QUALIFIED librarians could lose their jobs and be replaced by volunteers under plans drawn up by cash-strapped Sandwell Council.

The borough’s libraries and archives service will have its budget slashed by £900,000 over the next three years as part of Government’s austerity measures.

Currently, volunteers are used to provide “added value services,” such as running a cafe in a library, but the council is now looking at them providing core services.

The move was condemned by union leader Rob Johnston, head of campaigns and communications for Unison West Midlands.

“What we are seeing is local authorities gradually getting out of the business of running local services, but public services should be staffed by public servants,” he said, adding that he sympathised for the difficulties they faced in the wake of the Government’s spending review.

Leisure services cabinet member Councillor Linda Horton was being recommended to approve a plan proposing the move today, which will then go out to public consultation.

The Library Innovation and Evaluation Plan states: “In future they (volunteers) could be used to provide core services and maintain opening hours, reducing staffing costs.”

Its authors acknowledge that the running of the libraries cannot be handed “wholesale” to volunteers and that they will have to be trained, managed and supported if the move is to be successful.

They continue: “This approach will take time to develop as negotiation with unions and staff will be required.”

The plan also suggests that further capital investment in self-service kiosks, enabling borrowers to scan their tickets and books, could lead to further staffing cuts.

Service director for learning and culture Brian Aldridge said: “Adopting the proposed plan will allow budget reductions to be planned and delivered in a consistent and coherent manner.”

The council has already automated library back office processes, which has allowed it to cut staffing, has a number of libraries in shared premises to reduce costs and is rolling out self-service to the 12 largest libraries in the borough.

Mr Aldridge said the plan would allow wide consultation with decisions made in a “transparent and consistent manner.”

If approved, the consultation and evaluation will be completed by October, with the outcomes being submitted to Cllr Horton in November.