LIBERAL Democrats have called on the North-East’s biggest local authority to freeze council tax for a fourth consecutive year.

Although Labour-led Durham County Council has frozen its slice of council tax for the last three years, the charge looks set to rise for 2014-15 by up to two per cent.

However, opposition Lib Dems have called for another freeze.

They say this could be achieved by merging the council’s five departments into three, unifying six communications departments and cutting travel expenses for councillors and officials.

Their alternative proposals would still allow extra spending on highways, the group insists.

Lib Dem leader Amanda Hopgood said the proposals had been tabled now to give “Labour the chance to take on board our views before the final budget is produced”.

“Lib Dems believe that asking residents to pay more when there is simply no need is wrong and takes much-needed money from residents’ pockets.

“However... there needs to be investment in the county to help boost the economy and make sure services are improved,” a spokesman said.

If they do not reach an agreement with Labour, the Lib Dems say they would put forward an alternative budget.

Last week, the council’s Labour cabinet heard the council faces cuts of £23m in 2014-15.

Earlier this week, Conservative leader Richard Bell called on Labour to accept a Government grant worth £2m to freeze council tax.

The Labour cabinet will agree its budget proposals on Wednesday, February 12, before a full council meeting finally sets the budget on Wednesday, February 26.