PLANS to hand the running of Hertfordshire’s libraries to a new ‘public service mutual’ will mean less funding for the county’s district and borough councils, it has emerged.

Last week Hertfordshire County Council announced the running of its 46 libraries was to be handed to new organisation Libraries for Life.

The organisation has charitable status and so will not be required to pay business rates.

That will save the library service around £500,000 a year, for every year of the five-year contract.

However it is estimated it will cost the 10 districts and boroughs – who each receive a chunk of the business rates collected – hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost income.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Sara Bedford – who is a county councillor and leader of Three Rivers District Council – estimates that Three Rivers will lose £22,000 a year as a result of the change - adding up to £110,000 over the five-year library contract.

And she says that in neighbouring Watford, the borough council would lose an additional £13,000 a year – equivalent to £65,000 over the life of the contract.

“This is a case of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’,” said Cllr Bedford.

“It’s moving money from one part of the public sector to another.

“While the sum involved may seem relatively small, the loss to Three Rivers is significant.

“And over the five years it would be enough to provide a brand new adventure-style play area for our children.

“The county council  can now look good at saving money – when, in reality, the vast majority has simply been taken from the much smaller district councils.”

That view has been backed up by Peter Taylor, elected Mayor for neighbouring Watford, who is also a Liberal Democrat.

St Albans & Harpenden Review:

“Our libraries provide a really important service to people in the town and across Hertfordshire,” said Mr Taylor.

“We all need to work to protect our libraries, but this should not be done at the financial expense of councils like Watford.

“This is a risky move at a time when the Government is reviewing business rates. We need to think again to find a solution that secures the future of our libraries.”

However the county council say the income that will be lost to the districts and boroughs is a “negligible proportion” of the total business rates collected across the county.

And the council stresses that as the decision to contract out the service was considered, it was "upfront" about the difference this could make on income to district and borough councils if a charitable organisation won the contract.

A spokesman said: “The county council has actively worked with the districts to grow and maximise business rate income, including the successful bid to become a business rate pilot, which will bring in an extra £11m for Hertfordshire this year.”