Letter to Editor Clitheroe Advertiser -Need for Reform of the Ribble Valley Council Complaints Procedure and throughout local government – Letter to Clitheroe Advertiser Editor

 

Dear Sir 
This letter is to anwer some  comments made by RVBC’s CEO Marshal Scott in the article you published in the Clitheroe Advertiser 3 weeks ago.
Councillor Sue Bibby’s complaint against me made in November 2017 was that as Leader of the Council I did not nominate her as Chairman of the Planning Committee.Leaders choose the best people as Chairmen who are then appointed by the full Ribble Valley  Council to steer Council committees. There was a need in May 2017 when I made my recommendation 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 carried out. My nominee as Planning Chairman was Councillor Alison Brown who was appointed in 2017, 2018 and again nominated by my successor in 2019 and appointed by the Full Council.
I was also very concerned that under Councillor Sue Bibby’s watch the Council planners recommended rejection of the application to develop Holmes Mill in Clitheroe . Fortunately most of the Councillors on the planning committee 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 for the benefit of Ribble Valley council tax payers.
Councillor Bibby’s complaint resulted in disruption in the Council and it took 20 months for the Accounts and Audit committee to reach the conclusion they were not going to deal with it. This has been the only complaint brought by a Councillor against another Councillor in the Ribble Valley to be referred to a sub committee by the Monitoring Officer since the system was set up in 2013. The matter was to be heard by a 3 man sub-committee of fellow Councillors – notably one of them being Councillor Allan Knox, leader of the Liberal Democrats along with  a friend of Sue Bibby. This would have been like Jeremy Corbyn judging  a complaint against Boris Johnson. The outcome would be inevitable! The need for major reform of Councillor on Councillor complaints procedure is necessary and should be prioritised. The role of Council Officials in such matters also needs to be reviewed. The conduct of any complaint  requires external investigation, decided by independent  adjudicators who would be free from any possibility of bias as totally unconnected with the gossip and innuendo of a small Council like RVBC.
 A junior Council official was appointed to investigate Sue Bibby’s complaint who only interviewed  one the of 13 witnesses I put forward in my response. For the the sub-committee discipline hearing on the  13th September 2018 I produced 16 sworn statements and comments from witnesses countering the complaint. At the beginning of the hearing Marshal Scott, the chief executive, stopped the sub committee, so preventing  these statements from being aired. He stated  that  ‘His’ officers could not deal with it despite the fact that only elected councillors were adjudicating. This resulted in a delay of a further 10 months and eventually abandonment of the proceedings.The public needs to know the cost to them,, the council tax payers, of this whole wasted exercise.
I  consistently argued within the procedure for independent  scrutiny and adjudication of this complaint but it was denied.  I call for Councillors to review the procedure at the earliest opportunity so that in the future no Councillor or Council leader faces the position where any complaint is weaponised by opponents to undermine either individual Councillors or the administration running the Council.
Ken Hind CBE