EMOTIONS ran high as proposals to close several of the town's libraries came before the full council for debate following the 'public outcry' last night, Monday.

Determined campaigners staged a protest outside the Town Hall ahead of the meeting to make their stance clear to councillors.

The Save Warrington's Libraries campaign continues to gather momentum, and, following the protest, those involved got the chance to have their say in the chamber.

Nicola Baird questioned Cllr Tony Higgins, executive board member for leisure, community and culture, on the issue.

She said: "In light of the public outcry to LiveWire's consultation proposals, will the council confirm that they will direct LiveWire to come up with a completely new set of proposals that do not include the closure of Warrington's libraries?"

Cllr Higgins (LAB – Fairfield and Howley) started his response by reminding Ms Baird that the consultation was extended by 17 days to this Friday, October 21.

He added: "The consultation is ongoing – until then we know nothing at all.

"Nothing is decided, let the consultation ride out. We will then consider all feedback before making any decision."

Cllr Higgins was later asked whether he 'cared' about the services provided after saying he would provide a written response to campaigners pressing him.

Councillors were also questioned on whether they believe LiveWire is 'fit to run the library services'.

Culcheth, Glazebury and Croft councillor Matt Smith is among those calling for the 'exceptionally damaging' proposals to be thrown out after slamming 'flawed' figures put forward by LiveWire.

He said: "I'll refer to the library footfall statistics that form part of the presentation LiveWire have been giving publicly since the start of September.

"They state the footfall at Culcheth Library has fallen by 44 per cent between 2010 and 2015.

"I was sent the raw data this was based on at the end of last week and found myself initially unable to reproduce their figures.

"I then realised that their figures for the footfall in 2015 only included the months April to December.

"Now those of you who are familiar with the passing of time, and aren't we all, will be aware that we usually consider a year to have 12 months.

"If we choose, unlike LiveWire, to include January, February and March, then usage has fallen by less than 25 per cent.

"This is a smaller reduction than any of the other stand-alone libraries in Warrington."

Closure proposals would have to be passed by the executive board before coming into effect.

Cllr Russ Bowden (LAB – Birchwood), who is in charge of the budget, vowed to do all he can to ensure the 'most concrete' library services can be delivered, while council leader Cllr Terry O'Neill highlighted the challenge the authority faces.

He said: "We have done our best to retain our library services, while protecting the most vulnerable.

"If we don't do this we will have to cut somewhere else. Setting a legal budget means we have to make tough decisions.

"We need to make sure we have a library service which is fit for the 21st century. If we don't cut through this then what do we cut, what do we cut?"

A council source said a decision on the libraries is unlikely to be made until the new year.

LiveWire has since responded and dismissed the claim from Cllr Smith that usage at Culcheth Library has fallen by less than 25 per cent.    

A spokesman said: "Since these figures were shared with the public, a systems error was recognised which meant that three months of visitor figures to Culcheth Library were not included in the totals used in the consultation presentation.

"As soon as this became apparent, the council were informed and the correct figures were shared with councillors in a meeting where Cllr Smith was present.

"The correct figures have now also been shared with the public via the consultation presentation and via the FAQs on LiveWire's website.

"Looking at financial years, which are the figures LiveWire has used throughout its proposals, figures showed that there were 29,364 visits to Culcheth Library between April 2015 to March 2016, not 23,047 as originally stated.

"This represents a decrease of just over 28 per cent in visits made between April 2010 and March 2016. 

"This was a systems issue and was not a deliberate attempt to mislead the public.

"The visitor figures Cllr Smith refers to are a guide to usage in library buildings which are measured by people counters and manually by staff.

"The most important figures, in terms of lending and reading books, are book issue figures, which are measured by a digital system in line with statutory library services across the country.

"There has been a significant decrease in book issue figures at libraries across Warrington over the last six years."