Oxfordshire County Council’s decision to withdraw funding from 20 libraries could increase the risk of isolation among the county’s elderly.

This is the conclusion in a report by the county council’s own officers.

The warning is contained in an assessment of the impact of £119m of county council spending cuts that were approved last week.

The council is required by law to carry out and publish these assessments. In their assessment of the impact of withdrawing funding for 20 of the county’s 43 libraries council officers say: “There is a great risk that the loss of suburban and rural libraries could contribute towards a greater isolation for older people.”

The officers also note the potential for closures to “diminish access” to libraries for people with disabilities.

The report on libraries is dated January 17, 2011, and was considered by councillors before they approved the county’s budget last week.

It comes as county council leader Keith Mitchell faces criticism for remarks about the closure of libraries made in a letter to The Oxford Times.

Mr Mitchell was replying to a letter from Dr Diana Sanders, from Headington, criticising the county council’s plans for library funding.

Mr Mitchell wrote: “I am only sorry that your love of library buildings, collections, reference books and maps does not extend to the human beings — young and vulnerable, old, disabled, with learning disabilities or mental health problems — who will have to endure extra cuts if we were to exempt libraries. No one will die if there are a few fewer libraries in Oxfordshire.”

Dr Sanders, 55, is an NHS psychologist who counsels terminally-ill patients. Readers of The Oxford Times described Mr Mitchell’s remarks as “beneath contempt” and “gratuitously offensive”, in a series of letters this week.

Dr Sanders added: “It is pathetic, thoughtless and adds nothing to the debate.

“It shows him in an extremely bad light and it is worrying if this was his considered reply.”

Dr Sanders has continued to work despite undergoing a heart and lung transplant eight years ago.

Mr Mitchell said: “If I had known of her background I would have used different words to avoid the unintended slight she clearly feels and which I regret.

“I don’t dispute the value of encouraging a love of literature, but I think the real test of a civilised society is how we look after our old, vulnerable and disabled citizens.”