A campaigner has said a rise in spending on PR at Barnet Council should have been used to keep libraries staffed, after seeing results from a Freedom of Information request.

Mary Beer, of the Save Barnet Libraries campaign, discovered through an FoI request that £53,824 was spent on agency fees for a number of campaigns during 2016-17.

The information also shows the number of PR and communications roles has risen by more than 75 per cent since last year.

Ms Beer said Labour councillors put forward an alternative budget in March for the deletion of three media and communications roles, which would have freed up £226,320, which Ms Beer believes could have gone towards keeping libraries staffed.

She said: “Barnet would rather spend its citizens’ money on propaganda rather than to give the taxpayers the proper professional library service they actually want.

“Surely it would be better to spend the money on policies that are good and therefore popular - £400 a day would have kept the librarians employed and the libraries open.”

The FoI results revealed that more than double the number of agencies have been used in the 2016-17 financial year than in the previous year, with the council’s figure of 6.4 rising to 13.6, and the number of individuals employed rising from 13.3 to 19.

Hugh Jordan, Barnet Unison branch health & safety officer, said: “It is truly shameful that the council have spent so much on this while getting rid of skilled and experienced library workers.”

Save Barnet Libraries has been campaigning against changes leading to the permanent closure of libraries, but while the new system means all the libraries are to be open, some will only be staffed for 15 hours a week.

However Stephen Evans, interim chief operating officer, said many posts agreed in 2016 as part of the new communications team structure are fixed term for two years, and the money to fund them “will not impact front line services”. As a result, agencies have been used while the structure was being put in place.

Mr Evans said: “Effective communications is crucial in informing, involving and engaging residents and businesses during this period of change.”

“The council is taking forward a significant programme of transformation to improve services and close a budget gap of £53.8 million by 2020. There is also an extensive regeneration programme across the borough and millions of pounds of investment in infrastructure and community facilities.”