Group leader criticises pair

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A PAIR of Labour councillors who claim there is a “witch-hunt” against them have been accused of acting like “petulant children” by their group leader.

Labour leader Christopher Akers-Belcher raised concerns after councillors Jonathan Brash and Pamela Hargreaves spoke out over a row about public questions at full council meetings.

The pair were suspended for seven days pending an investigation after the meeting of the full council on March 6, at which they voted against proposals supported by the Labour Group to scrap supplementary questions at meetings.

It is national Labour Group policy for a member to be suspended pending an investigation if they go against a group decision.

But the pair claimed more “draconian” measures had been attempted behind closed doors including “expelling” Coun Brash and suspending Coun Hargreaves for “two cycles of council”.

In a joint statement Coun Brash and Hargreaves said: “If defending the public’s right to question their councillors means expulsion from the Labour Group then that this is a price we are prepared to pay and those who chose to use this disagreement on a matter of principle should be ashamed of their actions.”

But Coun Akers-Belcher has hit back, saying: “I am incredibly disappointed two members feel the need to mislead the public by masquerading as victims, bring the Labour Party into disrepute when they can not meet the minimum standards set down by the guidelines of our Labour Party.

“I am a firm believer that the residents of Hartlepool can only make an informed decision if they are furnished with all the facts.

“It is alleged the council has restricted the right of the public to question councillors.

“This is completely false as we now have a new council constitution that has a common thread running through it that promotes active participation by the public in a variety of ways.”

He said that was through the new committee structure, neighbourhood forums, increasing the length of public question time at full council meetings and increasing the number of questions people can ask from one to two.

Coun Akers-Belcher said: “The Labour Group in Hartlepool is a team and members have a choice.

“They can choose to be a team player by maintaining the minimum standards expected or they can choose to be independent.

“What members can not do is behave like petulant children when the consensus through a democratic process is not supportive of an individual’s view point.

“There are big challenges facing Hartlepool and the Labour Group is focusing on meeting these challenges as we move into the new Governance structure.”

New Labour chief whip Stephen Akers-Belcher has offered to meet the pair and take a fresh look at the allegations.