AN OPPOSITION leader has accused Stockton Council chiefs of “blaming everything” on the pandemic after the coronavirus left a £6m hole in the authority's finances. 

Labour cabinet members will vote on using reserves to plug the gap after a £17m bill for dealing with the pandemic in Stockton was revealed. 

Government grants of £11m have been received so far – but towering social care costs, lost income from leisure centres being shut and the rising cost of major projects have overtaken the sum. 

But Conservative group leader Cllr Tony Riordan has accused Labour of “blaming everything on the tragedy” – claiming “frivolous spending” over the years had caused some of the problems.

Cllr Riordan said the financial plan prepared for Thursday's cabinet meeting made “grim reading” and “quite rightly” highlighted pressures the pandemic had brought. 

But he believed the council had “saddled children and grandchildren” with large debts through its spending on projects like the Globe Theatre

Cllr Riordan added: “The Globe saga continues unabated, the promised and repeated deadlines for opening have been put back with ever spiralling costs.

“We now learn that this Labour-led council has known for months that the promised November opening wasn’t going to be achieved. The date was put back to December with council members not being informed, and now it may open in April 2021.”

An extra £1.2m bill for the troubled Globe Theatre project was revealed on Thursday alongside a detailed breakdown of extra pandemic costs.

Labour council leader Bob Cook said the council had led the fight against the virus but the money received from the Government so far was “nowhere near enough”. 

He added: “The Government made a pledge that councils would be given the resources they need to meet this challenge. They need to honour that pledge.”

But Cllr Riordan pointed to the Government’s emergency support packages and the wider £4.3bn given to local authorities during the crisis. 

He feared the fresh proposals to dip into reserves would bring tax rises and reduced services – and claimed Cllr Cook was “ultimately responsible” for the mess created. 

The Tory group leader added: “He can try and dress this mess up and put the blame elsewhere – unfortunately that won’t wash with the local taxpayer.”

Stockton Council has lost £73m from its budget since 2010 with hundreds of staff cut in the past decade. 

In response to the criticism, Cllr Cook said he’d “never heard so much nonsense in his life” before turning his fire on the Tory Government. 

He added: “We’ve got 150 councils across the country forecasting a combined budget shortfall of £3.2bn due to the pandemic, yet Cllr Riordan thinks it’s just us.

"There are lots of Conservative-led councils among them – like Barnet and Wiltshire – that are saying what we’re saying. 

“But there’s an elephant in the room here. The biggest budget challenge we’ve got isn’t down to Covid-19 – it’s down to the Government cutting a massive £73m from our funding. Ask any council in the land and they’ll tell you the same."