A BUDGET has been hailed by leaders as "the envy of many other councils" with more cash going into frontline services.

The new joint administration of Durham County Council says its first budget shows its ambition for the area.

The Conservative, Lib Dem and Independent alliance took over after Labour lost control for the first time in 100 years last May.

There is a proposed three percent council tax rise, though members of the cabinet stressed the council would not increase the core council tax base.

Council leaders say the increased social care precept is needed to support vulnerable people.

Read more: What County Durham residents can expect to get from 3 percent rise in council tax

Councillor Richard Bell, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, presented a final report on the 2022-3 budget to cabinet.

He said: "It brings together the revenue and capital budget proposals for next year, and is a set of budget proposals that I believe will be the envy of many other councils.

"There are a number of significant new investments in frontline services, some recurring and many one-off.

"These investments will undoubtedly produce visible and noticeable improvements in service delivery."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.

He pointed to an "ambitious" capital programme with £113m going into in leisure centres, schools, levelling up and record levels of highways investment.

The budget includes £31m in schools, with £15m to rebuild Belmont Community Arts College and Belmont CE Primary School and £6.9m for a new-build nursery and primary school in Spennymoor.

The capital programme totals £602m over the next four years.

Cllr Bell said the council was using an extra £28.4m of Government funding

He said £10m of reserves would go into frontline services like highway maintenance, flood prevention, rural and urban footpaths, parks, rights of way and nature reserves.

He said the budget dealt with £45m worth of "unavoidable pressures" in pay and price inflation.

He said the base council tax was not rising, "in recognition of the cost of living increases being experienced by households right across the county".

But the adult social care precept, a charge in council tax, was rising by 3%, which Cllr Bell described as "prudent financial management".

"This is not a decision taken lightly but one born out of financial necessity," he told the meeting.

Read more: Durham County Council tax rise of three per cent to be discussed

Cllr Bell said it was needed to meet the "enormous" £19.5m challenges of children and adult social care - by far the largest of the council's budgets, about 60% of total annual expenditure.

He said there were "difficult choices to be made" in 2023 onwards, with £30m savings to be made in the next few years.

"Work will start on developing options to address these challenges immediately after we have agreed next year's budget," he added.

The budget will be discussed at the next full council meeting on February 23.

Council leader Cllr Amanda Hopgood said: "These are the first set of budget proposals we will be taking to council for consideration as the joint administration.

"The proposals demonstrate the scale of our ambition for this council and for the county, but are also proposals that are prudent and affordable.

"This administration is delivering on its commitments to raise the bar and scale of ambition for our county."The Northern Echo: Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Credit: Durham County Council.Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Credit: Durham County Council.

 

She said the investments "will surely make a huge difference to many people's lives".

She added those on low incomes still had protection with the council tax reduction and top-up schemes.

She said there was uncertainty from 2023 and a review of local government finances would "cast a shadow" over funding plans.

Cllr John Shuttleworth, cabinet member for rural communities, highways and community safety, said: "There's something for everybody.

"I fully appreciate that decisions on council tax increases aren't easy, and more so today.

"I believe we've struck the right balance."

The Northern Echo: Cllr John Shuttleworth. Credit: Northern Echo.Cllr John Shuttleworth. Credit: Northern Echo.

He said highways proposals would benefit everyone and "address many years of neglect".

Cllr Mark Wilkes, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and climate change, said it was "the first proper investment in frontline services for 12 years".

He pointed to £5m on decarbonising and £4.4m more on waste disposal with a major campaign to encourage recycling, along with investment in wardens, street scene services, bin repleacement and pest control.

He said: "Our message is clear - we're serious about making our council one of the greenest in the country.

"This is the first non-Labour budget for 100 years with a 0% core council tax rise and funding to make sure all our care workers are paid a decent wage.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Mark Wilkes. Credit: Durham County Council.Cllr Mark Wilkes. Credit: Durham County Council.

"We've listened to the public and we're moving this council in the right direction, investing in frontline services, tackling climate change and fixing the problems the previous lot left us with.

"The joint administration is putting the money in so residents can continue to put their rubbish out."

Cllr Paul Sexton, cabinet member for adult and health services, said: "The cost pressures of adult social care are enormous but simply must be accommodated.

"Decisions on council tax increases are always difficult, particularly at this time, but we simply must increase the adult social care precept next year to help offset the significant cost pressures we face in social care."

Cllr Ted Henderson, cabinet member for children and young people's services, said he was delighted with the schools investment, as well as more funding for looked after children, home to school transport and £7.7m for special educational needs and disability services.

Cllr James Rowlandson, cabinet member for resources, investment and assets, praised cash for allotments "after years of neglect", countryside, nature reserves, wildlife sites and rights of way which had been "starved of investment", parks and playing pitches.

He said they expected to secure another £100m from ambitious levelling up bids.

Cllr Susan McDonnell, cabinet member for digital and customer services, said all parties could be "rightly proud" of the council's consistent efforts to protect vulnerable people for many years.

She pointed to the council tax reduction scheme which helped 34,000 households, the welfare assistance scheme and work to support people in crisis.

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