Tax freeze despite savings drive

A LOCAL authority has frozen its council tax for the fourth consecutive year but admits it needs to save a potential £200m by 2017.

Durham County Council is pledging to protect 65,000 households by retaining the same level of council tax benefit payments for a year, increased investment in projects to kick-start the economy and job creation, and a higher spend on areas of adult social care.

Those are among the headlines of Durham County Council’s 2013-2014 budget which has been approved by the full council. The budget document also outlines how the council needs to make increased required savings totalling nearly £190m for the period 2011 to 2017.

Members heard that cuts in Government funding mean that initial forecasts of a total reduction of some 28 per cent to the budget are now more likely to equate to 36 per cent between the years highlighted above.

And, should predicted Government funding cuts go ahead the savings target could be as much as £200m across the six-year period.

Council chiefs say they will protect front line services “wherever possible” while continuing to reduce management and support service budgets to balance the books.

Leader of the council, Councillor Simon Henig, said: “I am grateful to the public for their feedback during our recent consultation which shows a high level of understanding of how we have managed spending reductions so far.

“However, there is no doubt there are many more extremely difficult decisions which we will have to make. We will make these while continuing our discussions with residents and businesses in the county and while protecting those who are most vulnerable as best we can.”

To date, the council has already saved more than £90m of the required overall savings figure.