All the latest from SRBC

The BBB in the dock!

The leader of South Ribble Borough Council is accusing the editor of the Bamber Bridge Bulletin of  ‘A misrepresentation of the position of this council on local government reorganisation’  and is demanding that a retraction must be made with veiled threats if we fail to comply.                                The basis of this accusation centres around an article that appeared in the Community News, a magazine that we publish in the BBB by kind permission of the editor, Barrie Yates.                              The article in question, among other issues, concerns SRBC’s standing with regards to the council moving from the current two-tier system of local government into a unitary authority along with the councils of Chorley and West Lancs.                                                                                                              The article in the CN (to be seen on page 1b of the BBB) indicates that SRBC appear to be in favour of being part of a unitary authority. This information had been gathered from a letter sent to central government by the leader of SRBC (letter 2 - see below). However, the leader claims that this is not true and that the council prefers to stay with the current system. He bases this claim on an entirely different letter (letter 1 - see below), sent to the leader of the Lancashire County Council, which does indeed appear to support his claim of maintaining the status quo.                                                              So we have, what we at the BBB have called, ‘A Tale of Two Letters’. Now let’s turn to the offending sentence published on the first page of the CN. The line in question states:-                                Hopefully, a letter sent to government’ , which clearly identifies a reference to the contents of letter 2, where support is clearly given to being part of a unitary authority, which is exactly what the CN author has written.                                                                                                                                            So based on this clear and unequivocal evidence, how can SRBC accuse the BBB of                              ‘A misrepresentation of the position of this council on local government reorganisation’.              
The BBB also find it strange that the accusation is directed to our publication and not to the original source of the statement, the CN. We have long had a disclaimer in the BBB that any third-party letters or articles are published on the understanding that, ‘The views, comments and articles forwarded and expressed by third parties on this and all other pages are not necessarily the views of the BBB, who accept no responsibility for any inaccuracies or misinformation inadvertently published.’                                                                                                                                 We also find it odd that on the evidence of the two letters it appears that SRBC cannot decide which system to follow. I think we will leave it to our readers to decide. All we are confident of is that the article in the CN and also published in the BBB is based on fact and can therefore not be construed as:- ‘A misrepresentation of the position of this council on local government reorganisation’.         In the course of our communications with SRBC we asked two pertinent questions as follows.          '(1) Do you accept or deny that there is a letter, signed by the council leader, supporting the formation of a unitary authority? (2) Do you accept or deny that this is the letter that CN was referring to in the statement that was published in the CN?'  The response that we received was as follows. ‘I acknowledge that the letter you refer to was sent and that it was referred to in the Community News article. This has never been at issue or denied. However, by failing to print the context of the letter, and by referencing it as the councils position on local government reorganisation, the article is misleading’. We presume that ‘context of the letter’ meant the whole letter. However, you will see that we have displayed the whole letter and nowhere in it does it state that this is a preferred arrangement only if we must move from the current two-tier system of local government. If it did then the complaint would be valid – but it doesn’t! Therefore the CN, taking the letter at face value, has printed nothing incorrect or potentially libellous. This is our assessment on this sorry situation.                                                                                                                                         After reading the two letters I would like our readers to draw their own conclusions. Are SRBC correct in their statement that the article in the CN is a ‘A misrepresentation of the position of this council on local government reorganisation’ ? Or have CN published an accurate account based on the content of letter 2? You decide and let us know your views!.
However, It is only right and proper that the SRBC be given the opportunity to respond to our assessment and that invitation is cordially tendered. Any response we receive from SRBC will be published in full at our next update.

                                                           Letter 1



                                                         Letter 2


Follow up report

We have received a number of communications from our readers regarding the validity of the statement published in the Community News and the BBB. We also received the following statement from SRBC:-

'The recent article in the Community News and subsequently published in the Bamber Bridge Bulletin, inferred that South Ribble Borough Council had written to the Government asking to be joined together with Chorley and West Lancashire Councils as a Central Lancashire unitary authority. While a letter had been drafted to that effect it was in the context of a wider proposal for the county being submitted to the Government by the county council, which proposed that South Ribble joined with Preston, Chorley, and West Lancashire.                                                                       The council’s position is that it would prefer to retain its own identity under a reformed system of local government in Lancashire. But if the creation of a number of unitary councils was to be imposed on Lancashire the preference would be to join with Chorley and West Lancs.'

In respect of the above response from SRBC, we accept that the Council’s future preference is to retain its own identity. What a pity then that the letter from which the alleged inaccurate statement, as published in the Community News was taken, did not make that clear.                                               In reading the letter to the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP in isolation, only one conclusion could be made; that SRBC wished to form a unitary authority with Chorley and West Lancashire with no other considerations mentioned - and that content is exactly what the Community News based their article on.                                                                                                                                                             We are naturally disappointed that SRBC found it necessary to admonish both the Community News and the BBB for publishing the article, rightly taken from a letter that could have been more enlightening to SRBC’s preferences in respect of their position in local government.                           An apology would be nice both to the BBB and the CN -  but we are certainly not holding our breath.
We do not intend to publish in full the many communications from our readers. Suffice it to say that the theme running through the majority of responses implies that instead of all the apparent political infighting, SRBC should be getting on with the business they were elected to carry out, with at least three references to the long-awaited publication of the independent inquiry as to the initial purchase of the McKenzie Arms. A promise made in the Lancashire Post  by the leader of the council some time ago (see article below). We are aware that the report has been released to SRBC, yet the longer that this is held back it can only make the public believe that there is something to hide.
If a commitment to make this report public is not made soon, our editor will look into the possibility of obtaining the information through the Freedom of Information Act which states that:-   

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities.
It does this in two ways:
(1) Public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities.
(2) Members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.

SRBC – The ball is in your court!

As we have heard nothing back from SRBC, A 'Freedom of Information' request has been sent to Mr Chris Moister, the Director of Governance for SRBC. Keep an eye on this page for the response.

No meaningful response as yet. I think our request is being passed around the various council offices in the hope that we may forget about our request. I can assure our readers that there is a bigger chance of Council Tax being reduced by 50% than letting this issue go!

Newsflash - 12/04/21

It appears that our article has been read by someone higher up the tree in political circles. It is possible therefore that his involvement may help in the release of the report for public viewing. Time will tell

Page 1f