Call to investigate CEC


A Sandbach residents group has called upon the Secretary of State to
initiate an independent enquiry into the actions and behaviour of the
members and officers of Cheshire East Council to restore public confidence
and have set up a petition at
https://www.change.org/p/sajid-javid-launch-an-independent-enquiry-into-air-
quality-data-falsification-by-cheshire-east-council


The Secretary of State will not normally intervene at a Council over one
recent issue and will only intervene if there has been a history of poor
performance. It is therefore worth looking back over the history of
Conservative-controlled Cheshire East Council.

The Council was formed in 2009 and the Conservatives appointed a chief
executive on £230,000 p.a. saying they were ‘reaching for the stars’. It
wasn’t long before the wheels started to come off. The chief executive left
after just 3 years in the job with a £93,000 severance package.

In 2012 the Conservative portfolio holder responsible for ensuring that
landlords know their legal duties became a convicted criminal landlord.
Despite this salutary lesson, the Conservatives have failed to address the
issues caused by a massive increase in the number of Houses of Multiple
Occupation and rogue landlords resulting in deep rooted social and health
issues.

Work started on a waste transfer facility at Lyme Green near Macclesfield,
but the Council failed to get planning permission from itself. The report
into the fiasco cost £225,000 and revealed numerous failings and breach of
procurement regulations but the Conservatives refused to make the report
public. A redacted version showed a culture of mistrust & fear at the
Council.

In 2012 the Council’s auditors expressed “concerns about whether Cheshire
East Council has proper arrangements to secure value for money in its use of
resources” and qualified their opinion accordingly. The auditors said “The
most significant of my recommendations is the need for Members to provide
clearer strategic direction and political leadership when agreeing
priorities, taking difficult decisions and supporting officers to deliver
agreed plans.”
This statement clearly places the blame for Cheshire East Council’s woeful
performance on the Tory administration of the council and not on the
officers employed by the council.

The Conservatives stopped pensioners from using their free bus passes on the
charity-run Dial-a-Ride service, caused the charity to collapse, then
re-instated the use of free bus passes when the service was taken over by a
private company.

The Council’s children’s services were put into special measures from 2013
to 2015 following an ‘inadequate’ rating from OFSTED. The services have
improved by one step from the bottom are now rated ‘requires improvement’.

The Planning department has perhaps caused the most anger amongst residents.
The long-running saga over producing a Local Plan seemed to be over when a
Local Plan was finally approved in July 2017, but the Plan is now the
subject of a legal challenge. Even more worrying is that a recent appeal
hearing has allowed a speculative housing development to go ahead on a
greenfield site despite the application being in breach of the Local Plan
and the Holmes Chapel Neighbourhood Plan.

A developer has estimated that the Council has spent over £2m fighting (and
losing) planning appeals. Developers and landowners have made millions out
of speculative housing applications on greenfield sites in Cheshire, leaving
local residents to pick up the tab for overloaded infrastructure such as
schools and roads. The planning applications already approved will cause
problems for years to come.

In 2013 the Local Government Ombudsman found 6 examples of maladministration
over a planning application at White Moss Quarry near Alsager and said that
the Council had knowingly and persistently misled the public
When questioned at a Cabinet meeting about White Moss Quarry the then
Conservative Leader, Michael Jones, said, “I am very concerned that certain
sites historically in the Council have come forward with strange decisions
around them. That won’t happen on my watch. I’m not part of any secret
group, masons or whatever.”

The Ombudsman found the Council guilty of maladministration again in 2014
over a planning application in Sandbach and again there was evidence of a
lack of honesty in council officers.

It was not just the planning department where the Ombudsman’s reports
revealed a lack of honesty at the Council. In 2015 the Ombudsman rejected
the Council’s claim that disclaimers had been included on all garden waste
renewal letters warning of plans to remove the service over the winter. The
Ombudsman said “I am concerned there are two versions of the renewal letter
in existence, one with, and one without, the disclaimer on it. I cannot see
why this should be the case. I am concerned the disclaimer may have been
added later, once the Council started to receive complaints. The number of
complaints only increases concerns many customers did not receive the
disclaimer.”

The Council has also been found at fault by the Ombudsman over the treatment
of a vulnerable adult in 2013. In fact, this was the second time the same
vulnerable adult had gone to the Ombudsman seeking redress and it was only
after the second maladministration finding that the Council put things
right.

At the Cabinet meeting on Monday 4 February 2013 a member of the public
asked why Cheshire East Council had used taxpayers’ money to sponsor the
Cheshire & Wirral Conservative Party conference. In response, the
Conservative Leader, Cllr Michael Jones, said, “Sponsorship of CW13
conference was in order to get a message to Eric Pickles.” before pulling
out his cheque book to pay the sponsorship costs himself.
In 2015 the BBC revealed that Council staff had been drafting tweets for the
Conservative Leader attacking his party pollical opponents; party political
campaigning by council staff or using council resources is illegal.

In 2016 It was revealed that Cllr Sam Gardner, the Conservative Cabinet in
charge of Finance, had been disqualified from being a company director
because he caused his company Fomfest Ltd to misuse donations of at least
£4,142 collected on behalf of a charity. Sam Gardner wasn’t fit to run a
small company, but the Conservatives put him in charge of the council’s
finances.

The Council has been under investigation by the Organised Crime Unit of the
regional police force since December 2015 when an investigation was started
into contracts awarded to the Conservative Leader’s personal
physiotherapist, waiving normal procurement procedures.

Since its formation 8 years ago the Council has had 7 different Monitoring
Officers. The Monitoring Officer is a senior lawyer, responsible for dealing
with complaints against councillors and ensuring that the Council conducts
its business lawfully.

The Chief Executive was suspended six months ago and the Monitoring Officer
(head of legal) is also suspended. A temporary s151 officer is covering for
the head of finance after he was removed from some of his duties. The Head
of Communications has been absent from work for the last year. The Head of
Internal Audit left after being off work for a year and has not been
replaced; it is almost as if someone doesn’t want an effective audit team
looking into the internal workings of the Council.

At the Council meeting in July 2017 there was a proposal to allocate an
extra £2.4m to construct the waste processing site in Middlewich the extra
costs were said to be down to land remediation costs not noticed when the
Council bought the site and increased insurance costs. The Cabinet Member
responsible said that the increased allocation wouldn’t cost the Council a
penny as it would be a loan to the council-owned company ANSA Ltd who would
pay the money back. After the vote was taken ANSA Ltd denied that it was a
loan and it was conceded that the real cost to the Council was £2.4M. When a
Labour councillor queried whether the decision was valid the acting
Monitoring Officer ruled that it was – so it seems that Conservative
councillors can say whatever they like (true or not) to get a motion passed.

The Berkeley Academy primary school in Willaston was promised £70,000 for a
car park by the Conservatives. This was not in accordance with the Council
policy and was not agreed with officers of the Council. The promise was
confirmed in writing by Cllr David Brown allegedly forming a binding
contract. Labour councillors sought to have the decision scrutinised by a
committee, but in September 2017 the acting Monitoring Officer rejected the
request as there was potential legal action and disciplinary action so it
would not be appropriate for any public scrutiny!! Surely the fact that the
decision was dodgy should be an argument in favour of public scrutiny, not a
reason to suppress Labour pressure.

On 27 July 2017 Cheshire East Council approved its Local Plan and rejected a
Labour amendment that work should immediately start on a new local plan that
took into account correct air quality data. On 28 July the Council revealed
that an external report had concluded that air quality data had been
deliberately and systematically manipulated. An internal report later
concluded that no planning applications had been affected by the falsified
data. So now we are in the position that we know that a person or persons
deliberately manipulated data, but we don’t know who they are or why they
did it.


No Conservative Councillor has admitted any wrongdoing over any of the above
list.
The coalition government abolished the Standards Board for England and the
Audit Commission, so effective means of taking action are now very limited.
The only power rests with the electorate to vote them out of office or with
the Secretary of State to put the Council into special measures.


Sam Corcoran, Labour Group Leader said, “The Labour Group has been calling
since March for an external investigation, reporting within 3 months to
group leaders, into the culture of the organisation and allegations of
bullying. For the sake of the staff and residents of Cheshire East, the
Conservatives need to take urgent action.

Do you like this post?

Reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
Liquid syntax error: Error in tag 'subpage' - No such page slug cookies