At the Cheshire East Council meeting on 14 December a qualified trading standards officer, formerly employed by the Council, used public speaking time to raise concerns about the terms of reference of the recently completed cultural review of the Council by the Local Government association (‘LGA’)
The terms of reference prevented anyone who had left the Council more than 6 months ago from giving evidence. Rob Edwardson said that he had wanted to give evidence to the cultural review but was refused because he left the Council just over 6 months ago. Several other significant witnesses were also prevented from giving evidence including the former Head of Internal Audit at the Council.
Labour Councillors have also expressed their concerns about the handling of bullying allegations, including criticism of the Chair of the Council’s Staffing Committee, who knew about an incident when a Council employee held a knife to their throat at work and shouted “Is this what you want …” and named the person who was allegedly bullying them. Despite knowing about the incident when Labour councillors were raising concerns about bullying, the Chair of the Staffing Committee did not share this information with other members of the committee and does not appear to have taken any meaningful action.
At the Council meeting Cllr Brian Roberts asked,
“At the end of the Staffing Committee meeting on 26 October, the Chair made a statement denying that he sat on issues of bullying and covered up a serious incident involving knife. Could the Leader clarify when she became aware of the knife incident and given that she has said that the incident is outside the terms of reference of the Staffing Committee could she clarify what the Chair of the Staffing Committee did about the knife incident (if he didn’t cover it up) and if he didn’t sit on issues of bullying could she clarify what he did do?”
In response the Conservative Leader said that she would be willing to discuss the matter later.
Janet Jackson, Labour Councillor for Macclesfield Central, then asked,
“Would the Leader like to join me in thanking Sarah Messenger for conducting a review into the culture of the Council and allegations of bullying and given that the Chair of the Staffing Committee is minuted as quoting the Leader publicly revealing the location of one particularly shocking incident, could she state where the quote is from and would she acknowledge that many staff are fearful of coming forward with allegations of bullying for fear that details of their situations will also be made public.”
In response, the Conservative Leader said that she had made a public statement on the location of the incident, but didn’t say when she had made the statement, and added that as council staff moved around she didn’t think that revealing the location of the incident was significant.
However, at least one local newspaper has publicly stated that they will not publish the location of the incident because it increases the likelihood of identifying the individuals involved.
Councillor Steve Hogben, Labour Councillor for Crewe South said; ‘’The LGA review is seen by some staff as a sham, and I am not surprised given the very public rejection of certain potentially unfavourable evidence by the council and by Ms Messenger. The six month rule has all the signs of a deliberate cover-up by the dictatorial regime at Westfields.’’