The Gazette has launched a campaign following the news that Hampshire County Council wants to close three public libraries in Basingstoke area. 

The authority is trying to cut £80million from its budget by 2021 and says the decision to close ten libraries will save them £1.76million, writes Katie French

The self-described cash-strapped council, whose swanky £29million base is in Winchester, has very been good at getting its message across about needing to save money in recent years.

But it is a shame that vital public services are where the axe falls first. 

The authority's largest expenditure by a long way is its staffing costs. Last year, 21 employees earned £100,000 each with eight taking home upwards of £150,000. That's at least £2.1million in total. 

While these jobs are no doubt important, if HCC was a private company this would be the first area to review.

The council hasn't made any large-scale redundancies since 2015. And even then, councillors set aside £10million of taxpayers' cash to give those who were let go double the amount of redundancy pay as part of a 'golden goodbye'. 

Such acts only show that the council exists in a bubble, detached from the real world. Which may explain why it sees libraries as a burden rather than important to every day people. 

This week, the council delivered its 'media briefing' from its shiny Winchester offices where a spokesperson announced changes that will impact the lives of hundreds of people across the county.

Basingstoke Gazette:

Basingstoke Gazette:

Libraries are no longer for avid book readers alone. They are community meeting points, places of refuge for those who need an escape, a place for the lonely to connect with the outside world.

They are one of the few remaining places in British society that is truly and genuinely equal. 

In a library, it doesn't matter what your background is, your wealth or status. It is an equaliser.

There is research that shows reading aids upwards social mobility and gives the unconfident confidence. It provides people access into worlds otherwise undiscovered.

Seventy-six per cent of people say reading improves their lives and makes them feel good. 

There is also a much sadder reason why libraries are more important that ever. One in ten in society do not have access to the internet. Closing three libraries will impact the poorest people who need to use libraries to access to internet. 

Our reporter Bethany who spent time in South Ham yesterday said many homeless people used the computers for this exact reason. 

Yet the quaint library in South Ham is anything but sad. It bustles with all generations - from parents and toddlers to pensioners.

All three libraries are well-used and well-liked. There has been an outpouring of grief and anger from our readers about the proposals and rightly so. 

On the same day that one of our reporters went to the library, another attended a council meeting in Winchester. 

The contrasts between the two buildings - HCC's £29million Elizabeth Court and South Ham's well-worn library - were not lost on us. 

Basingstoke Gazette:

The journalist at the meeting likened the council's building to a 'posh, start-up company'.

Everything was shiny and well-serviced and even the toilets 'sparkled'. This was jarring against the tired but well-used library in South Ham. 

No one is expecting the council to be operating from a cave with a lightbulb between 500 members of staff, but perhaps a little perspective is needed. 

It seems churlish to cry poverty from the towers of a £29million building as public services are cut to the bone.

Council staff need to remember where their money is coming from - and more importantly, who is paying them.

And taxpayers need to speak up. Do they want libraries to stay open? Or are they happy to fund big payouts and posh offices?