SWINDON played host to the government’s Minister For Civil Society yesterday as the deadline for saving community libraries approaches.

Last month, the council’s cabinet decided to approve plans to withdraw funding from all but five of Swindon’s 15 libraries.

The decision attracted national attention, including from politicians in Westminster.

Last month Coun Mary Martin met with MP Rob Wilson, whose ministerial portfolio includes libraries, and on Thursday he came to Swindon to take a closer look at the plans.

Coun Martin said: “We were delighted to welcome the the Minister For Civil Society to Swindon today, which was a great opportunity to follow up on our discussions in London in December.

“As part of the visit, he was shown the central library as well as Covingham library, which is well-advanced in its set up as a community run facility.”

Covingham is one of the few community libraries where a clear path to a secure future has emerged.

A trust model, devised by ward councillors and recently registered with the charities commission, has received the backing of local library supporters and the borough council.

Walcot's community library could stay open but plans suggest it will be more of an IT suite than a traditional library.

It may not have books on the premises and it is not yet clear whether such proposals would be eligible for transitional funding.

Wroughton, Liden, and to a lesser degree Stratton, also look to be on the path to finding a way to stay open.

But the deadline for the remaining five branch libraries to be saved is fast approaching.

Community groups have until next Tuesday to submit expressions of interest or risk seeing their libraries shut for good.

The tight timescale has been a cause for concern for campaigners since the December decision.

North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson, who organised the ministerial visit, has recognised those concerns and says he believes the council has taken them onboard.

“I’ve been very clear that I don’t want to see potentially good ideas fail because they hadn’t had time to prepare,” he said.

“The council has said they are willing to look at things on a case by case basis and that is the approach the minister wants to see too.

"It was a productive meeting to give the minister an update on the work that is going on towards protecting our vital libraries and to discuss further options for where the government can provide assistance.

"I'm greatly encouraged, we seem to be making good progress.

"It's clear the minister has a full understanding of the situation."

Ahead of Tuesday's deadline, Coun Martin has encouraged groups who may be interested in taking on a library to come forward.

“We’re pleased with the level of interest expressed so far. Any groups at an early stage in their thinking are encouraged to get in touch and talk to us,” she said.