INNERLEITHEN campaigners have hit out after councillors forged ahead with plans to merge libraries and contact centres.

The controversial decision was rubber stamped at a full council meeting yesterday morning (Thursday) in Newtown St Boswells.

Campaigners opposed to the move raised a petition which drew over 1000 signatures.

But the Peeblesshire protest was largely ignored.

Teacher Tim Clancey, who led the Innerleithen protest, told the Peeblesshire News : "Innerleithen's library will retain its 16 hours per week opening hours (the second lowest in the Scottish Borders) for the time being due to the closure of the Contact Centre in Melrose.

"All libraries will face a regular review of their opening hours so there is no assurance that these hours will be maintained in the long term.

"The number of professional librarians will be cut as they are taken away from the counter and moved into a more peripatetic managerial role.

"Libraries such as Innerleithen will only have the expert attention of a qualified professional for a fraction of their opening hours." While the community will breathe a sigh of relief that their will be no immediate reduction in opening hours, an agreed recommendation that the opening hours of libraries and contact centres will be reviewed regularly means the situation could change.

Mr Clancey added: "The report estimates that the proposals will cost �360,000 to carry out, and their estimate that the savings made will recoup this cost within three years are based on assumptions such as finding buyers for vacated council property.

"It is likely that the cost will take far more than three years to recoup. There is no saving in the short or even the medium term." The proposals were voted through unanimously by elected members.

Defending the decision to enforce the changes Glenn Rodger, Director of Education at Scottish Borders Council told the meeting: "We are in a situation at the moment where our libraries provide an excellent service. But at the same time we are seeing a significant reduction in footfall.

"We are all well aware of the scenario taking place south of the border where libraries are closing at an alarming rate.

"We obviously want to avoid that happening and believe that this proposal is a sensible solution." Tweeddale councillor Graham Garvie, the Executive Member for Culture, Sport and Community Learning said: "This decision is another major step in reforming our front line services.

"This is not primarily a cost cutting project but more a service improvement exercise." Libraries and contact centres in Kelso, Jedburgh, Duns, Coldstream and Selkirk will also merge.