Mayor blasts budget disarray

The Mayor of Hartlepool Stuart Drummond
The Mayor of Hartlepool Stuart Drummond

HARTLEPOOL Borough Council’s budget plans are in disarray after councillors voted in favour of last-minute amendments.

The Labour group put forward several amendments at last night’s full council meeting including proposals not to privatise the joint ICT, Revenues and Benefits contract due to the up-front costs involved.

The cabinet committee, chaired by Mayor Stuart Drummond, now has five days to decide whether to object to the changes put forward.

If so, the full council will reconvene on Thursday, February 23, to vote again on the 2012-13 proposals, which will see £6m cut from the budget.

Last night councillors from across the political spectrum expressed concern over aspects of the final budget proposals, including the ICT, Revenues and Benefits contract.

The move, which Mayor Drummond said would save jobs, create jobs and save almost an eight-figure sum over the length of the seven-year contract, would need the council to agree a substantial six-figure up-front cost associated with the contract.

Speaking after the meeting, Mayor Drummond said he will give the proposed amendments “long and hard consideration” but admitted he was “frustrated” by the situation.

Mayor Drummond said: “It is so frustrating because we have been working on this for nine months and an awful lot of effort has gone into it.

“Given the current financial climate there was nothing in there that was controversial regarding cuts to front line services with the minimum number of jobs being lost.”

He said every councillor has had ample opportunity to come to him before last night’s meeting to raise any concerns they had.

Mayor Drummond described the situation as “ridiculous” adding: “The way this has come about is laughable.”

He added that some of the councillors “only had eyes on the May all-out election”.

The majority of councillors voted in favour of the amendments.

But Labour cabinet members Jonathan Brash, Ged Hall, Pamela Hargreaves, Peter Jackson, Robbie Payne and Chris Simmons abstained from supporting the Labour group proposals.

Mayor Drummond and independent cabinet members Cath Hill and Hilary Thompson all voted against the amendments.

Labour councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher presented the amendments which read: “This council cannot agree to the budget proposal from cabinet relating to the up-front costs for the ICT, Revenues and Benefits contract.”

The recommendation was to balance the 2012-13 budget by using money from the Job Evaluation Appeal Reserve.

Coun Akers-Belcher added: “The purpose of our decision is because this council resolves they do not and will not support the privatisation of the revenues and benefits service.”

He added the move would allow the council the opportunity to explore all available options for a new ICT contract including both privatisation and in-house.

Other amendments included:

• Supporting the scrutiny co-ordinating committee’s plans to create a £181,500 Ward Fund, which would see members given individual budgets.

• Allocating the one-off £50,000 saving from the public sector strike in November to retraining staff on the redeployment register.

• Approving a £50,000 reserve for a Furniture Project, which would be aimed at providing low-income families with white goods and furniture at a reasonable cost.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Email the newsdesk