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Cheshire East Poor Audit Report

Council Found to be Failing Again

The independent audit report presented today to the Audit & Governance Committee into whether Cheshire East Council is obtaining value for money has been qualified for the second year running.

 

The official report says,

“we have identified weaknesses in the following areas:

Arrangements to procure goods and services;

Understanding of costs and performance; and

Processes to develop business proposals and manage significant projects.”

 

Last year the official report said,

“I identified weaknesses in its processes to develop business proposals and manage significant projects. These weaknesses undermine the Council’s ability to show that it is prioritising resources within budgets and achieving sustainable cost reductions alongside greater efficiencies and improved productivity.”

 

To find the same criticism in two consecutive years’ reports is depressing. In fact, for several years the Council has set unrealistic budgets, leading to large overspends during each year. There has then been a panic demand for managers to take remedial action. In turn resulting in emergency cost-cutting to try and finish the year on budget. These unplanned cuts usually cost the Council dearly in the long run and do not represent value for money.

The auditor has advised the Council to “ensure that budgets are realistic”.

 

The Labour group has also been vindicated over its complaints about a culture of secrecy at Cheshire East Council. Now the independent auditor has advised that the Council must, as a high priority, ensure that “decision making is – and is seen to be – transparent”.

 

The blame for these failings is laid firmly at the door of the ruling Conservative group, who have failed to provide clear leadership, have ducked difficult decisions and have tried to blame staff for their own failings. The auditor says, “more needs to be done to ensure that tough decisions are taken when setting the budget rather than relying on services to deliver savings in the year”.

 

 

 

Cllr Sam Corcoran said,

 

“A qualified audit report is a serious and rare occurrence. It is very disappointing that the Conservative leadership has not responded adequately to the criticisms made last year. The problems caused by rushed, secret decisions and a culture of mistrust came out during the Lyme Green fiasco and it is clear that the underlying problems have still not been addressed.

 

The government is imposing savage cuts on local authorities. What the Council needs is the vision to see a way forward, the fairness to work with staff to agree an appropriate budget and the courage to stick to that budget. The Conservatives have none of these requirements.”

 

 

 

Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr David Newton commented,

 

 

"Not only is this, for the second year running, a disappointing outcome. It is also a highly critical report on the stewardship of a major local authority. The Conservative administration, which has trumpeted its commitment to efficiency and value for money, has demonstrated its inability to deliver. We shall insist that proper steps are taken, so that the residents of Cheshire East can be assured that their money is being properly spent to give them the value for money and quality of service that they deserve from their Council".

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