FRONTLINE services would have to be cut if the North-East’s biggest council was forced to slash its budget again next year, its leader has warned.

Simon Henig, Durham County Council’s Labour leader, said by 2015 the authority will have saved all it can from efficiencies and restructuring and, if its Government grant continues to fall, frontline services would have to suffer.

“We’re trying to protect frontline services. But this is probably the last year we’re going to be able to do that.

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“Once we’ve made these savings and restructuring, we’ll have then done all we can to protect and avoid going into frontline services,” he said.

Councillor Henig was speaking as the council announced plans to cut £23m from its spending in 2014-15, taking its total savings since 2010 to £155m, a total set to rise to £242m by 2017.

Much of this year’s savings are set to come from back-office and staffing cuts, including £5.7m from management, support, restructuring and rationalisation in children and adults’ services, £1.3m from efficiencies and restructuring in the neighbourhoods department and £826,000 from rationalising ICT services.

Other major cuts have already been announced, such as slashing home-to-school transport and reviewing council-run care homes.

However, Labour chiefs are poised to:

  • again protect payments to working-age council tax benefit claimants.
  • increase the winter roads budget by £1.3m
  • delay introducing charges for collecting garden waste until April 2015.

Coun Henig criticised the Government for hitting poorer, northern councils hardest, pointing to figures showing while Durham will lose 41 per cent of its crucial revenue support grant between 2013-14 and 2015-16, above the national and Association of North East Councils averages of 39.2 per cent and 41 per cent respectively, Surrey and Buckinghamshire will lose 27.9 per cent and 29 per cent.

He lobbied local government minister Brandon Lewis for more support for hard-up authorities during talks in London today (Tuesday, January 14).

The council’s opposition groups are expected to outline alternative proposals over coming weeks, before the 2014-15 budget is set in late February.