COST-cutting plans to out-source taxpayer-owned theatres, museums, libraries and leisure centres have been put on hold, amid doubts over the hoped-for savings.

Facing cuts of nearly £190m by 2017, in January Labour-led Durham County Council announced it was considering placing dozens of leisure and culture assets into a not-for-profit trust as early as next year.

It was hoped the move would save at least £1m a year in business rates and VAT and open new fundraising opportunities.

However, a Government review of how business rates work has caused the scheme to be halted.

In an internal email seen by The Northern Echo, council chiefs stress the plans have not been dropped but say the next stage would require ‘substantial resources’ and it would be best to await the outcome of the review, expected this summer.

In a statement, Steve Howell, the council’s head of sport and leisure, said it remained committed to the trust project but needed to be absolutely clear it would deliver the advantages originally expected.

It would not be prudent to continue any major work until the Government review was completed, he added.

"Should the outcome of the review be positive, we will be putting the project back on track at the earliest possible opportunity.

"In the meantime work is already underway to identify the savings which we will have to make should trust status not prove the best way forward," Mr Howell said.

What alternative savings are being considered remains unclear.

The Government is considering ‘localising’ business rates – so authorities keep cash raised in their areas.

However, Durham County Council leader Simon Henig said: "I’m sure this (the impact on trusts) is not what the Government intended. It’s a national issue. But until this is resolved, we can’t really move forward."

The list of leisure and culture assets and services involved includes 39 libraries, 15 leisure centres, two theatres, two museums, an arts centre, an outdoor learning centre, sports and arts development, countryside and outdoor sport and leisure services.

The trust, a Non Profit Distributing Organisation (NPDO), would be one of the biggest of its kind in the country, with a budget of more than £30m. The council would retain ownership of the facilities but the trust would manage and run them.