Shaftesbury Town Council Infighting

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In July 2007, a report was published on the performance of local Community Partnerships (link to a sizeable PDF file), commissioned by Dorset Community Action and compiled by Jeff Bishop. The report (which was largely complimentary) drew attention to the negative impact of the relationship between two 'factions' on Shaftesbury Town Council. Bishop noted that 'the situation now appears to revolve mainly around two particular individuals and their related supporters or 'factions' and around the relationships between three organisations (Task Force, Swans Trust and Town Council) in which those people and supporters are active.'

He comments that the drama 'seems to play itself out in all possible settings: at Board meetings, at consultation events, at Theme Group meetings, beyond the Task Force, in Town Council meetings and on the pages of the local media.'

Bishop doesn't name the individuals but they are Richard Thomas, immediate past Chairman of Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce and Lester Dibben Chairman of the Shaftesbury Task Force.

A detailed history of this friction is beyond the scope of the present article (and indeed any future NDN coverage), but Bishop noted that it was well known and viewed somewhat wearily by the community. One of the most serious episodes seems to have been the famous Shaftesbury web site wars (see Graham Jones' blog for a partial but nevertheless disturbing account).

In April 2007 Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce passed a vote of no confidence in the Task Force. The Town Council is asking for more transparency from the Task Force's accounts. And a series of reciprocal allegations have been made between Thomas and Dibben.

The Western Gazette (8 November 2007) reports breaches by Thomas of Code of Conduct standards and his subsequent suspension for six weeks by NDDC's Standards Committee for what hardly seems to be a hanging offence. The allegations against Dibben will be heard shortly.

Bishop notes (in sorrow) that the two men are 'patently committed and offer immense experience and skill'. NDDC had, prior to their Standards Committee decision, arranged a conciliation process.

Richard Thomas' statement following the suspension is given in full here.

NDN hopes the truth will out, whatever it is.