Fresh calls for new Hartlepool constitution – including ballot to elect council leader

CALL FOR CHANGE: Councillor Pam Hargreaves
CALL FOR CHANGE: Councillor Pam Hargreaves

A PAIR of councillors have called for a series of changes to an authorities constitution.

Hartlepool members Jonathan Brash and Pamela Hargreaves want to see a return of supplementary questions at full council meetings, changes to the call-in system and a new way of electing the council leader.

CALL FOR CHANGE: Coun Jonathan Brash

CALL FOR CHANGE: Coun Jonathan Brash

Civic chiefs say all councillors, staff and residents have had the chance to have their say in the review, with a working group currently considering all of the comments received, ahead of a meeting in April.

All councils are required by law to prepare and keep up to date the constitution which contains information as to the rights of residents and how they can participate in the running of the council.

Under the constitution, members of the public are able to put questions to policy committee chairs and ask two questions at full council, instead of one, but there isn’t any scope for residents to ask follow-up questions, which angered several councillors at the time it was scrapped.

Coun Brash and Coun Hargreaves - who refer to themselves as independent Labour but are classed as independent by the council - want to see supplementary questions reinstated and also the deadline for submitting questions reduced to the day before the meeting.

Their proposal read: “Removing supplementary questions and not even allowing the public to read out their own questions are an insult to the public that councillors are supposed to serve.

“The right of the public to question their elected officials is a cornerstone of our democratic system and we should be fighting to make it easier, not more difficult, if we are truly to consider ourselves champions of open government.”

The pair also want to see changes to the call-in process, adding: “In the last administration the call-in process required just five councillors to sign to allow an executive decision to be looked at again.

“In the current administration 17 councillors are required for this to happen; this is 50 per cent plus one of the council.” They want a return to just five councillors needed.

They also want changes to seat allocations on committees and outside bodies and a change in the way the leader is elected. Currently, the council leader is leader of the largest political group on Hartlepool Council, currently Labour.

But in the 2014 Local Elections, Coun Brash and Coun Hargreaves want an extra ballot, where all sitting councillors would be eligible to put their names forward for position of the leader.

A council spokesman said: “The council has encouraged councillors, council staff and members of the public to participate in the review of the Constitution.

“All comments received were fully considered by the working group which is overseeing the review in conjunction with the council’s monitoring officer, who will make recommendations for any changes to the full council in a report scheduled for the meeting on April, 3 2014.”