'Thorough and transparent' review promised by new working group at Hartlepool Borough Council
A working group’s investigation into council funding to organisations with links to elected members is expected to be completed later this year, with bosses pledging it to be thorough and transparent.
A meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council Audit and Governance Committee decided the working group would be made of its full committee and be chaired by an independent person.
It comes after a Labour Party motion calling for a review of funding for any organisation to which an elected member is affiliated, 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.
Residents in attendance said they had ‘waited 10 years’ for such an investigation.
It was agreed the review will look at how organisations are funded, which organisations are funded, purposes for funding, potential risks to the local authority, use of ward member budgets and councillor registered interests.
It will also look into claims made against Coun Carl Richardson regarding special responsibility allowances received previously.
Following calls from residents, it will also look into the management of council owned buildings, who they are let to, ensuring tenants are registered, and the finances and details behind such arrangements.
The working group will be chaired by Clare Wilson, who is an independent person on the Audit and Governance Committee.
Ms Wilson said: “I live in Hartlepool, I’m a member of the public, I have no membership of any political party.
“I answered an advert for people who wanted to help with the scrutiny of issues of governance and if there were any complaints against members the independent person would be involved to see that the situation was going rightly.”
Coun Leisa Smith said as part of the work all organisations should be able to show where the money is from and how it is spent.
She said: “All organisations that receive money should have accounts and show where the money has come from and how the money is spent, it doesn’t matter how small the organisation is.”
Council bosses also pledged reports would be made fully public, as opposed to some sections being made private and put on ‘pink paper’, which happens if information is commercially sensitive.
Council chief executive Gill Alexander said: “The investigation will be carried out on white paper, that’s the basis of the investigation. I don’t think anything will be commercial.”
Councillors clashed over when the funding motion should return to full council, with Socialist Labour Party’s Coun Marjorie James calling for it to be January to ensure it is thorough.
She said: “I would be concerned that we don’t minimise the importance of the investigation by rushing back a section. I would suggest we move the closing date and set it in January.”
However Labour’s Coun Paddy Brown called for the motion to be heard in September, with the results of the full investigation coming later.
Coun Dave Hunter added: “The primary work of the working group has to be the motion, with the investigation fully carried out as a secondary operation. The public deserve this bringing forward and dealing with as a matter of urgency.”
Coun Shane Moore said it should come forward as soon as it is ready, backing recommendations it would be expected October/November this year, but added it could come forward sooner if ready.
Chief executive Ms Alexander said she would give an update on the work at the September full council meeting, but estimated it would be completed in October/November.
She said: “When we looked at the potential timeline, as officers we took the view what we thought would achievable, acknowledging that additional things would be added to the investigation.
“We took the view we can achieve a deadline of, probably by the end of October, possibly by the beginning of November, that’s what we believe is achievable. We don’t think we need to take this as far as January.”