Users of Preston’s Harris library will not notice any change in the quality of service when day-to-day control shifts from Lancashire County Council to Preston City Council.
That was the message from Peter Buckley, member for cultural services at County Hall, as the cabinet approved a proposal to create a single staff team responsible for all aspects of the Grade I-listed building.
READ MORE >>> All you need to know about plans for the Harris
The change is part of a plan to develop the UK’s first “blended” library, museum and art gallery.
“The public will see no change in the quality of provision and the library will still be linked to the county network – indeed, there should be an improved service, with greater integration between the [facilities],” County Cllr Buckley said.
The city council will be given control over how the Harris library operates, but an agreement will be put in place to ensure that it remains “consistent” with Lancshire’s other libraries, which are all run by the county council.
It is hoped that the proposal – which is expected to be formally approved by Preston City Council at a later date – will be a boost to the “Re-imagining the Harris” venture between the two authorities.
The project, which began in 2015, aims to “reposition” the 125-year-old attraction and tempt more visitors through its doors by making it a “focal point for creativity and making, digital technology, learning and reading”.
The Harris is hoping to apply for a £4.7m grant from the National Lottery Fund next year, to contribute towards the overall £10.7m cost of the “re-imagining” scheme. In January, a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £180,000 was awarded to help support the main bid.
Cabinet members in County Hall were told that the transfer of the library function to the city council would not immediately generate any savings, but was expected to result in “efficiencies” over time.
Currently, the county council foots the bill for 40 percent of the running costs of the Harris – which is owned by the city council – and also pays for the library staff, at a combined cost of £600,000. That arrangement would be unchanged by the proposal to create a single team.
Library staff would be moved across to the Harris under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations.
If agreed, the deal will run for an initial 25 years, with the option of extending it for periods of 10 years thereafter.
Any future running cost savings and the cost of any future staff restructure would be split on a 60:40 basis between the city and county council.
Rachel Mulhearn, Interim Head of Culture for the Harris, said: "Preston City Council and Lancashire County Council have been working together to secure a long-term future for the Harris, establishing it as a creative and community hub and cultural destination.
"This partnership approach plays a key role in the Re-Imagining Project’s success and we are determined to get this right, not just rush the process through. The end result will be in response to our visitors’ needs, to create an innovative and integrated museum, art gallery and library and provide a more cohesive and enjoyable experience.
"This report represents a major decision for the Harris Re-Imagining Project, which puts in place some of the arrangements we need to take the project forward.”