COUNCIL tax is set to rise by 3.99 per cent in County Durham after councillors signalled through the proposed increase, along with plans to spend an extra £145m on frontline services and projects.

Durham County Council’s cabinet members today agreed the authority's finance plans for next year, with annual bills set to increase by more than £60 on a band D property – about £1.22 a week. Most council taxpayers live in band A properties and will pay an 81p per week.

The 1.99 per cent council tax increase and a two per cent increase to the adult social care precept – just short of the four per cent maximum set by the Government – will generate additional council tax income in 2020/21 of £8.8m which leaders say will enable it to protect frontline services.

Cabinet members heard that a decade of careful money management in the face of austerity – which has seen £250m saved since 2011-12 – has enabled the authority to draw up plans to pump £145m into frontline services and major development projects across the county, on top of existing plans.

It includes £5m for highways, a £1m social housing pilot scheme, £5m for four new neighbourhood teams focusing on sprucing up communities and tackling anti-social behaviour, a further £3m to tackle climate change and £2m for library services.

Leader Simon Henig said the ‘hefty capital programme’ was good news but that uncertainty over the long-term resources from central government– with the delayed fair funding review and the spending review due later this year – means the authority could not plan to keep up that level of spending beyond 2021.

Cllr Henig said: “We hope austerity is at an end, as has sometimes been trumpeted, but we don’t know.

“However we are able, this year, to put forward our priorities on a one year basis, our towns and villages, our neighbourhoods and highways, our resources for cleaning up our areas and also our responsibility to climate change.”

The council will be the only one in the North East to still offer 100 per cent council tax exemptions to eligible households.

John Hewitt, corporate director of resources, said the council sets aside cash for its priorities, such as £8m for children’s services, before looking to fund projects that residents want.

Cllr Henig said: “Children’s social care in particular is under pressure. We are not aware of any council that doesn’t have that pressure, we all agree it is the number one problem.”

He said the authority is lobbying the Government hard for fairer funding, which includes questioning why Durham does not get a Rural Services Delivery Grant which could be worth £2m to £5m despite Teesdale being the most sparsely-populated area of England.

The proposals go to full council for approval on Wednesday, February 26.