A CAMPAIGN group which is committed to keeping the county's libraries open has said the reason library users have dropped is due to the number of hours cut from the service.

Joint Action for Herefordshire Libraries (JAHL), which represents library users throughout the county, recently submitted a Freedom of Information request to find out how Herefordshire Council cuts have had an impact on library opening hours.

It revealed that ten years ago libraries around the county opened for more than 407 hours a week but by 2015/16 they only opened for 253 hours, a drop of nearly 40 per cent.

Clare Llewellyn West, the chair of JAHL, said: "We were shocked to see just how deep the cuts have been and we know that there has also been a severe reduction in staffing which is undermining the quality of the service.

"Fewer libraries – fewer library staff - fewer visits. It doesn’t take a genius to see the connection."

The group submitted the FOI ahead of next month's cabinet meeting which will discuss the future of libraries.

Funding reduction is expected to be £380,000 in 2017/18, with a further £380,000 funding reduction in 2018/19.

Mrs Llewellyn West added: "We understand that the council is faced with very tough decisions because of the impact of austerity but we genuinely believe that libraries are an important investment for the community.

"Modern libraries join all the dots – health, education, business, internet access and leisure – they have something for everyone.

"And in a large rural county they are the council’s key footprint in each area."

Herefordshire has not suffered any library closures as yet but a recent BBC reports showed that 343 libraries closed in the UK in the last six years.

A Herefordshire Council spokesman said: "The county has seen a decline in library use due to a combination of facts which is reflective of the national trend of adults who use a public library service which has decreased year on year from 2005/06 from 48.2 per cent to 33.4 per cent in 2015/16.

"However, despite reducing funding for libraries, Herefordshire Council has managed to avoid the closure of any sites and actually invested in a new library for Ledbury that has won awards for its design.

"Additional investment has been agreed for Hereford Library which is due to reopen early next year."

They added that the cabinet meeting on October 13 will look at the "opportunities and options for the future delivery of customer services and libraries" and how to meet savings plans outlined in the published financial plan for the council.