A SENIOR councillor has waded into the row over Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond’s cabinet cull, claiming axed Labour members made it “explicitly” clear they faced expulsion from the Labour Group if they voted against budget amendments.
Cabinet member and independent councillor Hilary Thompson said sacked Labour councillors made the comments during briefings with Mayor Drummond.
But Labour Group leader councillor Ged Hall has hit back and said the claims were “absolute speculation” and could not be “substantiated”.
Coun Hall, one of the axed cabinet members, said he was never threatened in any way of being thrown out of the group.
Mayor Drummond sacked Coun Hall and Labour colleagues Jonathan Brash, Pamela Hargreaves, Robbie Payne, Chris Simmons and Peter Jackson for failing to support cabinet proposals for the 2012-13 budget by not turning up to a recent full council meeting.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s cabinet committee is now made up of Mayor Drummond, Coun Thompson and independent councillor Cath Hill.
Coun Thompson said: “I looked on the six as colleagues and have contacted them individually to wish them well.
“However, I am utterly disgusted that the cabinet six now deny what the Mayor, councillor Cath Hill and I know to be fact.
“Having lost their cabinet positions, they seem to have lost their memories too.
“On February 6, 10, 13 and 20, Labour members of cabinet said explicitly that they would be expelled from the Labour Group if they voted against the Labour amendment and in favour of their own budget.
“When the Mayor asked what the consequences of this would be, they said that the National Labour Party would then investigate Hartlepool Labour Group, and this would be detrimental to the group and extremely bad publicity at a time of all-out elections.”
The independent councillor also said party politics should be kept out of local government.
Coun Hall said: “If any discussions about what might have happened did take place, and I honestly can’t recall them, then it was based on pure speculation.
“It is like saying somebody is going to be hanged or imprisoned before the actual trial. It is all what-ifs.
“There may have been some informal discussions about what the possible scenarios may have been, but that is not the same thing as saying what will actually happen.
“Speaking as Labour Group leader and a former cabinet member, I have never, at any point, had any direct threat made to me regarding expulsion from the Labour Group or Labour Party.”
He also confirmed the Hartlepool Labour Group does not have any power to take away Labour Party membership.
Coun Hall said he was disappointed Coun Thompson had made reference to discussions during confidential cabinet briefing sessions.
The Labour Group said the reason cabinet members did not support the budget was because Mayor Drummond failed to properly consult them over his objection to amendments put forward by the Labour Group at a previous meeting.
The amendments centred around cabinet proposals to privatise the council’s ICT, revenues and benefits contract.
But the amended budget, which included plans not to privatise the contract, was passed by full council.
It has been confirmed that Coun Hill will take over the role of deputy mayor from Coun Payne.