SENIOR council chiefs say a number of improvements have been made after a damning review into Hartlepool Borough Council.
Last year’s Local Government Association Peer Review found the reputation and effective running of the council was being “badly damaged” and while there was praise for the council workforce and services, the conduct of some councillors, leadership and governance of the local authority had been called into question.
Concerns were also 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.
It led to an action plan being drawn up and a public inquiry after 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.
The public inquiry is ongoing but the council’s finance and policy committee met recently to discuss the Peer Review action plan, which raised concerns including:
• The neighbourhood forums were not seen as adding value which led to a review of the system.
• Concerns had been raised about a lack of rigour within council around measuring the impact of initiatives and decisions in order to assess their effectiveness, which is being reviewed.
• There was an “urgent need” to fill the role of director of child and adult services. The recruitment process is now underway.
• Inadequacies within the constitution and council governance that have not been appropriately resolved. A new constitution has since been agreed under the new governance arrangements.
Andrew Atkin, the council’s assistant chief executive, said: “The majority of actions have been identified and delivered.
“There are three areas that are still in progress, collaboration, review of partnership working and the public inquiry is still ongoing.”
Leader of the council, Christopher Akers-Belcher, thanked officers and said committee members were happy to note the report.
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.
Middlesbrough-based barrister Tom Mitchell is leading the inquiry and no date has been set for when the findings will be published.
Councillors have previously stressed the inquiry, which will look back over the past five years, is a good opportunity to set the record straight.