Councillor Barrie Yates calls for the Local Government Ombudsman to look at South Ribble Borough Council councillor discipline procedures and stop Labour Councillors making complaints to undermine Conservatives Councillors and blunt scrutiny and critcism of Labour ruling group decisions.
Statement From Barrie Yates
I have on advice made a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman about the way I was treated as a whisteblower by South Ribble Borough Council Labour Councillors and council officials,
My complaint is that in dealing with my case the discipline procedure of SRBC was flawed, unfair, biased, not independent nor objective amounting to maladministration.
The complaint arose from an objection I made concerning 3 Town Councillors on Penwortham Town Council who were also Councillors sitting on the South Ribble Borough Council Planning Committee. An application for planning consent came before the Committee made by Penwortham Town Council. In the committee 2 of these Town Councillors: Councillor Flannery (Labour) and Councillor Adams ( Labour) proposed and seconded acceptance of this planning application made by the Penwortham Town Council without declaring an interest and taking no part in the vote as required by the SRBC code of conduct. I suggested they should declare an interest and take no part as it was contrary to the Code of Conduct of SRBC Councillors. I was correct regarding this matter. The council officer advising the committee gave wrong advice on this point. One of the 3 Councillors, Liberal Democrat Councillor Hancock correctly declared an interest and withdrew. He subsequently has made no complaint against me.Councillor Adams eventually declared an interest but voted for his Town Council to get planning consent.
The Deputy Leader of the controlling Labour Group Councillor Titherington made a complaint against me and an Investigating Officer was appointed to prepare a report, consult with the Independent Persons and Monitoring Officer. Before any confidential enquiry took place or any of these things happened, a motion was proposed in Full Council on the 27th January 2021 to remove me from the planning committee. All the controlling group of Councillors, Labour and Liberal Democrats voted to remove me. The motion was carried. I was accused, tried, convicted and sentenced, ignoring the proper discipline procedures of the Council and without the chance to properly put my case.
A Standards Committee was then appointed which was made up of 3 Labour,1 Lib Dem (who did not attend) and 3 Conservatives, one of whom also did not attend. In the Standards Committee which was recorded and in part 1 my counsel argued that following the Full Council vote the issue had been predetermined in Law by the committee and it was impossible for me to have a fair, independent unbiased and objective hearing of the complaint. I had already proposed it should be dealt with by an outside body like the Local Governmentt Association. All 3 Labour Councillors on the Committee had already found me guilty in the debate in Full Council and removed me from the Planning Committee, a power the Standards Committee did not have. I was put in double jeopardy tried and convicted twice.
The Chairman of the Standards Committee Councillor Wooldridge (Labour) was also a member of the Penwortham Town Council and Labour Council colleague with the Councillors who I had asked to declare an interest and withdraw. She was requested by counsel to declare an interest and withdraw from the proceedings but refused to do so.
Opposition Councillors have to be able to hold the Labour controlling administration to account particularly when the Chief Executive sacked by the Labour administrtaion is suing the Council over the way she was treated. In addition the independent auditors have severely criticised the management of the Council finances and governance of its services. Many of the Council's services are being merged with Labour controlled Chorley in such a way to raise the question, "Is South Ribble Council losing its independence?"
I am not the only Conservative councillor who has been subject to complaints from Labour councillors. The question has to be asked "Is this a deliberate policy to silence critical opposition councillors who are merely doing their job by holding the administration to proper public account and scrutiny?" This will be a matter for the Local Government Ombudsman, a fully independent outside body to judge the Council's procedure.
Note to Editors
Quote from Mr Stocks independent auditor of SRBC
“I have rarely seen this in my career – where there has been such a fundamental breakdown not only in the governance arrangements of the council, but also in its service performance and…control environment,”