In response to the news that Darlington is facing devastating cuts, Editor Peter Barron writes an open letter to George Osborne. It will be sent to the Chancellor, with a copy of today’s special pull-out in The Northern Echo on the crisis

Dear Mr Osborne,

AS I am sure you know, Darlington is a town with a proud heritage. It most famously gave the world the railways. It is the town which built some of the world’s best known bridges, Sydney Harbour included. It is the home of Cummins, which exports world-class engines to every corner of the globe. It is a pioneering town with ingenious roots. It is a town with a Victorian indoor market at its heart, surrounded by a close-knit community known for its compassion and its ability to pull together.

Today, Darlington is facing the grim prospect of losing much of its hard-won identity because the latest round of cuts means the borough council can barely even afford to run its statutory services.

Reductions in the council’s budget since 2010 mean the authority will have lost £44 million in funding by 2020 and the latest implications have shocked our readers. We have already lost our arts centre, which now stands wasted and boarded up. Now, our two libraries are to close, along with children’s care centres and scores of community support organisations, while the historic indoor market, which helps define us, must either be sold or closed down.

Therefore, we face the real possibility of boards going up on more of our iconic buildings. What view will be formed of Darlington then?

Mercifully, we have managed to preserve, and indeed invest in, our treasured local theatre thanks largely to the Heritage Lottery Fund, and our public leisure centre will survive, for now at least, and become the new home of our shutdown library service.

We completely accept that it has not all been bad news for Darlington of late. A town centre cinema, with associated restaurants, will open shortly thanks to private investment, and we very much welcome the recent opening of the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), with the new National Biologics Manufacturing Centre.

We are also not blind to local failings. Going back decades – when there was greater financial scope in the public sector – Darlington has not done enough to fully recognise and capitalise on its rich history. Its claim to railway fame has not been properly seized and talk of the Victorian market building becoming the “Covent Garden of the North” – and a jewel in the crown of the town centre’s retail offer – has so far fallen on deaf ears.

But, in terms of public services and facilities here and now in 2016, Darlington has been cut to the bone. On top of the threat to our historic buildings, there will be no more floral displays, football pitches will be lost, and parks maintained less frequently. It has reached the point at which the town can no longer even afford Christmas lights.

The very fabric of the town we love is under attack, with legitimate questions about whether our local council is still viable and able even to afford to run its statutory services to an acceptable standard. You may know this because the Government is paying the £60,000 cost of bringing in consultants to advise the council on running its “inadequate” children’s services.

Darlington is far from alone in facing these challenges, of course. But Darlington Borough Council has chosen to declare its hand before most local authorities and is, therefore, an early example of the depth of the austerity measures which have so clearly had a disproportionate impact on the north.

So what can a regional title such as The Northern Echo – a title which dates back to 1870 and owes its existence to those ingenious railway pioneers – do in the face of such grim news? Should we just sit back and accept the hand we have been dealt? Or should we at least attempt to put the scale of these latest cuts into perspective, explain the reality, and fight on behalf of the local community? We believe it is our responsibility to do the latter. It may prove fruitless but it is surely right to try.

We have launched a petition on the Government website in the hope of attracting enough to support to justify a parliamentary debate on the impact of austerity measures on an historic, proud and caring town like Darlington. The petition asks you to review the funding formula which discriminates against councils in the north.

I assure you that it is not a case of failing to appreciate the need for careful financial management in the public sector and the benefits of a more balanced economy. But it is our heartfelt view that the fat has already been removed and the cuts have now gone too far.

We are down to the core – and we cannot take any more.

Yours sincerely, Peter Barron, Editor of The Northern Echo