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Trust in Cheshire East Council

Culture of Mistrust

 

 

At a press conference held this morning by Cheshire East Council, the acting Chief Executive, Kim Ryley, produced a summary of the Designated Independent Person (DIP) report into the Council’s conduct of the Lyme Green project for a waste transfer facility in Macclesfield. 

 

Kim Ryley has produced a careful summary of the DIP report within the restrictions placed upon him. However, Kim Ryley is not independent of the Council or its Leader. It comes as no surprise that there is very little mention in his summary of the role of the current Leader of the Council, who at the time of Lyme Green was the Cabinet Member for Resources/Finance.

 

The summary paints a picture of senior officers at the council desperately trying to implement a money-saving project in an unrealistic timescale and cutting procedural corners. That is NOT the stereotypical way that public sector employees behave. Councillors and members of the public are asked to believe that at Cheshire East Council employees behaved in this extraordinary manner without any pressure from the Conservative Councillors to whom the were contracted to report. It seems far more plausible that the pressure to cut costs AT ONCE came directly from the Conservative Councillors who were in charge of the Council. This may be implied by the DIP’s statement that he found no ‘direct evidence’ to indicate that elected Members gave directions to “cut corners”, or any evidence to ‘clearly show’ that elected Members coerced Officers to take certain decisions. The fact that the DIP felt it necessary to use highlighted qualifying adjectives suggests that there is evidence that elected Members were involved, but that the evidence was not conclusive.

 

The summary says that “a culture of mutual mistrust had developed in the new Council between some officers and some elected Members.” The impression given is that the Cabinet Members who were responsible for maintaining financial discipline were ineffectual and that their working relationships with staff had broken down.

 

The summary does mention 2 councillors. Firstly, it is good to note that Cllr Hilda Gaddum, who was a Cabinet Member and the Ward Councillor for Lyme Green, has been exonerated at last. It appears that she was misled not only by council officers but also by at least one fellow cabinet member.

Secondly, regarding the Cabinet Member responsible for waste disposal, the DIP report comments, “I am satisfied … that [he] was told about both Delegated Decisions” to go ahead with works at Lyme Green. The DIP wording here suggests that the Cabinet Member responsible has not admitted that he was informed, although he has resigned from the Cabinet without admitting any wrongdoing.

The big unanswered question is whether the Cabinet Member for Resources (now the Leader of the Council) was also notified of or consulted about the Delegated Decision Notices to go ahead with works at Lyme Green.

 

The Conservatives seem to have been surprised that the public wanted to see an independent report into Lyme Green. It astonishes me that £225,000 has been spent on a report that can’t be shown to the public and can’t even be shown to councillors on the Audit Committee that kicked off the Lyme Green investigation.

 

 

Cllr Ken Edwards, Labour Councillor for Macclesfield Central, said,

“My main concern was the fundamental financial irresponsibility of accepting and proposing a contract for the building of a waste transfer station at Lyme Green which was known to cost £1.49 million when only £650,000 was in the budget. As far as I know from the forensic internal audit report there were no efforts made by anyone to regularise this financial discrepancy.

I find it almost inconceivable (though I am expected to believe it) that no senior Officer thought to inform any senior politician (Cabinet Member) of this discrepancy and that no action was taken to regularise the budgetary situation.

Who was the Portfolio holder for Finance at the time why were they not told of the huge discrepancy in funding?

If monumental financial errors like this can be made and go unacknowledged and uncorrected how can we be assured of any budgetary process being accurate for Cheshire East?”

 

Cllr Janet Jackson, Labour Councillor for Macclesfield Central and Cllr Laura Jeuda Labour Councillor for Macclesfield South said

“We were astonished to hear the announcement at the press conference of a deal for Arighi Bianchi to use the Lyme Green site. There has been no consultation with us as Macclesfield councillors on this decision. Until this morning we thought the site was still under consideration as one possibility for a waste transfer station.”

 

This sudden announcement of a deal with Arighi Bianchi shows that the council has not learnt the lessons of Lyme Green and is still rushing into projects without proper consultation.

 

Cllr David Newton, Leader of the Labour Group said,

“It is astonishing that neither the Staffing Committee nor Councillors were notified in advance of the release of this report. I found out from the BBC. After I raised the matter with the Council Leader an email was sent at 8.11am on Monday morning telling Councillors that a press conference would be held at 9.00am. This is hardly the conduct I would expect from a council trying to make a claim to openness and transparency.”

 

Cllr Steve Hogben, a Labour member of the Audit and Governance Committee that first requested the investigation in January 2012, commented,

 

“There is still evidence of some senior officers not trusting elected members.  Otherwise, why were all councillors not permitted to see the original DIP report?  All elected members sign and are subject to the code of conduct that requires confidences to be kept when required.  Why were they not trusted on this occasion?”

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