Group leaders give their reaction

Left to right: Geoff Lilley, Christopher Akers-Belcher and Ray Wells
Left to right: Geoff Lilley, Christopher Akers-Belcher and Ray Wells

n GEOFF Lilley, leader of Putting Hartlepool First, said: “I really welcome this review and it is good to have somebody come in with a fresh pair of eyes.

“Most of the points I can recognise and understand and I know there are some politicians that don’t, which is part of the problem.

“The report praises officers for managing the current situation and they function well in extremely difficult circumstances.”

He added: “The problem is not that we can’t all work together, the main issue as highlighted by the peer review was that scrutiny is almost at constant odds with the mayoral system.

“It has become a mess.

“I feel sorry for Stuart Drummond because he has tried to play it with a straight bat.”

Coun Lilley said Hartlepool had always worked well in partnership, but said the report highlights concerns about the effectiveness and transparency of the commissioning and grant funding arrangements for the voluntary and community sector.

When asked if the council’s reputation was badly damaged as a result of events including the Mayor sacking his cabinet earlier this year and the budget process dispute, he said: “Without a shadow of doubt, that is in spite of officers working their socks off.”

n Labour group leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “Overall I think it was quite a balanced review and everybody is well aware it has been quite difficult over the last couple of years with regards the loss of senior members of staff.

“The aim of the review was to evaluate what has happened before and move forward to the benefit of the people of Hartlepool.”

Coun Akers-Belcher said he believes Hartlepool Council still has a “fantastic reputation” and is “punching above its weight” while aiming to mitigate budget cuts.

He said the cabinet’s decision to award former chief executive Paul Walker a £10,000 pay rise to £168,000 had damaged the authority’s reputation but said members had rectified that by reducing the post’s salary to between £140,000 and £150,000.

Coun Akers-Belcher said he was surprised to hear the conduct of some councillors had been called into question and said he wanted to see the evidence.

He said there were “robust” procedures in place regarding the commissioning and grant funding arrangements and said the scrutiny system “compliments” the current decision making process.

Coun Akers-Belcher, who described the summary as a “snap shot”, added: “There will always be some criticism and it is up to the elected members to deal with them collectively.”

n Conservative group leader Ray Wells said: “The Conservative Group welcomes scrutiny from independent outside sources, and we note the initial comments in the interim report and look forward to the final report being produced.”

Coun Wells added: “It is difficult to comment on the reputation being damaged because there are no specifics in the interim report but I am aware public confidence was knocked by the pay rise to the former chief executive, the sacking of almost the entire cabinet and the Tall Ships overspend.

“It is my understanding the review team spoke to various groups and individuals, all of whom gave their opinion on the current state of Hartlepool Borough Council.

“The danger with individual perceptions is that if you ask 10 people for their account of a car accident then you are likely to get 10 different descriptions.”

Coun Wells, who has “total confidence” in the senior management team, said scrutiny’s place is to “question the executive” and hold them to account and urged people to make a complaint if they feel a councillor is not behaving in an appropriate manner.

He added: “To my knowledge, no complaints have been made against members of the Conservative Group.”

Coun Wells believed the summary was “fair and balanced” and there was “categorically” no conflict of interest between his group and the voluntary/community sector.