DOZENS of library staff in Harrow look set to be axed to make way for supermarket-style automated checkouts.

Harrow Council is hoping to save more than a £1m a year with the cull, which will see 22 checkouts installed allowing residents to return loaned items and pay late fees using a self-service machine.

However, it could mean an estimated 40 redundancies, and risks accusations the Labour administration is cutting frontline services.

The council has announced the proposed move as part of its £50m savings programme – dubbed the Better Deal for Residents – which is believed to heavily rely on new technologies to save money.

Councillor Rekha Shah, who is in charge of community and cultural services, argued the changes would mean a better service at a lower cost, and said the machines are better than those found at self-service supermarket checkouts.

She said: “In these tough financial times, the council needs to make £50m of savings over the next three years, but we are committed to providing better services for residents at a lower cost.

“We can do that in our libraries by installing technology that will help visitors to take out, renew and return books more quickly and easily.

"The machines will provide customers with a faster service but unfortunately, it means we need to retain fewer library staff.

“There are some difficult decisions we need to make about how we retain what is an excellent library service, in fact one of the most popular in the country.”

A six-week consultation with library staff and unions has been launched and a final recommendation whether to opt for the automated system is likely to be presented by officers to October's cabinet meeting, aiming for a summer 2011 launch.

Councillor Susan Hall, leader of the Tory opposition, urged for “open and transparent” consultation for any redundancies between all involved parties.

She added: “With the council needing to make substantial savings every year, we all knew that difficult decisions would have to be made, and this announcement makes it clear that there will be some job losses among library staff.

“What is important is that staff reductions are done properly.”