ESSEX County Council will use libraries for registering births, marriages and deaths as it battles to save £120million this year.

The authority announced a 3.99 per cent council tax hike in 2016/17 as it tries to cope with a £57million drop in cash from central Government.

Despite the tax rise, the council has warned it needs to save more as demands rise and money given to them falls.

John Spence, councillor responsible for finance, said: “We are committed to fighting for a fair deal for Essex residents.

“The policies being made at a national level are laudable and understandable, but the collective impact of these, alongside cuts and a growing social care bill, means we face a budget pressure of £120million next year.

“We are calling on Government to look again at the impact and the needs of individual councils rather than simply redistributing funding to poorer performing areas of the country.”

The council has set aside £9million for its libraries and information services budget in 2016/17.

It has slashed £593,000 from its library spending this year and aims to save a further £594,000 next year.

The measures will include “co-location” of other council services, such as registration of births, marriages and deaths, within library buildings.

County Hall in Chelmsford already houses the city library as well as the registry office.

In its budget document, the council says it is “moving towards a community hub model” for its library sites.

The proposed council tax increase is the maximum amount that can be imposed by the council without holding a public referendum.

The threshold is normally two per cent, but the authority has taken advantage of a Government policy, which allows a further two per cent rise to cover the cost of social care.

It means a Band D property will have to pay an extra 84p per week.

The combined 3.99 per cent increase will bring the council an extra £22million for the financial year.

But the council has had to draw £24million from its reserves to balance the books for 2016/17.

Mr Spence has warned further cuts to frontline services may be necessary in future years.

'Difficult future' warning

GOVERNMENT funding cuts mean Essex County Council faces “difficult times for the forseeable future”, it has warned.

The 2016/17 budget proposal involves taking £24million from council reserves to pay for vital services.

But leading councillors have warned the authority does not have enough in its reserves to cover its costs in the long-term.

Earlier this month, Tory council leader David Finch wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron, arguing Government funding policies unfairly penalised “well-run and low tax” authorities such as Essex.

Mr Finch went on to criticise the Government for misleading MPs about the extent of council reserves.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, he said: “Essex MPs have been told by the Department for Communities and Local Government that the council is sitting on £300million of unringfenced reserves.

“We actually only have about £60million. The reality is we have just 23 days of available funding in our general reserve.”

The council budget document states: “Much has been written about local authority reserves and much is misunderstood.

“The council will continue to face difficult financial times for the foreseeable future, given the reductions in Government funding, increased demand and pressures within social care.

“However the Council is in good financial health and has a credible base on which to weather such challenges.”