The public will be consulted on proposals to save millions of pounds from the council budget amid "staggering" costs.

Durham County Council faces a £52.8m hole in its finances over the next four years - with more than 70% of the impact "frontloaded" into the next financial year.

The authority will need to save £37.4m in 2023 to 2024 in a "perfect storm" of hardship.

But a cabinet meeting was told on Wednesday (October 12) that residents would be protected, especially the most vulnerable.

Read more: Durham Council needs to save £52m in the next four years

Councillor Richard Bell, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, said: "Next year we will face a staggering £75m in additional cost pressures."

He said there was a "significant and escalating financial challenge" balancing the budget in the next four years due to high inflation, rising fuel, energy, transport, wage and social care costs.

He added: "The challenge and uncertainty we currently face is unlike anything this council has faced in many years.

"This makes our budget planning very difficult.

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

"The council and the wider sector simply needs more Government grant support.

"And without additional support I would venture that many authorities will simply not be sustainable in the next few years."

He said there was a "concern" the council would be given additional council tax-raising powers to help tackle the pressures, "which will place us in a very difficult position when we ultimately come to set the budget next February".

The council has drawn up proposals to save £17.5m, which will be consulted on in the coming months, to close the gap.

But leaders stressed no final decisions had been made yet.

Read more: Durham Council - Job cuts, hikes in burial fees and disabled service reductions

Resources director Paul Darby said extra investment from the Government was "required to offset these unavoidable inflationary pressures".

But if none is given, the council will need to use about £25.5m worth of reserves.

"Major projects and programmes have been put on hold at this point whilst we take stock," added Mr Darby.

Council leader Cllr Amanda Hopgood said "significant unavoidable cost pressures" in pay, energy, waste, transport and looked after children and home to school transport budgets were all "beyond our control".

She said: "We face a perfect storm of unprecedented cost pressures, the likes of which we have not seen in a generation.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Picture: Northern Echo.

"The soundings coming from Government at this time are not good, and the recent fiscal event offered little by way of comfort that the Government at the moment is listening to our calls for additional funding.

"We are not setting the budget or making any final decisions today.

"It is important that we plan for the worst, and if these forecasts do materialise then we will need to meet the challenges head-on."

Cllr Chris Hood, cabinet member for adult and health services, said the council's Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Independent ruling coalition would work in everyone's best interests, looking "not just at the bottom line, but at the impact that our decisions have on our residents".

He said: "Never in this council's history have we had to face the financial pressures that are now before us.

"We are uncertain what's coming in the future.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Chris Hood. Picture: Durham County Council.Cllr Chris Hood. Picture: Durham County Council. (Image: Durham County Council)

"The impact of inflation is affecting all council services with no part of the council's budget unaffected.

"This council, this joint administration, has done what it promised to do - to serve all the residents of County Durham. We will continue to protect our residents, especially our most vulnerable.

"The problems we face now and may face in the future will not have been created by this joint administration but from external decisions made away from County Hall."

The cabinet agreed to consult on the savings and note the forecasts, challenges and reserves review.

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