DUDLEY Council has given the green-light for a charitable social enterprise to take control of all borough libraries.
For the next five years, Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) will be in charge of an employee-led mutual, which will run the 13 libraries, four library links and the Archives and Local History Centre in Tipton Road, Dudley.
The 140 members of staff who work within the council's libraries and archives services will also be transferred to GLL ahead of the takeover in spring.
Although employees will be transferred on their existing terms and conditions, council chiefs have admitted it is "too early" to say if people's specific duties would change.
The council says the mutual will give the services "greater freedom to introduce new ways to generate income", which will be reinvested into the services to train staff, update facilities and expand the range of services available.
Opening hours will also remain the same, for the "foreseeable future" and the council hopes to continue working with existing volunteers and friends groups who support to the delivery of services and, where possible increase the number of volunteers.
The mutual - which the council will pay GLL £3,988,000 to deliver for the first year, dropping to £3,769,000 a year for the remainder of the contract - is expected to make financial savings across the board without impacting on day-to-day services.
Although the council was unable to share specific examples of how the mutual will generate income at this stage in the procurement process due to "commercial sensitivity", ideas include renting space and being commissioned to provide new services that complement existing facilities.
Councillor Pete Lowe, leader of the council, said: “We value our libraries and archives service in the borough and especially our staff who have worked hard to deliver some of the best library services in the country.
"Unlike other authorities that are choosing to close their libraries, we are going down the route of mutualising our services to protect them long term.
“The mutual offers an exciting opportunity to do things differently and I am confident it will achieve the best outcomes for our libraries and archives service users.”
Councillor Paul Brothwood, leader of Dudley's UKIP group, said he believes GLL would be better at generating income than the council, adding: "It will probably keep the services open for longer than if it was left to the council to do everything - if it was, we could end up losing the services and we don't want to see libraries close, we want to save as many as possible."
However cllr Brothwood said his group were worried about how library staff would be treated under the new arrangement, adding: "We were concerned about staff and if they would have the same pay and pensions but we have been assured that their rights will be protected."
GLL, which has been running leisure and library services since 1993 and currently manages libraries in Wandsworth and Lincolnshire and Greenwich, has been welcomed on board by Dudley's Conservative group leader, Councillor Patrick Harley, who said: "This is an opportunity to use an organisation with a proven track record of reducing the cost of running the library service without constantly cutting back on the provision the council provides.
"It's good that as an authority, we are looking to use other organisations to provide services for our residents in Dudley.
"I think this opens up opportunities for other service provision particular in the leisure centres which are currently under review."
But while both opposition councillors welcome the mutalisation, UNISON, the union that represents Dudley Council staff, is opposed to it.
Keith Heron, regional organiser, said: "We see this as part of the break-up of public services which will lead to a reduction in the terms and conditions of the workforce.
"This is simply being done to save money - removing libraries from the council will not lead to a better service for the public.
"However, we fully recognise that Government cuts have put the council is in an increasingly difficult financial position and we understand they have to make some difficult choices.
"We will continue to negotiate with the council so that we can protect our members and the valuable public services they provide."