Under-fire councillor suspended by Hartlepool Labour Group as probe ordered after tribunal ruling

Councilor Angie Wilcox
Councilor Angie Wilcox

AN under-fire councillor branded “dishonest” by an employment judge has been suspended by the Labour Group.

Labour councillor Angie Wilcox, who represents the Manor House ward on Hartlepool Council, has been suspended with immediate effect while an investigation is carried out.

It comes after employment judge Andrew Buchanan said he was insulted by Coun Wilcox’s attempt to falsely show Manor Residents’ Association - which she is manager of - had responded to legal proceedings brought about by a former cleaner at the charity.

But Judge Buchanan saw through Coun Wilcox’s efforts to mislead him – as she claimed a response had been sent in the post 12 days before the deadline – and upheld his initial decision for the charity to pay nearly £9,000 to Lynda Gooding, who had been paid below national minimum wage.

Speaking today, council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “Following a meeting of Hartlepool Labour Group Executive I can confirm Coun Angie Wilcox has been suspended from our group with immediate effect.

“In the interests of natural justice, Hartlepool Labour Group awaited the outcome of the employment tribunal appeal and has now initiated an investigation, endorsed by regional Labour Party, to be conducted by the chairman of Hartlepool Labour Group Councillor Rob Cook and a deputy chief whip.

“The investigation commenced yesterday.”

Labour councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, a board member at Manor Residents’ Association, is also the Labour Group’s chief whip but he has confirmed he will play no part in the investigation process.

Coun Wilcox, who can still attend council meetings, was not available for comment when approached by the Mail about the suspension.

Before the announcement that Coun Wilcox had been suspended, councillors Pamela Hargreaves and Jonathan Brash had called on her to resign her seat on Hartlepool Council.

Coun Hargreaves said: “To fail to pay the national minimum wage is bad enough but to dishonestly try and cover it up and put this lady through a second tribunal is utterly shameful.

“I genuinely feel that she has lost touch with her Labour values and should resign immediately.”

Speaking earlier in the day, Coun Wilcox said: “At the employment tribunal I was acting in my capacity as manager of Manor Residents’ Association and not as a councillor.

“I am not going to resign until the residents of Manor House ward ask me to.

“They are the people that voted me in.”

Before the suspension announcement, Couns Brash and Hargreaves, who call themselves independent Labour but are classed as independent on the council website, had also questioned the actions of the Labour Group leadership and called on Coun Akers-Belcher to consider his position.

In response, Coun Akers-Belcher said: “Leadership is about being fair and just and I shall not be drawn into a debate regarding council leadership by two councillors, expelled from the National Labour Party who failed to maintain the minimum standards expected of our members.

“The integrity of our Labour Party is of paramount importance and now is the time to conduct the investigation and be decisive in our actions.”

Couns Brash and Hargreaves have also called for a debate at the next full council meeting.

Mrs Gooding was awarded £8,805 in April this year after a tribunal heard the 56-year-old worked 37 hours a week for the charity for just £5.40 an hour – under the national minimum wage of £6.19 per hour – and for the last seven weeks in the job received her wages either late or not at all.

Calls to suspend association funding

A POLITICAL group has called for council funding to Manor Residents’ Association be suspended until changes are made to its management.

Putting Hartlepool First spokesman Geoff Lilley said it would “defy common sense” to continue helping fund the association while the current manager, Labour councillor Angie Wilcox and board members, including Labour councillors Stephen Akers-Belcher and Paul Beck, remain in place.

Coun Lilley said: “It is now very clear that the trustees have singularly failed in their own duty to ensure the proper management of the organisation.

“They should make their last tasks to be the sacking of Angela Wilcox as manager and the prompt payment of Lynda Gooding of her compensation.

“They should then immediately resign.”

Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher said: “This is a turbulent time and there needs to be strong leadership on the board.

“I am in this for the long haul as Manor Residents’ Association provides a fantastic service to local residents.

“It represents a large part of the ward I represent and I won’t be turning my back on them.”

He said opposition groups were using the association as a “political football”.

Coun Beck was not available for comment.

Council chief executive Dave Stubbs has said the authority couldn’t insist on management changes.

But Coun Lilley said: “That is precisely what the council did at the Phoenix Centre when it was in trouble. On that occasion, the council insisted on a complete change in management and trustees before any more money was handed over.”

Coun Akers-Belcher said if funding was suspended it would impact on 100 young people using the after school and breakfast clubs.

An audit showed the association had a total income of about £443,000 between April 2012 and this January, with £52,121.99 council funding.

A council spokesman said: “The council recently carried out an audit review of Manor Residents’ Association to ensure that the organisation has adequate arrangements in place to manage the funding it receives from the council.

“The report, which was considered by the council’s audit and governance committee, identified a number of areas where systems and procedures needed to be improved.

“Timescales have been set for the association to implement the various actions and our auditors will be carefully monitoring progress over the coming weeks.”