In June 2018 Herefordshire Council’s Cabinet (minutes here) decided to outsource its Museum, Library and Archives (MLA) Services via a tendering process to commission the operation of the services from external organisations or businesses. This process has now started with a final choice of provider to be taken in January 2020 for transfer of service in May 2020. The latest timetable is set out below and the Council’s MLA proposal paper is here.
The Friends of Herefordshire Archives opposed this decision but are committed to supporting the service whatever the management arrangements put in place by Herefordshire Council. The Friends have had to take up new activities in order to understand the process and to raise awareness among the public and councillors of its implications. There is very little information about the procurement in the public domain and we feel that more transparency is needed for such an important decision. For example the procurement process is based on ‘current levels of service’ but this does not take into account the staffing reductions in the service in the last year.
Although Museum, Library and Archives Services have some different aspects, there is much common ground. The three services are now managed together and the procurement process covers all three services. The Chairs of the three MLA support groups (Joint Action for Herefordshire Libraries (JAHL), Friends of Herefordshire Archives Service (FHAS) and HMSSG (Herefordshire Museum Service Support Group) are now working together to understand, monitor and influence the tendering process as best we can. Although we have been invited to contribute as ‘stakeholders’ the scope of our involvement is not yet clear. We will try and to influence things like staffing levels, quality standards, meeting service-users’ needs, reinvestment of any ‘surplus’ generated back into local services and future funding and investment plans.