In the fourth part of our series looking at the first six months of Durham County Council’s new joint administration, its leaders urge the public to be patient.

FOR everyone in local government, 2021 has been a challenging year, and 2022 shows no signs of easing the pressure.

The leaders of Durham County Council allow themselves a pat on the back for getting through their first months in a “joint administration”.

Read more: The County Durham success stories of 2021 - according to council leaders

“Let’s remember this is all in the context of dealing with a global pandemic and trying to sort a recovery out,” says council leader Councillor Amanda Hopgood.

“It’s been concerning. It’s been worrying,” adds Cllr Alan Shield.

“But we have taken a very collective and responsible attitude.

“I don’t think we’re underestimating the challenge in front of us because this pandemic and the repercussions of the pandemic are not going to go away overnight.

“We have to learn to live with this for some considerable time but we will live with it within the controls and the means at our disposal.”

Economic pressures loom large, with budgets to be worked out following settlements from central government.

“You’re about to see the start of the economic strategy,” says Cllr Hopgood.

“That is something that we will all really be proud of that we’ve pulled together to show that ambition.”

Cabinet member for finance and deputy leader Cllr Richard Bell says: “What we can do and what we are doing is planning for a variety of scenarios depending on how much money we’ve got.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Richard BellCllr Richard Bell

“If the money is there, we will do things. If the money isn’t there, we will be prepared for the hard decisions we’d have to take.

“When we came in we inherited an medium term financial plan deficit of around £40m over the next four years,” says Cllr Bell.

“There are potentially difficult choices to be made down the road in terms of funding services.

“We simply cannot fund the cost pressures that we face through council tax increases.”

He maintains adult social care in County Durham is “in a pretty good place”, but central changes to the system will have an effect.

“So that probably means that our costs will rise,” adds Cllr Bell.

“We don’t know how it’s going to work yet and we don’t know how it’s going to be funded. So a lot of unknowns. We’re okay at the moment but it’s a sensitive situation.”

Cllr Hopgood says: “For me the biggest challenges are the uncertainties.

“You can manage what you know about but it’s just being alert and on the ball so when the unknowns rear their head that we’re ready to deal with it and we have the right resources in place.”

Climate and ecological issues are also prominent, playing a part in most council meetings and leading to events with keynote speakers.

Cllr Hopgood says: “That’s going to be front and foremost. That is absolutely critical.

“We have the decarbonisation project and funding from government that’s available.

“We have just made substantial bids in this round of funding. And that’s on the back of having someone who’s focused in cabinet as the climate change champion.

“And it is something that’s discussed in every meeting without fail.”

Cllr Shield says: “We were the first in the North East and one of the first in the UK to announce an ecological climate survey.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Alan ShieldCllr Alan Shield

“That has been one of our directives that both climate emergency and the ecological aspect have to go hand in hand.”

Facing the future, Cllr Hopgood says: “We would ask people to bear with us and be patient.

“This is the eighth biggest council in the country. We’re ambitious, we want to make changes, but some things take a little longer than we would like.

“We’re here for people. We can’t always deliver what people want but we will do our best and we will listen to them.”

Cllr Shield adds: “The old adage is you can’t please everybody all of the time.

“People need to be understanding and patient but we will follow our principle of proper collective engagement at all times.

“We’re politically balanced enough to see that a good idea is a good idea wherever it originates.”

Cllr John Shuttleworth says: “We just want to move forward, work together, discuss things and get things done for the people out there.”

Cllr Bell says simply: “Judge us by what you see happening.”

l Tomorrow: The opposition’s view

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on or contact 01325 505054