What was the cost of probe into distribution of political leaflets in Hartlepool?

Keith Fisher
Keith Fisher

A COUNCILLOR has questioned the cost of probe into the distribution of political leaflets at a council-funded event.

Keith Fisher, who is chairman of Hartlepool Borough Council’s audit and governance committee questioned the cost in time and money to the authority after council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher had already accepted responsibility.

A low-key inquiry was carried out by the council’s chief solicitor Peter Devlin.

It was after council officers included a four-page leaflet, titled Your Hartlepool, Labour Manifesto, in delegate packs at the launch of the Hartlepool Youth Involvement Project at Hartlepool’s Maritime Experience.

Councillor Jonathan Brash claimed it was against local authority regulations as well as the council’s own code of conduct.

Coun Akers-Belcher met with Mr Devlin and the leader was reminded of the code of conduct and accepted the information should not have been included.

The role of council officers in inserting the manifesto in the information packs was judged to be a breach of the code but at the lower end.

Coun Fisher said: “I am conscious that we are closing places and looking at job losses and yet we can afford to do this.

“A man actually put his hands up and said ‘I’m to blame’ and yet we have an inquiry to see who is to blame.

“I could say it is a waste of time and money.”

Mr Devlin said he was “duty bound” to investigate complaints but he added: “Given the opening admission it made our life easier.

“We didn’t have to do a full blown investigation.”

Mr Devlin said the issue served to remind officers of the need to remain politically neutral.

He stated in a report: “Councillor Akers-Belcher has made an open admission and in this regard, has been sincere in his disclosure of what transpired and I have been reassured that there should be no repetition of this incident.”

Mr Devlin also used the inquiry to urge councillors to monitor their own behaviour, particularly during council meetings.

He said: “It is almost some kind of warfare among some councillors in tit for tat exchanges. There should be robust arguments and you undoubtedly get issues of point scoring but I think there has been a trend that it is becoming more personal in nature.”