A CAMPAIGN has started against Swindon Council’s plans to slash the opening hours of libraries to help save about £15m to balance the budget in 2013/14.

The Conservative administration final budget proposals lay out plans to cut the staffed opening hours across all libraries by 26 per cent – or 132 hours per week – to save about £99,000 in staff costs.

A total of 6.9 full-time equivalent posts would be affected, although there are currently 3.7 full-time equivalent vacancies.

The plan is to provide just 10 hours a week in smaller libraries, 30 hours in medium libraries, 45 hours in larger libraries and 55 at Central Library.

In most cases, the reduced staffing hours will reduce the actual opening hours, but Old Town, which is embedded in the Arts Centre, in Devizes Road, will see no change in actual opening hours as the council says it can operate for periods without staff.

The smaller libraries are Covingham, Penhill, Pinetrees, Liden, Old Town, Even Swindon, and Walcot; the medium libraries are Moredon and Rodbourne Cheney, Upper Stratton, Park and Wroughton; and the larger libraries are: Highworth, West Swindon and North Swindon.

Shirley Burnham, of the action group Save Old Town Library, said the group would launch protests and a petition because the move could lead to libraries closing, adding that savings should be found instead in senior management.

She said: “It’s not good news for us in Old Town to be cut from 18 staffed hours to 10 per week – nearly 50 per cent. You will remember we fought as hard in the past to keep our frontline staff as we did for our library itself.

“At least the door to the Arts Centre is open much of the time, so people can use a checkout machine, if it’s working, to get books – but staff do not only check out books. They are essential sources of information, help with computers – and, basically, ensure a well-run, quality library.

“Another case in point is Penhill Library – its hours are to be cut from 19 to 10 – but the doors will be shut and people locked out the rest of the time. People who depend on the smaller libraries are penalised in a postcode lottery and will be in receipt of the dregs of a two-tier service.”

Coun Stan Pajak (Lib Dem, Eastcott) said: “When you cut staff to a certain stage, people start to worry about the viability of the libraries. And I wonder, with 10 staffing hours, are we reaching that in some of our smaller libraries.”

Coun Keith Williams, cabinet member for leisure and strategic transport, said it was not the best use of money to fund longer hours in libraries with lower borrowing rates, adding that Covingham, Liden and Pinetrees had their hours increased in 2011.

He said: “We do get relatively low borrowing rates per hour in these little libraries and hopefully by concentrating the hours to core hours when people do need to use it most, hopefully we can get some of these borrowing rates up.”

Full council will set the budget on February 21.