THE leader of Darlington Borough Council, Bill Dixon, writes for The Northern Echo to explain why the town is facing such harsh cuts.

I APPRECIATE that the budget proposals detailed in this morning’s Northern Echo, and available in full on our website, don’t make for easy reading.

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The past few months have been hard. Council officers and councillors have had to come together to make the tough decisions necessary to ensure we can continue to provide the services that we think are most valued by you, our residents.

It has been a real juggling act as the money we get from Government has been further reduced by £11 million so our total resources are now £87.4 million. This may sound like a lot of money but once we have provided those services we have to by law, and the support services that ensure we meet our legal duties, and by using all of our reserves over four years we have only £2.5 million per year left to provide everything else.

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We are proposing to raise Council tax by 3.99 per cent annually which will raise a much needed £1.6 million per year. Two per cent of this increase is termed a social care precept, which the government have encouraged authorities with adult social care responsibilities to do, to help fund the ever increasing costs of adult social care. Whilst this is helpful I am disappointed that the government has not seen fit to provide adequate funding for adult social care and has chosen to pass the cost on to local taxpayers.

Faced with such a significant reduction in our finances we have had to look very carefully at the services we provide, including those we all value and cherish. Despite the severe cuts in our finances we have tried to come up a core offer that has value for the majority of residents, but it has not been straightforward.

For example, we are proposing to keep the Dolphin Centre open but to do this we have had to cut the library service and reduce the amount of money spent on our heritage. Other services have had to be cut and very few of the remaining services will look the same as they do now.

Most people in the borough do not use most council services but I know you care deeply about those services that you do use and, in some cases, rely on. I understand how hard it is for you to see your Council Tax rise and services being cut and I can honestly say these have been some of the hardest decisions of my political career.

I hope you believe me when I say no-one in the Council has taken the decisions about the future of services lightly.

I must stress, however, that it’s not a totally negative picture. The reduction in funding from the Government amounts to a tax on local authorities but it is important to remember that these cuts only affect council spending, they do not affect the aspirations of the borough as a whole.

In recent weeks I have often felt heavy-hearted as I have left the Town Hall but when I look around I see many examples of private sector development and investment coming into the town. The new cinema complex and the movement of international businesses into Central Park are just two examples of how Darlington is attracting investment and creating jobs. As long as people continue to see a future for the town it will thrive.

Darlington was recently named the seventh most attractive place to live in the UK and, despite the cuts that are coming, I am convinced that the borough will remain a great place to live, work and visit.

Our biggest asset has always been you – our residents - and as we see some of the services we have relied on being sadly cut, now is the time for us all to step up and think what we can do for our community, however large and small. By working together and helping each other I hope that we can become even stronger.

In the coming weeks as you look at the detail of what we are proposing, I want to hear your views and thoughts on the future, but it is important to understand that this is a realistic offer of services given the resources we have. There is no magic pot of money we can dip into. I would love to tell you that we can continue to provide all the services you care about and that have made Darlington great, but sadly we can only play the cards we have been dealt by the Government, not the cards we would like to play.