Councils to meet over “cover up” claims

South Ribble Council offices
South Ribble Council offices
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South Ribble Council has been rocked by another crisis, this time involving services it shares with neighbours Chorley.

The troubled authority has been accused by some of its own councillors of attempting to cover up an independent report into the case of a member of staff alleged to have been treated disrespectfully by a senior officer.

South Ribble Labour leader Coun Paul Foster

South Ribble Labour leader Coun Paul Foster

The latest upset follows on from a number of high profile embarrassments including the much-publicised taxi licensing scandal and bitter in-fighting within the ruling Conservative group.

Now both councils are expected to hold an emergency meeting to discuss an issue which could put at risk an agreement to share staff and services which has been operating successfully for the past 10 years.

An inquiry was launched after the unnamed senior member of staff who works for both authorities complained about treatment at the hands of a high ranking officer at South Ribble.

An independent investigator from the Local Government Association compiled a report which it is believed only a handful of senior councillors at South Ribble were allowed to see.

The report was leaked to the BBC this week. It is understood that while the inquiry found no evidence of bullying, it did conclude there had been some “unacceptable behaviour” by the senior officer.

Coun Paul Foster, Labour leader at South Ribble, said he felt there had been a “cover up” to keep the report under wraps.

As a result the shared services committee is expected to be convened in the next few days to discuss the report and talk about the wider relationship between the two councils.

“We are in the process of trying to arrange an emergency meeting,” he said. “We need to re-establish the baseline and re-establish the trust between our two councils. It is really important that we do that.

“I’m appalled at the way this has all come out. It wouldn’t have come to this had the Conservative administration at South Ribble dealt with this in the proper manner instead of trying to hide this away.

“I gather this report has been with South Ribble Council for about four weeks, yet I haven’t seen it and neither have most other councillors.

“It is no coincidence that this comes when the Tory administration is in turmoil. We are all fed up with it, sick to the back teeth of crisis after crisis.”

Council leader Peter Mullineaux said: “It’s fair to say that the council has experienced challenging times over recent years, but we are working extremely hard to transform the authority to make it the best council in the country.

“Under the leadership of our new Chief Executive, we are making great strides and the improvements were recognised by the Local Government Association as part of a recent visit by LGA Peers.

“As a council, any complaint we receive is always dealt with and investigated in a robust and extremely thorough manner in-line with our strict policies and procedures.

“While it wouldn’t be right to comment on any specifics contained within the leaked report, I’d like to stress that this matter was investigated independently, and we also sought external legal advice to ensure that we dealt with the report in the most appropriate way.”