About the Council
Darlington Borough Council is a Unitary Council established in 1997, prior to that, it was part of a two-tier system in County Durham.
Since 1997, the Council has been a consistently high performing Council with positive feedback from Corporate and Peer Reviews and key stakeholders. The Council is the third smallest Unitary Council in the Country and its size brings both challenges and opportunities in equal measures. The Council is well known for being pragmatic and having “partnerships to die for” - we know as a small Council we need to be pragmatic to get things moving and we know that partnering delivers so much more than trying to do everything ourselves.
Our size does mean the economies of scale available to larger Councils are not available to us, however, we have an excellent record of robust financial management verified each year by our external auditors. The Council’s current Medium-Term Financial Plan (MTFP) is balanced for four years; nevertheless, the impact of COVID-19 in regard to service demand and the long-term effect it may have on our economy will need to be closely monitored.
The Council has a strong track record of creative and innovative delivery. There are many examples to illustrate our successful partnership working with the private sector and other public bodies. One in particular is a Shared Services public/public partnership with Stockton on Tees Borough Council to provide back office services to both Councils and other public bodies.
Our partnering success goes much wider than the provision of services, as we create initiatives and interventions to improve outcomes for the residents and businesses of Darlington and we are proud of such initiatives as Darlington Cares, a private/public partnership to encourage volunteering with businesses. Our housing Joint Venture with Esh Homes is another example which continues to deliver much needed homes and financial returns.
Some of the key challenges the Council faces especially as we recover from Covid are:
- Narrowing the gaps in, and creating, opportunities for residents - Darlington is a borough of significant variations in opportunity in terms of health and wellbeing, one of the most extreme examples being life expectancy, which for a male in the most deprived ward is 13.7 years less than that of a male in the most affluent ward.
- Accelerating growth in the economy – Darlington outperforms much of the North East region and has great assets in that Darlington is perfectly placed with great rail, road and air links. However, although employment rates are good (pre-Covid), the average wage level is lower than we would want, so one of our key focuses is attracting more well-paid sustainable jobs. There are many examples of success in this and we are developing a bioscience sector in Tees Valley, with key facilities established at Central Park. Growth in logistics and wider manufacturing offer further opportunities going forward.
Our Council Plan “Delivering Success for Darlington” sets out our clear ambition and aspirations to meet these challenges and others and the plan forms a framework for us to work with partners and businesses across the Borough.
Darlington sits within the Tees Valley region and works closely with the four neighbouring Councils and jointly the five Councils established the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) which leads on strategic economic growth for the region.
The five Leaders of the Councils form the TVCA Cabinet, along with the directly elected Mayor, Ben Houchen. The wider region is well placed to take advantage of the new opportunities and Darlington is in a strong position to capitalise given its location and strong partnerships. In the next few years, we have an unprecedented forward programme of transformational Capital schemes with public and significant private investment. Partnership working within the Tees Valley Combined Authority is strong and provides opportunities to deliver ambitious transformation of our highways and transport systems.
The Council is Conservative led although there is no overall control, with a party breakdown of 23 Conservative, 18 Labour, 3 Liberal Democrats, 3 Independent Group, 2 Green Party Councillors and 1 Independent. The Council operates a Leader and Cabinet system. The Cabinet is currently made up of eight members, including the Leader.
The scrutiny process is used constructively by the Council and works well.
A new senior executive structure will be in place from 1st June 2021 and consist of a Chief Executive and three Directors, each leading a Group of services and focusing on key outcomes.
Given the Council’s key priority of delivering success for Darlington through economic growth, as well as the overall management of the Council, the Chief Executive takes the strategic lead on Economic Growth ensuring its focus permeates throughout the Council and its partners.
The Operations directorate covers all core back office functions including Finance, Human Resources, Legal and Democratic Services, Performance, Policy and Communications, Customer Services, Revenues and Benefits, and the Housing Services division which runs the Council’s housing stock and lifeline services. The Group Director - Operations acts as the Council’s Section 151 Officer. This directorate is the engine room that keeps the Council running and the glue that holds it all together.
The Services Directorate covers all the front facing functions, delivering good quality neighbourhood services including Street Scene, Leisure and Culture, Community Safety, Building Services and is also the keeper of our Highways and the deliverer of our extensive capital projects programme. This directorate is key to delivering success for Darlington through economic growth as all areas impact on the Council’s ability to thrive.
The People directorate has a wide-ranging portfolio having responsibility for all functions relating to Adults, Children, Public Health, Education and Safeguarding. The Group Director of People fulfils the statutory roles of Director of Children’s Services (DCS) and Director of Adults Social Services (DASS).
We are passionate and relentless in our aspirations for children and young people, with the aim being for every child in the town to thrive, which is now embedded within our new Children and Young People Plan. Achieving the best outcomes for children is at the core of our ethos and we have a team which is creative and forward-thinking. Our Children in Care Council and our Care Leavers are active and engaged: they play a key role in our corporate parenting work and they feel that their voice is heard. Our looked after children say that they feel safe and supported.
Our improvement journey from Requires Improvement to be good, continues at pace, with ambitious and exciting transformation now well underway. Our last Ofsted Focus visit in February 2019, noted ‘a stable and committed senior leadership team, with strong political support, has been successful in establishing and maintaining a stable and motivated workforce. Leaders have a realistic understanding of the strengths and areas for improvement and this is reflected in their action plan. They recognise that there is more to do to ensure that the help and support provided to all children in need of help and protection result in sustained improvements in their lives’.
Our Adult Social Care Transformation programme continues at pace with dynamic and ambitious outcomes. Our emphasis is strengths based, progressive assessment and reablement, maximising independence at every opportunity possible.
We have drive and real commitment to optimising community support and enabling people to remain at home through connected networks, further supported by our recently launched online directory. Our innovative Life Stages Service focuses on children and adults with disabilities, with a 'whole life planning' approach being an integral aspect of this service. Children transitioning to adulthood are seamlessly supported, at the best possible time, to plan for and maximise independence. Outcomes are achieved through personalised and tailored interventions that develop a range of life skills, enabling people to live active and engaged lives.
Public Health is embedded in Darlington since its transfer from the Health Service. The wider determination of health is everyone’s responsibility but led by our “small but perfectly formed” team. The challenges of COVID remain and our team continue to be central to meeting and planning for the ongoing challenges of COVID.
Darlington’s education system is highly academized, with nearly all schools within an academy structure. This brings with it challenges and opportunities and these are overcome and embraced by more fantastic partnership working. Educational attainment in the Borough is good overall but, as with many outcomes in Darlington, there are some gaps which remain challenging.
The People Group works as a cohesive joined-up team, improving outcomes for residents. At the same time, the department is not an island and cross-departmental working is key to Darlington’s success and we know we get much better outcomes by working together. This is our ethos in Darlington – one big team and that is how working for Darlington Council feels!