A MOVE to pave the way for the restoration of key council services which were slashed amid government austerity cutbacks has been rejected.

Conservative-led Darlington Borough Council was pressed by the opposition to postpone plans to invest £1.8m into its Futures Fund – the first discretionary money that it had in its coffers for numerous years – to boost initiatives such as tackling fly-tipping, community safety and town centre improvements.

A meeting of the authority heard it was proposed to pour £800,000 into “ongoing commitments in Street Scene and community safety”, £350,000 into bolstering community safety staffing.

In addition, £500,000 had been earmarked “to maintain a vibrant town centre” due to the pressures high streets are facing, while £150,000 had been set aside for neighbourhood renewal projects.

The council’s Labour group leader Councillor Stephen Harker said given the hiatus in government decision-making in the light of Brexit and another single-year financial settlement from the government, the authority should take the opportunity to plan for the future.

He said the authority was still financially challenged and if the government reversed its funding cuts, the council needed to be fully prepared to take advantage of them.

Cllr Harker called for the £1.8m to be left in the council’s reserves and for the authority to investigate the costs and timescales of reintroducing Sure Start and Youth Outreach services, as well as expand the scope of its climate change programme.

He said Sure Start provided vital services to “hard to reach families” to give those children a better start in life and highlighted how Darlington had seen rising antisocial behaviour as a result of funding for youth workers being cut. He added while the council had appointed an officer to tackle climate change, it needed to do more.

Green group leader Councillor Matthew Snedker said it was “doubly cruel” that the services were withdrawn at a time of rising poverty and restoring the services at the earliest opportunity would be pay dividends.

He added the council’s climate change ambitions would affect just two per cent of the borough’s carbon output, and by having funds at the ready to match-fund government initiatives “we can make sure that this bright green future benefits everyone, not merely the clever, the rich and the lucky”.

The authority’s deputy leader Councillor Charles Johnson said the Futures Fund had been set up by the previous Labour administration to benefit all the borough’s residents. He said: “I see no reason whatsoever with having to change that philosophy.”

He challenged Cllr Snedker to come up with a climate change plan which was affordable and achievable before making a claim for money.

Conservative Middleton St George councillor Doris Jones accused the Labour group of “hypocrisy” and related how a decade ago £76,000 of developers’ contributions for housing estates had been spent converting a basement into a youth club, only for the Labour-led council to close it.

Cllr Kevin Nicholson said the Labour administration had removed a Sure Start children’s centre out of his ward two years before cuts were announced by the government. He said: “I do think it’s rich that that’s happened and that it happened without consultation.”

Ahead of the challenge to the Future Fund proposals being voted down, the council’s leader Councillor Heather Scott said she had been “incredibly surprised” by the request.

She said: “These are things that people are asking for. You say you want it to go back into reserves. So it means for the next year there will be cuts in these services.”

She said the council’s cabinet would consider initial climate change measures at its meeting next month.

Cllr Scott added: “We have accepted that we have got to put some funding into it, but at this stage we really don’t know what that funding will be.”