THE grim reality of Government spending cuts was laid bare last night when a North-East council became the first to reveal its plans.

Darlington Borough Council warned that 400 jobs could go and one of the region’s best-loved theatres faces closure in the biggest budget shake-up in living memory.

The council has drawn up a package of measures based on the assumption that it will have to save about £22m by 2014 as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

In the first phase, the authority proposes to:

● Axe subsidies to the town’s Civic Theatre and Arts Centre, a move that could force them to close, but which would save about £1.7m a year;

● Cut the town’s library services by a quarter;

● Cut funding for subsidised bus routes by £100,000;

● Scrap the popular free bonfire night and fireworks spectacular;

● Close four bowling greens;

● Reduce floral displays and grounds maintenance;

● Review eligibility criteria for elderly people who need non-residential support and force more people to pay for day care centres and training places to save £1m;

● Raise car parking charges and withdraw special offers;

● Restructure the council around three major departments – people, place and resources – and streamline the senior management structure, saving about £1m. It will mean the loss of two management posts and six assistant directors;

● Review the level of education support it provides to schools and focus only on the most vulnerable and needy children.

No aspect of the council has gone untouched – even the grass will be cut less often – in a review that will result in more than 400 job losses among the council’s 2,780 workers.

Officials warned last night of more to come.

The savings, which were announced to authority staff and councillors yesterday, amount to £13.8m a year, leaving almost £10m still to be found.

Council leader John Williams said: “The changes forced on us by the Government will touch everyone in our town. We have tried to protect services for the poorest and most vulnerable, but the scale and speed of the cuts is so savage that, in some cases, we have been unable to do so.”

The town’s 103-year-old theatre will be the most obvious casualty.

Although the council hopes to sell it as a going concern, officials said they were serious about closing the venue if a saviour cannot be found.

Chief executive Ada Burns said: “Although the changes come into force from April, commercial contracts mean the theatre will not close until the summer.

“We hope it does not come to that, but the message is clear – we cannot afford to subsidise it any more.”

Yesterday’s announcement follows savings earlier this year that totalled £1.2m.

Coun Williams, who steps down next May after 20 years at the helm of the council, said: “It is difficult to imagine what the final result will be. It will be a smaller council which will deliver less. It won’t be the council that people are used to.

“I would not choose to retire at a time like this. I have been through some difficult times and we have come through them.”

Alasdair MacConachie, the chairman of Darlington Partnership, a group that aims to promote the town, with members from the private, public and voluntary sectors, said: “It is important that we remain positive as we continue our work together to improve Darlington as a great place to live and work.”

A spokesman for the Unison union said: “Unison is appalled at the scale and speed of the cuts.

“The loss of more than 400 jobs is devastating news for our members, who work hard to provide decent public services in Darlington.”

Paul Harman, from Darlington for Culture, a group set up to protect the Arts Centre and Civic Theatre, said it was talking to the council and would inspect the books to see if the two venues could be kept open.

He said: “The council has got no choice in the matter. It is just a disgrace that the arts are not seen as a statutory part of a living, breathing town by the Government.

“More than £1m has been invested in the Arts Centre to provide excellent facilities. That is now going to be completely wasted because of the vandalism of the coalition Government.”

The council is planning to consult local people before the plans are discussed by the cabinet group.

A final decision will be made by the full council in March.

Councillor Heather Scott, the leader of the Conservative Group, said: “We are in a very difficult financial situation and there are hard decisions to be made.

“We will definitely see a leaner council. I hope we see a more efficient organisation with the restrictions that are going on.

“The hard decision is that the council will only be able to provide services that are necessary and, sadly, not services that are desirable.”

Lib Dem councillor Martin Swainston said: “I am chuffed that the senior management structure has been reduced.”

Consultation events about the plans will be held in the town’s Dolphin Centre from 5.30pm on Monday, November 8, and from 6pm on Tuesday, November 16.

More details about the proposals are at To comment, write to Darlington Borough Council, Freepost DL64, Town Hall, Feethams, Darlington, DL1 5QT, email, call 01325-388244 or text 07852-715241.