PLANS to explore new ways of running libraries in Blaenau Gwent could be approved by the local authority.

The county borough’s six libraries – Abertillery, Blaina, Brynmawr, Cwm, Ebbw Vale and Tredegar – have been run by the Aneurin Leisure Trust, on behalf of the council, since 2014.

Last year Blaenau Gwent councillors formed a task and finish group to assess the library service, the findings of which will be discussed by a scrutiny committee on September 6.

A report says the service currently reaches 98 per cent of the population living within 2.3 miles of a library – one of the highest accessibility rates in Wales.

During 2016/17 libraries had 298,294 visitors – up by 19 per cent – with membership increasing by 20 per cent to 3,699 members. Book issues and computer use have also seen small increases.

The report said: “The library service is seen as a key partner in tackling the problems of social isolation, inequality, disadvantage, fractured communities and ill health.”

But the group have raised concerns regarding a reduced budget in each of the last four years that the Trust have run the library service.

The report also warns that the council’s own savings targets, around five per cent per year over the next three years, would put further pressure on libraries.

The environment, regeneration and economic development scrutiny committee could now approve a further study into alternative delivery options for library services in Blaenau Gwent.

The council may seek inspiration from Monmouthshire County Council, which uses its former library buildings as ‘community hubs’ to improve access while cutting costs.

Hubs in Chepstow, Caldicot, Monmouth, Usk retain their library services but also share space with one-stop shops and community learning services.

Councillors have already visited some of the neighbouring facilities, remarking that they were “very well used by the community”.

The group’s findings will be fed into a wider council review of all existing leisure services operating across the borough.