DOZENS of residents chanted ‘save our services’ outside Shire Hall ahead of a council decision to explore privatising the management of libraries, museums and archives in the county.

Herefordshire Council leaders agreed to start a procurement process for the future running of the services and pledged up to £230,000 worth of investment in developing the mezzanine floor at the Hereford Library and Museum on Broad Street.

Councillors stressed that outsourcing would only happen if there was a benefit and would not reduce the quality of services.

The council’s cabinet agreed that a final decision will only take place when proposals have been fully evaluated.

The level of public interest was high during the meeting with a packed public gallery and thirteen residents tabling questions about the future of the public services.

Ledbury resident Nina Shields asked the council what evidence they had that undertaking an expensive tendering process would result in any cost savings or help ensure the sustainability of the service.

Councillor Harry Bramer, Cabinet Member for contracts and assets replied: “The outcome of the soft market testing and the report of the Heritage Lottery funded review ‘The Future Resilience of Herefordshire Council’s Museum Service’ demonstrate that a commissioned service may provide an income generation opportunity and shared costs as a way of reducing the revenue budget.

“This will be further tested through the procurement process to inform a final decision.”

In a statement released after the meeting Councillor Bramer said the council knew how important libraries, museums and archives were to people.

He said: “For a number of years we have been involved in a planned programme of change which has meant we have kept them open and operational in a challenging financial environment.

“We are now looking to take the next step to see if there are ways we can continue to make the most of the services and sites to have them used even more”.

The cabinet also approved a marketing plan to increase the number of visitors at the Black and White House museum in High Town to the tune of £20,000 and also ordered a complete review of its opening hours.

Councillors also asked for a car parking charging scheme to be introduced at Herefordshire Archive and Records Centre after consulting with users and ordered an increase in charging for digital archives.