DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL has recently held one of its most important meetings of the year which has set the budget and Council Tax for 2024-25.

All councillors have a legal responsibility to facilitate that process, and not to obstruct the approval of a balanced budget. Had we not agreed the budget, we would have had to attend a second meeting, and if that had not had a successful outcome, the Government could have sent in a team to take decisions about financial matters in County Durham.

Each local authority has its own set of challenges, but every one of them is operating in an exceptionally difficult financial climate. We don’t have to search hard to find examples of harsh fiscal measures imposed on communities when a council has failed to set its budget, or has issued a Section 114 Notice, essentially declaring itself bankrupt.

In this context, the Joint Administration of Durham County Council worked for many months with the council’s highly dedicated officers to develop, test, scrutinise, adjust, and then finalise a set of budget proposals. These were designed to protect frontline services and support the most vulnerable, while continuing to invest in improving the county's infrastructure and build an inclusive economy for all. The budget that I presented to councillors achieves this delicate balance, thanks to the prudent use of reserves, and the necessary rise in core Council Tax of 2.99 per cent and a two per cent rise for adult social care.

None of this was easy to achieve and I don’t know a single councillor who relishes agreeing to increase Council Tax. However, we have sustained the support that 54,000 households in the county (22 per cent of all chargeable properties) receive through our Council Tax Reduction Scheme, with 100 per cent discount for those who are most in need of financial assistance. There were other very tough decisions that we had to make and members of the Joint Administration expressed their own strong misgivings about some aspects of both next year’s budget and the Medium Term Financial Plan, but to their great credit, they were able to support the proposals for the good of the council and County Durham.

In contrast, it was alarming that County Durham Labour sought to obstruct and reject the budget. Members on that side of the chamber used the debate to repeat the same points time and again, and contradicted themselves time and again.

They called for the capital programme to be reined in, while demanding increased investment in capital projects. They accused the Joint Administration of mismanaging council finances, while demonstrating fiscal incoherence with almost every utterance.

And they talked down our county and its prospects, while seeking to stop fully funded investment in projects that will build prosperity.

While the Joint Administration spent months working with officers to prepare a budget, County Durham Labour could have done the same. Instead, for the third year in a row, they sat on their hands, offering no alternative proposals or amendments, and simply attempted to bring the work of the council to a grinding halt.

They failed, and I am proud that Durham County Council set its budget for the next year, and we can continue to get on with the work of serving and delivering for all of our residents, wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances.

  • Cllr Amanda Hopgood (LibDem) is the leader of Durham County Council