FRONTLINE services including those dealing with children, young people and health could be in the firing line of a fresh round of cuts to claw back £26m in the coming financial year.

While it remains unclear which services will be hit, Durham County Council will be placing a microscope over all of its service areas as part of its ongoing reduction in spending - which has seen £200m slashed since 2010.

Issuing an alert that the authority was facing uncertainty on multiple fronts, including Brexit, the authority's leaders pledged to protect services for the county’s most vulnerable people as far as possible at a meeting in Crook on Wednesday (July 12)

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Cllr Alan Napier, portfolio holder for finance, said the council had agreed a funding settlement until 2019/20 but had "no clue" what the Government's intentions were after that.

"Overlay the uncertainty following the election and Brexit and we have one of the most unclear periods that I can recall in local government," he added. "Yet we are tasked with setting out the budget despite all this uncertainty - uncertainty over business rates retention, uncertainty over the fair funding, uncertainty over Brexit and austerity, and now uncertainty over public sector pay."

The council is planning on the basis of funding reductions confirmed for the next two years, although it recognises there could be further cuts from Government.

A report on the authority's financial plan sets out further savings to be made of an estimated £41m by 2021/22 in order to balance the budget.

Cllr Napier added: "We must exercise extreme caution in later years as we simply do not know what this government's policy will mean in terms of our funding.

"More austerity in those years will mean even more cuts to services.

"Let us hope the public's message of how tired they are of austerity is getting through before public services are eroded to the point of no return."

By March next year the council will have saved £209m overall since 2010 and a target of almost £26m savings will be required for 2018/19.

Among the measures planned to help make the savings include the continued streamlining of council staff.

The council originally estimated 1,950 reductions to full time posts by the end of 2014/15 and by March 2018 there is forecast to be a reduction of 2,674 posts overall - a figure that is anticipated will rise in coming years.

The report also makes reference to using the council's own savings, the Budget Support Reserve, to plug the savings gap - a move which has already divided some councillors.

Over 2017/18, £12.6m of its reserve was used to make up the year's required savings to "delay the impact of savings upon front line services."

And consideration will be given to using the same reserve further that delay again.

Defending the use of savings, Cllr Napier said: "What do you think the services would have looked life if we hadn't had that 80m of reserves that we've used since 2010?

"It's a strategy we adopted back in 2010 and although we have some people on the council who believe it's the wrong strategy, we'll not be moving from the strategic use of our reserves."

Cabinet members made assurances that the most vulnerable people in society would not bear the brunt of the cuts.

Cllr Simon Henig, leader of the council, said: "I think we're running out of words to describe the period of austerity that is now seven years in.

"I very much hope that period of austerity will come to an end, but we need to see actions from the government rather than just words."