First stage of inquiry into councillors’ interests complete

Tom Mitchell
Tom Mitchell
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THE first part of a £20,000 public inquiry into the interests of Hartlepool councillors and their links to the voluntary and community sector has come to an end.

The first part of the month-long process where members of the public were invited to speak to an independent barrister ended on Monday.

Lawyer Tom Mitchell is leading the inquiry after a Peer Review report 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.

Members of the public, voluntary agencies, and past and serving councillors and council employees were invited to take part in the hearing.

Monday marked the end of the “listening” part of the process and Mr Mitchell said it has been a “valuable exercise”.

A number of public and private sessions were held during the inquiry when people gave evidence.

In an open letter to participants he said: “I am grateful to all those who have come forward.

“It has been a very valuable exercise. It may not surprise you to know that the ‘blank page’ with which I started has been filled with words and all of which I now have to consider.

“I reasonably anticipate that I will need to clarify some matters further with certain people who will be invited to attend on one or two further days of hearings, to be held in public in the council chamber.

“Accommodating everybody’s personal and professional commitments is never straightforward but I hope to be able to complete this part of the process within the next few weeks. Thereafter I can set about writing up my conclusions for publication.”

Councillors previously stressed the inquiry 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.

Plans to hold a public inquiry were agreed at a meeting in February after the Peer Review found the reputation and effective running of the local authority is being “badly damaged”.

While there was praise for the council workforce and services, the conduct of some councillors and governance had been called into question.

The review also raised concerns over the transparency of the council’s commissioning and grant-funding arrangements for the voluntary and community sector.

The inquiry is being funded from the positive out-turn from last year’s budget.