New rules prevent councillors being paid two allowances, Hartlepool council chiefs assure

Council chiefs have assured changes have been made to the constitution to prevent such issues occurring today after controversy over councillors receiving two allowances.

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 16:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th September 2019, 09:32 am
Hartlepool Civic Centre

A working group found two allowances were paid to the chair of the council from a period between 2002 and 2012, after claims Coun Carl Richardson, who currently represents Labour on the council, received multiple allowances.

However one was a ‘special responsibility allowance’ and the other a ‘chair and vice chair of the council allowance’, meaning it did not break the rules of councillors only claiming one special responsibility allowance.

Coun Richardson said he ‘welcomed the investigation’ into the payments.

The ‘chair and vice chair of council’ allowances date back to a council Policy Plenary Committee meeting in 1998 and was ended by the council in 2012 as part of budget proposals.

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The council had a change in governance in 2002, when it moved from a traditional committee system to a mayoral system, however officers said the constitution ‘was silent’ on the ‘chair and vice chair of council’ allowances and only mentioned the special responsibility allowances, which were introduced.

The investigation found from 2008/09 to 2011/12 all of the allowances paid to the councillors, including the chair of the council, were included in the council statement of accounts and also Hartbeat, the council’s own magazine.

The research into the allowances paid was carried out by the director of finance, chief executive and chief solicitor, who all took up their current posts after the period covered in the investigation.

Council bosses added the 2002 constitution ‘was silent’ on a number of issues, not just the allowances, and said they do not believe the same thing would happen today.

Chief executive Gill Alexander said: “The 2002 constitution set out a members allowances scheme which the constitution was required to do. It is true that that constitution was silent on the giving of a mayoral allowance.

“There were a number of things that have been improved upon over time and that’s part and parcel of the constitution.

“We can learn the lessons from the past. Certainly we as the statutory officers feel that the arrangements of the past are not something that would happen now. We have a very robust constitution that we keep constantly reviewed.”

Research from officers also found the 1998 committee took the decision the allowances paid to the mayor and deputy mayor ‘were grossed up and tax and national insurance were then deducted’.

Coun Marjorie James, who represents the Socialist Labour Party, hit out at the claiming of the extra allowance as ‘unconstitutional’.

She said: “Most of the councillors in 2002 would have been completely unaware that there was a mayoral allowance being paid to the chairman and the vice chair of the council at that time, with very few exceptions.

“I cannot accept that it is right and I do believe it was unconstitutional. There is no protection in the constitution for those payments.”

Councillors noted the payments were all made in the past and information was published at the time regarding the payments.

Coun Brenda Harrison said: “It may not have been what we would do now but it certainly was done then, and the people who were involved were not doing anything they thought they shouldn’t do, I’m convinced of that.”