A COUNCIL which has repeatedly refused to abandon plans to levy business rates on volunteer-run libraries is due to review its policy on the tax.

Hambleton District Council has been warned by volunteers and councillors that failure to waive the 20 per cent business rates charge on charitable organisations could jeopardise some of the community ventures.

North Yorkshire County Council will end its management of 21 libraries in March/April this year and hand them over to local volunteers to run as charitable organisations.

The county’s six other district authorities have agreed not to charge community-run libraries the 20 per cent business rates levy given to charitable organisations. But Hambleton District Council indicated to the groups taking over the libraries they would still have to foot the bill, prompting an outcry from volunteers working to keep the facilities open.

But now the council’s audit, governance and standards committee is due to review its policy on discretionary business rates, at an extraordinary committee meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, January 24).

Leader of Hambleton District Council, Mark Robson, strongly denied the review of discretionary business rate relief was in any way connected to the district’s libraries said the meeting involves looking at whether the council should revise its policy. He said the new charitable organisations being set up to run the libraries will still have their applications looked individually.

He said: “We need to be very, very clear on this. The audit and governance committee will be looking at discretionary rate relief – it’s not purely for libraries in any way, libraries are just some of many organisations that might be affected. It just happens the timing is right to review the policy.”

The council report - which includes a break-down of the amount of business rate relief each library in the district would qualify for – looks at the criteria for organisations wanting 100 per cent of their business rates waived.

The council is proposing to base this decision on whether membership is open to all sections of the community, whether the majority of members are residents of the district, if facilities are made available to people other than club members and if the organisation encourages membership from groups in the community which “in the authority’s opinion, particularly deserve support”.

Hambleton District Council is responsible for six libraries, including Great Ayton Discovery Centre, which has been operating as a community-run organisation for several years.

The report goes on to detail how the five new community libraries would have to pay £22,600 in partial business rates a year to the council, which amounts to £4,700 a year for Stokesley Library and £13,900 for Northallerton.

Len Wiles, chair of the 60-volunteer Thirsk Library steering group said even if they qualified for the rate relief, they still had to budget for it as they will have to wait for their bill and then apply for it.

“The problem is we have to budget for that £2,000 bill," he said.

"When we take over the library on April 1st we will have things like insurance, cleaning, decorating to pay for and potentially business rates, but the worry is we don’t have an income until the library actually opens.”