Plans to implement car parking charges for councillors at Hartlepool Civic Centre have been given the green light.
Councillors also approved removing ward member budgets as part of a review of civic expenditure by Hartlepool Borough Council chiefs in a bid to reduce the planned use of reserves.
There are 23 councillors registered to park in the underground car park at the Civic Centre, with 12 bays allocated for members and no charge in place.
Councillors on the finance and policy committee unanimously agreed to implement an annual charge of £116 for each of the 23 registered members to cover the estimated £2,664 car parking income for the bays.
Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher said: “I think it’s more than reasonable to pay for car parking, I don’t have a problem with that.”
Coun Shane Moore said: “With regards to the car parking issue I have no problem paying for my space. I had one this year and didn’t use it, next year I will be using it and will be happy to pay for it.”
Coun Brenda Harrison said: “I have absolutely no problem paying for car parking at the council, as I think that’s part of what our allowance is for.
“In principle I don’t think anyone should be paying to go to work, it’s the same sort of thing at the hospital where people need to pay to park when they’re there all day because they’re working, and I think in principle that’s not a good thing.
“But personally I don’t have a problem with paying.”
Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher added he was ‘more than happy’ to support the car parking charges and noted councillors will not be able to claim it back on expenses, as expenses for travel within Hartlepool were previously abolished.
Councillors also unanimously approved ending ward member budgets from 2020/21, allowing members to honour commitments for 2019/20.
The budgets are used by councillors in order to fund a variety of works in their area, such as organising bulky household waste collection to residents for free, and other community projects.
Councillors also moved a further report to come back to the committee to determine how the £66,000 a year savings, which is what is allocated for ward member budgets annually, will be spent in the borough.
They urged it was important certain existing projects, such as the waste collection, are maintained and shared across the borough despite the budget being removed.
Coun Brenda Harrison said: “I have no problem with the idea of scrapping the ward budgets.
“We’ve done quite a few things within our ward, as will other people, that we would like to keep going for example bulky waste collection.”
Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher said: “From the point of the Manor House ward we use our ward budget very effectively and we were the first ward councillors to introduce the bulky waste collection.
“It’s something we need to maintain and keep [the waste service] because it will be something that will just cause problems with rubbish.
“In the Manor House ward we also use our budget around tackling family poverty. We were one of the first to introduce help around school uniforms and I’ve noted there’s been more requests to do that and that’s so important.”
Coun James Brewer said: “I was elected rather later on into the term so I’ve gone through without a single penny in my ward budget, it’s been difficult but we have managed it.
“I think it shows if we work as a team we don’t really need it.”
Council leader Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher added the savings come as the council have to make savings following government funding cuts.
He said: “Bearing in mind we’ve got a budget where we are now carrying more than £20million less than a few years ago, the fact that we’ve lost over 40% of our grant from the government in recent years, we have to look at every option, which is why I was more than happy to bring these two items forward for consideration.”
The proposals will now go to Hartlepool full council next week to be rubber stamped.
Nic Marko , Local Democracy Reporting Service