Currently facing SIX ongoing police investigations, the Conservative led Cheshire East Council has been in the firing line recently for its perceived corruption. It all started when it was revealed that the Executive had controversially awarded contracts to a company belonging to the physiotherapist of former Council Leader Michael Jones £70,000 for an academy in Crewe, bypassing normal procedures to do so. In addition Jones is also being investigated for falsifying air pollution figures and his conduct as a Councillor. Another senior figure, Mike Suarez, is under investigation for allegations of bullying.
Earlier this year, it was reported by the Macclesfield Express that police had opened two further investigations into the council, while further bullying claims have since arisen from staff members at the troubled council. The government considered placing the council under special measures, however since the investigation by the government, nothing has changed, and the council remains in a state of utter chaos.
Popular satire magazine Private Eye named the council as ‘Filthy Liars of the Year’ last year on the basis of their falsification of air quality figures, and this title couldn’t be more appropriate. A failure to pay some staff the National Minimum Wage sparked one of the many police investigations into the group, with it being revealed that the council were ‘fully aware’ of the fact that care workers within the local authority were being paid below the minimum wage.
In September 2017, 10 of Cheshire East’s Independent Councillors called upon the Cabinet to resign or face special measures. No action was taken. The cabinet remains as it was, and the Secretary of State Sajid Javid has since taken no action at all, despite a petition of over 2,000 signatures at the time.
So why has no action been taken by the government? Residents of the authority argue that it is down to the fact that the Conservative Government don’t want to acknowledge the problem facing the council, so they are choosing to ignore them. With police investigations piling up, many residents argue that it’s time for action to be taken.
Laura Smith, MP for Crewe, has also contacted the Secretary of State, voicing her concerns, however it’s clear that these concerns aren’t shared by the government, perhaps as a result of the fact that at the end of the day, the council has proven to be very loyal to the Tories ideological pursuit of austerity and other policies, with Smith passionately campaigning for more funding for the care sector from the council.
The inaction of Macclesfield MP, David Rutley, to address the public concerns into the council only further shows the lack of concern that the Tories have about Cheshire East. The council is failing residents, with austerity policies affecting areas such as the buses in the local authority and the care sector, and calls for meetings to be closed to the public.
Councillor Laura Jeuda of Macclesfield South Ward recently claimed that council staff are ‘too scared to speak out’ regarding the bullying that is claimed to be going on at the Council, with anyone who threatens to blow the whistle on the practices and treatment of staff being told they will be dismissed according to the councillor. Many have linked the rumours surrounding the aforementioned Mike Suarez scandal to the bullying accusations, so its entirely possible that this abuse of staff is a long-term issue embedded into the group.
This week it was also reported that the Council had contracted the group ‘Orbitas’ to oversee the continued care of Macclesfield Cemetery, however pictures on social media revealed that the area had fallen into a state of disrepair. Contractors were accused of ‘recklessly damaging’ memorial stones after car tracks were found to have driven over memorial stones. While the council has since come out and denied any involvement in this, the fact that they were accused in the first place demonstrates the low regard the council is held in.
Of course, local Tories haven’t kept totally quiet about the council’s issues, and the leader, Rachel Bailey has said that given that the executive had delegated investigations to the police, it was clear that the Conservatives were taking necessary action to combat allegations. However, twitter account CheshireEast Exposed claims that “everything that is wrong happened when she sat in cabinet or was Leader of the council”.
Buses have been a dominant topic for local residents in regards to the shortcomings of the council. Cuts to local bus services have been brutal, and as reported by The Crewe Chronicle, a Crewe bus campaigner said planned cuts to bus services were ‘unbearable’, pointing out that bus users would suffer while suspended officers were being paid full wages for example, when the buses bore the brunt of austerity.
With the council clearly not listening to its residents, and the Vice Chair of Macclesfield Constituency Labour Party, Rob Vernon, calling it ‘the most shambolic, most corrupt council in the United Kingdom’, it’s becoming clearer by the day that Cheshire East is suffering. While the outcomes of the ongoing police investigations are obviously unknown currently, residents have been left expecting illegal wrongdoings by the council leading to judicial action. The current regime seems unable and unwilling to fix the issues, and Labour/Independent councillors last year called for an executive made up of people from all parties. This proposal was thrown out by the Tories, who are clinging onto power. But with the local elections for the borough in 2019, and more citizens of towns like Macclesfield and Crewe coming forward to speak out against the council, could Labour stand a chance of finally restoring order to the council in disarray? Early signs look positive for Labour candidates, and in turn, Cheshire East residents themselves.
Retraction: We stated previously that “Jones’ successor Mike Suarez is also under the spotlight for allegations of bullying.” This was incorrect. Mike Suarez did not succeed Jones as leader of the council and is instead the chief executive of the council. We also stated “with leader after leader resigning, from Jones to Suarez” again Suarez did not lead the council and nor did he resign. Suarez was suspended and has not resigned.