Labour councillors have repeatedly raised concerns about bullying and the culture at Cheshire East Council. The Conservatives have repeatedly fobbed off these concerns and referred to them as legacy issues. Now that an independent review has confirmed that there is a problem with bullying and the culture at Cheshire East Council the Conservatives have changed tack and are claiming that they are working to address the problems. However, the same people who covered up the problems before are still in post. The Conservatives have made no changes in senior positions and no Conservative has admitted any wrongdoing.
In December 2015 Labour councillors tabled a formal motion at Cheshire East Council calling for an external investigation into allegations of bullying at the council, but the Conservatives rejected the suggestion.
In July 2017 Labour councillors raised concerns about bullying at the Cheshire East Council Staffing Committee. At that meeting the Conservative Chair of the Staffing Committee insisted that the issue of the culture at the Council had been addressed at a previous Cabinet meeting and when a member of the committee proposed that a task & finish group be formed to look into allegations of bullying and to speak people who were too frightened to speak out, the Chair quickly moved the discussion on. When the councillor insisted that he had made a proposal, the proposal was quickly seconded by Cllr Janet Jackson. However, the Conservative chair refused to accept the proposal as it was ‘not specific enough’.
The Conservative Leader of the Council then intervened to correct the councillor for saying that there were ongoing issues, insisting that matters were being dealt with in a professional, confidential and systematic manner.
At the July 2017 meeting Labour councillors said that sanctions were taken against those raising concerns. The Conservative Chair of the Staffing Committee insisted that such matters should be taken up through line management. When asked “What if the problem is the line manager”, he responded “Take it to the next level”. Given this complete lack of understanding of the fear of staff for their careers, it is little wonder that the bullying problems remained and the independent review found that, “Some people are so scarred by what’s happened to them or others that they remain afraid to put their head above the parapet.”
How can staff have any confidence about bringing forward concerns when the people and structures in place are the same people and structures that were in place before?
Cllr Sam Corcoran, Labour Group Leader, said, “The July 2017 meeting of the Staffing Committee was a masterclass in how to obstruct and procrastinate. The actions of the Staffing Committee have been shown to be woefully inadequate. The Conservatives failed take effective action to tackle bullying and have let down the staff. We now know that the Conservative Chair of the Staffing Committee knew about very serious allegations of bullying in July 2017, but withheld that information and thwarted the proposals put forward to investigate problems. How can staff have any confidence that things have changed at Cheshire East Council when those who abjectly fail to deal with bullying continue in post?”