Mayor: Why I made a stand on budget amendments

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HARTLEPOOL Mayor Stuart Drummond has revealed the reasons behind his objection to budget amendments.

Councillors will meet on Thursday night to thrash out the 2012-13 budget after Mayor Drummond objected to a series of amendments put forward by the Labour Group at the last full council meeting.

The amendments centred around proposals not to privatise the joint ICT, revenues and benefits contract due to the up-front costs involved.

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It would need Hartlepool Borough Council to agree a substantial six-figure, up-front cost associated with the contract.

But Mayor Drummond said it would save jobs, create jobs and save almost an eight-figure sum over the length of the seven-year contract.

The local authority needs to save about £6m in 2012-13.

Mayor Drummond, who objected on Friday afternoon, said: “A lot of work and effort has gone into producing a budget that protects jobs and services as far as possible, particularly around the ICT, revenues and benefits contract.

“The amendments mean that people in those departments are extremely vulnerable going forward with national changes and also the cuts that continue to be imposed on us.

“It also leaves other people within the council more vulnerable because the savings have to be made.”

Mayor Drummond, who said there was no “strategy” behind the amendments, added: “We made a decision that was best for the council, the staff and the town.”

A statement released by the Labour group said the council had agreed a balanced budget.

It added: “The Labour Group made their decision on the budget to offer a greater safeguard to our workforce and the most vulnerable families we represent.

“Our decision further gives the council the opportunity to explore all available options, including scrutiny co-ordinating committee’s recommendations for an in-house option for the delivery of revenues and benefits and ICT, to realise greater, robust savings for the benefit of Hartlepool.”

Conservative group leader Ray Wells said: “We feel that if the Conservative group did not support the amendment further jobs would be put at risk.

“To support the Mayor and cabinet’s proposals would cost this authority more and, in our opinion, would cost more in future years, which would lead to an increase in council tax.”

Something, he said, the Conservative group could “never support”.

Liberal Democrat group leader Arthur Preece was unavailable for comment.

On Thursday night, two thirds of the council needs to vote in favour of the amendments for it to stand.

If that is not achieved then the original budget will stand.

Other Labour Group amendments included supporting plans to create a £181,500 Ward Fund, which would see councillors given individual ward budgets and approving a £50,000 reserve for a Furniture Project.

Mayor Drummond also objected to those but decided not to object to plans to use £50,000 to retrain staff on the redeployment register.

The amendment proposed using the saving from the public sector strike in November but Mayor Drummond said he believes the money should be used from other savings.

The full council will meet at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, on Thursday, at 7pm.