Ribble Valley Borough Council Accounts and Audit Committee decided unanimously after 20 months not to investigate a complaint against Ken Hind former Ribble Valley Council Leader as it was not in the public interest.
Ken Hind commented ‘’The complaint was made by Councillor Sue Bibby, former Planning Committee Chairman that I was dishonest, lacked leadership, integrity, openness, objectivity, veracity and had bullied her as I did not nominate her as planning chairman. She failed to recognise that Council leaders recommend to the Full Council annually nominees for chairmanship and all councillors vote in Full Council to approve those nominations. Full Council voted to appoint Councillor Alison Brown who I nominated for the post as Planning Chairman in May 2017 and again in May 2018. There was no debate and no one opposed my recommendation which I made in the public interest. My successor as Leader recommended in May 2019 the same Councillor Allison Brown be reappointed again which the Full Council voted to approve. In May 20017 as Leader I did not nominate 4 of the existing chairmen but only one chose to make any complaint, Sue Bibby. She was certainly not bullied. Councillors should not put their personal ambitions before the community they serve.
As the Leader of the Council I had to put the interests of the community first and that meant nominating the best people to carry important functions for the benefit of the public. If I was placed in the same position again I would make the same decision – in the public interest.
My reasons for recommending Dr Allison Brown as Chairman of Planning was due to the major disquiet amongst the public that too many houses were being built in the Ribble Valley and there was a need for a more vigorous infrastructure policy. In addition the planning department needed reorganising with the appointment of a qualified planning and economic development director to head it. A 5 year review of the Borough’s Development Plan covering all aspects of planning including housing was due to start. There was a need to create an Economic Development Committee to drive the local economy and formulate a plan for business and job creation for the Borough particularly covering our town centres: Clitheroe, Whalley and Longridge.
Following consultation with a number of my fellow Conservative councillors we felt that Sue Bibby did not enjoy the confidence of a large number of the Conservative Councillors in our group. The last straw which convinced me that there was a need for a fresh approach from a new planning chairman was when the Planning Committee was faced with a recommendation from planning officers to reject the development of Holmes Mill in Clitheroe. Councillor Sue Bibby was in the chair supporting the planning officer’s view but fortunately the majority of Borough Councillors on the planning committee rejected their view and subsequently approved the development which now consists of a brewery, hotel, restaurants, bars, live performance areas, shops, hairdresser and offices. All these facilities will soon be added to by a gym complex and Everyman Cinema with 4 screens. This is the most important commercial development in Clitheroe for 30 years resulting in the creation of over 200 jobs and helped to rejuvenate part of Clitheroe. This will be complemented in the near future by the adjacent creation of the council supported wildlife park at Primrose Lodge by Ribble Rivers Trust.
When it came to a vote on the appointment of the new Planning and Economic Development Director Councillor Sue Bibby did not support the agreed Conservative Councillors Group view. Despite the fact she was in breach of our rules by failing to tell the Chief Whip of her disagreement, we took no action against her. Her refusal to support this essential policy reinforced my view that the appointment of Councillor Brown was correct.
After May 2017 the team of Chairmen appointed by the Council along with our fellow Conservative councillors delivered the management reorganisation, a new planning director, a new Economic Development committee, refocusing RVBC policy to drive the local economy. They also rejected participation in the Lancashire Combined Authority. We all recognised that being the Chairman of a Council Committee is not a job with employment rights, but a public appointment. It is a privilege to serve the people of the Ribble Valley and we all recognised this as well as the need to work as a team in their interests. There is no ‘I’ in team.
There were only 7 people who had the complaint papers including myself, Sue Bibby, 2 council officers and 3 councillors who were appointed to examine the complaint, which included the Leader of the Lib Dem Opposition Allan Knox. One of these chose to either leak or pass the complaint papers to someone who then passed part of them to the press which only gave the press Councillor Sue Bibby’s complaint against me and does not, I believe, include any of my responses. This led to attacks on social media by trolls, keyboard warriors and political opponents who did not know the details. I was reported to the police by an anonymous person. For what I do not know, the police dismissed it without even requesting me to attend for an interview. I have asked the Chief Constable for the name of the complainant and details of the dismissed complaint.
It was also reported in the press that I was being investigated by Conservative Central Office. No complaints were sent to me by CCHQ to respond to and quite the contrary I was elected campaign organiser and agent to 59 council candidates in the Ribble Valley and South Ribble Borough Council for the May elections. For the same election I was appraised and selected as a candidate with no opposition from CCHQ.
Out of respect for the complaints procedure I made no comment on the issues in the complaint despite learning for the first time from the press that I was being investigated by the police and CCHQ. As the result of these press accounts my reputation has been rubbished on social media which I believe was a contributory factor in my losing in the local election by 29 votes.
In my initial response to the complaint I pointed to a number of witnesses who could assist in my case, only one of whom was interviewed. In response to the hopelessly inadequate council investigators report I produced a response to the complaint and 16 witness statements and comments in rebuttal of Sue Bibbys allegations. I will publish on my web site this evidence (with the consent of those who made the statements). The public are entitled to know the truth.
In the 20 months it has taken RVBC to resolve this complaint I have been maligned, criticised and abused. My family have suffered huge stress. It illustrates the complaints procedure at local councils, based on the Localism Act 2011 is chaotic, not fit for purpose and unworkable. In a small Council like Ribble Valley, where everyone knows everyone else’s business, there should be provision for independent, objective and unbiased scrutiny of complaints against councillors by assessors independent of RVBC. Within the complaint process, on the advice of solicitors and counsel I argued for impartial independent unbiased fair and objective adjudication by independent assessors appointed by the Local Government Association. The RVBC, unlike councils elsewhere in this country, has no specific procedure for dealing with complaints made by councillor against councillor.
The complaints procedure has resulted in my case in delay, maladministration, a failure to properly investigate the complaint and inappropriate interference from officers. All this needs looking into by councillors themselves and is now subject to complaints for them to consider. One of my last acts as Leader of the Council along with other councillors was to instruct the Chief Executive to bring forward a reformed procedure to deal with complaints against councillors; the public are still waiting 9 months down the line.