Line drawn under probe

Councillor Jonathan Brash
Councillor Jonathan Brash

A COUNCIL leader has been given informal advice after an investigation into why political leaflets were distributed as part of local authority documents at a Hartlepool Borough Council-funded event.

Labour councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher had already admitted asking for the four-page leaflets, titled Your Hartlepool, Labour Manifesto, to be handed out inside council material at the launch of the Hartlepool Youth Investment Project at Hartlepool’s Maritime Experience.

But an inquiry was launched after councillor Jonathan Brash claimed it was against local authority regulations as well as the council’s own code of conduct.

Peter Devlin, the council’s chief solicitor, lead the inquiry but said that given the leader’s “frank and open admission”, it wasn’t “necessary” to carry out a full investigation.

But Mr Devlin has called on councillors to put a stop to “public exorcism” at full council meetings and to go through the usual complaints system.

A report by Mr Devlin said: “Where there is a departure from the conduct expected by elected individuals then there is recourse to a complaint system, which should provide sufficient safeguards and assurances for people to utilise rather than the present method of a public exorcism that appears to be becoming a common feature of council business, upon which all members need to reflect with some degree of urgency.”

The leaflet set out Labour’s key goals and aspirations, around the new model of governance, and focused on children and young people, adult services, regeneration and neighbourhoods.

Speaking at the October meeting, Coun Akers-Belcher confirmed he had asked for it to be put in and said the leaflet was paid for by the Hartlepool Constituency Labour Party.

As part of the inquiry, Coun Akers-Belcher met with Mr Devlin and the leader was reminded of the code of conduct and accepted the information should not have been included.

Mr Devlin added: “For the avoidance of any doubt the promotion and printing of this document were fully independent of the council.” He added the extent of the resources was the “extra five minutes” it took officers to insert the manifesto.

Mr Devlin said: “Whilst this engages the Code of Conduct and amounts to a breach of the same, it is considered to be at the lower end and therefore the most appropriate and proportionate response is the action by way of the provision of advice.”

The audit and governance committee meets on Thursday, November 28 at the Civic Centre at 9.30am.