Eric Pickles urged to intervene in 'crisis' hit Berwick Town Council

Eric Pickles has been urged to intervene in the 'crisis' which is said to have embroiled Berwick Town Council over the 'Portas Pilot'

The Journal Transport Links Breakfast held at Ramside Hall, Durham, panelist Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

A would-be MP has urged a senior minister to intervene in the “crisis” said to be engulfing a council in Northumberland, amid claims it has become dysfunctional.

Conservative parliamentary candidate for Berwick Anne-Marie Trevelyan has called on Eric Pickles to right the affairs of the town’s council, which has been beset by controversy this year.

Mrs Trevelyan has also called for a local ombudsman to be given the power to step in when such a situation occurs, and has asked Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith and Northumberland County Council to intervene.

Berwick Town Council has been in turmoil since agreeing to take over management of the town’s Portas Pilot in September 2013.

The Portas pilot areas are twelve English towns that have been chosen to participate in a scheme designed to help to rejuvenate their shopping areas, using ideas put forward by retail expert and television personality Mary Portas.

Berwick was awarded £100,000 under the government scheme, which seeks to regenerate town centres, in July 2012.

Northumberland County Council as supervisory body for the grant agreed to match the £100,000, creating a £200,000 fund.

Berwick Town Team took on responsibility for managing the pilot, but was rocked by a number of personnel changes, including the resignation of chairman Ed Swales.

By the end of September last year, less than £10,000 of the fund had been spent.

As a result, the county council took responsibility for the project from the town team, transferring it to its development company Arch and then Berwick Town Council, in a bid to speed up delivery progress.

Berwick high street
Berwick high street
 

The Journal reported in May how town mayor Isabel Hunter had been appointed for a second year in the role, despite tradition dictating that the roleholder only serves 12 months.

This was viewed as a snub to her deputy mayor Coun Georgina Hill, who has been a critic of an apparent lack of transparency at the council.

In November, Northumbria Police was called to a council meeting after members of the public refused to leave when members sought to discuss a matter in private.

Town clerk Sue Finch was recently reported to have walked out of a meeting following a challenge from Coun Hill, which led to it having to be abandoned.

Mrs Trevelyan has now contacted the office of Eric Pickles, secretary of state at the Department for Communities and Local Government, to ask that it intervene in the “crisis.”

Isabel Hunter
Isabel Hunter
 

She has also called for a local ombudsman to be given powers to step in having asked Liberal Democrat Sir Alan to get involved, claiming MPs elsewhere in the country have waded into the affairs of dysfunctional councils.

Mrs Trevelyan has also asked Northumberland County Council to intervene but says she was told it had limited powers to do so.

The would-be MP said: “Berwick Town Council is by no means the only town council who are experiencing these types of problems but it appears to have reached a point where it cannot function properly and that is an entirely unacceptable position.

“There needs to be an increased role of a local ombudsman or other mechanism in which there can be intervention by an external body to resolve the situation and restore public confidence.”

She added: “The county council have said that they have limited powers to intervene so I am continuing to have conversations with Eric Pickles’ team to get advice and see what can be done.”

The Journal contacted the town council office to ask for a comment. Assistant to the Clerk Steve Cozens said: “No one from the town council wishes to make a response.”

We also asked Sir Alan to comment on the goings-on at the council but were told he would not be able to discuss the situation.

The Journal was told no town councillors wished to comment.

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