Councillors voted to change the procedure involved in investigating complaints against its own councillors following a heated debate.
At a special meeting of Ribble Valley Borough Council’s Accounts and Audit Committee, tempers flared as committee members approved the changes.
The move, which prompted a backlash from opposition councillors who have threatened to overturn the decision, follows a live complaint against the leader of the council, Coun. Ken Hind, and members’ help had been sought to help conclude this matter.
Speaking at the meeting on Wednesday evening, Coun. Hind said: “I have not at any time refused to comply with the disciplinary procedure or interfered, quite the contrary, I have complied with it, but requested officers within the procedure to make it fair, independent and impartial, requesting adjudication from outside the council. RVBC is a small council and its policy prevents independent scrutiny of this complaint and the system is confused, uncertain and need of reform.”
The Localism Act of 2011 changed the way councils dealt with complaints about councillors’ conduct. It placed the onus on local authorities to put in place arrangements for dealing with complaints against councillors under a local code of conduct.
Since RVBC adopted the new arrangements, there have been five complaints and, whilst none have got to the hearing stage, they have all been dealt with using the council’s arrangements established under The Localism Act of 2011.
Tory councillor, Jan Alcock, recommended the council’s complaint’s procedure be altered immediately. She said: “I recommend maintaining the high standards of conduct for all council members, as is preserving the council’s reputation for impartiality and fairness; appoint a monitoring officer from another local authority to review the complaint; appoint three Conservative councillors from other authorities to adjudicate on this complaint; request independent person, Ian Taylor to give his advice and following the conclusion, conduct a review and revision of the complaints procedure against councillors.”
The motion was carried by five votes (in favour) to three against.
Speaking after the meeting Liberal Democrat councillor, Allan Knox, slammed the decision. He said: “As a barrister, the Tory leader of the council, Coun. Hind, should know that a defendant does not get to choose his own jury. I will be working with councillors of all parties to get the decision called in and overturned at the next full council.”
Whalley Coun. Terry Hill, leader of the breakaway Democratic Conservative Party, issued a statement after the meeting, calling the decision “a disgrace”. He added: “It is a total disgrace and the Conservatives involved should be totally ashamed of their actions. This badly flawed decision will be called in for review by Full Council where hopefully it will be overturned.”