A row erupted over the cost of living crisis in a council meeting, with a leader defending a "very generous package of support".

The opposition leader branded the response to the cost of living and energy crisis a "disgrace" and "too little too late" during a Darlington Borough Council meeting.


The council's Conservative leader, Councillor Jonathan Dulston, spoke of the "global energy crisis which developed on the back of the war with Ukraine".

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He said: "This has become one of the most significant economic events the world has faced in recent years.

"The Government has responded consistently to this crisis and I welcome the further support announced by the Chancellor last Friday.

"Of course I continue, along with members of Parliament, to push for more support in the coming months.

"Residents are finding it difficult at the moment and I share their concerns."

The Northern Echo: Councillor Jonathan Dulston from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Councillor Jonathan Dulston from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Sarah Caldecott. (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

He highlighted more than £25m worth of financial help to tens of thousands of people including payments to pensioners, lower income households, people on disability benefits, council tax discounts, the £400 energy bills rebate and the price cap guarantee.

He said he was proud of the "really strong" local support package, like the Bread and Butter Thing which has provided more than two million meals to families.

He added the council had received more than £900,000 to support families this winter: "Work is already developing on how we can get this money to people as quickly as possible.

"This council continues to support those on free school meals, pensioners, people who are particularly struggling on low incomes with energy costs, and we will continue to enhance the support we give to the food bank network."

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Labour group leader Cllr Stephen Harker said: "The only thing on people's minds at the moment is how they're going to get through this winter."

He said the cost of living crisis had been evident for months with soaring inflation and fuel bills, and growing queues at food banks, and asked: "What have you been doing?

"All you seem to have done, according to your report, is a single meeting merely two weeks ago, and what were the outcomes? A promise to hold more meetings.

"Well I'm sure all the hot air from those meetings isn't going to help people keep warm this winter.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Stephen Harker from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Stephen Harker from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.

"It is a disgrace that you're only finally beginning to realise the impact this economic downturn is going to have.

"I find it quite shocking it's taken so long for you to do something about the fuel crisis, given how much other councils up and down this country have seemed to be preparing for this for months, and finally you seem to be kicking into action.

"This winter is going to be like no other that most of us in those room can remember.

"This is a crisis that we have not seen in decades, and frankly your response today is too little and too late."

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He said last week's mini-budget "conned" people into thinking it was generous but did not meet people's needs: "It's been panned by economists, commentators, the IMF, and indeed the markets tore it to shreds.

"The economics of this country are in a mess, all because of what your Chancellor and your Prime Minister did last week."

"That budget absolutely stinks, and this Tory Government will not be forgotten for what they did last Friday. They've trashed the economy."

Cllr Dulston replied: "Cllr Harker, you're dead wrong.

"It wasn't one meeting. Myself, every single cabinet member down here, are actively working with different organisations on how we can ease the cost of living. It didn't happen a month ago, it's an ongoing conversation.

"There's loads of different things that we're currently working on to try and ease the burden.

"I understand that we're going through really really difficult times. I'm very proud that we were able to give a very very generous package of support to people who most need it.

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"In addition to that, the Government is giving councils like Darlington the opportunity to work with partner organisations to make sure those that most need the help will get it.

"We're already working with charities and various organisations to make sure that people this winter are identified and are given the support that they need.

"So I completely, completely reject what the leader of the opposition is saying.

"I'm proud that this council continues to search for those people who are unknown to us, the people who have just been managing for so long.

"I've proud that now more than ever, we are finally able to identify some of these people."

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