CAMPAIGNERS made an impassioned plea for council chiefs to save five under-threat libraries in Southampton.

Protesters warned that controversial plans potentially jeopardising the future of the city facilities risk depriving residents of access to education and jobs.

And they accused councillors of using community groups as a “political tool” for suggesting that they should take over sole running of the centres.

As previously reported, the Labour-run council has launched a major review into the city’s libraries.

It estimates that pulling out of running Cobbett Road, Burgess Road, Weston, Thornhill and Millbrook libraries can save it £268,000 a year.

It was announced on the same day as plans to axe another 137 jobs and raise council tax by 1.99 per cent for 2015/16 as part of a wider scheme which could see 300 job losses in a bid to fill a £31m budget black hole.

Council bosses say that they are not looking to close libraries and want community groups to take over the running of the five in question.

But council officers have already admitted that if groups don’t come forward, the libraries could close.

Hampshire television naturalist Chris Packham has joined the battle to save the libraries.

Now protesters from the Friends of Cobbett Road library – who have already fought for two years to protect their facility – warn that volunteers will struggle to shoulder the burden alone.

Member Anne MacGillivray told last night’s overview and scrutiny management committee meeting: “Volunteers can take on what they can and what they can give, but not sole control.”

She continued: “People are out there trying their hardest to fight for their libraries and work hard to keep them open.

“They are sick of being used as a political tool.

“Libraries are the services that the community pays for.

“It’s there because we want it and it’s a public right.”

She also said that the 12-week consultation focuses too much on finances rather than the wider benefits of libraries hosting community activities and providing computer facilities for jobseekers and low income families.

She added: “You can’t buy the value of people. It’s people that build economies, not governments.”

Council finance chief Cllr Stephen Barnes-Andrews promised to listen to people’s views and added: “This isn’t going to be a top down consultation. We encourage people to give their views.”

Tory opposition leader Cllr Royston Smith criticised the council for failing to consider other options, such as setting up shared services with Hampshire County Council or creating a libraries mutual or trust.

Cllr Barnes-Andrews said that officers are desperately seeking efficiency savings and added: “We have to get the position of all our libraries in order by 2017.”