Pained me to sack cabinet collegues

It is with a heavy heart that I write this column due the fact I have removed six members of my cabinet earlier this week.

It has certainly been one of the most unpleasant decisions I have ever made but I’m afraid it is one that I had to do.

If you have read my column over the past few weeks, you will know how much work had gone into preparing a budget proposal.

The cabinet had worked for nine months solid on putting together a budget that we felt made the very best out of an extremely difficult situation and would have put the council in the strongest possible position to meet the financial challenges ahead.

Unfortunately, party politics came into play and, as I understand it, the Labour cabinet members were threatened with expulsion from the party if they turned up at last Thursday’s meeting and did not vote against their own proposals.

They were put in a very difficult position and had a choice to make.

The choice they made was to stay away from the meeting and not have to vote either way.

I understand and respect their decision but the fact is that they let me and their cabinet colleagues down by not supporting their own budget when it really mattered.

Had they actually turned up and supported the proposal, there would have been sufficient numbers to ensure that the budget was carried and the nine months of work was not in vain.

I’m afraid that makes their position on the cabinet untenable in my eyes.

No one is under any illusion that there will have to be some hugely difficult and unpopular decisions that will have to be made over the next 12 months as there already have been over the last year.

I have a direct mandate from the public to make those decisions and I have the ability to select a team to help me make them. That team, or cabinet, know the level of responsibility that is placed upon them. They chose to shirk that responsibility and therefore I cannot continue with them on my team.

I do not think any less of any one of them. In fact, they are six of the best councillors that Hartlepool has and it has been a pleasure to have worked so closely with them for such a long time.

I am genuinely gutted to be losing them and would like to publicly thank them for their contribution to the cabinet and their service to the town in that role during their time.

I sincerely hope they are all re-elected in May as the council is a stronger one with all six of them on it.

There are three cabinet members remaining, including me, and I have no immediate plans to replace anyone.

There is an all-out election at the beginning of May and I’ll put together a new cabinet after that.

In the meantime, the three of us will continue with business as usual for the next few weeks.

The election purdah period will kick in around the start of April and things tend to slow down then anyway.

In the meantime, we will get through March and still make the decisions that are needed to be made. It is not an ideal situation but it’s one I can manage.

Going back to the issue of the budget for a moment. The council eventually agreed a balanced budget despite there being a number of things in it that I didn’t agree with.

It is the full council’s role to agree the budget and I respect their decision. I will carry out my duties accordingly next year within the budget framework and strive to protect services and jobs as far as is humanly possible.

I hope the political shenanigans will die down after the elections and that councillors concentrate on good governance of the council which is what they are elected to do.