New Labour leader

HARTLEPOOL’s biggest political group has a new leader.

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, who represents the Foggy Furze ward, has been elected leader of the town’s Labour Group.

He was elected at a recent meeting of the Hartlepool Labour Group executive and takes over from Coun Ged Hall.

Coun Akers-Belcher, who has 22 years of experience in local government, said: “Fairness is such a huge priority for me.

“I believe the council should be the decision-making body that creates and supports communities so that they are sustainable, happier and healthier.

“I believe we need to address some of the basic inequalities in Hartlepool and change lives across our town.”

Coun Akers-Belcher was elected to represent the Foggy Furze ward for the next four years after securing 895 votes in the recent Local Election.

The Labour councillor was first elected as a councillor for the former Rossmere ward back in May 2009.

Coun Akers-Belcher said: “Now more than ever Hartlepool Labour Group requires decisive leadership following the recent local elections.

“We recognise the difficult times ahead, our responsibilities and the fact our workload is increasing.

“In the next year the council will take over responsibility for public health and the Government’s planned changes to the welfare system will mean that more households than ever before will rely on council services.”

Hartlepool Council is faced with slashing £15m from its £90m budget over the next three years.

Coun Akers-Belcher said the local authority has had to adapt, cutting its cloth to match “diminished resources while making sure Hartlepool prospers and continues to grow”.

He said this comes at a time when “we are working under a new, unfair, national Government grant regime that has no regard for need and the high levels of unemployment and deprivation within our borough”.

Coun Akers-Belcher added: “We live in a culture that is increasingly anti-politics, where public service is looked on by some as an ‘easy life’ ripe for reform.

“We aim to prove this is a time for strong, firm leadership.

“All the public want is someone who can lead, take tough decisions and make real differences to the people we represent and their lives.”

Coun Akers-Belcher takes over the reins from Coun Hall, who had been interim group leader since February.

Coun Hall replaced former leader Coun Chris Simmons, who resigned from the role after 15 months in charge.

Coun Simmons, who said he had been thinking about stepping down for a “considerable amount of time”, resigned due to the impact the time and effort required in the role was having on his health.

The Labour group has 21 out of the 34 seats within the council chamber.

Meanwhile, Mayor Stuart Drummond is yet to announce who will be in his cabinet committee following the recent all-out election.

Mayor Drummond, who wrote to all councillors last week for expressions of interest, is expected to make a decision by the end of this week.