COUNCIL chiefs battling to balance their budgets have slashed spending on library books as union chiefs warn the Government is sleepwalking into a library crisis.

Research by The Northern Echo using freedom of information powers reveals local authorities in the region have cut spending on library books by 34 per cent in five years.

In 2011/12, councils in the North-East and North Yorkshire spent £3.7m on new and replacement books - down £2m on 2007/08 when authorities spent £5.7m.

Author and library campaigner Mike Pannett, from Ryedale, North Yorkshire, last night said it was vital library stocks were kept up to date.

“There should be a good choice - if we start to cut down back on the choice of books we're depriving people of a valuable resource.

“Library books are so import for education and for recreation, particularly at a time when some people are struggling and can't afford expensive new books or Kindles.”

Although a number of libraries in the region were saved from closure amid a public outcry following cuts resulting from the 2010 Government spending review, the research shows local authorities have still slashed budgets for new books, as well as cutting library opening hours and using volunteers to run services.

Darlington Council cut spending by more than £40,000 over the five years, from £166,893 in 2007/08 to £124,832 in 2011/12.

A spokeswoman for the authority said: “Pressure on the budget means we have had less to spend on books.

“Borrowing levels and use of the library service remains buoyant.”

North Yorkshire County Council cut its spending by almost a half over the five years from £1.2m to £656,651 in 2011/12, however this included a £300,000 contribution from the book budget in 2011/12 towards a fund to create more time to reshape the county’s library service.

The council's stock fund for 2012/13 is £1,042,750, a spokesman said.

Stockton Council is the only authority to have maintained spending on books.

Coun Ken Dixon, Stockton Council's cabinet member for arts, leisure and culture, said: “We believe the range and relevance of books held in our libraries are critical to their success and we have therefore prioritised this area of spend.

“Perhaps as a consequence we are the only local authority in the Tees Valley to have enjoyed a 15 per cent increase in visits and a nine per cent increase in issues.”

Unison, the UK's largest union, warned at the weekend that the Government was sleepwalking into a damaging library crisis that would rob future generations of the vital services that local libraries can provide.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The Government's failure to act, and the massive cuts it is inflicting on councils, are a recipe for disaster.”

The Commons Culture, Media & Sport Committee last week launched an enquiry into libraries following a series of high-profile library closure plans.