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