THE first public meeting of the Save Swindon’s Libraries campaign was held yesterday, with the council left in no doubt that residents are determined to fight them all the way.

The Community Centre at Christ Church in Old Town was at standing room only, with organisers putting the attendance at 124 people.

Best-selling guest authors Alan Gibbons and Jake Arnott spoke in support of Swindon libraries before the meeting was opened up for questions and answers.

The campaign was formally launched six weeks ago after it became clear that Swindon Borough Council planned to make savings from the libraries budget of up to 65 per cent by 2020.

That amounts to £1.5 million which would inevitably mean significant changes to the provision of a library service at the town’s 15 existing libraries.

Conservative Councillor Garry Perkins, Cabinet Member for Economy, Regeneration and Skills, was the only representative from the council at the meeting – he faced a barrage of challenging questions from assembled residents.

Many of the questions focused on the two dominant emerging models said to be favoured by the council.

The first is the closure of all outlying libraries with the exception of the Central Library at Regent Circus with only a mobile service provided to other areas.

The second, the more likely of the two options, is the removal of professional staff from outlying libraries so that they are run on a voluntary basis.

Cllr Perkins sought to allay some of those fears, he said: “We haven’t yet decided on any form of action but we do have to reduce the cost.

“Reducing 15 libraries down to one is scaremongering, I can guarantee you there will be more than one library.

“There will be professionals in place, but there might be partial support and not full time support.”

He also made a firm commitment that no libraries would be closed in Swindon prior to the completion of the forthcoming consultation and that until that point they would all be professionally staffed.

His commitments were met with some scepticism from the audience, with the guarantee to have “more than one library” prompting audible jeers.

Alison Durrant, from Highworth, challenged Cllr Perkins. She said: “Every other neighbouring Conservative authority is faced with the same financial challenges you are, yet every other neighbouring Conservative authority has been able to save their libraries.

“Why can you not use transitional funding as Oxfordshire has, why can you not speak up against government cuts as Oxfordshire has, why can you not defend our libraries?”

Labour Councillor Jim Robbins, Shadow Cabinet Member for Libraries, pointed to Walcot library as an example of where volunteer takeover has failed.

He highlighted a fall in the lending rate from 14,832 items the year before volunteers took over to 4,057 items the year after.

On Thursday, the Save Swindon’s Libraries petition carrying over 2,000 signatures will be formally presented to a meeting of the full council for debate.

The group plan to demonstrate on the council steps before the meeting from 6pm.