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

The administration’s final budget proposals set out plans to cut staffed opening hours across all libraries by 26 per cent to save about £99,000 in staff costs, providing just 10 staffed hours a week in smaller libraries, 30 hours in medium libraries, 45 hours in larger libraries and 55 at the Central Library.

This will lead to a reduction in opening hours in most cases, although Old Town, in the Arts Centre, Devizes Road, will see no change in actual opening hours as the council says it can operate for periods without staff.

The smaller libraries that will be affected are Covingham, Pen-hill, 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.

Save Old Town Library, an action group led by Shirley Burnham, has launched a petition, that says the cuts to smaller libraries are disproportionate as Old Town and Penhill would lose nearly half its staffed hours, while Central Library would only lose three.

Copies of the petition are available to sign at Earles newsagents, in Newport Street, Old Town, and the John Moulton Hall, in Penhill Drive. Shirley is also collecting signatures in Wood Street, Old Town, every day from 10am-11am.

Shirley said: “They might not take much notice of the petition but they have to have it. They have to have a record of it.

“Basically these libraries that don’t have staff are just rooms with books in. And when people go to the charity shop and pick up a cheap book, that’s your alternative. A library is something really different and staff not only choose their books, they ensure the whole thing is running properly, they answer questions.

“They also help people who are doing job applications online. They will be helping people when they apply for universal credit.”

Marilyn Beale, the secretary of the Penhill Forum, who is backing the petition, said the reduced opening hours would slash visitor numbers to the Penhill library, based at the John Moulton Hall.

She said: “You have got to remember to go up on certain days. Sometimes going to the library is built in with another activity like going to the shops and if the times don’t fit in then it can considerably mess up going to the library.”

Coun Keith Williams, cabinet member for leisure and strategic transport, said last week that 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.

Full council will set the budget on February 21.