Fire storm: Row as councillors stage meeting walkout

Cleveland Fire Brigade H Q Queens Meadow Business Park, Hartlepool. Picture by FRANK REID
Cleveland Fire Brigade H Q Queens Meadow Business Park, Hartlepool. Picture by FRANK REID
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A formal complaint has been lodged against Cleveland Fire Authority after three Hartlepool councillors walked out of a meeting.

Town Labour councillors Stephen Akers-Belcher, Marjorie James and Rob Cook, who represent Hartlepool on the fire authority, left the meeting after Coun James was refused the chance to speak on an item under debate.

Councillor Marjorie James

Councillor Marjorie James

Coun James confirmed at the last Hartlepool full council meeting that the formal complaint had been lodged over the matter.

The walk out happened during an update to the fire authority on a Government consultation on proposals to increase joint working between emergency services.

Minutes of the meeting on October 16 stated: “Councillor Akers-Belcher pointed out that Councillor James had indicated she wished to speak. The chair highlighted that if Councillor James asked her question it would be contrary to Labour Group policy. Councillor Akers-Belcher asked for a legal opinion to outline the constitutional reason for refusing Councillor James to speak.”

The minutes add Stockton councillor Paul Kirton pointed out that the response had been agreed and seconded and that Coun James was also a member of the fire authority’s Executive Committee which had formed the response and had not been present at the Cleveland Fire Authority Labour Group meeting earlier that day.

Councilor Rob Cook.

Councilor Rob Cook.

The minutes added: “Councillor Akers-Belcher raised a point of order and asked if the Chair was going to allow Councillor James to speak. He informed the Chair that the Hartlepool Members would be leaving the meeting and not participating in the discussion any further.”

Peter Devlin, the fire authority’s Legal and Monitoring officer said the prerogative for how meetings were handled lay firmly with the Chair who has to go along with the overall consensus of the meeting.

The authority is made up of 23 elected councillors from Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton, and Redcar and Cleveland council.

At the last Hartlepool full council meeting Coun James said: “There is a formal complaint lodged with the monitoring officer of this authority that is also for the fire authority. Until the complaint has been dealt with, which is still in the process, I’m unable to give any further information.”

Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher

Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher

Independent councillor Jonathan Brash said of the incident: “If there is a situation where our representatives are being prevented from partaking fully [in debate] then that’s something this council should be extremely interested in.”

A spokesman for the fire authority said: “We have received a complaint which is currently being dealt with.”