COUNCIL chiefs have been criticised for switching a meeting about millions of pounds in spending cuts to a larger venue – only for it to be shunned by the public.

Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet approved the draft medium term financial plan, setting out the authority’s financial commitments over the next six years, at a special meeting on Tuesday (February 18).

The cabinet usually meets in a small committee room in the Town Hall.

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Tuesday’s meeting was held in the much larger Central Hall, in the Dolphin Centre, to allow members of the public to attend and comment on the budget.

Rows and rows of seats were laid out, the majority of which were left empty.

Those that were filled were taken by senior council officers, as well as opposition councillors and trade union officials.

Councillor Heather Scott, leader of the opposing Conservative group, attended the meeting.

Speaking afterwards, she called the venue change a ‘waste of time and resources’.

She said: “Had there been much publicity to encourage people to come along?

“At a time when we are trying to save money, how much must it have cost in staff time to set up the room in the Dolphin Centre?

“It just seems a complete waste of time and resources.”

Council leader Bill Dixon said the change of venue was ‘the right thing to do’, with the council having previously held budget consultation events in Central Hall.

Addressing the largely empty hall, he said: “This looks like overkill, but we did say in the consultations that we would come back to Central Hall.”

The budget – which includes a council tax rise of 1.94 per cent for 2014/15 and the potential for similar increases up to and including 2019/20 – will be discussed by the full council later this month, when it is expected to be rubber-stamped.

Coun Dixon said: “This is one of the worst budgets we could possibly have been visited with – particularly unfair are the discrepancies are the discrepancies between the north and south of this country.

“If this continues, in my view, local government in the North does not have a realistic future – quite what we would replace it with, I am not sure.”

Coun Dixon stressed the council’s responsibility to pass a ‘credible, sane and legal’ budget or risk running out of money mid-way through the year.

The full council meets on February 27, at 6pm, at the Town Hall.