CRIPPLING budget cuts of £22 million over the next three years are threatening to reduce council services across Runcorn and Widnes.

This year, Halton Council had to bridge a gap of £5.6 million.

Next year, the shortfall will be £13.2m, with a further £3.2m in 2020/21.

By 2020, the authority will have lost £63m of government funding, 61 per cent of its income.

Halton residents face a council tax rise of five per cent, the fourth lowest in the north west, after councillors set a budget of £109.2m for the coming year on Wednesday.

This includes a council tax rise of two per cent plus a social care precept of three per cent.

For 68 per cent of people living in bands A and B, this means an annual rise of £43.75 or £51.02.

A sharp rise in the number of children being taken into care and an increase in adult social care is causing serious concern.

Council leader Cllr Rob Polhill said: "Our priority is always to protect the most vulnerable people in our community and we will continue to do this.

"But with the ageing population and more children coming into care this is becoming a crisis.

"This is not a problem of our making. Councils across the country are facing the same problem.

"What upsets me is that many of our elderly residents fought for this country and the country is now letting them down. The government should be ashamed of itself."

Vacant posts have been frozen to save money and £100,000 has been cut from the council's building maintenance budget.

School dinners are being increased by 10 pence and the booking fee at The Brindley theatre is doubling from £1 to £2.

Cllr Mike Wharton, board member for finance, said: "This year was a challenge, it is getting more and more difficult.

"We are continually searching for savings. We are doing our best under very trying circumstances.

"Our staff have been absolutely brilliant. They have taken on more work, I can't praise them enough."

Developing more partnership working to share services with other councils and organisations, seeking improved procurement and reviewing the council's land and assets, will continue as the council strives to identify more savings.