A PLAN to increase council tax by four per cent to enable the local authority to cover the spiralling cost of social care and spend money on projects it is not legally bound to provide has received cross-party support.

While Darlington Borough Council’s scrutiny committees have already supported the Tory-led administration’s plans to increase council tax by two per cent and charge an extra two per cent for adult social care, with opposition members raising few questions over the proposals ahead of the household charge being set. The two per cent council tax rise is the maximum the authority could levy without triggering a referendum.

The proposals would allow the authority to spend an extra £600,000 on Street Scene, £550,000 on community safety, £500,000 on the town centre fund and £150,000 on neighbourhood renewal. 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. A meeting of the communities and local services scrutiny committee heard the proposed increase was lower than the previous year and that Darlington had the second lowest council tax rates in the North-East.

However, while householders of the cheapest band A properties paid £958 in 2012/13, a number of increases had meant last year they had to pay £1,213.

Independent councillor Steven Tait, a member for Eastbourne, said while the council had recently highlighted the demand for food banks in the borough, he felt “uncomfortable” in supporting the two per cent increase in council tax. He said: “Ultimately as a council we recognise that people are using foodbanks, but we are now proposing an increase in council tax.”

The council’s managing director Paul Wildsmith said the authority offered help to those with the lowest household incomes through a council tax support scheme, in which they could receive 80 per cent tax relief.

Cllr Tait said the two per cent rise represented quite a big increase to some who do not qualify for the tax relief.

Mr Wildsmith said: “The balance between expenditure and income are interlinked. If we decide not to have council tax increase of four per cent, that’s £2 million less a year that the council has. The task is then where do you want to cut expenditure. That’s the discretionary spending, because we can’t cut statutory services.”

After the meeting, Liberal Democrat and Independent group leaders councillors Anne Marie Curry and Kevin Nicholson said while there was a strong demand for foodbanks key council services could struggle without the tax rise.Cllr Nicholson said he had received assurances that those struggling to make ends meet would be supported by the authority, while Cllr Curry called for more help for people on low incomes and for homes to be reassessed to make payments fairer.