CASH-STRAPPED councillors will consider increasing council tax by the maximum level in order to plug a huge funding gap.

Reading Borough Council will consider a 5.99 per cent increase - the maximum before a referendum is held - along with cutting library services in order to bridge a predicted gap of £43.2m by 2020/21.

The latest batch of savings will total nearly £12m over three years and will be put to the policy committee on February 19.

Although all seven libraries will remain open under the new proposals, savings of £217,000 will be made by cutting opening hours by more than 20 per cent.

Council leader Jo Lovelock said a rise in council tax should not be a substitute for for properly funded public services and slammed the government for forcing local authorities to make 'regrettable' decisions.

She said: "This lack of proper funding means the government has firmly placed the burden of paying for these vital services on to local council tax payers.

"Until the government addresses this issue, every local authority will continue to face very difficult decisions to balance the budget, which we have to by law."

Government funding for Reading will have been cut from nearly £58m in 2010 to less than £2m by 2020.

The suggested rise in council tax is only expected to bring in £4.9m and the cost of caring for vulnerable adults and children is expected to rise by more than £10m next year.

Other savings could come from extending resident parking areas, maximising online services to the public and 'rationalising' the use of public health spending.

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, predicts an overall funding gap of £5.8bn by 2020, bringing local authorities to a 'tipping point' over children's services, adult social care and homelessness.

Opening hours would be reduced at six of the seven library branches in favour of closing services.

Councillor Sarah Hacker, lead member for Culture and Sport, added: "Unlike many local authorities, we are not proposing to shut any of the seven branches.

"None of these decisions are easy but the reality is that for as long as the government does not properly fund services, it is services like libraries which will face the brunt of the cuts."