DOUBT has been cast over the future of Southend’s libraries after council chiefs revealed plans to cut costs.

Bosses at Southend Council want to conduct a review of the town’s six suburban branches, with the aim of squeezing even more cash from the already stripped-back system.

The move has led campaigners to fear some libraries could be shut.

Derek Jarvis, the Tory councillor responsible for culture, said there was no underlying motive for the review. He said:“All options are open at this stage. We just felt the time was right to begin to look at this area.

“We will act on any recommendations if and when they are finalised.”

Libraries in Southend are among the top ten most-used in the country, according to council statistics.

However, over the past two years, chiefs have been forced to shave £417,000 from their budgets, mainly by reducing the number of new books and DVDs.

So far, the cuts have not affected the opening hours of any branches.

However, the council needs to find ways to save £32million over the next three years, and bosses say further cuts to the libraries are inevitable.

With £27million being invested in a new central library, in Elmer Square, they have looked to the six smaller branches – two in Shoebury, and one each in Westcliff, Eastwood, Southchurch and Leigh.

The review, if it is signed off by Tory leaders in September, will include an “assessment of need” in the areas surrounding each library. It will also consider other ways of providing the service, such as moving an existing branch.

In 2011, residents mounted a spirited campaign, led by Independent councillor Martin Terry, to defend Westcliff Library following rumours.

Mr Terry said: “It is true we will have a fantastic new library in Southend next year, but places like Westcliff library are needed by the community. We have a lot of people living near it who use the library regularly, but cannot get to the town centre.”