'No smoking gun' or 'brown envelopes' found in investigation at Hartlepool Borough Council, hearing told
An investigation has found ‘no smoking gun’ after a probe into a council funding referral, a hearing has been told.
Councillors called for a working group to be set up to investigate ‘funding to any organisation to which an elected member is affiliated’ at a full meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council in the summer.
This followed a Labour Party motion which also called for the council to ensure the organisations are audited and findings published, and for the council to state how it validates ‘value for money’ within those companies.
Council finance and audit bosses have now said the review into the funding shows no irregularities as they reported back to a meeting of the audit and governance committee.
Council chief executive Gill Alexander said there has been an increasing lack of trust in politics and wants to make further moves to reassure the public of the council’s transparency.
She said: “It’s been raised by councillors on the back of an increasing concern in the breakdown of trust between members of the public and council elected officials.
“What you have heard from the most senior officers in the council…is that they have carried out a thorough review of our processes and have found no evidence that there has been any suggestion of a decision we think which has been inappropriate.
“Therefore we are in a position to say that all of the technical tools in our box tell us the suspicions and perceptions of the public do not match reality.
“If people had a suspicion, what the officers here are saying is there is no smoking gun here.
“We have in good faith carried out a thorough investigation, we’ve looked at every nook and cranny, we’ve looked at every stone in this area.
“In a sense the thing that I think would give the greatest comfort to the public is knowing that members are shoulder to shoulder on these matters.”
It came after the working group reviewed the declaration of member interests, expenditure, contracts, social value lets and all issues relating to the referral of the Labour motion.
‘I’ve never seen any brown envelopes’
A number of recommendations have also been proposed looking to add further steps to add further transparency and assurances, although council finances bosses said they already go ‘above and beyond’ in the information they make public.
Coun Lesley Hamilton added accusations against councillors are ‘fueled by social media’.
She said: “There is a perception from the public that we are all receiving brown envelopes, if there are I haven’t seen any.”
Coun Marjorie James noted any attempt to mislead and misspend public money would have come to the attention of top council officers and external auditors, who have statutory and legal obligations.
She said: “It’s not possible, it can’t be done.”
Chief executive Ms Alexander added in the next meeting they would be looking for ideas from members on views about what they can do as a council to give more reassurance to residents.
A reconvened meeting of the working group will take place on Wednesday, October 2, at 5pm at the Civic Centre in Hartlepool to consider the findings and allow for discussion.
A further meeting will then take place on Thursday, October 3, at 3pm for further discussions, and any additional meetings will be convened the following week if required.