THE possibility of a 12.5 per cent rise in council tax bills for Darlington taxpayers moved closer when the rise was approved by the borough council's scrutiny committee.

Most householders will end up paying an extra £1.25 a week - more than £60 a year.

Council leader John Williams told Monday's meeting that the Government was in the process of scrapping its present system of allocating money to local authorities.

"Small unitary authorities like ourselves are particularly vulnerable. The bigger ones get hundreds of millions of pounds while our budget runs into the tens of millions. Bigger ones are better placed to stand any buffeting," he said.

Social services will receive a £1.8m injection to offset unexpected expenses caused by a delay in closing homes for the elderly.

Councillor Tony Richmond said he was aware that social services throughout the North-East were struggling financially.

"How well are we placed in the future to withstand a buffeting if something else comes out of the blue for social services? How vulnerable are we?" he asked.

Paul Wildsmith, financial director, said: "I think we are far better placed for the next few years than when we first became a unitary authority. We won't be able to offer a Rolls-Royce service but there will be a good level of resources."

A special cabinet meeting will discuss the budget on Wednesday, February 27. It will go to the full council for approval on March 8.