THE North-East’s biggest council has celebrated being named the best in the country, the day after it reached its fifth birthday.

Councillor Pauline Charlton, chairman of Durham County Council, formally presented the Council of the Year trophy to leader Simon Henig at County Hall today (Wednesday, April 2), the Labour-led authority having won the top honour at the 2014 Local Government Chronicle (LGC) Awards last month.

Coun Henig said he was delighted to accept the prize, on behalf of the council’s staff, councillors and partners.

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“This is probably the most prestigious award in local government.

“It’s testimony to the hard work of so many people.

“Our emphasis has been on our partnership working as well as our economic focus and our Year of Culture (2013).

“It really puts a seal on a successful first five years as a unitary authority and it’s all been achieved despite huge funding cuts.”

The council, which became a unitary authority following the abolition of County Durham’s two-tier council structure in April 2009, is facing more than £240m of cuts between 2010 and 2017.

Coun Charlton thanked all councillors and council staff for their “hard work in doing the best they can for residents and local communities”.

This year’s LGC Awards attracted a record-breaking 640 entries.

Judges praised Durham’s work in supporting businesses, transferring community assets to voluntary and other groups, engaging with its staff and the public and contributing to the development of the region.

Durham was also highly commended in the efficiency category, for its work on waste management, recycling and rubbish collection.

LGC editor Nick Golding said: “Durham County Council demonstrates the level of innovation in British local government today.

“Our judges were extremely impressed by the quality of entries. At a time when resources are scarce councils are innovating to ensure they provide residents with the best quality services.”

Elsewhere, South Tyneside Council won the public health award and Gateshead Council’s cleaning team won the best team of the year prize.

The winners were announced at a ceremony held at Grosvenor House Hotel, London, on Wednesday, March 12.