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Unfairness claim over cuts, as highways blackhole is revealed
A COUNCIL battling to avoid the much-heralded pothole crisis is facing a £200m shortfall in its highways budget, it emerged today (Wednesday, January 9).
Shortly before Christmas, the Government promised the region’s councils £18m for road maintenance.
Within that total, Labour-led Durham County Council was pledged £2.8m.
However, Councillor Bob Young, cabinet member for strategic environment, said today the authority was facing a £200m shortfall to upgrade its roads, pavements and paths.
He told a full council meeting at Durham’s County Hall: “We have a major problem in highways. I’ve had a 40 per cent cut in the highways budget.”
Referring to the Government cash, he said: “It’s very welcome but I’m not at all certain it will please all members in the room today.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Ben Ord, who had raised the issue, said he realised the council had “massive problems” with potholes and he had asked Transport Minister Norman Baker to make extra funding available.
It is understood £200m is what it would cost to bring all County Durham’s highways up to the best standards.
Nationally, the highways shortfall is thought to be around £10 billion.
Coun Young’s comments came after Durham and Darlington councils announced another round of spending cuts on Tuesday.
Finance chiefs at Durham expect cuts there to top £200m by 2018, while Darlington Borough Council will have to save a further £17.3m over the next four years.
Heather Scott, leader of Darlington’s Conservative group, has written to Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles asking why cuts to Government grants appear to be hitting northern councils harder than those in the south.
“We support what the Government is doing in trying to deal with the deficit, but we do question the allocation of grants,” she said.
Coun Scott said Tory councillors would work with the controlling Labour group over coming months but some political argument was inevitable.
Darlington’s Labour leader Bill Dixon said the council would continue, with the Association of North East Councils, to lobby the Government on the fairness issue.
Both council’s cabinets are due to discuss spending cuts next week.
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