List of outsourced and prospective outsourced library authorities

This page lists the history of for-profit companies running library services in the UK. For the history of non-profit organisations running library services, please see this page.

State of play

Carillion – This for-profit company bought out the Laing library organisation that had Hounslow for several years.  Croydon, Ealing and Harrow joined it in 2013. Hounslow left it on 1st August 2017. Carillion went bankrupt in January 2018 with the remaining library services returned to the relevant councils.

GLL – Non-profit trust included here for comparison. Bromley, Dudley, Greenwich, Lincolnshire, and Wandsworth library services are run by GLL. Trades as “Better”. Maintains an interest into expanding into other library services.

LS&S (formerly LSSI) – The American library for-profit company was strongly interested in running UK public libraries in early the early 2010s. However, it had no success in gaining a contract and has effectively withdrawn from the market from around 2015 onwards.

Further details below: 

  • Bromley – “Soft market testing” in order to outsource libraries, in partnership with Bexley. (March 2015) Protests against outsourcing of libraries (June 2015). proposed joint outsourcing with Bexley dropped. (October 2016) Will continue investigating outsourcing by itself. (October 2016)
  • Ealing and Harrow. Ealing announced in a committee paper that it is considering privatising/outsourcing as it considers the Trust route is too dangerous due to likely changes to the charitable relief. Ealing Council then reduced the number of tenders to run its service down to two (11/2/13). Harrow, which Ealing manages, was also considering the move. An article in May 2013 appears to indicate that both authorities will move to be controlled by Laing (JLIS). Laing described apparently as a “not for profit trust” which could save £600k per year (May 2013), 5 year contract to be arranged.

    “The Council believe that the new contracts will help them meet their annual savings targets of £250,000 per annum for leisure and £233,000 for libraries. There is no definite indication that the new contract will involve library closures although the report to be presented to the Council on the proposals states, “officers have continued to explore alternative delivery models for all static libraries in an effort to continue to provide a comprehensive library service that achieves value for money.” Ealing Today, 16th May 2013.

  • Hounslow. Laing gained the Hounslow contract due to the collapse of another earlier outsourcing (to a Trust) attempt.  In the two years since taking over the system, the Council states that Laing has made £1.25m of efficiencies in Hounslow, with overall library attendance improving by 7%.  The methods used include introducing new financial management systems, outsourcing backroom tasks like recruitment, introducing new computer systems and installing WiFi. However, Hounslow council (not Laing itself) provided £5 million specifically for library improvements during this period and so the private company cannot claim unique responsibility for this. More importantly, though, Laing has not made Hounslow immune to the current cuts. Far from it.  17 staff have left due to compulsory redundancies, 4 due to voluntary redundancies, 3 through ill health/early retirement, 6 through retirement and 2 for other reasons. Apart from the six retirees, all of these losses were December 2010 and thus before the cuts started in earnest.  This is a very high ratio in comparison to similar situations in the public sector where early retirement and voluntary redundancies remain the preferred options.  This year, more significantly, it was only due to a strong reaction from a public consultation that halted the closure of eightof its eleven branches. This was the second highest ratio of closures to remaining branches in the UK during this period. Being forced to back down on the closures, the service instead has decided on a 100% cut to the bookfund (that is, no new books will be bought this year), with plans for a reduction in opening hours and areduction in skilled staff in 2012.  The coverage of these cuts in the local media also shows the fallacy of a (suspected) political reason for outsourcing, in that newspapers clearly attributed the cuts to the council and none of the blame was affixed to the private company.
  • Wokingham. Some councils have seen privatisation as a way out of the difficulties of the current financial situation.   Richard Alexander, libraries and information manager, Wokingham, which has announced that its libraries may be privatised from 2012, has said “we continually see news concerning library closures in the press and on TV, but it is a different story altogether here in Wokingham. We are pleased the council’s decision-making executive will consider these proposals next week which would, we believe, help secure the continued future of the community’s library service, and enable us to undertake improvements we would otherwise struggle to achieve.”.  Wokingham is not definitely going to privatise its libraries but rather is asking all interested parties to tender for the job:

“What we have agreed is to use a European process called “Competitive Dialogue”. What this is is to ask interested parties to suggest ways of improving our library service within a given framework (including libraries cannot close). At the end of the response period the replies will be analysed and used to produce 2 key documents 1) Requirements Specification and 2) Business Case. Those documents will be reviewed and if not acceptable by the Executive then nothing will change. If they are then, and only then, will the normal tendering process start with a view to outsourcing the operation only (i.e. all assets will be retained by the Council).” Cllr Keith Baker, Executive Member for Transport, Wokingham (email to PLN 16 June 2011)

“Competitive Dialogue” is used for the “award of complex contracts, where there is a need for contracting authorities to discuss all aspects of the proposed contract with candidates” (OGC Guidance).  Barnet UNISON has produced some guidelines on how to proceed with this system.

The decision by Wokingham Council to outsource its libraries led to a 2300 name petition that forced the first ever petition-caused council debate there in history.  During that debate, the controlling Conservatives accused the Lib Dems (who backed the petition) of scaremongering, denied that it was privatising services and said that the petition was causing unnecessary worry to library staff, who the Lib Dems suggest would bear the brunt of the expected 10% cut in budget (plus, presumably, the extra cut caused by the unspecified profit for private company concerned). It was decided to continue with the outsourcing policy.

Further, in February 2012, the Council moved closer to privatisation for a five year term when they “voted in favour yesterday of moving to the tendering stage of the process after more than 20 companies submitted bids in June last year to take control.”

Wokingham eventually decided not to go ahead with the outsourcing, saying:

“We’ve done quite a lot of work with bidders but there’s not much to be had. We decided the risks outweighed the benefits to the service. It is very important to keep the service stable and it could have been unsettling to some users of the library… especially when commercial factors come into it.” BBC 29/10/12

  • Croydon decided to outsource its libraries to Laing (November 2012), giving them their second library authority.
  1. Joint tendering process, Croydon and Wandsworth tendered their libraries out at the same time.  This was the timeline:September 2011:  Joint tendering process,(Full paper to Council on decision to invite private tender, Croydon initial tendering in collaboration with Wandsworth.  Interested parties (Sep 2011) are (a) Civica (b) LSSI (c) JLIS (John Laing) (d) GLL (e) Vision Redbridge (f) Essex County Council (g) Merton Council (h) Bexley and Bromley Council Consortium (i) Croydon Libraries Strategic Management Team (j) Wandsworth “in-house”.).
  2. May 2012: Civica has withdrawn from privatization tender, allowing in-house bid from Wandsworth Council to be reconsidered
  3. May 2012: GLL, Laing and Wandsworth Libraries Management survive until the next round of the tending process LSSI (20/6/12);
  4. August 2012: Opposition party Labour threaten to refuse to work with any company running its outsourced library service.
  5. September 2012: Wandsworth in-house bid is now a private company with charity status called “South London Library and Cultural Services”
  6. October 2012: GLL, Laing and Wandsworth are in the final round.
  7. November 2012: GLL appear to have been awarded the contract for Wandsworth and Laing the contract for Croydon.
  8. March 2013:  Croydon: Laing changed the term of its tender at the last minute causing Croydon to reopen the bidding to both Croydon and GLL.  The Wandsworth in-house bid was dissolved as GLL took over that service.
  9. May 2013: Croydon decided to outsource to Laing: service expected to be run by the company from October.

Library services that have considered privatisation.

  • Bexley “Soft market testing” in order to outsource libraries, in partnership with Bromley. (March 2015) proposed joint outsourcing with Bromley dropped. (October 2016). Bexley eventually decided to run its services in-house.
  • Birmingham Possible outsourcing of of new Library of Birmingham. (May 2013) eventually delayed until teething problems with new build sorted out (expected March 2014).  Decided against outsourcing in 2015.
  • Camden £800k cut. 12-week consultation.  Options included closures, opening hours cuts, outsourcing or increasing volunteers (July 2015).
  • Cornwall. (31/7/12) Approved moves towards outsourcing libraries as well as other services.  “Two companies, BT and CSC, are in the running for the work, which the unitary authority said would be part of a “new strategic partnership”. In December, it was decided that while most behind-the-scenes council services would be outsourced to BT but that “libraries, benefits and council tax collection; procurement, which is the buying of services and goods; One Stop Shops, which offer advice on council services” would continue to be run in-house (12/12/12). Cornwall decided against outsourcing in this way and has, as of 2019, pursued a programme of transferring libraries to parish and town councils instead.
  • Kent.  Libraries was one of the first services to be “market tested” in order to see if they can be privatised (September 2013).
  • Sheffield (2013) – Laing, Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust and Sheffield Cubed interested in taking over whole library service (2013) due to suggested cuts that would involve closure of more than half the service. Interestingly, and probably good for Sheffield, Laing withdrew from the library market shortly afterwards and Wigan’s Trust returned to council control after concered were raised with its performance.
  • Southampton considered privatising/outsourcing all of its services by 2015, including libraries.
  • Oxfordshire ruled out using LSSI in the short term due to their lack of UK experience.
  • Suffolk was considering options up to and including privatisation, although it eventually decided to outsource its services to an Industrial and Provident Society (see page on Trusts) rather than outright takeover by an external private compan
  • Worcestershire
  • #1 written by Redacted
    about 10 years ago

    I work for London Borough of Ealing Libraries and we might be out sourced in the next
    few months need to know how this will effect staff if we go over.
    Can you let me know how staff are effected when they transfer over from
    Goverment to the charity Greenwich or privatised Laing We are being told by
    our Director and Human resource person that nothing will change not sure
    what they are saying is true need some comments from other staff who have gone
    over to let us know what changes were made for the better or for the worse.

  • #2 written by Andrea Dudding
    about 8 years ago

    You should be talking to UNISON. If you aren’t a member, then join at When York was privatised (whatever you care to call it, that is what it is) UNISON was actively involved in making sure that staff were informed of what it meant for them

    UNISON has always campaigned for Libraries and are members of The Library Campaign

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