A COUNCIL leader branded Government spending cuts “indefensible and obscene”, as his authority slashed £26m from its budget yesterday.
Simon Henig, Labour leader of Durham County Council – which faces a 40 per cent cut in spending power of nearly £190m between 2010 and 2017, said Government ministers were unfairly targeting poorer, northern areas – and the North-East was being hit hardest.
“The problems we are facing were not made by the people of North-East England, but we are being made to pay for them,” Coun Henig told the council’s budgetsetting meeting at County Hall.
Councillors voted to freeze council tax and cut spending by £26.6m, including axing about 20 neighbourhood warden jobs, merging their work with dog wardens and increasing charges for various services.
Many libraries also face having their opening hours reduced and dozens of community centres are under threat.
Liberal Democrats called for fewer library cuts, an extra £500,000 for wardens, £1m more for repairing roads and footpaths and a £1m fund for training engineers.
These measures would funded by axing the council’s County Durham News (CDN) magazine, recycling more, cutting councillors’ allowances and using £1.2m of the authority’s Contingency Fund, said Lib Dem leader Nigel Martin.
Conservatives also wanted to support libraries more and scrap CDN.
Independent John Shuttleworth proposed an extra £1m for highway maintenance, funded by axing CDN and cutting council communications.
All three amendments were defeated and Labour’s plans accepted.
Labour also proposed protecting the winter maintenance budget, putting £2.15m more into adult social care, £1.5m more into safeguarding children and investing an extra £3.5m to boost the economy.
Councillors agreed a £359m, three-year capital investment programme.
Council house and garage rents will rise by 6.25 per cent.
Durham Police Authority has frozen its precept, while County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Authority’s charge will rise by 2.97 per cent.
This means council tax for County Durham residents in 2012-13, excluding charges levied by parish and town councils and Durham’s charter trustees, will be: Band A £1,017.81; Band B £1,187.45; Band C £1,357.08; Band D £1,526.72; Band E £1,865.99; Band F £2,205.26; Band G £2,544.53; Band H £3,053.44.