Council could face £319,000 fee for report into 'bullying' behaviour of former leader

Cheshire East Council has been notified of the external auditor's proposed fee for the public interest report, on the impact of the council's culture and governance arrangements during 2014-2018, published in January 2023.

The report provided by external auditors Grant Thornton provided a detailed account of the events and circumstances relating to the Council's procurement of a local company in 2015 and the work which has since been carried out to improve the culture at Cheshire East Council.

The issues reported upon concern the culture at the Council, the role and conduct of Michael Jones, the former Leader, and the events around the Council's awarding of a contract to Core Fit, run by the former Council Leader's physiotherapist Amanda Morris, to deliver fitness classes in schools.

The proposed fee for the report is £319,370, which the council's audit and governance committee will be formally notified of at their meeting on June 8th.

This fee will now be independently assessed by Public Sector Audit Appointments (PSAA).

Councillor Sam Corcoran, leader of the council, said: "This proposed fee is a significant amount of public money that I would much rather see spent in directly supporting sustainable council services.

"The public interest report is about events in 2014-18. It does not call into question current affairs at the council. The series of events considered in the report have undoubtedly had impacts on the council and local residents, not least of which is this additional cost.

"It is the decision of the external auditor as to whether a matter is in the public interest and should be subject to such a report. The council is then legally required to pay the fee once it is confirmed. The legislation states that the external auditor 'can recover the reasonable costs of making a public interest report' from the council."

Councillor Craig Browne, deputy leader of the council, said: "It is unfortunate that this 'bill', ultimately resulting from past failings when the council was a very different organisation, is being proposed and will be invoiced at a time of such financial pressure for council services, and so long after the events themselves.

"While we await the PSAA's determination about the final fee, it is important to note that funds from reserves in the completed 2022/23 accounts have been allocated to cover the fee, so there will be no immediate impact on the 2023/24 budget.

"Audit and governance committee will consider the proposed fee and the process to review the fee. However, we do not at this time know how long the review and will take and are not yet certain of the final cost."



Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Nick Jones
Thursday 1st June 2023 at 1:01 pm
Ridiculous cost to the public purse... Now Publish the Lyme Green report... No transparency still leaves a shadow of this old regime hanging over CEC .. its morally wrong to think some involved from this era remain engaged /rewarded in honorary Alder-person positions.
Stuart Redgard
Thursday 1st June 2023 at 9:10 pm
A valid point made by Nick Jones about publishing an unredacted version of the Lyme Green Report: I recall this being brought up by Councillor Mark Goldsmith during the Special Meeting to discuss the report provided by external auditors Grant Thornton.

I hope he will be able to provide an update as to where he is up to in his attempts to get the unredacted report issued.
Jonathan Follows
Friday 2nd June 2023 at 9:37 am
The £319,370 fee results from the behaviour of Michael Jones and the people who supported him, which is documented in the report. I believe the report to have been necessary to document and legitimise the allegations against him. He doesn't accept the report as either fair or accurate, but I sense it's the best we're going to get, and it does appear to substantiate a number of allegations which had been made over the years. It's unfortunate that it now comes with a bill which we have to pay, but the alternative of pushing this under the carpet and forgetting about it is a cop-out and wouldn't have been the right thing to do.
Christopher Evans
Saturday 3rd June 2023 at 2:33 pm
Were is he now? Southern Spain perhaps.
Is there any way this "bullying" ex Leader can be brought to account and presented with the bill for this investigation? I suspect not, unless new evidence comes to light and the Police reopen their proceedings.

Is there a courageous current or ex CEC employee that has new and vital information that could spark renewed interest in judicial proceeding?
Stuart Redgard
Saturday 3rd June 2023 at 4:56 pm
#Jonathan Follows

Well said, and I agree.