New voices to have their say

Cath Hill.
Cath Hill.

DOZENS of resident representatives will be axed as part of a council shake-up.

Hartlepool Borough Council is undergoing a radical overhaul of the way it engages with the public, voluntary sector and businesses.

Plans approved by senior councillors include disbanding resident representatives from next April and replacing them with 11 Neighbourhood Voices.

The new role will see one Neighbourhood Voice in each of the new wards, which are due to come in next year.

But cabinet committee members said candidates must represent a resident association or group that has been established for at least a year.

Resident representatives, who volunteer their time, are elected every two years and their role is to represent their ward and liaise with council departments and partner agencies.

The Neighbourhood Voice role is similar. But there will be just one person per ward instead of the current structure of 25 representatives spread across the north, south and central areas.

Speaking about the new role, Labour councillor Ged Hall said: “People need to be aware of what they are taking on.

“We need some intensive inductions and training.

“People have to be sure that it is a commitment that they are ready to take on.”

Independent councillor Cath Hill added: “I think that the resident representative role has been very artificial and not really reflective of the communities that they represent.”

Mayor Drummond said he saw the Neighbourhood Voice role as a breeding ground for potential councillors as it gives people an “inside knowledge” of the council.

The way the council engages with the community and stake-holders will be overseen by a new Strategic Partners Group, which will be headed by Mayor Drummond.

It will meet four times a year, but will not be a decision-making body.

Councillors also backed plans for new Face the Public events to be held four times a year.

These will be public meetings attended by officers, councillors, police officers and voluntary and community sector representatives.

Parish liaison meetings will be included in new borough-wide forums, while Mayor Drummond will also hold regular meetings with the chairs of the various parish councils, including Dalton Piercy, Hart and Elwick.

A timetable for when all of the changes will be introduced is now being drawn up.

There are also plans to reduce the number of Neighbourhood Action Plans which work with eight priority neighbourhoods deemed as being in the top 10 per cent nationally for deprivation.

Instead, the council could focus only on those in the top five per cent, but that will be subject to a separate report.

The changes are being put forward because less money is available, changes to the law and the Government’s Big Society initiative.