A SENIOR councillor believes a new system of running Hartlepool Borough Council will “return power” to the people.
Labour group leader Christopher Akers-Belcher was speaking ahead of the upcoming mayoral referendum, which will decide whether the local authority retains the current mayor and cabinet system or goes for a committee system made up of elected councillors.
In his Mail column on Wednesday, Mayor Stuart Drummond said the mayoral system is most democratic, more accountable and comes with more transparency and a direct opportunity for the public to select the person they want to lead the council.
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But Coun Akers-Belcher believes the alternative committee system will give more “power to the people”.
Hartlepool Council has had an elected mayor and cabinet since May 2002 but people will be able to decide whether to retain that system on Thursday, November 15, the same day as the Police and Crime Commissioner election.
Coun Akers-Belcher said: “In the May elections this year, the main concern on the street was indeed how the council is run and why do we need an elected mayor.
“Why were we electing 33 councillors in May, only for them not to have a voice under the current establishment of mayor and portfolio holders?
“Residents elect their councillors for a reason and that is so that each and every one of them has a voice, not to be stifled by a chosen few.
“The mayoral system has cost Hartlepool in excess of £1m over the last 10 years.
“Times are hard and families on the whole are feeling the pinch.
“What would residents’ rather spend £1m on over the next 10 years?
“This could be spent on libraries, community centres, buses, care for the elderly and services for our vulnerable residents.”
Coun Akers-Belcher added: “Many will try and say the costs are not much different if we change but they are significantly different.
“A committee system will negate the need for scrutiny forums as the challenge, probity and robust decision making is made at the time a committee meets.
“Committees are politically balanced and represent councillors regardless of their political persuasion so everyone has a voice and decisions are fair and equitable.
“Nationally elected mayors have been rejected in nine out of 10 cities as they do not provide value for money.”
The Labour group leader said he would “doubt very much” under the committee system that there would have been a deficit in excess of £700,000 for the Tall Ships Races event and said a committee system “would never” have awarded a £10,000 pay rise to former council chief executive Paul Walker.
Coun Akers-Belcher added: “All in all, your local councillors should be your community champions, fighting to get the best services for their residents.
“We should live in a democracy that promotes fairness and equality.
“Committees make decisions based on the collective needs of their communities, more reflective of the aspirations we have in Hartlepool.
“The current system devalues local democracy and stops the people you elect in local communities from having a voice.
“The time for change is now and committees will return power to the people of Hartlepool.”