The report that Steve Rush cites was sent to me by Ribble Valley Borough Council following a series of simple freedom of information requests to establish if the investigation into the complaint was carried out within the Law and the protocols of the council. The Council for some reason has provided this private and confidential report to me which does not have any relevance to the procedural questions asked. The report put before the sub committee has a substantial – section 18 pages missing in which I rebutted the conclusions, criticised the poor standard of investigation and lack of balance in the report. 3 pages are the response of the investigating officer to my comments in which it is conceded that as Conservative Leader and Leader of the Council I had discretion to nominate whoever I wished as party spokesmen which totally undermines the report.
This disclosed report has already been leaked to the press and has been along with a lot of the confidential papers, the subject of press stories last year. It was prepared by a council officer to put before a sub-committee for them to decide on the complaint made by Cllr Sue Bibby and has never been adjudicated upon. The investigating officer did not speak to any of the 13 potential witnesses (except 1) put forward in the initial response to the complaint. When this report was provided, detailed rebuttal was put to the committee and 16 statements and comments from witnesses prepared to answer it. All the witnesses confirmed the investigating officer did not speak to them.
The rebuttal of the officers’ conclusions states the investigation was wholly inadequate, one sided , showed the investigating officer had substituted her view for mine and that of the whole council, and failed to investigate the procedure of nomination of spokesmen in the Conservative party.
On the 13th September 2018 with this report , legal submissions and the 16 statements on the table, with some of the witnesses present, the Chief Executive Marshal Scott stepped in and stopped the adjudication of the complaint by councillors. I can find no power within the procedure to allow him to do this. The Chief Executive’s intervention resulted in the Investigating Officer not being questioned on her report conclusions and a further 10 month delay. It led to arguments for outside independent adjudicators to be appointed which were ignored. The Investigating Officer has since left RVBC for a more senior job elsewhere.
This report is like presentation of a police report before a criminal court. It deals with the accused person’s explanation in interview but not the defence evidence. It is therefore totally one-sided and can’t offer a balanced view. This report was never considered by the sub-committee or its conclusions tested. There have been no findings and the report remains unconsidered. The complaint should have been dealt with by adjudicators independent of RVBC appointed by the Local Government Association. The lawyers disagreed about this suggestion; my barrister advised it was possible whilst the council’s barrister said not. The matter has not been resolved by judicial review in a court.
When the Accounts and Audit Committee met and decided not to pursue the matter on 24th July 2019, I do not know with what they were provided if they had the full investigators report, rebuttal and 16 statements to consider.
I requested the committee papers dealing with the matter but was refused by the council monitoring officer. As the committee met in camera, I was not allowed to attend so could not make any representations personally or through my solicitors. The complainant Councillor Sue Bibby I am told was present throughout the deliberations. The committee’s decision not to pursue the matter means there is no examination of any evidence. The criticisms of the handling by Council Officers of the complaint, the 20 month delay, the failures of proper investigation, the stopping of the proceedings by the chief executive, the need for independent adjudication and the cost to the council tax payers of the process, will not be aired before a council committee. Time now for review and reform of this chaotic system.
This report was leaked to the Lancashire Evening Telegraph and other news outlets and used as the basis for news reports. The rebuttal and the additional witness statements were not leaked and therefore was not included in the article. A more detailed explanation can be found on my Facebook page, Kenneth H Hind and at http://kenhindbarrister.co.uk/ribble-valley-council-committee-unanmously-decides-not-to-pusue-complaint-against-former-council-leader-ken-hind-in-the-public-interest-the-answer-to-the-complaint-the-public-need-to-know/
The arguments countering the investigating officers’ conclusions simply put are that there was no breach of any principles in public life dealing with each in turn:
Category 1 – Appointment of Planning Chairman
The Leader of the Conservative Councillors Group makes the political decision to appoint party spokesmen who he nominates the Full Council as Chairmen of Committees when in control. The full Council then votes to appoint or reject the nominees. It is the Councillors, not the Leader, who make the appointment. In this case the Councillors voted without dissent to appoint 4 new Chairmen including my nomination of Councillor Alison Brown as Planning Chairman in May 2017 and again in May 2018. The Councillors have done so again in May 2019 when she was nominated by my successor. The Leader of the majority Council Group has full discretion as to whom he/she nominates and considers each on merit. Due to the length of time the Core Strategy/Borough Development Plan took to be finalised, the excessive house building in the Ribble Valley, the need to improve infrastructure, reorganise the planning department, appoint a new planning director, I considered a new Chairman was needed. This view was shared by many in the Conservative Councillors group who were consulted. Of particular concern was the officer’s proposal to reject the planning application for Holmes Mill. With Cllr Sue Bibby in the chair, councillors rejected the officer’s view and approved Holmes Mill.
The nomination of Planning Chairman was done on merit in the best interests of Borough residents. The Investigating Officer merely substituted her view for mine rather than looking properly at the procedure. When the Accounts and Audit Committee reviewed the case on the 24th July 2019 they knew that the Full Council appoints the Chairmen of Committees not the Council Leader as they themselves had appointed the present planning chairman at Full Council in May 2019.
Category 2 – Failure to support appointment of new Planning Director
Cllr Sue Bibby did not support the Conservative Councillor’s agreed position on the appointment of a Planning and Economic Development Director to lead a re-organised planning department when it came before the Policy and Finance Committee for approval. Under the Conservative Councillors Group rules if a Councillor does not wish to support an agreed position of the Group for conscience or ward interest reasons, the Group Leader or Chief Whip has to be notified as the proposal could be lost in committee. In this case Cllr Sue Bibby did not notify either the Leader or Chief Whip. However, in the interests of unity of the group I did absolutely nothing about this and no report went to the Conservative Councillor’s group for them to take any disciplinary measures. The Chief Whip made a statement to rebut the conclusions of the Investigating Officer which was one of the statements submitted to the sub- committee.
Category 3 – Creation of a Dementia Friendly Council
It was very important to establish the Council as dementia friendly and but was a dispute between the RVBC Chairman of Health and Housing Committee and the Chairman of Ribble Valley Dementia Action Alliance as to who led this process with which I had to deal as Leader. I investigated the matter, discovered the Council had not recognised RVDAA nor approved officer support for it due to the failure of officers to bring the matter to committee. I recommended to the Health and Housing Committee that Cllr Sue Bibby should sit on a working group to establish how the council becomes dementia friendly. I proposed in the working group a solution divided into 2 parts. In the community the Council would form a partnership with the RVDAA, work with them and formally approve officer support for this. Internally in the Council the Health and Housing Committee would direct Officers to deal with training of staff organised by HR. This was supported by all members of the Working Group, including Councillor Sue Bibby, ratified by the Health and Housing Committee and approved by Full Council.
I contacted the Alzheimers Society for advice and during the process, met with senior committee members of the RVDAA who I reassured that the Council would support them and work with them in partnership, the seriousness of our intentions to become Dementia Friendly, the fact the Council did not want to takeover the RVDAA and did not criticise Cllr Sue Bibby. In no way was she undermined and is still RVDAA chairman today but in a much stronger position. All the people who could offer evidence about this were not spoken to by the Investigating Officer. Statements and comments were gathered and then submitted to the sub- committee to rebut these erroneous conclusions made by the Investigating Officer.