A school library support staff service which help pupils in Hertfordshire is being axed from next year, due to a growing black hole in its budget.

Hertfordshire County Council’s libraries cabinet committee voted to end the service, which provides qualified staff to help children with get the most out of their library, as fewer schools are using it.

The move by the Conservative-dominated committee was attacked by Liberal Democrat opposition councillors who said the council should be encouraging children to have more access to books, not less.

However senior Conservative councillors said that schools had voted with their feet and used their new financial independence to spend less on the scheme.

Chris Hayward, Hertfordshire’s Conservative executive member for libraries, said the scheme was heading for a £50,000 deficit next year due to schools cutting back on what they spent on it.

He said: “It is a sign of the times that schools have more independence and can make their own decisions.

“We can’t force it on them by diktat and we can’t make a heavy loss in challenging economic times.”

The contract for the service, which currently employs 12 staff, will end on March 31, 2012.

Hertfordshire Lib Dems accused the committee of being heavy-handed in their approach to the service and argued its budget deficit could have been recouped by slimming it down instead of axing it completely.

St Albans county councillor Chris White, who is also Hertfordshire’s Lib Dem group leader, said: “I’m hugely disappointed by the Conservatives’ decision to axe the schools library service.

“There are four million children across the country who don’t own a book. We should be giving Hertfordshire’s children more access to books, not taking it away.”

Mr Hayward condemned the Lib Dem’s statement as misleading, saying the move would not reduce the number of books in school libraries.

He added: “It is just plain wrong and misleading there won’t be the loss of any school books or the closure of any school libraries.”