Councillor reported over grant

Stephen Akers-Belcher  opposite the community bus.
Stephen Akers-Belcher opposite the community bus.

A SENIOR councillor who sits on a health committee has been reported to standards watchdogs after accepting a £5,000 NHS grant for a youth project he helps run.

Labour Hartlepool councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher applied for a public health grant from NHS Hartlepool as chairman of the Rift House East Residents’ Assocation.

The money was to go towards a health bus as part of the association’s Rifty Youth Project.

Coun Akers-Belcher, who denies any wrong-doing, is also the project’s co-ordinator.

He has now been reported to Hartlepool Borough Council’s standards committee by resident Stephen Latimer, who called the money award “inappropriate” as it raises questions about how “objective and critical” Coun Akers-Belcher can be in his role as chairman of the Health Scrutiny Forum.

The forum’s role is to scrutinise decisions made by NHS Hartlepool and the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust during a time of massive changes to health provision.

The biggest alteration to date has been the closure of the A&E department at the University of Hospital in August with the majority of patients in need of emergency attention now being dealt with at the £20m One Life Hartlepool, in Park Road.

Mr Latimer, 58, an IT engineer from Brougham Terrace, Hartlepool, said: “People would not expect the chairman of the planning committee to seek or accept a donation from a developer to help fund a personal project in his own ward.

“In the same light, they do not expect the chair of the health scrutiny forum to seek or accept such a donation from an organisation whose activities it is charged with monitoring.”

He added that his argument was “not about the merits of the project” but about “the importance of demonstrating the objectiveness and neutrality of the health scrutiny forum”.

Coun Akers-Belcher, who represents the Rift House ward, called the claims a “slur” on his character and also that of NHS Hartlepool.

He said: “I feel that there has been no wrong-doing whatsoever.

“In my role as a project leader, I applied for the grant on behalf of the Rift House East Residents’ Association.

“This whole development is not just a slur on myself but a slur on the community project as a whole and also a slur on the primary care trust.

“I am looking forward to receiving a response from the Standards Board and getting the opportunity to speak to them.”

He added that the grant went to the Rifty Youth Project and not himself and that he would “apply again”.

A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesman confirmed that Mr Latimer’s complaint had been received by the authority.

A spokesperson for NHS Hartlepool added: “NHS Hartlepool provide voluntary sector groups with funding to help with health development and tackle inequalities.

“All voluntary sector groups who receive funding for projects are not given ‘donations’ but public health grants and must be able to evidence public health outcomes and outputs in return for the funding.

“The performance is monitored on all grants.

“There are in excess of 15 groups that have received a public health grant and Rifty Youth Project is just one of them.”

Health bosses at NHS Hartlepool say they adhere to specific guidance criteria for such funding:

• Does the project deliver on priorities for health identified in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment?

• Does the project tackle inequalities in geographical or defined communities?

• Does the project promote health and well-being?

• Does the project involve local people?

• Has the project been discussed with the public health topic lead or a member of the senior public health team?