MANY of the town’s libraries could be under threat unless volunteers come forward to run them.

Swindon Borough Council is in the process of setting its budget for next year and needs to fill a budget gap of £20m.

Measures announced include a proposal to cut £500,000 from the budget for operating community assets, likely to rise to £2m in the coming years.

There are currently more than 70 community assets that are run by the council and, with many community centres having been leased out, libraries now make up the biggest expense.

There are 15 libraries across Swindon but talks have begun at several on how to combine them with other services.

A new library strategy is being developed that aims to see how libraries can be linked up with other amenities to cut costs.

The draft budget reads: “Under this model the council would no longer directly operate some community buildings and services, enabling them to be led by community need and demand, increasing their sustainability and the benefits for local people through the co-location and integration of services.”

However, campaigners have criticised the move and say using more volunteers will undermine the service.

Shirley Burnham, a member of the Save Old Town Library Group, said: “The substitution of paid staff by volunteers is a false economy. Fragmentation of our library service may result and that will have a reputational risk for the council.

“Library campaigners in Swindon have insisted since late 2007 that volunteers should be additional and complementary to the well-run library service we have.

“There is plenty of evidence for Councillors to see that axing staff in public libraries and replacing them with volunteers is not the right approach to government cuts.”

Council leader David Renard (Con, Haydon Wick) has said: “We have to find massive savings in the next four years on top of what we have already achieved.

I am proud that for the most part, those savings have come from the council finding new ways to be more efficient and we have reduced the impact on frontline services.

"This remains our aim, but we now have to be radical and bold if we are to continue to succeed. We are, at the same time as having these savings pressures, facing unavoidable increases in costs due to high levels of demand for services to children, vulnerable adults, and the elderly.

“We can no longer pay for all the services traditionally provided and must prioritise what services we provide." and review how the rest might continue.”