ESSEX County Council bosses were unable to tell campaigners and councillors where proposals to give volunteers £18,000 to run libraries had come from.

Council leader David Finch and culture boss Susan Barker were quizzed about the figure at a scrutiny meeting.

Under the proposals any community-run libraries will be given a grant of £18,000 split across three years.

But campaigners demanded to know how the council had reached the figure, when they say it can cost more than £30,000 a year to run some services.

Neither Mr Finch or Mrs Barker were able to confirm where the amount had come from, but said they would provide a written answer at a later date.

The meeting heard the council would ‘bring back in-house’ any community-run library which faltered.

Mrs Barker, said: “We would not want to support a library to set up, to fail. That would be disproportionate.

“If within that five year timescale a community library was set up and failed, it would be brought in-house. The strategy says quite clearly that no library will shut within the five years.”

Councillor David Kendall asked how many redundancies the council foresaw during the time of the strategy.

The council employs around 660 staff across 225 full-time equivalent roles.

Mrs Barker said: “If nobody comes forward we still need those 660 people.

“If things move on we will do everything to make sure they are redeployed elsewhere using their skills and training them differently. “

Mrs Barker also hit back at criticism of plans to use volunteers to run libraries.

She said: “We talk about volunteers as if they are some kind of second class citizen.

“This county thrives on volunteers. We have 600 or more volunteers who already work in our libraries. They are the backbone of this county.”

Communities were also told it could be also long as 12 months before they find out whether their library will continue to be run by the council or be staffed by volunteers.

Mr Finch said the strategy would be used to form future decisions and said the council needed to work with communities before it could confirm what happens next.

Cabinet will meet tomorrow to decide on the five year strategy.