A DAMNING review into the handling of a taxi licensing investigation at South Ribble Borough Council found “weak political and senior management leadership”.

The draft report, produced by a special task group made up of members of the council’s scrutiny committee, contains 16 recommendations that will be discussed at their next meeting on Tuesday, September 20.

The group was asked to undertake a full and thorough review of how the council had handled the external investigation and identify areas for improvement.

The 210-page internal report looks into the council’s response to alleged child sexual exploitation of passengers by taxi drivers and breakdowns in licence procedures.

Former chief executive Mike Nuttall and ex-leader of the council Margaret Smith have both left their posts in the wake of the scandal.

Two licensing officers have been suspended by the authority since last December.

The author of the report, Councillor Mick Titherington, also slammed some councillors and officers for their reluctance to engage with the process of investigation.

He noted a “major corporate governance failure” in failing to comply with the council’s own safeguarding policies.

The decision to engage solicitors to carry out an initial investigation was also criticised.

That report was leaked, causing major embarrassment for the council.

It was noted that this report “should not have been kept secret”.

Councillor Mick Titherington, chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, said: “There is no doubt that this has been an extremely challenging exercise, and this report is the result of a lot of hard work undertaken by the members of the task group who were determined to establish the full facts.

“While it may prove uncomfortable reading for some, it is important that the Task Group was able to unravel the sequence of events and produce an evidence-based report for the council to learn valuable lessons and move forward in a positive way.

“The findings in the report are all based on evidence collated throughout the review, which was supported by a highly qualified independent expert - well versed in dealing with these issues and ensuring that investigations like this one are done right and to an extremely high standard.”

The Scrutiny Committee is made up of elected councillors who are tasked with examining decisions made by the council’s Cabinet, committees and officers operating under delegated powers.

It also monitors the council’s performance against aims set out in the corporate plan as well as scrutinising other external organisations to consider issues of local concern.

Councillor Titherington added: “Scrutiny plays a vital role in holding the Cabinet to account on behalf of our residents – it is a job we take extremely seriously.

“It’s now important that our findings and recommendations are taken on board and implemented at the earliest opportunity to help re-build South Ribble’s reputation as an excellent council delivering first class services across the borough.”

The report will be presented to the Scrutiny Committee when they meet next week on Tuesday, September 20.

The meeting will start at 6pm at the Civic Centre, in West Paddock, Leyland, with residents welcome to attend.

It will then be debated at the next full council meeting, on Wednesday October 5. Again, this meeting is open to members of the public.