A Darlington Labour councillor has been accused of being ‘distracted’ by a race to become the next Tees Valley mayor. 

Cllr Chris McEwan faced criticism from Conservative leader Jonathan Dulston after the former leader questioned whether he is still committed to serving Darlington.

The current deputy leader and cabinet member for economy, cllr McEwan is Labour’s candidate in next year’s mayoral elections in the Tees Valley. 

He will face the current Conservative mayor Ben Houchen and hopes to unseat him for the first time since the post was created in 2017. Cllr McEwan said a Labour win would help “unlock the true potential of Tees Valley”.

But at a Darlington Borough Council meeting on Thursday, cllr Dulston warned: “We still need a portfolio holder that’s absolutely committed to driving the economic strategy forward.” 

The question came after a recent Labour campaign called for the Transporter Bridge, in Middlesbrough, to be saved. Just hours later, mayor Houchen announced funds to repair the historic Teesside landmark amid concern Labour attempted to “gatecrash” the announcement. 

The Northern Echo: Conservative leader cllr Jonathan DulstonConservative leader cllr Jonathan Dulston (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

Cllr Dulston added: “This week, we have seen cllr McEwan attempt to save something that was already in the pipeline to be saved, which was the Transporter Bridge.”

Yet cllr McEwan refuted the opposition’s claims that he is too busy to prioritise Darlington. 

“Rest assured I give my portfolio 110 per cent, day and night,” he said.  

Darlington Borough Council, led by a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, was also urged to support services providing job opportunities to young people after it was revealed the current Youth Employment Initiative programme will close next year

“Would cllr McEwan put the same level of energy into protecting the YEI service, which is there to support young people?” cllr Dulston added. 

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“Levelling up is about providing opportunities to everybody, making sure people have access to good quality jobs in the North East. To maximise levelling up, it’s important that our young people have the skills needed to obtain the opportunities this council secures.”

However, cllr McEwan warned of the ongoing financial pressures the local authority is facing and said they need to be prudent with their planning. He added: “What has become clear in the months since we have taken over is the financial pressure, particularly in children’s services, has grown.” 

And after the council recently missed out on more levelling up funding, cllr McEwan said: “A Labour government won’t necessarily put more money into local government, but they're certainly going to distribute it better than the current government which tends to favour the south over the north.”