A LOCAL authority which reduced its spending by £45.4m and saw the loss of 730 staff through austerity has declared a sudden reversal in fortune will enable it to set its most optimistic budget in a decade.

Ahead of the government announcing what funding it will give to councils next year, Darlington Borough Council has said it is confident the authority will be financially stable in its budgeting until 2024 despite greater demands on services, following an increase in resources.

Its leadership said extra funding it received in a pensions rebate, that it generated through ventures and received from government would enable it pledge there would be no cuts to services while restricting council tax rises to a below inflation rate two per cent, alongside a two per cent precept to cover for mounting demand for social care.

If the authority's assumptions on government funding are correct and councillors approve the proposed budget, the total council tax rise would equate to 77p a week for residents of band A homes.

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Councillor Charles Johnson, the authority's resources portfolio holder, said: "We are financially stable in our budgeting until 2024. It always looked a bit difficult, but circumstances have changed, we have had an increase in resources. It is a good place to be from a budgeting point of view.

"We are not looking at any significant cuts to services. There are always little changes here and there. We are also investing £1.8m in our Futures Fund, which will support work in the street scene, town centre, communities, neighbourhood renewal and some culture.

The council's leader, Councillor Heather Scott said a "cautious but realistic budget" was being proposed, that the economic strategy was working and the authority's finances were on an "upward spiral".

She said: "It is confirming that austerity is over, we are on the up and up and we are looking forward with confidence. The flexibility we have got in the Futures Fund means the people of Darlington can look forward to improvement in services."

Cllr Scott said while rising resources would benefit services, the authority aimed to encourage more community involvement, and pointed towards how a mounting number of the borough's businesses were linking with Darlington Cares to boost volunteering.

She said: "We have got to bring the voluntary sector together to work together rather than in opposition to each other."

Much of the budget optimism centres around an unexpected £7.8m rebate on pensions, while other boosts to the council's coffers include a forecast £2m extra for social care from the government.

Cllr Johnson said a difficulty that the council is facing related to significantly increasing forecast spending for children in care to meet an increased demand and that has not slowed down.

Elizabeth Davison, the council's assistant finance director, said the budget did not include assumed social care savings for next year, but the council was working with the Department for Education and Leeds City Council on schemes to stem rising social care costs and also working with Tees Valley councils to increase placements as the market is driving the prices up.

She said: "We haven't had the government settlement figures yet, but we are anticipating an extra £2m coming for social care next year following what the Chancellor announced in the spending review in October.

"It won't cover the children's service it certainly helps towards it. The government have allowed the social care precept on council tax of two per cent, which is the other £5m needed to pay for social care."

She said until the Government announced the Fair Funding Review next year, giving a clear direction for all councils on future funding, the council faced some uncertainty. 

In the meantime, she said the council's enterprises, such as housebuilding ventures, were future proofing the council's coffers against unexpected rises in costs for services. 

She said: "The cost of adult social care has stabilised, but we all now something will happen in the future as we are all getting older."

When asked if the Conservative administration would seek to change any of the cutbacks introduced during austerity now that it was in a better financial position, Cllr Johnson said they "wouldn't reverse anything".

He said: "It has actually pushed us into a position of efficiency. When we looked at it in 2016 and set up the core services offer of the fundamental things we had to do, I thought that was a great step forward.

"We were spending money on things we had to spend it on and whatever we had left we had a problem then because it was never big enough so there were service cuts. But we have got over that and moved on and are in a much more controlled situation now. There is not a lot you could turn the clock back on. We have changed the shape of things that have been done before and can see they are efficient and cost-effective."