SCHOOLS, winter road gritting and job creation measures should be protected from the full impact of council cuts, according to members of the public.

More than 4,000 County Durham residents took part in an exercise to gauge opinion on which services should be protected and which should face deeper budget cuts as the county council looks to find another £100m in savings by 2017.

Residents identified seven areas of council services which they felt should be spared the full brunt of spending cuts.

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As well as gritting, schools and job creation, taxpayers also highlighted social work, children’s centres, community projects and support for adults in their own homes for lower than average spending reductions.

Instead, the public identified subsidised bus travel, council communications, legal services, information technology and democratic support among the areas which should face the greatest cuts.

Council leader Coun Simon Henig, said: "The response from residents has been extremely valuable as we seek the additional £100m in budget cuts we have to make.

"We will take these views on board, as we did previously in 2010, when we also asked the public which services they valued most and least".

Other services which were suggested as areas for deeper cuts were grass cutting and flower beds, maintenance of public buildings, planning services and borrowing for new development.

The consultation also found little support for a Council Tax increase of more than two per cent, but approximately two-thirds of those taking part felt an increase of up to two per cent would be acceptable.

Coun Henig said: "While many people were clear on which areas they would target for bigger cuts, it was far more difficult to get a public consensus on which services they wanted to see receive the greatest protection.

"Looking after vulnerable people was seen as a priority but given the scale of budget cuts almost all groups really struggled to find the £100m necessary".

Coun Henig thanked those who took part in the exercise and added: "We will continue to seek residents’ views on the tough decisions ahead, to ensure we fully understand how the changes we have no choice but to make, will impact on our communities."

The results of the consultation be outlined at a meeting of Durham County Council’s Cabinet on January 22.