Dear Mr Daggett
Following your article on page 4 of last week’s edition I would like to correct a number of misconceptions that the public may have drawn from it concerning why Councillor Sue Bibby was not reappointed Planning Chairman in 2017 and the procedure then followed by the Ribble Valley Borough Council.
As a new leader of the council I had to nominate Conservative spokesmen who were then appointed as Committee Chairmen by all the Councillors in Full Council. I recommended Councillor Alison Brown as Planning Chairman who the Full Council duly voted to appoint in 2017, again in 2018 and also in 2019 when nominated by my successor. I did not nominate 3 other of my predecessor’s chairmen but none of them objected or made a complaint that I was bullying them. Contrary to your article, the whole of Ribble Valley Borough Council ratified the appointment of the Planning Committee Chairman, not myself.
Leaders of Councils are required to nominate Chairman on merit to provide the best people to lead council committees. There was a need in May 2017 for a fresh approach to planning due to concerns over excessive house building and lack of new infrastructure spending particularly in Clitheroe. We needed to reorganise the planning department, recruit a specialist Planning and Economic Development Director and start an Economic Development Committee, all of which we subsequently did. Councillor Sue Bibby had not recommended to the Council any of these proposals and did not support the Conservative Councillor’s Group view to appointing a planning director in committee.
One of my major reasons for seeking a change in the post of Planning Chairman was that Councillor Bibby had presided over the Planning Committee which considered the application to develop Holmes Mill. The planning officers recommended refusal. Fortunately councillors rejected the officer’s advice and approved the application. Holmes Mill now employs over 200 people in the hotel, restaurants, shops, bars and offices. A gym and a 4 screen Everyman cinema will be added in the near future. It is the most significant commercial development in Clitheroe for 30 years, attracting large numbers of visitors. When the development is completed it will contribute over £750,000 in business rates which will benefit Ribble Valley council tax payers.
My role as Leader was to act in the best interests of the community and nominate the most capable people to lead council committees. If I had to make that decision again I would make the same decision.
The complaints procedure against Councillors in the Ribble Valley Borough is in chaos, shown by the fact that this complaint could not be resolved in 20 months. At a hearing on the 3rd September 2018 the Chief Executive faced with 16 statements and comments from witnesses countering the complaint, stopped the whole process and announced his officers could not deal with it, which resulted in delaying the matter for another 10 months.
Complaints against councillors are decided by a sub committee of 3 councillors based on political balance as a consequence the Leader of the Opposition, Alan Knox Leader of the Opposition was on the sub committee dealing with the complaint against me. He had criticised me on social media, in his leaflets, moved a motion of no confidence in council – all legitimate political activity. However Jeremy Corbyn would not be allowed to sit on a sub committee in Parliament to judge a complaint against Boris Johnson as it would not be considered fair, impartial and unbiased. Councillor Knox at least resigned twice from the sub committee when I complained, but this delayed consideration further. A close friend of Councillor Sue Bibby also sat on the sub -committee.
Far from refusing to take part in a sub-committee procedure as suggested by Chief Executive Marshal Scott, I argued for outside independent adjudication by the Local Government Association, supported by advice from my counsel and solicitor. In this I was supported by the main Accounts and Audit Committee who voted for this outside adjudication only to be subsequently over ruled. In a small council in which everyone knows everyone else’s business it is impossible to get impartial consideration of complaints unless done by independent outside adjudicators. Decisions like this have to be seen to be made fairly independently and seen to be without the possibility of bias.
Far from refusing to take part in a council complaints procedure I am more than willing to put my case to 3 independent adjudicators appointed by the Local Government Association. When the Accounts and Audit committee decided not to pursue Sue Bibby’s complaint, she was present throughout. The committee sat in camera,the press were refused access, I was refused the committee papers, not allowed to attend, make representations or be represented by solicitors.
The time has now come for major reform of the complaints system at Ribble Valley Borough Council and in other councils so proper fair due process can be seen to be followed. Any new procedure should prevent the use of complaints as a political weapon to damage Councillors.This should also mean that deliberate leaking of sensitive complaint papers to the press, as happened here before any hearing of the complaint occurred, should result in the expulsion of the councillor responsible from the council. Complaints have to be decided in a fair and independent tribunal, not on half the evidence in the court of public opinion.
Ken Hind CBE