A CEREMONIAL mayor believes a fact finding trip to a German town was very worthwhile and has helped re-establish links.
Labour councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher made the trip to Huckelhoven, west of Cologne, in Germany, with council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher, Hartlepool Borough Council’s chief executive Dave Stubbs and the council’s assistant director of regeneration, Damien Wilson.
There had been criticism from one councillor over the need for the trip but the town’s ceremonial mayor said it was very worthwhile adding youngsters from Hartlepool are already looking to take part in an exchange trip on the back of the visit.
The aim was to create fresh links between schools and community groups and see what Hartlepool could learn from Huckelhoven in terms of supporting new businesses, boosting employment and developing skills.
Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher said the trip was originally planned as a personal visit but it was later decided that Mr Stubbs and Mr Wilson would join them as well to see what Hartlepool could learn from Huckelhoven, which the town has strong links with dating back 30 years.
The party visited two schools, a grammar and a comprehensive school, a QVC factory which has recently opened and is now employing 1,400 members of staff, plus civic buildings and community groups.
The Hartlepool group also met up with Burgermeister Bernd Jansen, who is Coun Akers-Belcher’s equivalent in Huckelhoven.
Coun Akers-Belcher said: “It was a very worthwhile trip.
“Hartlepool and Huckelhoven historically have had a lot of strong links and many people from Hartlepool still stay in touch with people from over there.
“It was a great opportunity to learn lessons, to re-establish links and the civic leaders we met with were also very interested in coming over here.
“We also went to two schools, a grammar school and a comprehensive school, and they were very enthusiastic about setting up exchange visits with our schools.
“We also learned a great deal about how Huckelhoven has been making the best use of European funding and they have been very successful in bringing in big businesses, including QVC.
“We visited the factory and it was interesting to hear how they attracted the business.”
Coun Akers-Belcher said one of the charities in town that he supported last year, the Wharton Trust, was already looking to take part in an exchange visit with youngsters in Huckelhoven and said the town children had started learning German in anticipation.
Putting Hartlepool First councillor Geoff Lilley had complained the local authority should not be using tax-payers money to fund the trip at a time of severe cuts, with the council looking to save £16m over the next few years.
Couns Christopher and Stephen Akers-Belcher paid for themselves so the three-day trip for the two senior officers cost the council a total of £759.94.