A COUNCIL tax rise of almost 3% has been approved after a bid for a 1% increase to "give residents a break" was defeated.

Darlington Borough Council leaders proposed a 2.99% council tax rise to help pay for services and social care.

Conservative council leader Cllr Heather Scott said their medium term financial plan, which includes the 2.99% council tax rise, outlined significant investment in services.

She said it meant more than £100m revenue investment per year in the next four years and £160m capital investment in roads, housing and community assets.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Heather Scott, leader of Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Heather Scott, leader of Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.

Labour opposition group leader Cllr Stephen Harker put forward an alternative rise of 1% to "give our residents a break this year".

He was accused of "playing politics" and being "irresponsible" by suggesting the amendment.

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He said taxpayers would find it very difficult to afford the basics in the next year, with some having to chose whether to "heat or eat".

He said: "The impact on people this year is way beyond what we have ever seen.

"We have the reserves to do it. The reason for doing it is the absolute catastrophe that many people are going to be facing."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Stephen Harker. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Stephen Harker. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.

Finance officer Elizabeth Davison said Cllr Harker's suggestion would mean £4.7m less revenue in the next few years and "savings would need to be made".

Cllr Scott said: "It's a totally irresponsible amendment.

"If we don't raise the council tax this year, we will be in a position next year that we're going to have to raise it by twice the amount."

She added: "This group have helped more people in the two years we've been in control than Labour ever did.

"I think this is just budgeting in the madhouse. It's absolutely crazy."

Conservative deputy council leader Cllr Jonathan Dulston told Cllr Harker: "To do what you're suggesting would take money out of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

"Shame on you that you chose tonight to play politics."

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He and other Conservative members supported the 2.99% increase and referred to larger rises previously made under Labour.

Cllr Scott Durham said: "This is grossly irresponsible. It's playing politics.

"We have to make the hard decisions for the benefit of the residents in this town."

He asked whether Cllr Harker was looking for a headline, saying: "Be careful what you wish for because it'll probably be 'Labour bankrupt the council'."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Scott Durham from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Scott Durham from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Northern Echo.

Cllr Lorraine Tostevin said: "Council tax rises safeguard the most vulnerable in society, the people we all want to protect.

"This amount of increase is required to support those people, and they need it.

"It's incorrect not to allow the council rise locally because we need the money."

Cllr Jamie Bartch said he was "fundamentally opposed to council tax increases, but we are in difficult times".

Labour Cllr Hilary Lucas said they were merely trying to help people amid Government underfunding.

She said: "They've got their backs to the wall. They can't afford a massive increase in their council tax."

Cllr Ian Haszeldine said the lower 1% rise was "the moral thing to do" considering residents' hardship.

He said: "The citizens of this town need as much help and support as they can get.

"It does have implications but we've got time to manage that."

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Green group leader Cllr Matthew Snedker said he struggled to support a 1% rise.

He said of the proposed 2.99% increase: "If I was in that position, however painfully, I would need to raise council tax by this amount."

Cllr Harker's amendment for a 1% council tax rise was defeated in a 28-16 vote.

After this, the 2.99% council tax increase was carried as councillors voted 44-0 for the financial plan with one abstention.