The search is underway to find a company to take over the running of libraries in Lincolnshire – and potentially its heritage and cultural sites.
Lincolnshire County Council has taken the decision to begin looking for an external organisation to deliver library services on its behalf, despite the threat of a second judicial review into its proposed cuts.
The authority is currently undertaking a competitive procurement process, following an approach by Greenwich Leisure Limited, a not-for-profit organisation interested in running local libraries.
The contract notice for the procurement was published on Thursday.
Tony McGinty, from Lincolnshire County Council, said: “Although we potentially face a second legal challenge, we intend to continue working on the procurement of the new-look service.
“The need to make substantial savings within the service remains, and it’s important we do what we can to achieve this.
“And we’re confident that, under our proposals, we can do this in a way that both saves money and creates a library service that is fit for the 21st century.”
While this process is primarily about the library service, the council also operates a number of heritage sites, such as Lincoln Castle, and a reference to these services will be included in the contract notice, although no decision has been taken on their future.
Mr McGinty added: “The council is currently considering how best to make the £120million of annual savings required as a result of reduced funding and rising demand for services.
“That means looking at how all our services are delivered, including those relating to culture and heritage.
“One thing we may want to consider at some point in the future is whether these services could potentially be delivered by someone else on our behalf.
“And by mentioning them in this contract notice we simply leave that door open.
“If we do eventually decide to go down that route, this will avoid unnecessarily duplicating work, enable us to explore with bidders potential alternative ways of delivering these services and give us the flexibility to extend the contract if the proposals have merit.
“However, I must stress that at this stage, no decisions have been taken, and none will be taken until we have consulted with stakeholders.
“Identifying the best approach will require extensive preparatory work, and it is unlikely that a decision on the best way forward for these services will be taken before 2016.”
The county council’s plans for library services have met with fierce opposition, as they mean a number of libraries closing, others seeing reduced opening hours and others being taken over by volunteers.