Objections to budget by mayor

COUNCILLORS will meet again to thrash out next year’s budget after Hartlepool’s Mayor submitted an objection to amendments.

Mayor Stuart Drummond had until last night to object to a series of last-minute amendments put forward by the Labour Group at the last full council meeting.

It is understood he has objected and leaders of the main political parties have been informed.

Full details of the reasons behind the objection are expected to be released on Monday.

It means that the full council, which agreed the amendments at the last meeting, will now reconvene on Thursday, February 23, to discuss and vote again on the budget.

Mayor Drummond needs a third of the vote for the original budget plans to be passed.

Hartlepool Borough Council is faced with slashing around £6m from its 2012-13 budget as a result of national grant cuts.

But budget plans were thrown into disarray when the Labour Group proposed amendments centred around proposals not to privatise the joint ICT, revenues and benefits contract due to the up-front costs involved.

The move, which Mayor Drummond said would save jobs, create jobs and save almost an eight-figure sum over the length of the seven-year contract, would need the council to agree a substantial six-figure, up-front cost associated with the contract.

Speaking after the last meeting, Mayor Drummond said he would give the proposed amendments “long and hard consideration” but admitted he was “frustrated” by the situation.

He has been in Cape Town, South Africa, this week speaking at an international conference, as reported in the Hartlepool Mail.

But it is understood the council was informed of his decision to object yesterday afternoon.

The Labour group amendment did not support the privatisation of the revenues and benefits service and said it would allow the council the opportunity to explore all available options for a new ICT contract including both privatisation and in-house.

Other amendments included:

l Supporting the scrutiny co-ordinating committee’s plans to create a £181,500 Ward Fund, which would see councillors given individual ward budgets;

l Allocating the one-off £50,000 saving from the public sector strike in November to retraining staff on the redeployment register;

l Approving a £50,000 reserve for a Furniture Project, which would be aimed at providing low-income families with white goods and furniture at a reasonable cost.

A letter to councillors from Nicola Bailey, the council’s acting chief executive, said the full council would meet again to discuss any “amendment or disagreement” that the executive, made up of the Mayor and cabinet members, has with the amendments agreed by full council at the last meeting.

The elected mayor, who had taken a week’s annual leave, was in Cape Town for four days.

His expenses had been paid for by the event organisers.

Neither the council or Mayor Drummond were available for comment despite attempts by the Mail.

The full council is due to meet at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, on Thursday, February 23, at 7pm.