NEXT Wednesday, my cabinet colleagues and I will discuss how to shape our library service in the years to come, writes Swindon Borough Council leader DAVID RENARD.

I have no doubt it will be a passionate debate. Libraries are regarded as hubs within communities and therefore any proposals to change how they operate are sure to stir the emotions of councillors and local people alike.

Yet the council is facing an enormous financial challenge and it is one we cannot shy away from. If we are going to survive and fulfil our statutory obligation of looking after the most vulnerable in our society we have to spend less money on what most people regard as traditional council services.

Libraries are no exception and the challenge we have been grappling with for the last few months is how to provide a sustainable library service knowing that the service’s budget will reduce by £1.5m.

We have already sought the views of library users and residents on what the library service means to them by asking them to comment on an emerging model.

I would like to thank everyone who took the trouble to take part in the engagement exercise as it provided some really useful insight which has formed the basis of the proposed library strategy that will be discussed by Cabinet next week.

The revised strategy proposes retaining four main library hubs in Central, West Swindon, North Swindon and Highworth. It proposes retaining a professional library service available to all libraries.

This will ensure that 80 per cent of current library users and 85 per cent of Swindon’s households are within two miles of a library. But that figure could increase still further as the cabinet will be asked to approve £500,000 in transitional funding which could see additional library facilities being retained and set up in other areas of the town.

In fact, if community-led solutions can be identified in Parks and Wroughton, for example, 95 per cent of people in the borough will be within two miles of a library.

The strategy also proposes investing in self-service technology so we can keep libraries open for longer, while provision will also be made for increasing volunteering within the service and providing targeted outreach and learning services.

If the draft strategy is approved by cabinet then a public consultation will take place throughout August and September and I would urge anyone who has an interest in libraries to take part so their views can be taken into account before any decisions are finalised.

It is time to channel the passion we have for our libraries into creating an innovative service we can all be proud of.