Senior South Ribble Conservatives quit party roles following taxi scandal

South Ribble Council Civic Centre, Leyland
South Ribble Council Civic Centre, Leyland

Two senior members of South Ribble Conservatives have quit their party roles a month after the taxi licensing scandal came to public attention.

At a closed-doors AGM on Monday night, the chief whip, Coun Michael Green and his deputy, Coun Paul Wharton – who were responsible for discipline of members – decided not to stand again for the roles.

Coun John Rainsbury, chairman of licensing, has been elected as chief whip, with Coun Mike Nelson as deputy.

Coun Green said he was unable to commment on the decision to step down from the role he has held for 11 years. Coun Wharton said his decision was due to “personal integrity”.

“I didn’t feel I could fulfill my role effectively under the current leadership.

“I wouldn’t have the support of Margaret Smith (leader) or the members. I’m not sure what is deemed acceptable or not anymore.”

A month ago a secret report into child sexual exploitation by two taxi drivers was leaked to the press. In it the council was criticised for failing to carry out proper background checks. Since then a new probe has been launched into how a cabbie who tied up a disabled boy had his licence renewed.

The council and its leader have been criticised for failing to make the report public. Now senior members of the Labour Party have called for Coun Smith to release the report or resign. They have been supported by Tory Coun Wharton.

He said: “Margaret needs to quickly make the report available to the council and to residents, and if she’s not willing to do that, then she needs to seriously consider her position

“This is a serious safeguarding issue, not a blip as she seems to think.”

Coun Smith retained the vote as leader at the AGM unchalleged. She declined to comment. But her deputy Coun Warren Bennett was voted out.

He said: “It is disappointing in terms of the outstanding issues that the council is currently facing. I have been part of the team pressing for an honest and transparent investigation into what has gone wrong at South Ribble.

“I only hope that those now tasked to complete the process do so in the truthful and open manner that has always been the intention.”