There has been a series of press releases issued by Cheshire East Council's Communications Team in recent days that paint a very rosy picture of things at the Council at the moment.
However, in the interest of balance it must be pointed out that there are currently no less than FIVE ongoing formal police investigations into matters at Cheshire East Council.
Also, the Council's Chief Executive Officer, the Head of Legal Services and senior officers responsible for air quality monitoring at the Council are all currently suspended.
Cllr Laura Jeuda, Labour Councillor for Macclesfield South said “I am very concerned that it appears the Council's Communications Team is being used to try and distract residents from the chaos in Cheshire East Conservative Group.”
Cllr Dorothy Flude, Labour Councillor for Crewe South said; “No amount of window dressing and pretty photographs can hide what is frankly an appalling situation currently at Cheshire East Council, where long-suffering staff continue to deliver public services whilst some in positions of authority are clearly not up to the task of running a large complex organisation.”
Sam Corcoran, Labour Group Leader said, “Conservative controlled Cheshire East Council has been lurching from crisis to crisis since its formation 9 years ago. The Conservative Leader recently denied that the Council was spiralling out of control.
However, there are now FIVE ongoing police investigations spiralling around Conservative controlled Cheshire East Council:
1) CoreFit where contracts were awarded to the former Conservative Leader's personal physiotherapist's company
2) the deliberate and systematic manipulation of air quality data
3) the granting of £70,000 to Berkeley Primary Academy, where (allegedly) a
Conservative Councillor promised the money to the school despite it not being in accordance with policy
4) land acquisitions
5) Vile and intimidating hate mail received by two Conservative councillors who spoke out against ‘unsafe’ walking routes to school and the Council not complying with National Minimum Wage legislation.
In addition to the police investigations there are clear signs of unpleasant infighting within the Conservatives. Michael Jones, the former Conservative Leader who stepped down quoting ‘Blue on Blue attacks’ has now left the Conservative group completely.
Cllr David Brown has been ‘stepped down’ as Deputy Leader of the Council and asked at a recent Staffing Committee what help there was for councillors being bullied.
Cllr Peter Groves stepped down as Cabinet Member for Finance to protect his reputation (not to protect the reputation of the Council).
The chief executive, head of legal and head of finance are all suspended from their roles. The temporary Head of Finance alone is costing the Council £10,000 a month. In case any one believes the Conservative claim that all the Council's problems are 'legacy' matters, in September the Council admitted that it was breaching the National Minimum Wage legislation, that about 160 people were affected and would be awarded backpay going back 2 years totalling roughly £200,000. Emails obtained by Labour Councillors show that the Council knew in 2014 that the NMW legislation was being broken.
Another recent example of problems at the Council is an employee putting a knife to his own throat at work earlier this year, shouting 'Is this what you want...'. Despite widespread concerns about bullying being raised at the staffing committee, the Conservative Chair of the staffing committee didn't even tell his own committee about the incident. Then to compound his errors he abused his position as chair to make a personal statement, trying to vindicate himself, during a staffing committee meeting and publicly stated the office in which the knife incident had occurred, thereby increasing the risk of identifying the staff members affected.
There have been calls for Cheshire East Council to be put into Special Measures. Even Conservative MP for Tatton Esther McVey has written to the Secretary of State asking him to look at the Council. A Sandbach resident has started a petition about Cheshire East Council https://www.change.org/p/sajid-javid-launch-an-independent-enquiry-into-air-quality-data-falsification-by-cheshire-east-council
In fact the only local MP to have come out in support of the beleaguered Council is Fiona Bruce MP for Congleton who praised the ‘principled and professional manner’ in which the Conservative Council Leader ‘has addressed and planned to resolve past problems’.
The Labour Group does not believe that the local Conservatives have the competence to solve the problems at the Council and has been calling since March for an external investigation into the culture at the Council and the allegations of bullying. Conservative controlled Cheshire East Council has now finally agreed to a review by the Local Government Association.
The Labour councillors on Cheshire East Council have been active in putting forward positive proposals as well as highlighting Conservative failings. Here is a sample of the issues we have been working on:
- Pressing for stronger controls on Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) – reporting HMO’s and issues around rented properties. Pressing for a compulsory landlord registration scheme.
- Working with the Save Our Buses Campaign following Conservative proposals to reduce bus subsidies by 40%
- Retaining Children’s Centres and Mental Health Facilities in the Borough - Working with Community Groups on relevant campaigns.
- Fly tipping and litter
- Parking in urban areas on grass verges – funding for the pilot projects to be extended to other areas.
- Highways Maintenance and Repair – Question how funding is allocated and grants sought for road upgrades and repair.
- Air Quality – Checking the progress of suggested Air Quality Management Areas and Air Quality Action Plans as well as following the unfolding saga of who manipulated the figures.
- Social/Council Housing – monitor the provision of Social Housing.
- School Parking – Campaigning for providing schools with drop off points on a rolling programme. Other measures to lessen the number of parents who use cars to take children to school as outlined in the working group report.
- Social Care- Keep a check on the quality of care by checking reports to Committees. Reporting on the stream of private care homes being judged as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’.“