Hartlepool Borough Council defends grant-giving procedure amid Labour calls for a full review
Council chiefs have defended the way it awards funding to organisations with links to councillors saying their procedures go further than what is required by law.
Hartlepool Borough Council said it has ‘robust procedures’ in place to make sure councillors are not involved in making decisions about funding to groups they have an interest in.
The council said it would have ‘no hesitation’ in investigating allegations of misuse of council funding by organisations or companies, but stressed they have not received any.
It comes as the new Hartlepool Labour Group has called upon the council to carry out a full review of how money is awarded to companies and organisations that involve other councillors.
A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesperson said: “Hartlepool Borough Council has robust procedures in place to ensure Councillors are not involved in making decisions which award funding to organisations they have an interest in, aspects of which go beyond the minimum standards required by law.
“All Councillors are required by the Council’s Constitution and by law to sign an annual declaration of interests and to disclose any new interests on an ongoing basis.
“A full list of such disclosures is published on the Council’s website and an individual’s failure to disclose new interests is a criminal offence.
“Each and every Councillor is also required to declare interests when specific decisions are being made at a Policy Committee meeting or Full Council meeting.
“Where these decisions involve the awarding of a contract – or agreement of a financial contribution to an organisation where an individual Councillor has declared an interest – they would leave the meeting and not take part in the decision making process.”
The council added since 2013 it has published quarterly full details of all payments made to organisations, both private companies and not for profit organisations, where a councillor has declared an interest.
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The spokesman added: “This schedule details the organisation receiving the payment, the amount received in the financial quarter, the cumulative amount received in the financial year, the names of the Councillor(s) declaring an interest and the nature of the interest declared.
“This level of disclosure exceeds the minimum legal requirements and is undertaken to ensure openness and transparency.”
The council added it has no powers to carry out reviews into independent companies and organisations.
It stated: “We can only investigate where there is a concern about the mismanagement of funds provided to an organisation for a specific purpose in line with our conditions of grant aid.
“We have taken robust action in the past which led to the successful prosecution in relation to Manor Residents’ Association.
“If anyone has any evidence to support allegations of any misuse of funds received by the Council by any independent organisation or company then we would have no hesitation to take whatever action is appropriate to investigate.
“However, we can confirm that no evidence or specific allegations have been presented to the Council in relation to a grant provided by the Council in relation to any independent company or organisation.”
Labour Group Leader, Councillor Paddy Brown, said: “Our proposal is to review the system so that no elected member should ever be involved in any decision to award funds to an organisation that includes other councillors, especially in this time of coalitions.
“It is just common sense.”
He added: “This is about restoring the trust and faith of Hartlepool residents in our civic institutions and ensuring that the awarding of funds is open, transparent and fair.”