MOBILE library services in rural communities across East Lothian could be under threat.

East Lothian Council brought neighbouring Midlothian Council in to provide mobile library access to the west of the county in April last year rather than replace its own van.

At the time, East Lothian Council said the decision, which also saw Scottish Borders Trust take over responsibility for providing books to people in Oldhamstock and Innerwick, would save £100,000 a year.

However, 18 months on, Midlothian Council has revealed proposals to axe its mobile library service, which would leave residents in Pencaitland, Humbie, Whitecraig, Macmerry, East Saltoun and Gifford with no service at all.

Midlothian has included the proposal in its draft budget for the coming financial year, which would mean the service could close in April.

East Lothian Council said that if the proposal were to be taken forward it would have to “review the decision”.

Councillor Brian Small (Conservative), leader of the opposition on East Lothian Council, said it was clear that all local authorities were looking at a wide range of options for reducing their budgets in the wake of Scottish Government cuts and increasing costs and demand for services.

He said: “The proposals set out by Midlothian are a long list of areas that elected members can consider as part of their budget preparation.

“Officers from Midlothian and East Lothian continue to work together in partnership on a number of joint projects and will be considering the impact of any changes to the library service.”

Mr Small said that while it was too early to comment on what might come with East Lothian’s budget plans, the proposal by Midlothian did “throw a light on how any proposed changes to ‘shared services’ need to be discussed and communicated within the respective councils involved”.

Councillor Stuart Currie, leader of the SNP Group on East Lothian Council, said the proposal highlighted the need to ensure future shared service agreements were “robust”.

He said: “I think it underlines the importance of robust service level agreements. Any shared service needs to be contractual to ensure service continuity.

“My view previously was that we should have retained our own service to guarantee it. If Midlothian withdraws the service then maybe we should take the mobile libraries off their hands and offer them the service instead at a cost.”

Three years ago there were just under 1,200 regular borrowers using East Lothian’s mobile library service.

However, the figure fell by a staggering 70 per cent after the council scrapped the largest of its two vans, which had reached the end of its working life, and decided against replacing it.

In December 2015, while the service still retained 444 regular users, council officials took the decision not to replace the remaining van, which had also reached the end of the road.

Services were suspended until a deal could be struck to outsource the service to the neighbouring services.

Ralph Averbuch, chairman of Pencaitland Community Council, said that the mobile library service was a lifeline for elderly people in rural communities, including his own.

He said: “It would be a real loss to lose this service. Not only does it provide a lifeline for our growing elderly community, it has become a social hub where they can meet and chat.

“It brings intangible benefits to the community as a focal point and is a social service.”

And he added: “It is one of the few services we have and we hope East Lothian Council will look at the impact it will have on our communities and work with Midlothian to try and maintain it.”

A spokesperson for East Lothian Council said the agreement with Midlothian was informal and reviewed annually, with regular meetings between all library providers and officials.

She said that when the previous changes were made users had the option of using one of 12 branch libraries, the new mobile services or the home library service which the council still provides, where volunteers deliver and return books and resources to people.

She said that there were currently 150 home service users in the county.

The spokesperson added: “Midlothian Council is consulting its residents on a large number of proposals and if it looks like there may be a likelihood that the mobile library service in Midlothian Council may cease then there would be discussions with them at that point.”