Council tax bills will increase for Darlington households this year by around five per cent. 

The rise was approved by a majority of councillors, as the local authority takes urgent measures to stave off a financial crisis. Cutbacks aimed at saving £4m per year and £16m by 2027/28 have also been announced and other savings are expected to be made through increased service charges. 

While the increase was criticised and voted down by opposition members, the council said it is needed and is in fact the second lowest rate in the North East. Yet, Darlington Conservatives criticised the Labour-Liberal Democrat administration in charge of Darlington Borough Council for leaving residents worse off. 

Councillor Jonathan Dulston, group leader, told a council meeting: “We won’t support a council tax increase until ‘Captain Chaos’, that’s cllr Harker, actually starts to take ownership of his own failings.

The Northern Echo: Conservative leader cllr Jonathan DulstonConservative leader cllr Jonathan Dulston (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

“Your narrative over the last few months has been Tory mismanagement and Tory reckless spending, which is simply not true. What is clear is your first year in control has been a complete disaster. You have failed to grab the reins, not delivered your own emergency budget and u-turned on your promise to ease the cost of living. This year alone residents are worse off under a Labour administration given the short-sighted decisions you have made. 

“Sadly, you’re planning to put the boot in once more, with a proposed council tax increase. This is only possible with the full endorsement of the Lib Dems, who once again prop up Labour to deliver these hammer blows to our residents.”

But in response, Council Leader Stephen Harker compared the Tories to William Micawber, a character in Charles Dickens's David Copperfield, who is known for his faith that “something will turn up”.

Referencing the council tax increase, cllr Harker said: “Let’s not forget that despite all the hyperbole from our local Conservatives in their brief period in control of the council they too raised council tax to the maximum permitted. They wasted money on schemes such as the council rebranding, painting the borough blue.

“Let’s not forget, that despite woeful lack of funding from their own Government, they have spent this year talking about spending more money – and nothing about how we might save money.”

The Northern Echo: Council Leader cllr Stephen HarkerCouncil Leader cllr Stephen Harker Darlington Borough Council will receive £29.3m from the government’s funding settlement to deliver frontline services - but warned it doesn’t go far enough to prevent the ongoing financial difficulty the local authority faces. The meeting heard how funding cuts had curtailed the council’s ability to serve its citizens. 

But Conservatives feel the residents should benefit from the extra funding, too - and cllr Dulston labelled the council “shameful” for not distributing the £4m.

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Councillor Mandy Porter, cabinet member for resources, called for reform of the funding system. She said: “Whilst we welcome the additional funding from the government, it is quite frankly a disgrace and is not anywhere near the amount actually required to support this local authority. This government is failing to support Darlington residents.”

The local authority is unlikely to make any significant job cuts in the immediate future but members will continually review its accounts, the council said. 

Labour’s concerns were echoed by the Green Party at the meeting. Cllr Matthew Snedker, group leader, said: “If more help is not provided, we’re looking down the barrel of a gun. Without proper, fair funding settlements for local authorities, millions of people up and down the country and thousands in Darlington will be failed, despite the best efforts of members and officers.”