Politicians have clashed as Durham County Council marked the start of a new local authority year.

Members of the opposition Labour Party hit back at claims from council leader Amanda Hopgood that the Joint Administration continues to be in charge of the local authority despite “relentless attacks” from Labour. 

The Liberal Democrat councillor said the coalition group - consisting of Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Indpendent councillors - is delivering for County Durham despite critics in 2021 saying it wouldn’t work. 

Cllr Hopgood commented after the annual meeting of Durham County Council on Wednesday where Independent councillor Joan Nicholson was re-elected as the council’s Chair. 

“After the formation of the Joint Administration in May 2021, there were a lot of pundits and opposition councillors who confidently claimed that the partnership would only last weeks,” Cllr Hopgood said. 

“Despite the many challenges and the relentless attacks from County Durham Labour that we have faced over the last three years, we’re still here and delivering a positive and ambitious agenda for the benefit of everyone, in sharp contrast to many local authorities.

“The financial circumstances for the county council are tougher than ever, but we will continue to serve all of our residents, and play a full role in the new combined authority, taking advantage of the opportunities that the devolution deal presents to County Durham and the wider North East. 

“It is a huge privilege to lead Durham County Council and I look forward to working with all of my colleagues in the Joint Administration and other members who are prepared to cooperate constructively for the greater good, during another busy and productive year.”

The formation of the council’s cabinet will continue into the new council year, but its members and decision making have faced repeated criticism from Labour. 

Labour defended its approach as the opposition, however. 

The party’s leader Carl Marshall said: “Cllr Hopgood sees effective, constructive and passionate opposition as an ‘attack’, when all Labour is doing is dragging the coalition’s constant mistakes and missteps into the light for public scrutiny.

“This coalition is held together only by bitter hatred of Labour. As Lib Dem leader - along with Independent leader Cllr Shuttleworth – she backs Tory policies, refuses to hold a Tory Government to account and votes with the Tories constantly, blocking or amending Labour motions to protect and help residents. A vote for anyone in County Durham but Labour is a vote for the Tories.”

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The party lost its majority at the 2021 local elections but hopes to regain control of the council in May 2025. Cllr Marshall criticised the Joint Administration for squandering council finances, rejecting progressive policy, preventing economic growth and failing the people of County Durham. 

He added: “The coalition is crumbling –  Tories have suffered another resignation (cllr Mike McGaun) and over three years, six Independents have left the joint administration, while Labour has won every by-election since 2021. 

“We have a new Labour North East mayor – winning at every ballot box in the county bar a tiny handful - and we should have a Labour Government in a couple of months. People are rejecting this coalition and its parties and returning to the Labour values required to put our county, this region and the UK back on track.”