Public Inquiry into councillors

Hartlepool Civic Centre
Hartlepool Civic Centre

A PUBLIC inquiry into the interests of councillors and their links to the voluntary and community sector is to be launched, it has been announced.

It comes after a Peer Review report raised major concerns about the perception that some councillors act out of self-interest and the 
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perceived lack of rigour around the declaration of interests of Hartlepool councillors.

Councillors have stressed the inquiry is a good opportunity to set the record straight and quash any rumours or perceptions after the recent report into the running of Hartlepool Borough Council.

They say it could also deal with any members found to have acted inappropriately.

The Peer Review found the reputation and effective running of the local authority is being “badly damaged” and while there was praise for the council workforce and services, the conduct of some councillors and governance had been called into question.

Now an inquiry will be held after a resolution was passed at a recent meeting of the full council.

Councillors passed the resolution, but concerns have been raised by some senior councillors about the potential cost and scope of the inquiry.

Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond said the issue needed to be “bottomed out” and backed the inquiry.

Mayor Drummond said: “Perceptions can be very dangerous and I’m sure most, if not all councillors, are innocent.

“There was a lot of scare mongering at the meeting about the inquiry costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, which is absolute rubbish.

“But for somebody independent to come in and read through all of the information is in everybody’s interests.”

The Peer Review included concerns over the transparency of the council’s commissioning and grant-funding arrangements for the voluntary and community sector, especially as there are strong links with some elected members.

Putting Hartlepool First group leader Geoff Lilley proposed the resolution, which was seconded by group member Keith Dawkins.

Speaking afterwards, Coun Lilley said: “The Peer Review made some valid criticisms based on their four day visit.

“Within that time, the people that the team spoke to, from all aspects including the voluntary and community sector, the perception came across loud and clear that they believe some councillors have failed to properly declare interests and there were issues with self interest.

“That slurs every single councillor within Hartlepool Borough Council, but that perception clearly exists.”

He said the allegations are serious and for the sake of every councillor and the local authority there needs to be a public inquiry, which he believes would be money well spent.

Coun Lilley said: “There is a great need for this to be carried out as soon as possible.”

The resolution was passed once an amendment, put forward by the town’s Labour Group, was agreed.

The amendment called for the proposal to be built into the Peer Review Action Plan once a further report had been presented by chief executive Dave Stubbs to the full council, detailing the cost and terms of reference of an inquiry.

That report is expected back early in the New Year.