A NEW double act has pledged to continue tackling challenges surrounding coronavirus and press ahead with the transformation of a local authority after taking its reins.

Just 17 months after first being elected to Darlington Borough Council, Eastbourne ward councillor Jonathan Dulston has been voted in by its Conservative group as deputy to the authority’s leader, Councillor Heather Scott, replacing long-serving councillor Charles Johnson in the role.

Cllr Scott said Cllr Johnson as resources cabinet member would concentrate on Covid-related budget pressures, adding: “Fortunately, so far, we have had support from the government, but going forward financially could be quite difficult for us. That’s definitely the biggest challenge.”

She said Cllr Dulston’s elevation was also part of planning for succession and ability as a communicator and added: “I have great confidence in Jonathan that he will be able to support me. As leader there is an awful lot of external things that have to do on behalf of the local authority.”

Cllr Dulston said he and Cllr Scott had “two different perspectives” and had “some very challenging conversations that explored each other’s thinking”, but eventually always found common ground as they focused on the best results for the borough.

Cllr Scott added Cllr Dulston’s part-time job overseeing the day-to-day running of Firthmoor Community Centre gave him a good insight into the experiences of the community, serving as a good balance as she focused on strategic issues and economic development.

Cllr Dulston said he would push forward the transformation of the council to enable residents to understand its actions and the issues being faced.

He said: “We make these big technical reports that we release to the public and then we say we are transparent. We are not transparent because unless you are an accountant no one is ever going to be able to interpret that information.

“I want to re-energise the way the people access council services and how we communicate our messages so we are in line and in tune with how what the town thinks and feels and are at the centre of the community.”

Rival politicians said Cllr Dulston’s appointment came three years after the long-serving community volunteer and then police special constable said being convicted of being drunk and disorderly outside a Darlington bar had been “a huge learning experience”.

Labour group leader Councillor Stephen Harker paid tribute to Cllr Johnson’s “cordial and constructive” approach to his role as deputy leader saying he had “always put the town at the centre of everything he did”, but questioned whether Cllr Dulston liked being challenged.

He added: “Deputy leader is a serious role and that person is an ambassador for the town, so it’s quite extraordinary that it is being handed to someone who has just fabricated spurious allegations against opposition councillors found to be entirely without basis.”