Almost all a county council's services are overspending as rising energy and inflation costs squeeze budgets.

The strain felt by households across the county was shown writ large for local authority finances in a cabinet meeting.

This leaves Durham County Council needing to dip into its savings for millions of pounds - some £14.1m from various reserves.

"Unprecedented budget pressures" from the pandemic were offset at first by government funding in the last two years.

But this has now dried up, and no more additional cash is expected - prompting council leaders to call on central government to send help immediately and urgently.

Read more: Durham County Council calls for government help as it faces £15m overspend

On top of this, public finances face the effects of the Ukraine conflict and escalating inflation, the meeting heard.

This bites particularly with overspends in energy and fuel.

This is turn affects contracts which involve energy and fuel like home to school transport, which had a £350,000 overspend, and waste disposal.

The council expects its gas and electricity bill to rocket from £7.5m pre-Covid to £18.9m this year, and is awaiting more detail on how the government will support businesses and the council with energy bills in the next six months.

The knock-on effect continues with a revised pay offer for most council employees, an increase in the authority's pay bill of about £6.5m.

Read more: Durham County Councillors to discuss £15m overspend in crunch meeting

Councillor Richard Bell, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, said all services apart from adult and health were forecast to overspend.

He said: "The net cash limit overspend for all services is forecast to be £5.1m this year, with significant budget pressures in children and young people's services totalling £4.9m.

"We will need to reflect on this."

Services are expected to overspend by almost £19.2m, but the council expects to cover £14.1m of this with funds for unexpected costs.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Sarah Caldecott. (Image: Sarah Caldecott, Newsquest)

The budget will overspend by an estimated £14.6m overall.

The council says it has set aside money which will cover most of this, a £10m "budget support reserve".

This leaves almost £4.5m which must be taken from the council's general reserves.

The council is expected to lose £42m in reserves this year - almost 18% of its £235.5m total.

Resources director Paul Darby told council leaders: "To fund the expected inflationary pressures this year... our service groupings are forecast to overspend by around £19.2m.

"Once we exclude £14.1m of unavoidable inflationary pressures linked to energy, fuel, waste and transport that will be picked up corporately, the service groupings' net cash limit overspend reduces to just over £5m.

"With the exception of adult and health services, all of our service groupings are reporting a net cash limit overspend in year, the most significant of which relates to children and young people's services.

"Children and young people's services are forecast to be overspent by a net £4.9m this year."

Read more: Political row over projected £15 million overspend

He said £14.1m of costs were funded from contingencies and using earmarked reserves.

Back in July, before the last energy cap bombshell, the council said it would need to save almost £55m over the next four years, including £22m next year alone.

Now, says the financial report: "In reality, it is likely this sum will be higher... with the delivery of further savings becoming ever more challenging to achieve."

Council leaders have repeatedly stressed more financial support was needed from government as the costs could not be met from raising council tax alone.

They have also warned "difficult decisions" would need to be made.

So far, these have been ominous but vague predictions.

As the clock ticks towards next year's budget, the nature of those tough choices - and their effects on council services and taxpayers - will pull into focus.

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