CONTROVERSIAL plans to slash opening hours at 38 public libraries look likely to be agreed next week – despite massive public opposition.

Facing cuts of nearly £190m, Durham County Council looks poised to cut opening times to 36 hours a week at 11 town centre libraries and 20 hours a week at 27 community branches.

Mobile library services are also likely to be reduced, in a bid to save nearly £1.5m.

The council’s all-Labour cabinet is due to make final decisions on Wednesday, with officials urging them to press ahead with the cutbacks.

Councillor Maria Plews, the cabinet member for leisure, libraries and lifelong learning, said Government spending reductions meant the council had no choice but to make changes, but stressed library users would be involved in setting the precise opening hours at their local facility.

A number of options would be offered, although the cabinet will decide the overall hours total.

During a public consultation, 5,812 questionnaires were returned, there were 881 responses from a Citizens’ Panel and eight petitions carrying a total of 7,293 signatures were filed.

A petition to protect Belmont library attracted 2,459 signatures. Simon Barron, North-East spokesman for the Voices for the Library campaign, said: “I’m against reducing opening hours, particularly in times of economic recession when people need libraries the most, for internet access and education.”

Framwellgate Moor Liberal Democrat councillor Mark Wilkes said: “It’s very clear to me that Labour is incapable of managing the finances of Durham County Council.

“They refused to cut the cost of councillors, refused to scrap their publicity rag, are paying millions to directors and over £200,000 to the chief executive. Yet they can’t find the money to protect library opening hours – quite simply shameful.”

Previously, council leader Simon Henig said if opening hours were not reduced, other options – including branch closures – would have to be considered.

The council’s library service includes 750,000 books, 210 computers and five mobile libraries and costs about £5.7m a year.

Its 90,000 active members made 1.9 million visits in the past year. The changes are expected to cost the equivalent of 20 full-time jobs.

Wednesday’s cabinet meeting will take place at County Hall, Durham, at 9.30am.