'Blame game' in Hartlepool Council election

Hartlepool Civic Centre
Image caption The results of the election will be announced in the early hours of Friday

Apart from the post of elected mayor, every seat on previously Labour-run Hartlepool Council is up for grabs.

However, boundary changes mean that would-be councillors are chasing fewer seats, with the number of local wards reduced from 17 to 11, and councillors reduced from 47 to 33.

Local issues include the closure of Hartlepool Hospital's A and E unit.

However, budget cuts are a major issue, with the parties disagreeing about where the blame should lie.

The council has had a Labour majority, but there have also been a number of independent councillors, and the newly-formed Putting Hartlepool First campaign has put forward candidates for all wards.

Labour said that while there were the usual local neighbourhood concerns, there were also major ones about the cuts which had been imposed on the town by the coalition, and it called for a stronger voice both locally and nationally.

'Ghost town'

Labour candidate Christopher Akers-Belcher said: "Hartlepool is hurting at the moment. We've seen some savage cuts which have increased the poverty in the town.

"Just with the tax credit changes that's taken £2.6m out of Hartlepool. It's the shops, it's the businesses which could potentially close, and we can end up as some kind of ghost town."

The Conservatives blame Labour for the cuts. Conservative candidate Ray Wells said: "Labour were in power for 13 years before the coalition took over, not even two years ago, and unemployment was on the rise even then.

"Hartlepool has suffered, but I don't believe it has suffered more than any other town in the country.

"The coalition government has to make savage cuts, and I think we all accept that when you take over trillions of pounds of debt from the previous Labour-run government then they had little choice."

The party's coalition partners, the Lib Dems, were once a big force in the town, with 14 councillors in 2000, when the party ran the town hall in alliance with the Conservatives, but the Lib Dems were most recently down to three councillors.

Lib Dem candidate James Tighe said: "The regional growth fund has put one and a half billion pounds into the region; apprenticeships are up 60% since the coalition was formed. I can only see the town going up, not down."

'Take the blame'

UKIP candidate Eric Wilson accused the outgoing Labour council of living beyond its means.

He said: "The massive cuts to the local government expenditure have left the council with an awful choice of making certain cuts, but the local Labour party has exacerbated the situation by overspending year on year for at least the last eight to 10 years.

"Now they are going to have to pay the price by making savage cutbacks, which if they'd been thought about years ago could have been softened, so they've got to take the blame."

According to Putting Hartlepool First, the main parties have let the town down.

Putting Hartlepool First candidate Geoff Lilley said: "Tribal allegiance is nothing to do with local government issues.

"We want to see people representing Hartlepool first. It doesn't matter if they are Conservatives or Labour, we want to see them actually start to think about what they need to represent."

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