Libraries, museum and Flag Fen set to be run by council-owned company until end of decade
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Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery, Flag Fen archaeology park and the city’s libraries will continue to be operated by a council-backed non-profit company for at least another seven years, a new Peterborough City Council (PCC) report suggests.
The running of culture and heritage facilities was taken over by a non-profit subsidiary of Peterborough Ltd – itself a wholly-owned subsidiary of the council – earlier this year.
Continuing this arrangement is the best option going forward, the report says, although market testing was undertaken before contracting an entirely private company to run them was ruled out.
The PCC report making this recommendation will be voted on by its cabinet on Monday, 18th September – at which point councillors will also be asked to approve the same arrangements for Peterborough’s leisure services, with the contract also running until 2029.
These include swimming pools, gyms and leisure centres, such as the Regional Pool and Jack Hunts pool.
PCC says that having the non-profit running its culture and heritage facilities and leisure facilities is its preferred option because it will allow for cost savings while still allowing it to be involved in their direction and oversight.
It could reduce the total costs of the facilities by around 53 per cent, the council report continues; largely through lowering operation costs and realising tax benefits (namely NNDR and VAT).
Transferring the services to a commercial operator, meanwhile, was discounted because a “significant subsidy” would likely be needed from the council, its report said, and also mean less oversight.
Nevertheless, there was “strong interest” from the commercial sector when market testing was undertaken for leisure services in February, the report says.
A separate report on the current state of Peterborough Ltd was also presented to councillors this week.
This report lays out the company’s structure: it is made up of Aragon Direct Services (responsible for council properties, waste collection, parks etc), Vivacity (responsible for leisure and outreach), culture services (Flag Fen, museum and libraries) and corporate services (finance and business management).
With all of these taken into account, the company made just £5,031 in profit in 2022/23.
But, given “additional inflationary pressure, including fuel cost rises and above budget pay award”, this was better than expected, the report adds.
Its longer-term incorporation of culture and heritage services requires consent not just from PCC’s cabinet but also from the museum's trustees.
If the decision is approved, the contract will begin in March 2024.
The library services impacted are: Central, Bretton, Orton, Werrington, Hampton, Dogsthorpe, Eye, Thorney, Stanground, Woodson and mobile library services.
The libraries, like the museum, were previously run by council subsidiary company Vivacity, which now exists in name and branding only.