Closing public toilets and cutting lifeguard cover on beaches are part of the hit list South Hams councillors were due to look at yesterday to save council cash.

At the same time the cash-strapped council was looking at pushing up charges and even providing beach huts to boost income.

The council’s executive was due to meet yesterday to consider various options in an attempt to balance the books before putting the proposals to South Hams Council for a final budget decision on February 22.

A council statement ahead of the meeting warned that the councillors are now faced with making “some tough decisions” following a series of failed controversial bids to save cash – which include the attempt to merge with West Devon Council, a bid to buy into the property market and a move to set up an internal company effectively privatising the town hall work force.

Cllr John Tucker, leader of South Hams District Council, said: “As we have been saying for a number of years now, the amount of money that we get from central government to pay for services has been reducing.

“It is therefore inevitable that we are proposing to increase council tax by the maximum that we are allowed to increase it by and that is £5 a year on a band D property.

“A number of the proposals that we have put forward to deal with the budget gap in recent months have failed to gain support and we are now in a position where we are going to have to cut some of our non-statutory services in order to protect the statutory front-line services. Even some of the frontline services such as recycling and waste may need to change in order for us to balance the books.”

Statutory services in the South Hams which the council has to provide include recycling and waste, licensing, planning, environmental health, looking after the homeless, administering benefits and collecting council tax and business rates.

The non-statutory services which the council currently provides, but is not required to provide by law, include public toilets, garden waste collection, grant funding and lifeguarding.

Cllr Tucker explained: “The changes to the non-statutory services which we are considering include closing public toilets, installing pay on entry or giving them to local communities to run, reducing partnership grants and reducing the amount of lifeguarding we provide on private beaches.”