Council shake-up delayed

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SENIOR councillors have called for more time to discuss proposals which could see dozens of resident representatives axed.

Hartlepool Borough Council is currently considering plans for a radical overhaul of the way it engages with the public, voluntary sector and businesses.

Part of the plans include disbanding resident representatives from next April and replacing them with 11 Neighbourhood Voices, which would be based in the new ward boundaries due to come in next year.

Cabinet members had already discussed the proposals once before sending them out for more consultation.

Among those consulted was a working group of councillors who said the Neighbourhood Voices plan should be scrapped.

Mayor Stuart Drummond said there had been such a big response that cabinet members needed more time to sift through the proposals.

He said: “We have not had the chance to sit down and digest what has come back from the consultation.

“I would be a lot more comfortable if we had the chance to go through this.

“There are some good suggestions that have come back.

“It would be sensible to try and formulate something based on the responses we have received and our original proposals.”

Independent councillor Hilary Thompson said: “I would appreciate the time to have a good look at this.”

Resident representatives, who volunteer their time, are elected every two years and their role is to represent their ward and liaise with council departments and partner agencies.

The Neighbourhood Voice role would be similar but there would be just one person per ward instead of the current structure of 25 representatives spread across the north, south and central areas.

Concerns have also been raised from parish councillors that they are being marginalised in the proposed structure.

They have called on communication between the local authority and town and parish councils to be improved.

It is also proposed to reduce the number of Neighbourhood Action Plans which work with eight priority neighbourhoods deemed as being in the top 10 per cent nationally for deprivation.

Instead the council could focus only on those in the top five per cent.

But the working group recommended that this should wait until the new ward boundaries have been confirmed.

Labour councillor Ged Hall added: “It is absolutely vital that we have some form of public meetings.

“It is how we do that and how we do that more cost effectively.”

The changes are being put forward because less money is available, changes to the law and the Government’s Big Society initiative.

The way the council engages with the community and stake-holders is planned to be overseen by a new Strategic Partnership Group, headed by Mayor Drummond.

It will meet four times a year, but will not be a decision-making body.