CIVIC chiefs have defended a trip to re-establish links with a German town saying it will benefit businesses and young people in Hartlepool.
Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher, ceremonial mayor Stephen Akers-Belcher plus Hartlepool Borough Council’s chief executive Dave Stubbs and assistant director of regeneration, Damien Wilson, spent the weekend in Huckelhoven, west of Cologne, in Germany.
The aim was to create fresh links between schools and community groups and see what Hartlepool could learn from Huckelhoven in terms of supporting new businesses, boosting employment and developing skills.
But there has been criticism that the local authority should not be using tax-payers money to fund the trip at a time of severe cuts, with the council looking to save £16m over the next few years.
The council leader stressed it was originally planned as a personal visit and that himself and the ceremonial mayor paid for themselves out of their own pocket.
It was later decided that Mr Stubbs and Mr Wilson would also go to see what could be learned from Huckelhoven, which Hartlepool has strong links with stretching back more than 30 years.
Therefore, the three-day trip from Friday to Sunday, for the two senior officers cost the council a total of £759.94.
The visit had been criticised by Putting Hartlepool First councillor Geoff Lilley, who said he failed to see why the trip was necessary and questioned why it was over a weekend and not during the week when more businesses and civic buildings are likely to be open.
Coun Lilley said: “In the days of video conferencing and email I question the need for such a visit, especially in the current dire financial climate.”
Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “The visit was originally planned as a personal one by myself and Stephen and as such the pair of us paid for our places on the trip entirely out of our own pockets.
“We went because we had been approached some time ago by one of Stephen’s charities from last year who were interested in planning an exchange visit for their young people.
“The visit enabled us to explore the wider opportunities for our schools and community groups to re-establish exchange visits between the two towns as part of their learning and development.
“We visited two schools as well as the town’s diving club and a number of other organisations, and they were all very keen to restart exchanges.
“Both Hartlepool and Huckelhoven are classed as transition areas within the European Union and therefore the chief executive and assistant director (regeneration) decided to accompany us to see what could be learned from Huckelhoven in terms of attracting funding, supporting new and fledgling businesses and boosting skills, employment and social inclusion.
“Despite the very tough economic climate, the council cannot stagnate.
“We must be outward-looking and seize any opportunities which will benefit Hartlepool, its young people and businesses.”