Damning detail of council review revealed

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

HARTLEPOOL Borough Council is at a crossroads after an independent review raised concerns about the way it is being run.

The recent Peer Group review has found the reputation and effective running of Hartlepool Borough Council is currently being “badly damaged”.

While there is praise for the council workforce and services, the conduct of some councillors, leadership and governance of the local authority has been called into question.

Mayor Stuart Drummond said he shared some of the concerns and has called on all elected members to have a “good look at themselves and start to put a few wrongs right”.

Concerns have also been raised over the transparency of the council’s commissioning and grant-funding arrangements for the voluntary and community sector, especially as there are strong links between some elected members and that sector.

There is also concern that an initial summary of the findings by the civic centre hierarchy “glossed over” the major issues.

One key finding stated: “The effective running of the council and its reputation are currently being badly damaged.”

Senior councillors believe the decision to award former chief executive Paul Walker a £10,000 pay rise to £168,000, the mayor’s decision to axe six Labour councillors from his cabinet in February and the dispute between the full council and cabinet over this year’s budget have all damaged the reputation.

The Peer Review was an opportunity for the council to have a team of senior officers and councillors from other authorities, plus officers from the Local Government Association (LGA), to review the strengths, weaknesses and the challenges facing the council.

Last week’s summary was described as “seriously sanitised” by group leader of Putting Hartlepool First, Councillor Geoff Lilley, who claimed it “glossed over” major issues including:

● The reputation of the council in the eyes of local people has been damaged by recent events.

● Major anxieties about the senior management capacity to deliver the “very demanding” agenda.

● An urgent decision is required as to who will hold the statutory roles for children’s and adults services.

● Managers expressing concern about collaboration proposals.

The review highlighted the council has traditionally performed well and delivered good quality services.

A council spokesman said: “The Peer Review team urged the council to share their findings as quickly and widely as possible prior to the publication of the full report which we have adhered to.

“Last week a very brief summary of the initial findings of the Peer Review team was circulated to all councillors and staff, and this week more detailed information is being circulated.

“When the full report is available, all councillors and staff will receive it and it will be made widely available.

“Clearly, the Peer Review team’s initial findings highlight many positive aspects of Hartlepool Council but acknowledge that there are a number of issues which they feel need to be addressed.”

The findings called on the council to run an external recruitment process for the position of permanent chief executive.

Acting chief executive Nicola Bailey is leaving later this year and Dave Stubbs, the current director of regeneration and neighbourhoods, was recommended for the permanent position by the council’s appointment’s panel before the new report was made public.

Mayor Drummond said it was too late in the process to change, while Labour group leader Christopher Akers-Belcher and Conservative Group leader Ray Wells said the council has a tradition of looking internally first and Mr Stubbs has the necessary experience and qualifications.

Coun Lilley believed they should have looked at external candidates but said he was still “100 per cent” behind Mr Stubbs.