COUNCILLORS decided to spend more than £120,000 on recruiting new bosses - less than an hour after voting to raise council tax.

Opponents slammed the move as "tin-eared" amid the cost of living crisis and financial hardship for taxpayers.

The six-figure chiefs' jobs were defended as vital to creating jobs, bringing in investment and improving prosperity.

Durham County Council will create two heads of service - earning £105,671 per year each - and delete one existing head role - at a net cost of £120,717.

This has already been factored into the controversial budget for the coming year, which includes a 3% rise in council tax.

Read more: Call to scrap Durham 3% council tax rise is defeated

The new roles are head of economic development and head of planning and housing, replacing the current head of development and housing.

Cllr Richard Bell, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, said: "When these proposals come forward we don't just say 'yeah OK, go on then'.

"We're deleting one and creating two new posts."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Sarah Caldecott. (Image: Sarah Caldecott, Newsquest)

Referring to a programme to build about 500 council houses, regeneration schemes, levelling up and devolution bids, he said: "The workload has expanded significantly.

"My considered view from a financial perspective is that it would be actually financially risky for this council not to appoint this additional person.

"A lot of this external funding is on tight timescales and has to be returned to Government if it isn't managed and delivered within agreed timescales."

Councillor Elizabeth Scott, cabinet member of economy and partnerships, said it was a "vital senior resource to support our residents, communities and businesses".

She said it followed the council's "incredible success with external bids and funding" as it began its new economic strategy and accelerated its "exceptionally ambitious" agenda.

Opposition Labour group leader Cllr Carl Marshall said: "I think this is the wrong time to be considering this.

"I think it's absolutely frightening when the rest of the world and the rest of County Durham are tightening their belts, struggling to decide whether to put the heat on or whether to feed their bairns on a night.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo. (Image: Northern Echo, Newsquest)

"This is one step too far for families to stomach this after today's meeting. I'm absolutely opposed to this at the current time."

Fellow Labour member Cllr Eddy Adam said there was "no clear or acceptable justification" for the new posts.

He said: "I find this to be an unacceptable proposal at this current time when our residents are experiencing and will continue to experience severe hardship due to the emerging cost of living crisis, now a hike in their council tax and Government-imposed National Insurance increases."

Cllr Mark Wilkes, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and climate change, responded: "Cllr Marshall may be happy for this county to continue to underperform and for residents to continue to live in poverty for the sake of one additional head of service. I'm not.

"Perhaps he's just terrified the joint administration wants to help people out of poverty and into work, providing jobs and economic development."

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

He said it would be "extraordinary" and "absurd" for one of the country's biggest councils not to have such service heads.

"I support putting in place exactly what is needed to build a better future for this county," he added.

Council leader Cllr Amanda Hopgood said: "This county has sadly been at the bottom of the economic pile for decades.

"These posts will facilitate and deliver our ambitious investment targets. These posts are there to create jobs, to bring opportunities for people.

"You can't have it both ways. You can't want to take people out of poverty and stop the very method of being able to do that.

"These posts are essential to give that hope, opportunity and investment that County Durham has lacked for too many years."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Picture: Northern Echo. (Image: Sarah Caldecott, Newsquest)

Independent Cllr Paul Sexton added: "We can't stand still. So less of the pessimism, more optimism please."

Labour Cllr Maura McKeon said: "I think this is the wrong time to be proposing something like this.

"I understand the arguments that have already been made across this room.

"But this is quite tin-eared to the people in my area who work a very hard day's work and still can't afford to feed their children."

Councillors voted 61-48 for creating the new roles.