that we have is that we should go out to consult on this.”

Due to the General Election, that consultation will not get underway now until after June 8.

The Labour group has opposed the administration’s handling of library reform at almost every stage of the process but these most recent proposals have received their cautious support.

Jim Robbins, Labour’s spokesman on libraries, said: “We are cautiously optimistic about the decision to create a public mutual to run the reduced library provision the Tory council have decided to fund, but we are very keen to see the library staff team and library users involved in the running of the mutual, rather than an outside provider come in, like GLL.

“The message from users and campaign groups, such as the Save Swindon’s Libraries group, was very clear on this, and we’ll be pushing for their wishes to be implemented.

“Visiting libraries is the most popular activity in the UK with over 265 million library visits a year, and we want as many users as possible in Swindon. We are also pleased to see the new parish councils committing to keep the threatened libraries open.”