County Durham residents will see their council tax bills increase to help raise much-needed funds for the local authority. 

The 4.99 per cent rise was approved by councillors on Wednesday, after Durham County Council warned it urgently needed to cut its financial deficit.

Councillors were told the council is facing a £51.8million shortfall over the next four years due to the impact of inflation, increased child and adult social care costs, and home to school transport. 

It means savings of more than £8million are needed in the next year and £16.360 million across the four-year period, and the council warned it cannot solely rely on using its reserves. The council tax increase will help generate an additional income of around £13.350 million next year, the council said. Residents will pay up to £1.76 per week more after the rise. 

Council Leader Amanda Hopgood told a full council meeting that the spending pressures are “unavoidable” and the council is constantly having to find savings “just to stand still”.

But Cllr Carl Marshall, leader of County Durham Labour, criticised the current administration in charge for an alleged lack of leadership and called for a “fair” budget. 

He added: “We’ve seen decisions kicked down the road by cabinet members reluctant to make difficult choices, or decisions made by a small few rather than the many across the county. This council leadership has spent too much, borrowed too much, and have doled out money for their own political priorities before putting our communities first.

“We want to make sure this council sets a balanced budget, but it can’t be this one. Our group is willing to sit down and talk seriously about the policy and priorities of this local authority. We need to set a budget that deals with the challenges we face, invests in the future, and targets resources at need; no more of the leader's political pet projects.”

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But opposition councillors argued that, despite the criticism, Labour hasn’t provided an alternative budget for the past three years. Independent councillor Jan Blakey said: “Surely with so much to criticise you could have identified at least one amendment, but no. For the third year in a row nothing has been submitted.”

Cuts to frontline services could also be in the firing line in years to come, as the local authority warned “difficult decisions” will need to be made so it can continue to balance its budget amid a decline in funding, inflationary pressures and an increased demand in certain services. 

Local authorities have repeatedly warned that the crisis in local government is driven by long-term funding constraints and a “broken” financial system, putting services including social care and support for children with special educational needs on the brink.