A FORMER libraries chief has said that county branches remain in a “precarious” position – despite being saved from a funding axe.

Don Seale warned that increased pressure on Oxfordshire County Council’s social services meant libraries could not be guaranteed future cash support.

The authority made a u-turn on plans to axe funding from 20 out of 43 branches.

Mr Seale, pictured above, the cabinet member responsible for libraries from 2005 to 2007, said: “The money to keep the libraries is going to come from a budget which is very, very, difficult – which is care for older people.”

He said a May High Court ruling that Birmingham City Council acted unlawfully in making cuts for disabled people could have implications for the authority.

Birmingham is looking at cutting library cash, which it at first wanted to preserve, he said.

Mr Seale told the safer and stronger communities committee this week: “I would say that the library budget in the next two to three years is quite precarious, because if the volunteers won’t come forward and money is even tighter, there is going to be pressure.”

The new plans – out to consultation to September 30 – will see all branches retain their buildings, books and stock management systems. All will get self-service machines.

Some 22 will be fully staffed by council employees as these meet the legal requirement for a “comprehensive and efficient” network.

Five will have a “significant” level of staffing with a “small element” of volunteers with 16 relying more on volunteers over the next three years.

Director for social and community services John Jackson said the plans had “broadly been welcomed”. He said: “The main issue is how volunteering might work.

“One of the practical proposals is we will ensure there is always a paid member of library staff on the other end of the phone to give advice.”

Marcus Ferrar, spokes-man for the Friends of Summertown Library group, said meetings with the council “made clear” cash would be scarce in future years.

“This is the question – will branches be able to find volunteers?”

Council spokesman Marcus Mabberley said: “The Birmingham City Council High Court ruling was about the lawfulness of process that that council followed, rather than the level of cuts they proposed.”

He said decisions would not be taken on future funding for Oxfordshire until February.

To respond to the consultation call 01865 792422 or visit online at oxfordshire.gov.uk.