Last week it was announced that two further matters have been referred to the police by Cheshire East Council. This is in addition to the FIVE police investigations already swirling around the beleaguered Conservative-controlled Council.
This devastating news sees the Conservative administration continuing to lurch from one disaster to another, with long suffering staff and residents bewildered as to when it will all end.
One of the latest matters referred to the police is in connection with the purchase of land at Cledford Lane, Middlewich in connection with the development of the Council’s new Environmental Hub, occupied by two of its wholly owned companies ANSA Environmental Services Ltd. and Transport Service Solutions (TSS).
In July 2017 the Conservatives voted for £2.4M of extra funding to develop the site, despite Labour councillors querying why so much extra money was needed only shortly after the site had been purchased. It was well known that the site was contaminated and would need to be cleaned up, but the Conservatives claimed that more money was needed for land remediation costs.
At the July meeting, the Conservative Cabinet Member for Finance claimed that the extra £2.4M would not cost the Council a penny. This was shown to be untrue as it would cost the Council £2.4M. A Special Council meeting was called in December 2017 to discuss the matter. That meeting resolved that a report should be presented to a Cabinet meeting explaining why an extra £2.4M was required and why due diligence work before the land was purchased had not identified the potential extra costs. Cheshire East Council are now claiming the report cannot be presented because the matter has been referred to the police.
Sam Corcoran, Labour Group Leader, said, “The clearly expressed will of the Council for a report into why an extra £2.4M is required for the ANSA/TSS depot in Middlewich has now been thwarted.
This joins a long list of matters that the Conservative-controlled Council won’t discuss:
1) Cheshire East Council waived its procurement rules to award contracts to the former Conservative Leader's personal physiotherapist, but this can’t be discussed due to the ongoing investigation by the Organised Crime Unit of the regional police.
2) the deliberate and systematic manipulation of Air Quality data at the Council for several years can’t be discussed because the Conservatives say it made no difference to any planning applications and there is a police investigation - we still don't know who did it or why.
3) the £70,000 promised to an academy primary school in a marginal electoral area by a Conservative Councillor can’t be discussed because of an ongoing police investigation.
This is very unsatisfactory situation, particularly for a Council that aspires to be open and transparent.”
Cllr Brian Roberts, Labour Councillor for Crewe West, said; ‘Just how many more skeletons are going to be found lurking at the back of Cheshire East’s cupboard? The Environmental Hub at Cledford lane has been a highly controversial project from its outset. If it is found that anything unlawful or illegal has occurred during its procurement or development, there will very some very serious questions to ask.’
Cllr Suzanne Brookfield, Labour Councillor for Crewe East said: ‘The regular announcement of yet more police involvement into activities at Cheshire East Council will only inflict further damage to the Council’s already very tarnished reputation amongst local residents and businesses. How much longer can it be before the Secretary of State puts the Council into Special Measures?‘