s - Janet Clowes, Conservative group leader cheshire east council 2019

The current leader of the Conservatives at Cheshire East Council has welcomed a “public interest” report which has lifted the lid on the regime under former leader Michael Jones.

The Grant Thornton report highlights a regime of “bullying” and “intimidatory behaviour” during Mr Jones’ time as leader between 2012-2015.

Cllr Janet Clowes (pictured), who was a Tory councillor on the authority during that period, said the report is welcome but that others there at the time were not contacted as part of the investigation.

Cllr Clowes, of Wybunbury Ward, said: “Grant Thornton has had the opportunity to examine the dysfunctional environment that existed at Cheshire East Council, focusing on the inappropriate procurement and governance surrounding the ‘Core-Fit’ contracts (2014-2015).

“However, some senior officers and elected members who worked hard to address the excesses of the former Leader’s behaviours from the outset, (often at great personal and professional cost), were not contacted as part of this exercise as requested.

“This is a significant omission.

“The Executive summary accurately identifies the former Leader’s behaviours toward officers and members as “bullying, intimidatory and aimed at seeking to get his own way…without recourse to the normal procedures”.

“So too, that two inexperienced statutory officers failed to secure the ‘necessary governance culture’ required and did not hold the former Leader to account in this regard, despite [enjoying statutory protection against disciplinary action and dismissal that most other officers did not’.

“It’s interesting that the report suggests that ‘it took time for (the former Leader’s) behaviour to be addressed by his own party in late 2015’.

“Time was correctly invested in mechanisms by which Local Government usually addresses member misconduct and dysfunctional process.

“The report acknowledges that officers and councillors considered the Standards Regime inappropriate for the behaviours demonstrated by the former Leader. ‘The lack of appropriate sanctions …contributed to a situation where officers and members felt exposed’.

“Internal Audit was another route where procurement concerns were raised.

“The support and courage of the former Head of Internal Audit is gratefully acknowledged by those members who liaised with him directly during 2015.

“Nonetheless that process was ultimately overseen by the same statutory officers and in due course, the External Auditors (Grant Thornton).

“The Report references the then Labour Leader raising questions at Audit and Governance Committee, but he was just one of a large, cross-party committee that on 25th September 2015 and 10th December (two days after the very public resignation of the former Leader), raised deep concerns about Core Fit requesting that an external investigation be instigated.

“Whilst Grant Thornton have gone to some lengths in the addendum to this report, to explain why they signed off the 2014/15 accounts without qualification and decided not to initiate an external inquiry at that time, it must be acknowledged that for concerned members at that time, it was perceived as another ‘knock back’.

“Following disappointment at the September Audit & Governance meeting, some Conservative members had already decided that it would be necessary to go outside local government to seek external support through the local Party Association Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Process. It was this process was ultimately successful on 8th December 2015.

“Finally, we welcome the report’s acknowledgement that ‘It is of public interest to report upon the council’s successful track record in addressing previous failings’

“Between 2016 and 2019, the Conservative administration strengthened procurement rules, re-wrote the Constitution, strengthened the whistle-blowing, bullying and harassment policies and introduced robust staff support mechanisms, including the ‘Brighter Futures’ programmes for staff and members with external support and evaluations in 2016 and 2018. The 2019 LGA peer review was eventually re-scheduled in 2020 which demonstrated continuing progress.

“Reports in the public interest are rare and the value of this report will be in the continued vigilance by CEC to eradicate harmful behaviours and the responses of those overseeing Local Government governance, to bring forward an effective Standards procedure that is fit for purpose.”

Mr Jones issued a statement at the time the report was published two weeks ago, saying he did not accept it as “being fair or accurate”.

He added: “The police thoroughly looked at the misconceived allegations made to them about myself and others and no further action was taken.

“The auditor’s conclusions are regrettable. I acted during my time as council leader in good faith to address under-performance of the council, and the people of Cheshire may like to reflect on the performance as I drove up standards with the position before my tenure and since.”

One Comment

  1. Chris Moorhouse says:

    Having read the Grant Thornton report, Chronicle article of last Wednesday, and other publications I think the report was damming enough as to not need everybody to be interviewed. Its publication would have taken even longer.
    Surely, the Political Leaders at the time together with other Senior Councillors new what was going on and they did nothing about it. If as they now appear to air their views you would have thought that for once political differences could be put on one side and all parties combine to sort it out even having a vote of no confidence in the leader at that time.
    Perhaps, they could explain why this was not done.

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