Labour blasts ‘arrogance’ over axed cabinet members

Stuart Drummond
Stuart Drummond

A ROW has broken out between Mayor Stuart Drummond and the Labour Group over his decision to axe six cabinet members in the wake of budget mutiny.

Labour councillors Jonathan Brash, Pamela Hargreaves, Ged Hall, Chris Simmons, Robbie Payne and Peter Jackson were sacked for failing to support the cabinet’s budget proposals by not attending last Thursday’s full council meeting.

Now the Labour Group has accused the Mayor of “arrogance” and said the reason cabinet members didn’t support the budget was because he failed to properly consult them over his objection to amendments put forward by the Labour Group at a previous meeting.

Mayor Drummond labelled the claims “absolute garbage”.

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He has also stood by his claim that axed cabinet members were threatened with being thrown out of the Labour Group if they went against the amended budget.

Rob Cook, Labour Group chairman, said: “The situation following Thursday’s budget setting has indeed been untenable.

“The Mayor arrogantly challenged this council’s sovereign right to sets its own budget.

“The Mayor further chose not to consult with his own cabinet thus putting our Labour members in a position whereby they could not support an independent Mayor who assumed they would vote as he dictated.

“The Labour Group put forward an alternative, legal, balanced budget, which offers a greater safeguard to the people of Hartlepool.

“This has now been agreed by full council on two occasions.

“The Labour Group continues to be united as we move forward to hold the Mayor to account in implementing our full council budget.

“We will be further scrutinising the Mayor who now claims he can deliver on two full-time jobs whilst seeing fit to attend a conference in South Africa at the most crucial time in the council’s diary.”

Mayor Drummond said: “As the constitution states it is the council’s role to agree the budget every year and the cabinet’s role to produce a set of proposals.

“It is then up to the council to agree that, which is what happened.

“Nobody is being arrogant.

“The reason the Labour cabinet members did not turn up was because they would have been thrown out of the Labour party if they had supported the cabinet budget proposals.

“To suggest anything else is misleading.

“I am not prepared to get into a fight over this.”

He accused the Labour Party of playing “political games” ahead of May’s all-out Local Election and that it was geared towards getting rid of the mayoral system.

The amendments centred around cabinet proposals to privatise the council’s ICT, revenues and benefits contract.

But the amended budget, which included plans not to privatise the contract, was passed by full council.

Meanwhile, two former cabinet members, Robbie Payne and Peter Jackson, have both told the Mail they were not aware of any threats of expulsion.

Coun Jackson said: “I have never been in a meeting where I have heard anybody making threats.”

The other axed cabinet members were unavailable for comment despite efforts by the Mail.

The three-strong cabinet is now made up of Mayor Drummond and independent councillors Hilary Thompson and Cath Hill, who will share the portfolio responsibilities between them.

Councillors can only receive one special responsibility allowance so they will not receive more than £5,767 for being a cabinet member despite taking on more work.