A LOCAL authority has approved a blueprint on how it intends to adapt to meet challenges over the coming three years, despite claims the plan has “fallen off the rails” due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet heard the Council Plan that had been developed since a Conservative-led administration took charge of the authority last year now featured some “slight changes” due to coronavirus.

The authority’s leader, Councillor Heather Scott, said while Covid-19 pandemic had had a major impact on residents and businesses, the strategy focused on matters such as growing the economy, maximising people’s potential and supporting those who needed help.

She added: “It’s still an ambitious, but realistic vision of how we see the borough of how we see the borough moving forward.”

Calling on the authority to reconsider its ambitions in the wake of the pandemic, Labour councillor Cyndi Hughes said when the plan was initially considered in January “we lived in a different world” and yet the plan had hardly altered.

She suggested the council now needed to improve its relationship with the borough’s schools, nurseries and colleges, which were struggling to help children cope with stresses the pandemic had created.

Cllr Hughes said: “Attainment is important, but we must champion along with educators those things that make attainment possible. Good mental health and wellbeing, security and safety and enough of the material things to keep body and soul together.”

She said extra action was also needed to address youth unemployment in the borough, with figures from October showing a significantly higher proportion of young people in Darlington claiming Universal Credit than the national average.

Cllr Scott said she was surprised and disappointed by the criticisms of the plan as it only laid out high level ambitions, but added the council would be doing its best to amid funding challenges. However, she said enhanced and targeted support for children to achieve their full potential and increasing opportunities for young people to gain training for jobs were already both at the heart of the plan.

She said: “As a cabinet we have ambitions for everybody in the town, particularly for young people, as they are our future.”