DARLINGTON’S ruling Labour group have set a budget relying on "faith, hope and charity", the council’s opposition Conservative group have claimed.
Tory leader Heather Scott said Labour councillors at Darlington Borough Council had ignored warnings of financial risk if projected savings and income increases failed to materialise.
The Conservative position was dismissed by Labour, who accused them of opposing the budget for political reasons ahead of an election next year and failing to come up with an alternative proposal for debate.
The Tory group tonight (Thursday, February 27) voted against the budget, which was passed by a majority vote of Labour and Lib Dem councillors.
At a full council meeting, members debated the medium term financial plan (MTFP) and agreed a council tax increase of 1.94 per cent for 2014/15 and cuts of £13.8m over the next two years.
The MTFP includes plans to cut the street cleaning budget by £400,000 – including wage cuts of up to £2,000 a year for some staff – and the possible closure of Cockerton Library and Head of Steam Museum unless they are taken over by community groups by 2016.
Coun Scott said: “This budget is built on faith, hope and charity. Faith that the figures are accurate, hope that income from building new houses and rate increases will come in and the charity of the voluntary sector.
“The Tory group cannot support this budget.”
Conservative councillor Alan Coultas said: “A plan has to be assembled that can be achieved with a sustainable outcome.
“Your own financial officer states that there is a significant risk if expenditure is not reduced – this budget does not have savings that are supported by detailed plans, only hopes for success.”
In response, Labour councillor Nick Wallis said: “Coun Scott and the Tories do not give a single indicator of what they would do. What are the opposition for if they don’t provide their own proposals?"
Bill Dixon, leader of the council, said the budget would not win any beauty awards, but that there were no alternatives.
He said: “I still have aspirations for this town. You [the Conservative group] attack the premise the budget was made on, but you have no alternative. You’re long on rhetoric but short on detail.”
Coun Dixon rejected the Tory accusations that its members had not had the opportunity to come up with an alternative budget.