Barrister calls on people to have their say on Hartlepool councillors’ links

Tom Mitchell.
Tom Mitchell.

A BARRISTER leading a £20,000 public inquiry into the interests of councillors and their links to the voluntary and community sector has called on people to have their say.

Tom Mitchell is leading the inquiry after a Local Government Association Peer Review raised major concerns about the perception that some Hartlepool councillors act out of self-interest and the perceived lack of rigour around the declaration of interests of councillors.

The three-month public inquiry starts in earnest this week and the timescales for how people can get involved have been confirmed.

In an open letter to residents, Mr Mitchell said the inquiry is about standards and the scrutiny applied to commissioning by the council within the voluntary and community sector.

Mr Mitchell wrote: “I need your input so that I can carry out what I hope will be a valuable exercise on your behalf.

“I urge you to participate and I look forward to hearing from you.”

The first step will involve the public having the opportunity to have their say during half-hour sessions starting this Thursday from 10am at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.

Those sessions will run until Tuesday, April 30 but must be booked in advance and will be held in public, unless there is a request to talk privately.

Then between Wednesday, May 1 and Friday, May 3 representatives from the voluntary and community sector will have the chance to meet Mr Mitchell before councillors have the opportunity from Wednesday, May 15 to Friday, May 17.

Councillors have previously stressed the inquiry, which will look back over the past five years, is a good opportunity to set the record straight and quash any rumours or perceptions after the damning report into the running of Hartlepool Borough Council.

Mr Mitchell added: “The question is whether elected members of the council have sought to use their position for the gain or advantage of themselves or others known to them.

“My job over the coming weeks is to get to the facts and see whether or not those concerns expressed by the Local Government Association have any foundation.”

He stressed that he has no connection with Hartlepool or the council and called on residents to consider him a “blank page”.

Manchester-born Mr Mitchell was educated at Balliol College Oxford and Manchester Metropolitan University and his year of ‘call’ was 1995 and since 2003 he has been a member of Fountain Chambers, in Middlesbrough.

It is the first public inquiry that the 42-year-old has overseen.

While there was praise for the council workforce and services in the review, the conduct of some councillors and governance had been called into question and it also raised concerns over the transparency of the council’s commissioning and grant-funding arrangements for the voluntary and community sector.

People can book a session at the civic centre by calling (01429) 523647.

Alternatively they can also email Mr Mitchell at publicinquiry@hartlepool.gov.uk