In the final part of our series looking at the first six months of Durham County Council’s joint administration, the leader of the Labour group – now in opposition – questions what progress has been made.

AFTER their first months in power, the group leaders sitting on Durham County Council’s cabinet extolled the virtues of their partnership, pragmatism, communication and collaboration.

The leader of the Labour group – now in opposition for the first time – has a different take on the joint administration’s progress.

Read more: Durham County Council leaders urge ‘bear with us and be patient’

“I think it’s been utter chaos,” says Councillor Carl Marshall.

“I think what we’ve seen is decisions taken to try and hold the very fragile political agreement they have together.

“What we’ve got here is a coalition putting their own political agreement and their hunger for power before the priorities of our communities.

“We are six months into this fragile administration and we still have no idea what it stands for – half a year and no plan for increasing investment, no plan for creating jobs, no plan for supporting the vulnerable, no plan for Covid recovery.

“What we have seen is Durham’s ability to hold this anarchic government to account totally neutered, our critical voice silenced.”

Both camps accuse each other of not allowing enough consultation.

Lib Dem council leader Councillor Amanda Hopgood says their communication and consultation was “more than we’d had in the last 13 years”.

Cllr Marshall, on the other hand, contends some members felt they were not given an opportunity to discuss decisions in the current council.

“They felt quite strongly their communities weren’t having a voice,” he adds.

He rejects one coalition leader’s argument that this local government is “largely free from political differences” or impact from national politics.

He says: “The two are intrinsically linked. You can’t separate them out.

“Every decision that this government takes has an impact on our residents.

“When decisions are taken nationally that have such a detrimental effect locally, it’s an expectation from our communities that we actually stand up and fight for them.

“Who’s standing up to the government and shouting that County Durham should have a fairer deal?

“As for openness and transparency, what you’ve got to remember is that Labour is the largest party on the council.

“We’re not involved in any of those decisions they’re talking about. We’ve never been consulted on anything. We’ve never been asked our views and opinions.

“Effectively at the minute it’s like an anti-Labour coalition.”

Referring to town and village regeneration and leisure transformation plans, Cllr Marshall says: “All the important decisions they’ve announced, I would welcome the majority of them.

“They were all decisions and commitments made by a Labour-controlled county council.

“They’ve reaffirmed their commitment to deliver on Labour priorities, which is great.

“They’ve re-announced plans that Labour have spent the last four years working up in the community.

“I think the devil’s going to be in the details. I think the next six months are going to be absolutely key.

“That’s when the communities are going to start to struggle. I think there’ll be some very angry members of the public.

“I think the budget’s going to be really difficult for them politically as a coalition.”

Cllr Marshall opposes the decision to review plans for the council’s new HQ, which is nearly complete at The Sands, as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The Northern Echo: The Sands development Durham Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

He says: “You’ve got a building that’s already got the carpets and workstations in. How can you review it when it’s there? Everybody’s seen it.”

He argues the possibility of building an alternative new HQ at Aykley Heads would reduce the number of jobs delivered on the site.

“All the uncertainty it’s created for investors is ridiculous,” he adds.

“It’s an absolute farce.”

On levelling up, he says: “The government aren’t interested in levelling up. You can see that.

“They had a big opportunity to open up the Leamside line, which would have had massive benefits to Ferryhill.

“After years and years of hard work, they just slammed the door in our face.”

He denies the assertion of council leader Cllr Amanda Hopgood that the previous Labour administration lost power because it “stopped listening”.

He says: “Nobody can ever sit as a councillor and say they couldn’t listen more.

“I agree you can listen more but it’s what you do with that. It’s how you use that to drive change.

“That’s the difficulty you have when you’re in power.”

On the suggestion that the new administration is taking action after “lots of talking”, he says: “It’s a bit hypocritical.

“Complaining we don’t listen then we get to the point where we’re ready to start the delivery, they turn around and say ‘Labour was too slow with this’.

“Labour did listen, Labour did act.

“We’ve got 53 members. They’ve all got their sleeves rolled up.

“They’re all working here to represent their communities and doing what they can to make sure their communities get a fairer deal.”

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