Hartlepool mayor insists he ‘will not resign’ over role in crisis-hit charity

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HARTLEPOOL’S ceremonial mayor has again insisted he will not be stepping down as a councillor over his role in a crisis-hit charity.

Labour councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher was speaking at a full council meeting in response to a question from resident David Riddle.

Coun Akers-Belcher was on the board of Manor Residents’ Association (MRA), in Kilmarnock Road, before stepping down over concerns about the lack of information to the association’s board about recent employment tribunals.

Mr Riddle asked: “Given that, in the eyes of the law, a charity’s trustees must take ultimate responsibility for the actions of the charity, will Hartlepool ceremonial mayor councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher be resigning his position on our council for his role in the Manor Residents’ Association scandal, and if not why not?”

Coun Akers-Belcher said: “I have no intention of resigning as ceremonial mayor or an elected member.”

He said he has not had any doors slammed in his face or been abused on the back of the MRA crisis.

Coun Akers-Belcher added: “I find people are very supportive of me as a councillor and as a mayor. If there was a lot of people unhappy then fair enough but they are not.”

He added last year as council chairman he helped raise £40,000 for charity and was looking to continue that work, adding: “It would be unfair for me to resign.”

Labour councillor Paul Beck also resigned from the board following the tribunal defeats citing “significant lack” of consultation and information sharing to board members.

Independent councillor Cath Hill said: “By resigning you have abdicated your responsibility. The damage was done on your watch.”

Earlier this month, MRA manager Angie Wilcox resigned as a councillor on the back of two employment tribunal cases which involved the charity failing to pay national minimum wage.

The organisation was ordered to pay almost £4,000 to Carl Williams who had worked for 16 months for as little as £4.42 an hour and also paid tax and national insurance deductions that the HMRC had no record of.

In April, MRA was ordered to pay almost £9,000 to former cleaner Lynda Gooding who was also paid under the national minimum wage and this week Sharon Henderson was awarded £6,000 at a tribunal for unfair dismissal against MRA, which employed her as a support worker for people with personal problems.

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher was asked whether it would be appropriate to increase the funding and widen the scope of an ongoing public inquiry into the interests of councillors and their links to the voluntary and community sector.

But he said the inquiry is already looking back over the past five years and said it may “discredit the credibility” of the inquiry if the goalposts were changed.

Resident Fred Corbett asked whether it would now be prudent of the council “to withhold any further funding” to MRA on the back of the recent tribunals.

The leader said some funding, part of the early intervention strategy aimed at helping youngsters aged five upwards, was awarded to the West View Project, which sub contracts with several organisations including MRA.

That contract is up in September, but he said withdrawing it would impact on children in an area of need and would be detrimental to their welfare. The other funding stream is from the Government and for day care for children aged two, three and four.