Review into funding to Hartlepool organisations with links to councillors finds no irregularities
A final report is due to be discussed following a working group review into funding to organisations with links to councillors and previous allowances paid to the chair and vice chair of council.
A working group had initially been set up to investigate funding to any organisation which elected members are affiliated with, after a motion from Labour councillors.
The findings have now been reported back to Hartlepool Borough Council Audit and Governance Committee, and final details will go back to a Full Council meeting next Thursday.
Council finance bosses reported the review found the funding to organisations with links to councillors showed no irregularities.
Chris Little, council director of finance and policy, said: “There’s a lot of allegations and rumour and comment about this situation might exist, this might not exist.
“We’ve been clear as officers if someone gives us evidence we will investigate evidence, we can’t investigate rumour.”
Councillors hit out at social media rumours against individuals and said they need to be seen as role models.
Coun Ged Hall said: “I think some of the comments on social media are a witch hunt for one or two people, not naming any names.”
Coun Brenda Harrison said: “As elected members we have to be above everything else and we can’t be seen to be doing anything which seems to be unethical and which doesn’t come within the ethos of what we’re all about.
“You need to be seen as being a good role model, I think we just need to clarify that for people in the town so they understand we are trying our best to do our best for them.”
Recommendations were also made for the council to strengthen its auditing process and for councillors to be given further mandatory training.
The report also looked at allowances paid to the chair and vice chair of the council from 2002 and 2012, after claims Coun Carl Richardson had previously received two special responsibility allowances.
A working group found two allowances were paid to the chair of the council from the period between 2002 and 2012, when the council was run under a ‘mayor and cabinet model’ which changed in 2013.
However, one was a ‘special responsibility allowance’ and the other a ‘chair and vice chair of the council allowance’, started by a council Policy Plenary Committee in 1998, meaning it did not break the rules of councillors only claiming one ‘special responsibility allowance’.
Following the previous working group meeting, Coun Carl Richardson said he ‘welcomed the investigation’ into the payments.
Mr Little confirmed the ‘chair and vice chair of the council allowance’, also at times referred to as a ‘ceremonial mayor and deputy’ allowance, was paid up until the 2011/12 financial year and then stopped.
He said: “The report also made the point that they were removed, based on information that was previously reported, on the basis of making a saving rather than a probity issue.
“I think we’ve got a lot more robust constitution than we had in 2002, it is always easy to say things like that with the benefit of hindsight, but I think it shows the constitution now ensures the issue cannot be repeated in the future.”
He also added there is no legal grounds to recover the payments as they were authorised by officers at the time.
Coun Marjorie James hit out at idea the 2002 constitution was ‘silent’ on the issue and said it was ‘a disgrace’ the payments continued to be made.
She said: “We keep hearing this statement from officers that the constitution in 2002 was silent, well I don’t think that’s the case, I believe the constitution was very loud.
“When officers, not any of the officers we currently rely on, made the decision to continue to pay what was a ceremonial mayors allowances in addition, that was in my view an unacceptable decision that was taken. To continue for the amount of time it did was a disgrace.”
Clare Wilson, independent person who chaired the working group investigation, said: “To say the 2002 constitution was silent, it didn’t mention these particular allowances.
“It goes back to 1998, nobody knows why it was done in the first place, it went on to 2013, which was a good five years after it was published in Hartbeat.
“We’re debating this in 2019, there’s a big big interest from the public, if anything should have been done about it, it should have been done in 2013, in 2002. As a member of the public, for me it’s all history.”
An amended report, taking into account comments made, will now go before a full meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council at 7pm at the Civic Centre on Thursday, October 31.