Police probe South Ribble Council leader for alleged failure to declare business interests

South Ribble council leader 
Margaret Smith
South Ribble council leader Margaret Smith
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THE leader of South Ribble Council is being investigated by police and her own staff over allegations she failed to declare business interests.

Coun Margaret Smith was registered with Companies House as the company secretary for five family-owned companies between October 2012 until she resigned from all five on June 17 this year – a week after complaints regarding her potential involvement were first raised.

She has not disclosed her position in any of the businesses on her current council declaration of interest form – but claims she didn’t realise she was still listed because of an accounting error.

Now a complaint has been made to Lancashire Police and to the council’s own monitoring officer to establish whether any crime or impropriety has taken place.

Four of the five companies are classified as dormant, but one, Cuerden Motors Ltd, in Ribbleton Lane, Preston, is actively trading.

Councillor Phil Smith, Coun Smith’s husband, and chairman of the local Conservative group, spoke on her behalf because she was ill.

He said: “I was chairman and managing director of Cuerden Motors, then in 2007, before I became a councillor, I sold my interest in the company.

“On that basis, I was removed from the records and Margaret should have been taken off too because since then she had not had any interests in that company.

“It was an accountancy function we thought had been done and we were not aware her name was still listed.

“Margaret has never had any financial interest in any of the companies.”

A complaint was made on June 10 about Coun Smith’s alleged involvement in the companies to the council’s monitoring officer by the father of a profoundly autistic boy who is angry a taxi driver had his licence renewed by the council despite two convictions for assault on his son.

He is now calling for a motion of no confidence to be made in Coun Mrs Smith as leader.

A spokesman for Lancashire Constabulary said they were looking into the matter, but was not prepared to offer any further details about the nature of the investigation.

A spokesman for South Ribble Council said: “We are aware of the complaint and will be looking into the matter.”

And Coun Paul Foster, leader of the Labour opposition on the council, said they were “very serious allegations.” He added: “As far as we are concerned they are being dealt with by the council and the police.”

According to guidance from the Department for Communities and Local Government, it is a criminal offence if, without a reasonable excuse, a councillor fails to tell the monitoring officer about their disclosable pecuniary (financial) interests, either for inclusion on the register or when they become aware of a disclosable pecuniary interest which is not recorded in the register but which relates to any matter.

It is also a criminal offence to knowingly or recklessly provide false or misleading information, or to participate in the business of your authority where that business involves a disclosable pecuniary interest.

If found guilty of such a criminal offence, a person can be fined up to £5,000 and disqualified from holding office as a councillor for up to five years.

Coun Smith claims she had no financial interest in any of the companies from which she resigned.