Questions raised over opportunity to quiz council chiefs

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.
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A row has broken out over how questions are submitted to the council by members of the public.

Council chiefs say they have re-affirmed their commitment to involving the public in local decision making.

Hartlepool Borough Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.

Hartlepool Borough Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.

But a campaign by independent, UKIP and Putting Hartlepool First members is calling for a rethink on how voters can get answers from Hartlepool Borough Council.

People are able to submit a question seven days before full council meetings, but in recent years lost the chance to ask two supplementary questions for more detail.

But the opportunity to not pose any queries at all was suggested in papers discussed this week - and has been dismissed.

Now the alliance is calling for the return of the additional questions, along with a 15-minute public question session for the leader before a full council meeting and a pledge that a quarter of meetings are held in the evenings so those with day jobs can attend.

What was proposed was an erosion of the constitutional process and people need to be able to be part of that process.

Councillor Paul Thompson

Independent Councillor Paul Thompson has also said an online survey should run to gather views on the proposals.

The focus on questions follows from a review by the council’s constitution working group, which had proposed moving meetings to 2pm from 7pm during winter.

At a full council meeting this week, members voted to keep evening meetings and agreed to allow people to continue to submit two questions at full council.

Residents will also still be able to quiz the five policy committee chairs at meetings.

Councillor David Riddle of Putting Hartlepool First.

Councillor David Riddle of Putting Hartlepool First.

Neighbourhood Forums are to become Community Forums to help consult, with the time between the North and Coastal and South and Central gatherings to offer another chance to address the chairmen.

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher, who proposed the package of participation measures, said: “Open, transparent local government is at the forefront of everything that we do and the public have a huge part to play in shaping council services and the town in general.

“The council committee system of governance lends itself to greater participation of the public in our decision making and is a strength in promoting public engagement.”

Councillor Alan Clark, chair of the Children’s Services Committee, said: “On the point of democracy I am firmly of the view that the current committee system is far more democratic that the previous Elected mayor and Cabinet system.”

Councillor Paul Thompson.

Councillor Paul Thompson.

Coun Thompson added: “It is an absolute victory and it is good that common sense has prevailed for once. What was proposed was an erosion of the constitutional process and people need to be able to be part of that process.”