No Walsall libraries will close in the next year — that was the message from defiant council bosses today following weeks of protests.
Chiefs were accused of making a U-turn on claims six of the borough's 16 libraries were facing the chop at a meeting last night.
They vowed no libraries would be lost in the upcoming financial year and even after that they would do all they could to avoid closures — possibly passing on the running of a handful of sites to community groups, schools or even churches.
It had been suggested six libraries would close as part of plans to remodel the borough's library service to save more than £1.3m by 2014 — a fraction of the £65m savings the council needs to make after cuts in Government funding.
But council chiefs insist they will be spending more than £200,000 on libraries over the next 12 months by installing machines that will allow borrowers to take out books themselves.
Walsall Council's leader, deputy leader and finance boss all accused their political opponents of scaremongering and trying to make "political capital" by claiming libraries were to close imminently.
They dismissed a figure made last month by Councillor Anthony Harris, cabinet member for leisure and culture, that six sites were under threat.
Since then, there have been protests, including one at Pleck Library attended by more than 100 people, and petitions by worried residents.
Pheasey, Pleck and New Invention were all feared to be in the firing line and the opposition Labour group accused the ruling Tories of being "dishonest" about the cuts.
But Councillor Chris Towe, Walsall's finance boss, said: "It is again disappointing to hear the Labour Party trying to make political capital over this budget, a budget they appear not to understand.
"There is no plan in this budget to close libraries, in fact we are investing more than £232,000 in libraries.
"No libraries will close in the financial year 2011/12. After that, it is a moveable feast."
Council leader Mike Bird added: "Some will say the council is doing a U-turn but no libraries are closing in Walsall in the next year.
"When we know what's coming down the line, some buildings may close but the library service would be moved somewhere else in the community. Or the running of that library could be passed on to a community group or school for example."
Councillor Harris echoed the fact no libraries were earmarked for immediate closure.
"I can assure this cabinet, council officers and the community that we are not in a similar position to other authorities who say 'we are shutting, we are closing' because we are not," he said.
Deputy leader Councillor Adrian Andrew also accused the Labour party of "political amnesia" over the nationwide service cuts.