CONTROVERSIAL plans to drastically reduce the scope of Swindon’s library service were given the green light on Wednesday by the council’s cabinet.

Cabinet members voted unanimously to approve a strategy which will see funding withdrawn from ten of the town’s 15 existing libraries – the remaining five will see significant reductions in staffed hours.

The plans are the latest in a series of restructuring efforts aimed at reducing the amount the council spends on services as it looks to save almost £50 million by 2020, the library cuts are expected to save £1.5 million.

The proposals have been fiercely opposed by campaigners in Swindon and, in recent months, they have attracted national attention.

The CEO of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, Nick Poole, described them as “the most damaging we have seen to any library service anywhere in the country.”

Mr Poole called on the government to intervene, saying that the council’s vision fell short of their legal obligation to provide a service that was both ‘comprehensive’ and ‘efficient’.

He also called into question the legitimacy of the consultation given that budgetary decisions around future funding for libraries were made prior to the libraries model being finalised.

Last week the pressure mounted on the council as the Shadow Culture Secretary, Labour MP Kevin Brennan, formally requested that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport carry out a review of the plans.

Mary Martin, the cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, defended the council when asked about the negative national attention on Wednesday.

She said: “I make no apology for the fact that we have taken a long term view, rather than taking short term decisions each year.

“Putting the financial decision in place first did not make the outcome inevitable, there are quite a lot of changes in this report compared to what was being discussed 12 months ago.”

Coun Martin also suggested she was not concerned about the outcome of any government review of the council’s plans, saying they had been in close contact with the relevant department throughout the process and that no flags had been raised.

She added: "We have engaged with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport throughout the development of our library strategy and we have incorporated significant changes to the model as a result of our extensive public engagement and consultation over the last year."

For the ten branch libraries that fall outside the council’s core provision, the future remains unclear.

A £500,000 pot had been made available to assist with transferring the libraries over to the ‘community’ but the council have set out a stringent set of criteria for bidding for a part of that funding which could mean some groups face difficulties.

Timelines are also tight, with expressions of interest due in just eight weeks’ time and formal applications just a further eight weeks after that.

Coun Martin used the examples of Wroughton, Covingham and Stratton on three occasions on Wednesday as examples of where discussions are at an advanced stage and hopes for the future of the branch libraries are high.

However in all three cases, the view from the other side of the coin is not so bright. Both Wroughton and Covingham Parish Councils say it is far too early to assess how well discussions are going and how likely it is that a solution will be found.

In Stratton, where the borough council was keen to secure an early agreement with the parish council, a decision has been delayed because parish councillors felt they did not have enough information to make a firm commitment.

The interventions of some councillors on the Stratton Parish Council even gave the impression that they may well take the decision not to take on the library at all when the proposal next  comes before them in January.

You can see how campaigners responded to the cabinet's decision here.