CONTROVERSIAL plans to outsource libraries across the Wokingham borough to a private company have been rubber-stamped.

Despite disquiet among some library users the council executive approved the idea last Thursday in a bid to save £170,000 a year.

Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for community development, said: "We will not be closing any services. We are looking for ideas not just for investment, but also to serve the public better.

"We need to agree to start a dialogue with private companies to see if the interest is there. If a partner is identified, then we will be required to agree again on whether to go ahead with outsourcing."

But that worries Bethan Walke, a committee member at Woodley's Lend and Play Toy Library, who uses Wargrave library regularly with her children, three-year-old Meghan and one-year-old Nerys.

She said: "I am still concerned about closures because some libraries are used more than others and if a private company made decisions based on the level of usage, then some services may disappear. It makes no difference if a community has 2,000 people using a library or 20 people, it is still an essential resource."

Councillors branded the plans "innovative" and "exciting", which will affect more than 70 members of staff in libraries in Arborfield, Finchampstead, Lower Earley, Maiden Erlegh, Spencers Wood, Twyford, Wargrave, Winnersh, Wokingham and Woodley.

Cllr Rob Stanton, executive member for education, said: "This is a very exciting opportunity. We have not committed to anything yet, but this could give the libraries a new lease of life.

"The world of books is under pressure and there is a new generation of readers out there that we must attract into the libraries."

Cllr Matt Deegan, executive member for community development, added: "I understand the need to engage outside expertise with companies who understand the environment."

But Cllr Prue Bray, Lib Dem opposition leader, said: "Libraries mean a lot to people and I think it is disgraceful that there has been no consultation with library users or schools."

Councillors voted unanimously in favour of the plans, which means private sector companies will now be invited to come forward to bid for the five year contract, to begin from May next year.