CONTROVERSIAL plans to cut the funding to ten of Swindon's 15 libraries came within a single vote of being sent back to the cabinet on Monday.

The council's scrutiny committee voted by seven votes to six to allow the proposals to proceed to the implementation stage.

The narrow vote followed a lengthy and passionate debate in which Labour councillors accused the administration of pushing ahead with plans that were too unclear to be properly enacted.

The role of the scrutiny committee is to review decisions made by the cabinet - they ask questions of the relevant cabinet member and probe deeper into the detail.

The intention being that if a policy is found to be in need of further clarification or revisions then it can be sent back.

The makeup of the committee reflects the political balance of the council which is why the Conservatives make up the majority of its membership.

Most decisions are passed through, after discussion, with a nod from members of both parties.

But on Monday, Labour councillor Mark Dempsey took the unusual step of proposing to reject the library proposals.

He was seconded in his efforts by Coun Jim Robbins and supported by the remaining four Labour councillors on the committee.

However a block vote along party lines by the Conservative members meant the proposals were pushed through.

Coun Dempsey said the plans for the future of Swindon's libraries were "as clear as mud" and argued it was impossible to properly scrutinise a document that was lacking in any real clarity.

The confusion centres around the rapid movement on the part of the council towards a trust model to oversee the library service, possibility managed by an as-yet unknown outside partner.

The libraries proposal purports to be a strategy to take the service through to 2020 but there is still a big question mark over how that strategy will be delivered, and by whom.

Coun Mary Martin, the cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, defended the proposals.

She argued that the issues of structure - a core of five council-funded libraries with a hope for additional community led sites - was separate from that of governance.

Labour councillors on the committee disagreed, arguing that the two were most definitely linked.

A number of the councillors on the scrutiny committee are now also sitting on the new shadow parish councils.

They are trying to make decisions in very short timescales about what services they are able to take on in the new year and what the financial impact of those decisions will be.

They argued that they could not realistically take a decision on the libraries in their parishes with only a confused and part-confirmed policy to go on.

Coun Martin argued that the timescales were in fact flexible and that community groups could have, in theory, until next August to put forward plans for their libraries.

However Coun Chris Watts (Lab) said: "There is no flexibility. There might be for delivering the libraries but the shadow parishes have to set a precept in January - that isn't flexible."

There appeared even to be confusion as to who could apply for the £500,000 of transitional funding set aside to assist with setting up community libraries.

At one point the borough's own solicitor appeared unsure whether the offer to apply for funding even extended beyond parish councils to the wider community.

Coun Gemma McCracken (Con) wanted to know how community groups were able to make decisions on the feasibility of supporting their local library without detailed facts and figures on its performance and cost.

Some parish councils have been given a head start in the process of building a business case for their library because councillors with access to that sort of detailed information passed it on much earlier in the process.

Covingham, for example, is already at the point of registering a trust with the Charity Commission for their library while other communities are still grasping for facts.

The provision of libraries is not an issue that requires the approval of the full council and so Monday's scrutiny committee was the last opportunity for the council to be forced to think again.

The plans will now be implemented in 2017.