Hartlepool council reveals revamp of voluntary and community sector in bid to be ‘more intelligent’

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Council bosses have revealed plans to revamp its work in the voluntary and community sector to be ‘more intelligent’.

Hartlepool Borough Council’s Finance and Policy Committee moved to create a Voluntary and Community Sector Support Team to merge functions of existing similar teams within the authority.

The team will focus on helping voluntary community sector (VCS) organisations to have voices in the area and ensure they communicate with residents, especially those in need.

However the move means the team will no longer be involved in addressing neighbourhood issues and no longer provide indefinite support to groups or attend resident meetings.

Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher said: “It’s a real opportunity to enhance the team, the support they give is absolutely amazing.

“What we find what can happen is too much hand holding and I think we need to give groups the support they need and then let them move forward.

“The hardest thing for groups is to write bids, there is so little money around and if we want to tackle poverty we need people to help write them.

“This is a positive step forward and a move forward to support the community sector.

“We can’t lose sight in the potential and I can’t praise them enough, there is a lot of opportunity here.”

Denise Ogden, director for regeneration and neighbourhoods, said: “We cannot continue to do what we have as the world is changing and we have to do that too.”

Chief executive Gill Alexander said: “It’s about having much more intelligence in the sense of approach we take.

“We are not removing officers, we are bringing officers together in one team that will have much more involvement.

“We need to think how best to run the sector given the resources at this time of austerity.”

However some councillors voiced concerns over the impact it could have on the voluntary sector in the area and worried some groups may not survive.

Coun Stephen Thomas said: “The community and voluntary sector in Hartlepool does a fantastic job.

“The sector is one of those which has been hit hard in the last 10 years by austerity.

“There was around 750 voluntary sector groups when I started and I am sure now the number will be much lower.”

Coun Brenda Harrison said: “The fact they may not be working as closely as they have been with the groups is a concern.

“There’s been residents groups going for two years and then folding because they haven’t had that support.

“But I do think the council should have much more control over the voluntary sector.”

Coun Lesley Hamilton said: “I’m concerned the removal of these officers from meetings, how is this beneficial to the public.”

Council leader Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher said the scheme would be reviewed after six months and council officers would be on hand if groups reached ‘crisis point’.