TWO of Oxford’s leading authors have described county council plans to end funding for 20 libraries as “shameful” and claim the move will impoverish communities.

Award-winning children’s author Philip Pullman and Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter attacked proposals to save £2m over four years by scaling back the library service.

Unless volunteers step in to run the 20 libraries, they will close next year under the Conservative-run council’s budget plans.

Mr Pullman, who lives just outside Oxford, said the cuts were a “political decision”, which had been avoided by other councils.

He said: “Closing 20 out of 43 libraries is an absolutely shameful number, and it is not inevitable.

“A saving of £2m seems like peanuts in the county council’s budget, but it will do enormous damage, which cannot easily be repaired. It will markedly degrade the experience of life for many people in Oxfordshire.”

The His Dark Materials author said more mobile libraries and an online catalogue offering e-books offered “nothing like the same experience” as visiting a library.

He added: “For many people, the library is not just a source of books, it’s a place where they can be free to do other activities.

“A lot of children do their homework there. In Summertown, a lot of older people go to sit in the pretty little garden with a book and enjoy the sunshine. That will be taken away quite gratuitously.”

Mr Dexter, who lives in Summertown, said: “Libraries are one of the greatest boons and benefits any community can offer its citizens, and these proposals are ridiculously short-sighted. Books open doors, whether you are young, middle-aged or old. Reading is probably the most precious gift most of us have in life.

“This will impoverish people’s lives.”

Community groups can bid for part of a £200,000 fund to keep their area’s library branch open.

County council leader Keith Mitchell said: “Philip Pullman and Colin Dexter regard the £2m saving as not much, but I am afraid it is still a cut that has to be found.

“If we were to exempt the library service, the cuts would have to be added to those already planned for adult social care, youth services or highways maintenance.

“Where there is a strong local desire to maintain a community library funded by the community or volunteers, we would want to work with that local community to support their efforts, and we would hope that Mr Pullman and Mr Dexter would lend their weight to such Big Society aspirations.”

The budget will be presented by the council’s cabinet on January 25, before a final vote by the full council in February.

Earlier this week, Mr Pullman was among writers who forced the Government to scrap plans to axe funding for Bookstart, which gives free books to young children.

THE 20 libraries facing the loss of county council funding are: In Oxford: Blackbird Leys, Botley, Headington, Littlemore, Old Marston and Summertown.

Around the county: Adderbury, Bampton, Benson, Berinsfield, Charlbury, Chinnor, Deddington, Grove, Kennington, Neithrop (Banbury), North Leigh, Sonning Common, Stonesfield and Woodcote.