Senior Hartlepool councillor calls for people to put contract claims ‘to bed’

Robbie Payne
Robbie Payne

A SENIOR councillor has called for a council to “move forward” after a fellow member was cleared over claims 28 contracts were awarded to her company by the local authority without going through the proper process.

Hartlepool councillor Pamela Hargreaves, who owns business development firm Xivvi, was cleared of any wrongdoing by the regeneration services committee yesterday.

Labour councillor Robbie Payne, committee chairman, tabled the motion calling for an investigation at the end of the recent full council meeting and speaking yesterday he said: “The reason I gave the motion was to put all this to bed.

“Pamela Hargreaves has put up with a lot and has been found innocent.”

He thanked Peter Devlin, the council’s chief solicitor, for his comprehensive report, adding: “I hope that we can move forward.”

The issue came to light when council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher claimed the former Labour councillor had failed to declare her interest when she was portfolio holder for regeneration back in 2011 and accused her of changing procedures to give her a “distinct advantage” in the small business market.

He also claimed 28 contracts had been awarded to Xivvi for goods and services without going through the procurement process.

But Coun Hargreaves said services were always procured properly and that she had never altered the grant-making process.

All the contracts were for £2,000 or less and the total amount was around £25,000 and Mr Devlin said there had been compliance with procurement rules.

His report concluded: “Under the terms of reference supplied by council, I have found nothing which leads me to the conclusion that Coun Hargreaves has used any undue influence or been complicit in any way in the procurement and commissioning of these “28 contracts” or has in any way acted inappropriately in her formal role as portfolio holder.”

It did emerge that while Coun Hargreaves had declared her business Xivvi on her register of interests, it had not been declared that the business had contracts with the authority.

Mr Devlin said there was “nothing untoward” but it has since been retrospectively declared after informal advice from the chief solicitor, who said he would be inviting all councillors to speak with him about their individual register of interests.

Dave Stubbs, the chief executive, said when it is found members have not done anything untoward the authority should be “saying we are a good organisation” and not fighting among each other.

The motion also called for all recipients of small business grants to be interviewed to see what procurement alternatives they were presented with.

Mr Devlin said that was a “huge body of work” which he didn’t think was warranted and would cause “unrest” and “unease” in the small business sector.

That angered ceremonial mayor, Stephen Akers-Belcher, who said: “What does concern me, in my role as chairman of full council, is where there is a decision of full council I would expect this to be carried out.”

Neither Coun Hargreaves or Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher attended the meeting.

Coun Hargreaves, who refers to herself as independent Labour, but is classed as independent by the council, has previously said it “feels good” to be cleared while Coun Akers-Belcher last week said he welcomed the report and said it can “only be a good for the town” to maintain the integrity of the council.