The circumstances around Southwark Council’s reversal of cuts to the borough’s library services were questioned by the overview and scrutiny committee.

The proposals were announced alongside a raft of other cost-saving measures following an £8.6 million cut in central government funding.

But Southwark announced a new £1m library fund in January, after proposals to cut library opening hours by one day a week were scrapped.

Lib Dem Cllr Victor Chamberlain questioned why proposals to cut the service had been raised, with the value of the library service well-known.

He asked deputy leader and cabinet member for culture, leisure, equalities and communities Rebecca Lury why libraries had “suddenly become a priority” at an overview and scrutiny committee.

He said: “We know libraries are really well used. Knowing what we know now, and presumably we knew this before the budget was set, why was it proposed to cut the library service down and how was the decision able to be reversed so quickly?”

Labour Cllr Lury said every department across the council was tasked with finding savings for the council to set a balanced budget.

But when the library cut proposals went out to public consultation the importance of the library service was raised, she said.

And the decision to stop the proposals wasn’t hers alone, with the £1m fund allocated by the cabinet member for finance, Cllr Victoria Mills, she said.

“The money we have ring-fenced from libraries is not coming from the environment and leisure budget.

“It is not a decision I was able to reverse on my own as a cabinet member based on conversations I had had about the decision.”

Cllr Lury said the council looked at whether it could maintain levels of services  included looking at whether a closed library had an opened library nearby.

“We looked carefully at how if we were to reduce library hours we could still maintain levels of service that we wanted to across library sites,” she explained.

“There are other boroughs that are not only trying to reduce hours but shut libraries,” she said.

In January Southwark also announced it would build a new library and heritage centre on Walworth Road in the new Elephant Park development, the redevelopment of Elephant and Castle.

Labour Councillor Tom Flynn said Southwark was “very proud as a borough to be opening libraries and not turning them into bizarre hybrids like some boroughs near us.”