THE majority of West Berkshire's libraries are set to close as the district council looks to save almost £19m next year.
Newburytoday understands that staff have been told that all libraries except Newbury and Thatcham will be axed as part of the second phase of brutal cuts to public services.
It could mean seven libraries, many of which serve the most rural and isolated communities, will be closed down. The proposals are belived to include Wash Common, Burghfield Common, Hungerford, Lambourn, Pangbourne, Theale and Mortimer.
The council described the closure of libraries as "unthinkable" weeks ago, but said it had been left with little choice as is battles with a 44 per cent reduction in government funding.
One library employee, who didn’t want to be named, told Newburytoday: “We got the phone call from the council.
“They said they are proposing to cut all the libraries except Newbury and Thatcham. It’s devastating news.”
West Berkshire Council's portfolio holder for community culture and leisure services, Hilary Cole, said: “A proposal to reduce the number of libraries is one of the areas we have no choice but to consider as we seek to save £18.9m next year.
"We know our communities value libraries immensely and it’s with a heavy heart that we have to look for further savings within our library service.”
While the second phase of savings are not formally announced until later this week, they are also expected to include a four per cent rise to council tax and more cuts to bus services.
This Thursday, the council is expected to approve the first phase of cuts - totalling £10.8m - which includes the closure of children's centres and care homes and funding cuts to disabled children and people with mental health issues.
News of the library closures come just days after the country celebrated National Library Day.
Ms Cole added: “Local residents should be under no illusion about the scale of the challenge we face in finding £18.9m savings – around a fifth of our entire budget – in one year.
"It means we now have to consider areas, such as reducing the number of libraries, which even a few weeks ago would have been unthinkable.”
And she had harsh words for her Tory counterparts in central Government, saying: “In West Berkshire we generate far more funding for the government through our business rates than we receive from them and it is disappointing that we continue to be short-changed.
“It is having a considerable detrimental impact on the services we can run.
“Details of all our new budget proposals will be included in a public consultation which begins on Monday February 15th and which I would encourage all our communities to take part in.”
Details of further cuts will be published on Monday February 15 at www.westberks.gov.uk/budgetproposals
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