Plans to transfer the running of Hertfordshire libraries to an outside provider have been delayed.

Libraries for Life – a public sector mutual set up by Hertfordshire County Council – was awarded the contract to run the county’s 46 libraries last year.

And the organisation had been expected to take over the service on December 1.

But now it has emerged the transfer of the service has been delayed until April, amid fears that neither organisation was ready.

That means the council won’t make the £179,000 savings it had been counting on in the current financial year.

At a meeting of the education, libraries and localism cabinet panel on Wednesday (February 5), councillors were told the transfer was a “substantial and complex endeavour”.

And that while “tremendous progress” had been made, challenging time-scales had created “several significant risks” for both parties, had the transfer gone ahead as planned.

They heard that when the decision to delay the transfer was taken, in November, Libraries for Life had not appointed a chief executive or a finance officer.

And they heard that just four of the 11 seats on the board of trustees had been filled.

They were also told that pension information had still been required, occupation rights for library premises not owned by the council had not been organised and the contract between the council and Libraries for Life had not been signed.

Since the decision to delay was taken – by the county council’s director of resources and executive member for education, libraries and localism Cllr Terry Douris – work has continued.

And councillors heard that the transfer of the running of the library service was now due to occur on April 1.

Assistant director for customer service and libraries Taryn Pearson-Rose said she was not concerned by any “fundamental  issues” for the April 1 transfer – though she suggested Libraries for Life may not have a chief executive at that stage.

The decision to contract out the running of the libraries and to set up a ‘public service mutual’ to bid for that contract was taken by the county council back in in October 2018.

And in July 2019 Libraries for Life was awarded the contract.

It’s estimated that ‘Libraries for Life’ – which has charitable status – could  cut the cost of the library service by an estimated £500,000.

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

At the meeting, on Wednesday, Cllr Terry Douris said one of the exciting aspects of the transfer would be giving Libraries for Life the ‘wings to fly’ with a whole range of things that the council was not able to implement.