Damning report into council

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

A DAMNING report which reveals major concerns about the way in which Hartlepool Borough Council is being run has highlighted tensions between the elected mayor and councillors.

The Peer Review talks of “political tensions” over power and influence at the council which is damaging the reputation and causing confusion and a lack of clarity about the governance arrangements.

The review team said the tensions centre around the position of elected mayor, currently held by Mayor Stuart Drummond, and councillors who are experiencing a “battle for supremacy”.

Team members did stress there were many positives including the commitment of council staff and the services being delivered.

But also highlighted concerns over commissioning and grant-funding arrangements, transparency and a “lack of rigour” around the declaration of interests from councillors.

There was also concern that major decisions are “potentially” being taken without sufficiently comprehensive analysis and concern over the council being able to deliver a demanding agenda with only a “very small number” of people at senior levels.

A report by Chris Bowron, Peer Challenge manager, said: “The tensions that have arisen are about power and influence and are the result of two democratically legitimate sets of arrangements, the position of elected mayor and the elected membership of the council, now experiencing a battle for supremacy.

“Legitimate politics, in terms of political parties seeking to be able to demonstrate their ability to shape things in Hartlepool and have the opportunity to lead the borough, lie at the heart of this. We respect this.

“However, the way things are seen to have been conducted among politicians has not helped the reputation of the council and the way that things have developed has had a number of consequences, including confusion creeping in regarding who represents the political leadership of the authority, a lack of clarity regarding how the governance of the council should operate and the capacity of the cabinet being extremely limited at the present time.

“The effective running of the council and its reputation are currently being badly damaged.

“The leadership and governance of the council is central to this – at a time when they need to be stronger than ever – and as a consequence the council is running a significant set of risks including to its reputation and capacity.”

He added there was an “obvious need” to turn around the negative perceptions that have built up and which are “rapidly undermining” the positive reputation of the council.

Initial findings were reported in October, but the full report will now go before councillors.

The review was carried out before Dave Stubbs was appointed as chief executive and before the mayoral referendum, which saw people vote to scrap the directly elected mayor model in favour of a committee structure.

Mayor Drummond said it was “no secret” there has been tension between him and other councillors in the lead up to the mayoral referendum, but he said the situation has changed considerably.

He added: “I hope people will be a lot more sensible from now on.

“I hope the report proves valuable going forward and it has given people a lot to think about.”

Mayor Drummond added the report was a “fair reflection” at the time, but added: “To be fair quite a bit has changed and if they come back this time next year then hopefully they will see a different picture.”

The review team said the council now has an opportunity to develop a new constitution and take the chance to address issues.