LIBRARIES across the Wokingham borough have moved a step closer to privatisation.

Wokingham Borough Council voted in favour yesterday of moving to the tendering stage of the process after more than 20 companies submitted bids in June last year to take control.

Four shortlisted companies have already presented ideas on how they would improve the library service if they were successful in their bid for the five-year contract.

Cllr Ullakarin Clark, executive member for internal services, told the full council meeting: "We believe people in the borough deserve to have access to a library service that is fit for the 21st century and this will allow us to provide great value for money."

It is hoped that the partnership will save the council �170,000 each year, but the plans led to uproar from residents who feared library closures, job losses and cuts in services.

Lib Dem councillor Kay Gilder said: "This has got to be one of the most contentious issues of the past year and the budget passes over it without any explanation.

"No financial information about it. No way to identify how much libraries cost at the moment. No nothing."

But finance leader, Cllr Anthony Pollock, said: "You will find the library plan in the budget papers, it is not that difficult to find the answer when you know where to look."

The ruling Conservatives approved proposals to move forward with the tender process, which will close in May, before a final decision on whether to proceed is made by the executive committee in June.