CASH strapped Dudley Council is to launch the biggest consultation in its history over a referendum to save services.

The authority's leaders are planning a massive publicity campaign asking borough people if they would support a public vote on a council tax rise of up to 4.9 per cent.

Any council tax rise over two per cent would only be possible after a referendum but, without an increase, the council's budget would need to be slashed by nearly £30m over the next three years.

Dudley cabinet member for finance, Cllr Pete Lowe, said: "This is the most important question the people of Dudley have ever been asked.

"The future of council services is at stake, if people say they can't stomach a council tax increase we will have to say "what do you want us to cut"."

The council's bills add up to around £260m each year and about £30m has already been cut.

After further reductions in payouts from central government, the council is already proposing more savings of around £20m and, without a council tax rise, another £9m will have to be trimmed from spending.

Labour's Cllr Lowe says the consultation, which will begin at the end of November, is necessary because chancellor George Osbourne "moved the goal posts" following local elections in May, when the threshold for council tax rise without a referendum was changed to two per cent.

Cllr Lowe said: "The situation changed prior to the Conservative Party conference when George Osbourne made a number of alterations including the limit on council tax.

"We are duty bound to asked the people of Dudley, this wasn't in our manifesto."

The range of increases up for debate in the consultation will run from zero to 4.9 per cent.

A hike of 4.9 per cent would add an extra £1 per week on a band D property in Dudley Borough.

Dudley Conservative group leader, Cllr Les Jones, said: "We have always had consultation on the budget, it's a little bit strange we are having a referendum about a referendum.

"It's a cop out, what they should do is clearly state what they want to do and put that to the people."