CALLS have been made for Hartlepool’s ceremonial mayor to step down from his civic role after he was sacked from his day job.
But Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, who has been dismissed by Newcastle City Council for what has been described as “gross misconduct”, has vowed to stay in his role and clear his name.
It is the second time in just over a year that the mayor has been shrouded in controversy and that pressure has been put on him to resign.
It comes after Coun Akers-Belcher last year insisted he would not be stepping down as a councillor following his involvement with Manor Residents’ Association (MRA), which was embroiled in employment tribunal cases involving the charity failing to pay national minimum wage.
Now, after the Mail revealed yesterday that the mayor has been sacked from his job where he managed a team of around 30 staff with Newcastle’s Community Mental Health Service, councillors and readers have had their say – with some calling for him to resign as mayor.
Independent Seaton councillor Paul Thompson called for Coun Akers-Belcher to step down while his appeal is ongoing.
He said: “I think the proper and appropriate thing to do would be for him to step down with immediate effect pending the outcome of his appeal.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to have a mayor to represent us at civic functions across the North-East when he is in a legal dispute with one of the other North-East councils.
“I think invariably that also puts some pressure on Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher in his role as leader because there is a direct conflict of interest and don’t see at the moment how the council can represent our town in the North-East with partner councils when there is animosity and ill feeling.
“It’s a matter between him and his employers but it does throw into question his ability to represent our town throughout the North-East.”
But Coun Akers-Belcher, who has launched an appeal in a bid to clear his name, said he will not be resigning as he believes he has done nothing wrong.
He said: “It’s nothing to do with my council role.”
Speaking about his role as mayor, he said: “I have never brought my role into disrepute and carried out my duties as a separate matter, I am on the verge of making £100,000 for charity.”
He said he was not ashamed he had made allegations involving the city council’s protection of vulnerable adults and added: “I will fight on.”
The mayor added that he had been humbled by the support he had received and he had been “inundated with emails and Facebook messages”.
Coun Akers-Belcher’s husband, Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, as leader of the local Labour Party, said: “In my book people are innocent [until proven guilty].”
He said: “Also, Stephen’s role as ceremonial mayor has got nothing to do with his day job.
“Stephen has received resounding support from the Labour Party.
“At the end of the day, anybody who puts vulnerable people first should be commended.
“He is protecting vulnerable people who can’t protect themselves.”
Councillor David Riddle, of Putting Hartlepool First last year as a resident called for Coun Akers-Belcher’s resignation in light of the MRA crisis.
Today, he said: “I absolutely 100 per cent think he should resign quickly and without any fuss, for the sake of our town, to prevent any further embarrassment.”
He said “the decent thing” would have been to resign last year after the MRA “scandal”, adding: “It’s just one embarrassment too many.”
Councillor Geoff Lilley, of Putting Hartlepool First, said: “I think it’s between him and his employers, but it does reflect badly on Hartlepool Borough Council.”
But Councillor Ray Martin-Wells, on behalf of Hartlepool Conservative group, said: “We don’t believe the mayor should step down at all. “This is a private matter between Coun Akers-Belcher and his employers.
“I am not aware of the facts surrounding the situation, nor do I believe anybody else is and therefore I think it would be extremely inappropriate to pass judgement.”
UKIP councillor Tom Hind said: “I noticed that the mayor has put in an appeal so it would be inappropriate to comment.”
It is thought the appeal could be heard within the next two months.
Hartlepool Borough Council insist the situation will have no impact on his role as councillor or ceremonial mayor.