COUNCIL taxpayers face a rise of at least nine per cent following Durham County Council's low grant settlement.

Last year the council levied a 14.8 per cent increase - the biggest of any English county - in its share of the bill householders for local services.

But hopes that the Labour Government's shake-up of the Tory-established council funding system would benefit this region have been dashed.

A nine per cent rise would add about £50 to the £551 the county council gets from households in Band A properties. The rise in Band D would be £74 to around £902.

District council, police authority and, in some cases, parish council precepts, which may well increase, have to be added to the total council tax bill.

This year the council's overall grants increase was 6.6 per cent, ranking it 25th of all 34 county councils.

The average was 7.3 per cent but affluent counties further South got far bigger increases.

Wiltshire topped the list with 11.8 per cent, followed by Cambridgeshire with 11.5 per cent and Warwickshire with 10.6 per cent.

The council, despite having an ageing population and some of the country's poorest neighbourhoods, fared even worse with its social services increase.

It came 30th with a rise of only 4.6 per cent, compared with table-topping Wiltshire's 15.4 per cent, Buckinghamshire's 14.6 per cent and third place Cheshire's 13.9 per cent. The average was 8.5 per cent.

Spending options leading to a council tax increase ranging from five per cent to 16 per cent are being investigated.

The council's Labour leader Ken Manton said: "As councillors we are trying to hold the increase back to the top end of single figures although there is pressure from officers for 15 to 16 per cent.

"This review of local government finance hasn't delivered the improvements for County Durham that we were led to believe that it would.''

The council would also face £100 daily fines for hospital 'bed blocking' by elderly patients unless it could find them beds in nursing homes. This would have to be funded by the council taxpayer unless the Government gave more money.

He said the council's 'bafflingly low' social services settlement did not take account of the needs of the county's large elderly population.

Cuts in services and job losses could follow unless the Government increased funding in its final settlement next week.

The council has lobbied Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford and North-East MPs for more money.