Calls for transparent talks over allowances

CALLS have been made for discussions on councillor allowances to be held in public.

Hartlepool Borough Council’s Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP) was set up to look at members’ basic allowance and also the mayor’s allowance after his appointment as chairman of Cleveland Police Authority.

The meetings are being held behind closed doors, but the findings and any recommendations will be published at a future full council meeting.

Putting Hartlepool First group leader Geoff Lilley, Labour group leader Christopher Akers-Belcher and Conservative group leader Ray Wells have been asked to submit written and oral evidence.

Speaking at a full council meeting, Coun Lilley asked why the oral evidence was “happening in secret” adding: “It should be in public.”

Coun Lilley has previously said councillors have to set and example and that a rise in allowance is “out of the question”.

The IRP, which is next due to meet in mid-August, is a group of lay people assembled by the local authority to advise on levels of allowances.

It is looking at what impact reducing the number of councillors from 47 to 33 in the May election will have on the basic allowance of £5,767, which is the lowest allowance in the North-East.

Conservative group leader Ray Wells said: “We have not submitted a response to the panel as yet.

“When we do, I am quite happy to make it public because we have not got anything to hide.”

Coun Lilley added: “How the independent panel comes to its conclusions will depend very much on the evidence that is given to them both written and orally by both group leaders and members of this council.

“It is in the public interest of the council taxpayer of this town that they are aware of the views of the members of this council.”

The discussion came after Coun Lilley asked Labour councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher what allowances and expenses are available to him in his role as chairman of the council.

Coun Akers-Belcher confirmed the role attracts a special responsibility allowance of £4,614, an amount previously recommended by the IRP and approved by full council.

Coun Lilley queried whether Coun Akers-Belcher had ever had any discussions about increasing the allowances available to the chairman of full council.

He replied: “I will write you a response but to my knowledge, no.”

Labour councillor Carl Richardson said because Coun Akers-Belcher is chairman of the council and chairman of the health scrutiny forum, he can only receive one special responsibility allowance, which produces an in-year saving of £3,461.

Coun Richardson said: “This saving is the same amount that Coun Lilley claims as the leader of four councillors.”

Speaking afterwards, Coun Akers-Belcher said he does not claim expenses when representing Hartlepool as chairman at various functions inside and outside of town.

Mayor Stuart Drummond picks up £22,734 for his police authority chairman’s commitments.

He receives a special responsibility allowance of £58,135 for his role as town mayor, as well as the basic allowance.