Focus on members

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FURTHER details have been revealed about a £20,000 public inquiry into the interests of councillors and their links to the voluntary and community sector.

Earlier this year councillors agreed to hold the four-week inquiry after a Peer Review report raised major concerns about the perception that some councillors act out of self-interest and the perceived lack of rigour around the declaration of interests of Hartlepool councillors.

A report to tonight’s full council meeting reveals Middlesbrough-based Barrister Tom Mitchell will chair the inquiry, the date of which is yet to be set.

Councillors have previously stressed the inquiry is a good opportunity to set the record straight and quash any rumours or perceptions after the report into the running of Hartlepool Borough Council.

It had already been agreed the chair, who has been appointed through the leaders of the political groups and an independent councillor, should be independent and a person with a legal background.

The report by Dave Stubbs, the council’s chief executive, said: “A long list of candidates was compiled through the chief solicitor, leading to the short-listing of three candidates and the appointment of Mr Tom Mitchell, barrister-at-law.

“Mr Mitchell was educated at Balliol College Oxford and Manchester Metropolitan University and his year of ‘call’ was 1995.

“Since 2003 he has been a member of Fountain Chambers, in Middlesbrough.

“His principal practice area is defending serious criminal cases with expertise in the civil law of misfeasance and actions against public authorities.”

The plans to hold a public inquiry were agreed at a meeting of the full council in February.

It comes after the Peer Review found the reputation and effective running of the local authority is being “badly damaged” and while there was praise for the council workforce and services, the conduct of some councillors and governance had been called into question.

It also included concerns over the transparency of the council’s commissioning and grant-funding arrangements for the voluntary and community sector, especially as there are strong links with some elected members.

The £20,000 cost will be taken from the positive out-turn from last year’s budget.

Tonight’s meeting is due to take place at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, at 7pm.