SUCCESSIVE governments are to blame for the uncertain and challenging financial outlook for Darlington Borough Council, a meeting has heard.

While the local authority’s budget and 2.99 per cent council tax increase for the coming year was unanimously approved, Labour and Conservative councillors charged each other’s party with responsibility for pushing the council towards “the edge of a financial precipice”.

The annual budget-setting meeting heard the Labour-run authority’s leader Councillor Stephen Harker state, in real terms, the council had seen £5m less government funding on an annual basis since 2010, which would increase to an annual £15m less.

He said Government cuts had led to Darlington Borough Council being among the 97 per cent of local authorities planning to raise council tax, more than three-quarters of which were intending to raise it by more than 2.5 per cent.

For the Conservatives, Councillor Charles Johnson said the Labour Party was criticising those who had been left to clear up the mess left by Gordon Brown’s administration.

Cllr Johnson said the authority’s planned 12 per cent rise in council tax over the next four years would “certainly interest our residents”.

He said as the council was planning to use all of its reserves and the significant uncertainties around Brexit “there will be a point in time when we, like the previous Labour Government minister, tell people there is no money left”.

He said: “Yet again we hear Labour complaining about austerity. What they really mean is Government expenditure is less than it would have been if the last Labour government had been in power.

“We only have to look around Darlington to see how much Conservative government funding is in evidence. Multi-millions is the answer and there is more to come.”

Cllr Harker said while Cllr Johnson had criticised the Labour administration’s budget, the Conservative group had “no ambition”, and had failed to present “any alternatives or even simple amendments”.

He highlighted how demand had risen in several service areas, such as children’s social care, but said the key pressure on council services for people to be aware of was the council’s loss of spending power since 2010.

He said: “I do think the Government has a lot to answer for where we are at the moment and not just because of Brexit.

“David Cameron had a referendum, why he assumed that everybody would vote yes and that would be the end of the matter. He was too foolish to realise the stupid news, the stupid stories that had come out about Europe meant anyone having a referendum was going to lose it.”