PLANS to slash the number of libraries in Swindon have been criticised by headteachers from across the town.

For two months, residents and campaigners have been submitting responses to the council’s consultation on the library strategy.

This week they were joined by 25 primary school headteachers who, in a letter to the council, called for a reconsideration of the ‘drastic’ plans.

Last year the libraries budget was £2.6m, but by 2020 it will have been slashed to £1.1m – with the vast majority of those savings coming as early as next year.

As a result, the council is proposing to withdraw funding and support for all but four of the town’s 15 libraries as well as the mobile library service.

In their letter, the headteachers say they believe that such a significant reduction in branch and mobile library provision will be “very detrimental to Swindon children.”

Sally Clarke, headteacher at Nythe Primary School, said: “Library facilities do not merely represent access to books for children, they represent high academic aspirations and raised levels of social understanding within their communities.

“The lack of a university for a town this size is already a limiting factor, but the removal of the libraries will strike at the heart of social and academic aspiration for the people of the town.”

Kelly James, headteacher at Lawn Primary School, added: “Reading is the key that unlocks doors to life.

“It’s just that important – if you can’t read then you can’t look at a bus timetable, you can’t do your shopping, pay your bills or fill in forms.”

The heads said they understood the budgetary pressures on the council as many of them faced similar circumstances at their own schools.

But they asked for the council to think carefully about where the funding axe should fall first, arguing that libraries – particularly those in poorer areas – were to valuable a resource to be lost.

A spokesman for Swindon Borough Council said: “We have received a wide range of responses as part of the libraries consultation and we welcome the submission from the Swindon headteachers.

“The views expressed in the letter will be considered along with all the other consultation responses.”

Libraries campaigners have welcomed the intervention from so many headteachers.

In their own response to the consultation on the libraries strategy they called on the council to consider the role that branch libraries play in areas where schools might not have their own.

Sarah Church, chairman of Save Swindon’s Libraries, said: “We very much hope that the borough council will listen to Swindon's most experienced teaching professionals now they have written to highlight the importance of the library service and its staff to the school children of Swindon.

“It is well documented that reading for pleasure at primary age is a key determinant in later life success: continued access to the library service is central to improving the lives of Swindon’s children.”

The public consultation on the libraries strategy has now closed – a report is expected to be put before cabinet in December.

The text of the letter reads as follows:

To Swindon Borough Council,

This is in response to your consultation on changes to the Library Service in Swindon.

The undersigned Headteachers believe that the move towards closure of most Branch Libraries and Mobile Library provision will be very detrimental to Swindon children.

It will also place disadvantaged children at a much greater risk of not having adequate literacy resources in the home and therefore lower attainment in their most crucial years.

Branch libraries are more than a book repository. They are a staffed resource, which provides information, access to and lifelong enjoyment of books.

We appreciate the financial pressures on the local authority, but believe that other areas of expenditure should come under much closer scrutiny before Library closures.

We ask, on behalf of our children, that as part of the Consultation, Swindon Borough Council reconsider this drastic step and seek an alternative approach.

Candida Hutchinson - Principal, The Croft Primary School

Eirian Painter - Headteacher, Lainesmead Primary School

Kelly James - Headteacher, Lawn Primary School

Andy Drury - Headteacher, Wanborough Primary School

Aine Gale - Principal, Haydon Wick Primary School

Rachel Surch - Headteacher, Redoaks Primary School

Luke Maddison - Headteacher, South Marston CofE Primary School

Tony McAteer - Headteacher, Holy Cross Catholic Primary School

Sally Clarke - Headteacher, Nythe Primary School

Bob Buckley - Headteacher, Abbey Meads Community Primary School

Gary Evans - Headteacher, Ferndale Primary School

Andrew Beadnell - Headteacher, Ruskin Junior School

Nick Sheppard - Headteacher, Orchid Vale Primary School

Heather Kellett - Headteacher, Eldene Nursery and Primary School

Mike Welsh - Headteacher, Goddard Park Primary School

Aaron Griffiths - Headteacher, Eastrop Infant School

Helen Tudor - Principal, Tregoze Primary School

Jo Garton - Headteacher, Bridlewood Primary

Sue Rees - Headteacher, Oaktree Primary School

Jo-Anne Rutt - Headteacher, Beechcoft Infants

Margaret Clarke - Headteacher, King William Street CofE Primary

Caroline Polley - Headteacher, Covingham Park Primary School

Naomi Fry - Headteacher, Holy Rood Catholic Primary School

Emma Lindsay - Headteacher, Bishopstone CofE Primary School

Jane Leo - Principal, Tadpole Farm CofE Primary Academy