Councillor ‘dragged through the mud’ over probe into allowances paid between 2002 and 2012

Councillors hit out at one of their colleagues being ‘dragged through the mud’ over an investigation into allowances previously paid to the chair and vice chair of the council.

Saturday, 21st December 2019, 8:00 am
Hartlepool Civic Centre
Hartlepool Civic Centre

A working group, initially set up to look into funding to organisations with links to councillors, also investigated allowances paid to the chair and vice chair of Hartlepool Borough Council from 2002 and 2012.

It came after claims were made current Councillor Carl Richardson, Labour Party representative, had previously received two ‘special responsibility allowances’ during this period.

The Audit and Governance Committee’s findings noted the allowances paid to the chair and vice chairs during this time were authorised by officers and publicly reported.

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They also noted there was no legal basis to seek to recover any allowances, and the situation cannot be repeated as the allowances were removed in 2011/12.

However at the previous council meeting a motion was tabled from Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher, calling for expert legal advice before the report was debated, including if the payments were lawful and could be recovered.

Council chief executive Gill Alexander, providing an update at the latest full council meeting, said they sought legal advice from one of the top experts in the country in the field on the topic.

She said their findings agreed with the council chief solicitor’s findings which led to the conclusions made.

Coun Richardson left the meeting when the item was discussed, stating he had been advised to do so.

However Coun Dave Hunter, deputy leader of the Labour Party, hit out at the accusations made and said Coun Richardson had been ‘dragged through the mud’, adding he is now ‘exonerated’.

He said: “We have a colleague on our side who has been dragged through the mud on the allegations made by one or two people.

“They’ve cost this council excess money and caused massive family pressures to the individual and that’s just wrong.

“The council got the decision right when they first made it. Carl has been exonerated and rightly so, and thank you to the chief solicitor for that.”

Coun Hunter was met with applause from the public gallery when he had finished speaking at the meeting.

Coun Richardson had also maintained he ‘welcomed the investigation into the payments’ throughout the process.

Ms Alexander, chief executive, said: “Officers advise there is no legal basis to seek to recover any payments from the individuals as they were authorised by officers and publicly reported as a figure transparently.”

The recommendations were unanimously endorsed by councillors in the meeting.

The working group investigation had found two allowances were paid to the chair of the council from the period between 2002 and 2012, when the council was run under a ‘mayor and cabinet model’, which changed in 2013.

However, one was a ‘special responsibility allowance’ and the other a ‘chair and vice chair of the council allowance’, started by a council Policy Plenary Committee in 1998 and removed in 2011/12.