THE Labour leadership of Darlington council was yesterday accused of using £13.8m of cuts to meet its own political ends.

Conservative councillors said Labour was using the Civic Theatre as "a dramatic symbol" of the austerity measures being imposed on the town.

Last week, the council blamed the coalition Government for forcing it to cutmore than 400 jobs and senior management posts.

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The measures will see subsidies for the town's Civic Theatre and Arts Centre scrapped - a move that could lead to their closure.

The total saving would be £13.8m towards the council's target of £22m over four years.

Councillor Heather Scott, leader of the Conservative group, blamed the cuts on the £73m of debt she said Labour had wracked up during its 20year reign in the town, and which was now costing £3m-ayear in interest. "The local Labour party are side-lining the facts in favour of ridiculous rhetoric, " she said.

Coun Scott added: "We do not criticise the pace or scale of the cuts, but do think the nature of the choices is skewed towards protecting the political interests of the Labour establishment.

"There appears to be little about cutting the numbers of political posts, nothing about addressing the pay scales of senior officers, silence on the cost of propaganda such as the PR department and the free Town Crier newspaper."

She said the Civic Theatre was being sacrificed by Labour as a "dramatic symbol of local cuts".

"Surely it would be better to restructure the subsidy so that tickets are realistically priced instead of abandoning the theatre altogether?" she said.

"We will now open our own consultation on local council spending and feed the results into our manifesto for next year's election."

Inresponse, Labour leader John Williams said: "Darlington people will not be taken in by this nonsense.

"They know that the council cuts are being imposed by a Conservative-led Government that has not considered the social consequences.

"We have frozen council tax and we have the lowest council tax in the region.

"It seems to me that the Conservative proposals are a smoke-screen to cover their guilt and embarrassment as the party responsible for the cuts that Darlington people are about to suffer."

Councillor Mike Barker, from the Liberal Democrats, said: "Heather Scott is quite correct in terms of the economic situation we inherited.

"It was so dire that a drastic decision has been necessary to get the huge levels of debt under control."

He added that the country was too dependent on the public sector and that the coalition Government's plans, such as local enterprise partnerships, would create private sector jobs.

But he added: "We share the unease about the future of culture and arts."

A council spokesman said: "The proposals include restructuring of senior management posts to secure a saving of £1m. Once this review is complete, senior salaries will then undergo a further review by an independent body as agreed by full council.

"The council's borrowing is regulated by Government borrowing approvals and the prudential borrowing code.

"Borrowing can only be used for capital purposes - such as investment in buildings or roads - it can not be used to fund running costs.

"The council's auditors, PriceWaterhouseCooper, has a duty to raise any issues with the council's accounts in relation to borrowing and spending. The accounts have been approved every year."

* Public meetings to discuss the cuts take place in the town's Dolphin Centre on Monday, from 5.30pm to 7.30pm and on Tuesday, November 16, at 6pm and 8pm.

* In a separate development, The Northern Echo understands that plans are being put together for a Community Interest Company to take over the management of the threatened Arts Centre.

Darlington Cuts: Where the council intends to save its money

£1,000,000 – Restructuring of senior management; four departments to three, cutting two management team staff and six assistant directors

£500,000 – Restructuring within individual departments

£1,500,000 – Savings to way council buys goods and services

£800,000 – Better use of buildings to reduce accommodation costs

£170,000 – Changing way housing-related support for vulnerable adults is provided

£250,000 – Reviewing library service

£100,000 – Countryside, rights of way and allotments service reduced to bare minimum

£130,000 – Road safety education and training reduced to bare minimum

£110,000 – Anti-social behaviour team work targeted to more serious cases

£230,000 – Community safety partnerships reduced to legal minimum

£100,000 – Bus services subsidies reduced

£140,000 – Car parking charges amended

£40,000 – Town centre management support reduced

£50,000 – Closure of West Cemetery toilets, reduced opening hours and introduction of charges at East Row toilets

£90,000 – Environmental health, building control and trading standards services and inspections reduced

£120,000 – Grant Aid changed

£1,700,000 – Cultural services reviewed; subsidy to Civic Theatre and Arts Centre removed, Dolphin Centre made cultural hub, with Tourist Information Centre unstaffed

£700,000 – Street Scene service reduced

£1,000,000 – Adult social care service charges changed

£110,000 – Home to School transport provision changed from two to three miles

£1,600,000 – Local education support reduced to statutory duties

£1,400,000 – Early intervention and prevention service for children and families reviewed

£60,000 – Early years inclusion service reviewed

£30,000 – Democratic engagement services ceased

£1,900,000 – Two-year staff pay freeze proposed

£13,830,000 – TOTAL SAVED