The Barrow Affair (1): Shropshire leader forced to resign from council company after conflict of interest scandal

It is a press release slipped out with minimum of publicity. Visitors to the Shropshire Council Newsroom website are only greeted with the headline: “Shropshire Council Standards Sub-Committee meeting – 20 November 2015.” That’s a headline designed for boredom. Which is surprising because the news website is run by Three Sixty Communications, a subsidiary of ip&e. Three Sixty has often shown itself to be on the ball when it comes to communication. But ip&e is wholly owned by Shropshire Council. So we shouldn’t be surprised that this headline was written to disguise the leadership crisis that is enveloping the council.

Keith Barrow quietly resigned as a director and chairman of ip&e ten days ago. At that point, he must have been aware that the external auditors had determined that he had failed to declare a conflict of interest when appointing Oswestry based auditors to ip&e.

At the time, Keith’s resignation looked no different to an outsider from the perpetual turnover of ip&e directors. There have been 14 directors appointed since the company was founded in the summer of 2012. Thirteen directors have resigned. Some directors have lasted no more than two months. Keith Barrow was appointed twice and resigned twice. As did former cabinet member Michael Owen.

There are only three directors left now according to Companies House, cabinet member Steve Charmley and two seconded council officers. I have faith in those officers but this is no way to run a company.

ip&e has always been controversial. Some council staff were excited to transfer to the company. They looked forward to breaking free of the dead hand of bureaucracy that pervades much of Shropshire Council. Many more were nervous and anxious to keep their jobs. There is a lot of very good work going on in ip&e. But whether you agree with the council owning a private company or not, I hope you will agree that the people who work in ip&e don’t deserve this chaos.

That chaos is down to the man in charge.

Keith Barrow has long lauded ip&e as the future way of running a council like ours. But, as the standards board said today, he has failed to step up to mark and has shown he cannot work with the integrity expected of a chairman of a publicly owned company. Mr Barrow had failed to declare his personal and business relationship with a director of Oswestry-based D.R.E. & Co, which was appointed accountant and auditor of ip&e.

So for what is the future for Keith Barrow? It is widely known that he applied to be the Conservative candidate for the West Mercia police and crime commissioner. He wasn’t selected. Yet his days as leader of Shropshire Council must now be numbered.

The Shropshire Council press release in full

Members of Shropshire Council’s Standards Sub-Committee (at a meeting today, Friday 20 November 2015) considered the report of the Monitoring Officer regarding the outcome of an investigation into allegations that Councillor Keith Barrow had failed to comply with the Code of Conduct.

They had regard to the acceptance by Councillor Barrow of the findings that he had offended against the principles of Integrity, Honesty and Leadership set out in the Council’s Code of Conduct, and to his proposed apology which had been agreed with the Monitoring Officer in consultation with the Independent Person in the following terms:

“Councillor Keith Barrow apologises to the Council for failing to formally declare a conflict of interest when making a decision at ip&e Ltd.

“An investigation into an allegation about the conduct of Councillor Keith Barrow has concluded that he failed to comply with the Code of Conduct of Shropshire Council by failing to formally disclose a conflict of interest at meetings of the Board of ip&e Ltd.

“Councillor Barrow apologises to the Council for failing to disclose at those Board meetings his personal and business relationship with a director of the company eventually appointed as accountants and auditors of ip&e Ltd. Councillor Barrow accepts with hindsight that he should have formally disclosed the nature and extent of his interest at the meetings and confirms that he will attend training to make sure he is fully aware of his responsibilities on such matters under the Council’s Code of Conduct and to ensure such oversight is avoided in the future.

“Councillor Barrow would also like to add that he has resigned from his position as Director of ip&e Ltd in order to prevent any future risk of such conflicts of interests arising and because it is the right time for the appointment of a Chairman independent of the Council.”

They noted also that the complainant considered the proposed apology to be an acceptable outcome.

Members expressed concern regarding the seriousness of the matters which were highlighted during the investigation. They considered that Councillor Barrow ought to have been aware of the need to disclose his interests in all matters whilst conducting the business of the authority.

In accordance with the Council’s procedure for the resolution of findings of a failure to comply with the Code of Conduct, Members of the Sub-Committee were satisfied that the proposed apology and commitment of Councillor Barrow to undertake training represented a reasonable outcome without the need to hold a formal hearing.

Members considered also that the public interest in maintaining the exemption of the report from public inspection was no longer greater than the public interest in publishing the report. This was considered to be of great importance in order to reassure the public that the matter had been the subject of a detailed and thorough investigation and that the process was open and transparent.

Press Statement

Keith Barrow has been speaking to the Shropshire Star. He said: “This error was a good faith oversight on my part. Neither I nor anyone else benefited from this oversight.”

Other Barrow Affair Posts

The Barrow Affair (2): Shropshire Council’s company ip&e needs reinventing as an innovation hub

The Barrow Affair (3): Auditors of leader’s personal tax return got ip&e contract says standards report

The Barrow Affair (4): Keith Barrow resigns as council leader and councillor

The Barrow Affair (5): The curious case of a ransom strip in Morda

The Barrow Affair (6): Investigation into Barrow costs more than £12K and Shropshire Council is to pay

9 thoughts on “The Barrow Affair (1): Shropshire leader forced to resign from council company after conflict of interest scandal

  1. The evil that men do is olf interred with their bones….In this case the good is hard to find.Sorry Mr Shakespere!

  2. Hi Barry, what university post has he created? I must say I have never come across such a corrupt local authority. I have been dealing with planning issues and there have been so many rules bent in order to suite the various vested interests. This rotten borough should be external investigated.

    1. You should make a formal complaint if rules are bent. Otherwise leave the planning guys alone. They do a great job with the ever decreasing resources available.

      1. Hi Chris,

        I think you may want to investigate recent issues concerning ‘delegated powers’ and the actions taken on certain planning applications. In my view some decisions made have been totally undemocratic and do not comply with their own rules. In terms of a complaint, I am in the system. Unfortunately, some of our LPA supremos have been making decisions that are not in the public interest.

        1. Thanks George. Yes I shall do that. I was part of the system for over 10 years and so am saddened that the planners are accused of acting in this way. The beauty of a complaint is that those complained of have chance to answer the complaints, surely. I appreciate your response. Regards Chris

  3. Chris, I have no problems whatsoever with the foot soldiers – they are usually in the front line, but I do have massive issues with the Senior Planners who try and buck the ‘system’. I have been involved (up to my neck) with Old Oswestry Hillfort. There is clear National Guidance on setting and archaeology (NPPF, chapter 12). Clearly Shropshire Council and Historic England (and the landowners Planner) have gone against this guidance and have behaved disgracefully. The Council and Historic England have put up a number of a barriers and completely ignored professional and academic advice. The result being a total mistrust in the Council, in particular, the way in which Councillor Barrow has behaved recently (who we now know is not to be trusted). The clear message that I am hearing from the people is ‘time for change’; they are here today, gone tomorrow politicians!

  4. Yes. It is about time Barrows left his home made fortress. How far can you go without dropping a huge blob. What is Shropshire council up to. Just looking after a very narrow select community. What about South Shropshire. Thank goodness we have Andy looking in the corners and telling the community what is really going on. No More Secret Meeting and hidden plans. Who is paying your wages. We own you people. ,!!

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