A COUNCIL’S ruling Conservative group has accused their Labour predecessors of “hypocrisy” in a row over residents facing the maximum permitted rise in council tax despite the pandemic.

Darlington Borough Council’s leadership has voiced anger over after the opposition group’s leader Councillor Stephen Harker launched a last-minute bid to get the council to limit the tax rise to 1.99 per cent, rather than 4.99 per cent, despite the issue having been previously debated at meetings.

The Tory group said Labour had “performed an orchestrated, swift 180 degree turn” to say there was sufficient money in the council’s coffers to postpone part of the tax rise.

Accusing Cllr Harker of hypocrisy, the authority’s leader, Councillor Heather Scott said just a few weeks before the council tax setting meeting, the Labour leader had criticised the council for using its dwindling reserves to balance the budget, before later arguing it should use more reserves to lessen residents council tax bills.

Cllr Scott said: “I am the first leader who has included all the opposition parties in major debates. I have given them all the opportunity to talk to me if they have got views and none of them have approached me. I’ve said for the benefit of the people of Darlington we should be working together and if we really believe that then why don’t they approach me?”

When asked why his position on the level of the council tax rise had changed, Cllr Harker said he had come to the same conclusion that many other local authorities in the region had that some residents would be hard pressed to afford the increase this year.

He said he believed many families had a lot less flexibility in their finances than councils, which had reserves on which to draw. He said: “This is an exceptional year when many residents are going through severe financial hardship, and so to maximum tax rise this year seems disproportionate.”