THIS week’s announcement from Swindon Borough Council on libraries is a major blow, with a significant cut in the budget over the next four years.

I am an unashamed library fan. I have previously served as the Lead Member for Libraries on SBC and was the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries. I have led Parliamentary debates on the future of libraries, have spoken at numerous library conferences, launched the annual children’s Summer Reading challenges and crucially, I am a regular user (including overdue fines!) of our fantastic library network.

This won’t be an easy decision for SBC as they wrestle with the challenge of the rising costs of Adult Social Services with an ageing population, which is taking an increasing share of the council tax budget year on year.

However, whilst the council has to face difficult decisions, I personally would have cut other budgets before libraries. For example the £1.5m budget for the ineffective Forward Swindon – an SBC funded body which I receive endless complaints over from the business community (the very people which the organisation is meant to be supporting). But perhaps I am biased as a library user.

Whilst the announcement is very disappointing, it was expected after the recent consultation. So working with the Save Swindon Libraries Group, and representatives of each of the community libraries, we have been looking at all options to protect our library networks.

Firstly, there is real potential for a Library Trust to be set up. Devon County Council did so in April this year with their Libraries Unlimited social enterprise. As a charity they are able to reclaim business rates (worth about £400,000 for Swindon’s libraries), apply for grants and encourage philanthropy. Their mission is to bring ideas, imagination, knowledge and creativity to people’s lives and communities, focusing on promoting and encouraging a love of reading.

Crucially, whilst they encourage volunteers, the service will still be staff led. I have raised this as a potential for Swindon with the Libraries Minister in Parliament. He would be supportive of this model and could potentially help provide financial assistance to set up or even to join Libraries Unlimited itself.

Secondly, we are exploring how local parish councils, community groups etc could step in to support their local library. Whilst there is real enthusiasm here, efforts have been frustrated by a lack of access to the running costs of each library.

This is crucial as we only have until July next year before savings need to be made, so every day is crucial in working up constructive, viable alternatives. It is only Covingham Library that has had sufficient information and they have drawn up exciting plans to both protect and enhance their library – this could be replicated. SBC must provide this information urgently for all libraries.

I know Coun David Renard, Leader of SBC, is passionate about our local libraries, so I urge him at the forthcoming Cabinet Meeting to make it crystal clear that every effort will be made to explore the setting up of our own Libraries Unlimited Trust, and to work with local groups to provide all the information they need to work up alternative plans.

David delivered innovative changes for our local Leisure Services, we need him to step up again - he will have our full support.