HUNDREDS of workers face an anxious wait for news about their jobs, after the North-East’s largest council unveiled plans to slash library opening hours.

Labour-run Durham County Council wants to cut opening hours at all but one of its libraries – some by more than half – before outsourcing their management to a nonprofit- making trust.

Last night, the council said 250 staff, in the equivalent of 134 full-time posts, could be affected, but it was too early to say how many jobs would be lost.

Neville Hancock, from trade union Unison, said since the news broke about library hours cuts he had been inundated with calls from worried library workers. “We’re glad there’s a commitment to retaining a library service. In other areas, there’s been blanket shutdown.

“But we need to see the detail – what comes out of the consultation and what the knock-on effect will be. I hope the authority will listen to the wishes of communities.”

Next week, the council’s cabinet is expected to approve a 12-week public consultation about the changes, beginning on Monday, February 6.

A report released ahead of the meeting says all library service staff, except managers who have already been consulted about the reorganisation of their responsibilities, would be affected by the proposals and consultation on the “human resource implications”

is planned.

Hoping to save nearly £1.5m, the council plans to cut opening hours to 36 a week at 11 town centre libraries and 20 a week at 28 community libraries.

Only Clayport, in Durham, would not be affected.

The service provided by five mobile libraries would also be cut – to stopping only once in each village and where the nearest library is more than four miles away.

The council, which faces cuts of nearly £150m over the next four years, is meanwhile contemplating outsourcing management of 39 libraries, 15 leisure centres, two theatres, two museums, the Lamplight Arts Centre, in Stanley, and more to an arms-length trust.

Mr Hancock said Unison would have preferred the services to be delivered by committed public sector workers, but in the current economic climate other options had to be considered.

Options are to be discussed at County Hall, on Wednesday.