Ideas wanted on how to spend £13,000

COUNCILLORS will submit ideas on how £13,000 put back into the public coffers by Hartlepool Borough Council chief executive Paul Walker should be spent after his pay rise row.

In an unprecedented move Mr Walker agreed to take four weeks unpaid leave after a request from Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond over the backlash against the chief executive’s £10,795 salary rise.

The Mail was inundated with letters, emails and calls by people opposed to Mr Walker getting a £13,000 pay rise earlier this year.

It also saw union leaders and town councillors hit out at the rise at a time of austerity cuts.

At a meeting of the full council, councillors agreed to submit ideas of how the money should be spent in writing to either Mayor Drummond or council chairman Carl Richardson.

One suggestion included spending it to reinstate bus services that were stopped following funding cuts.

The council’s cabinet committee will consider the suggestions before they are brought back before the full council for approval.

Mayor Drummond said he will ensure the process is not “overly bureaucratic” and that the money would be available once the four weeks unpaid leave is taken over the course of this financial year.

He added: “We don’t have the money until the leave is taken. I don’t want to commit to something until the money is in the bag, so to speak.

“We have a big budget deficit next year and every little helps.”

Conservative councillor Ray Wells suggested giving the money to the council’s cross-party bus working group, which is looking at the possibility of reinstating limited bus services in rural areas affected by the budget cuts.

The council agreed to withdraw £287,000 of funding for the supported bus service budget, which funded routes that bus companies say are not viable, leaving villagers on the outskirts of town isolated.

But Labour councillor Marjorie James said it was appropriate for all members to have time to think about suggestions and submit their ideas for consideration.

The full council unanimously agreed.

Labour councillor Jonathan Brash said: “It is sensible to give everybody a chance. To me it seems like the most sensible option.”

Mayor Drummond asked Mr Walker to take four weeks unpaid leave because of the “damage that has been done” and the need to take “rapid action” to repair it.

The salary rise was initially backed by the council’s cabinet committee in October 2009 before it was ratified last December after it had been called in by the scrutiny co-ordinating committee.

Mr Walker’s salary rose from £157,205 to £168,000 a year.