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Former leader launches blistering attack on Cheshire East Council bosses

Michael Jones hits out at 'secretive cabinet and incessant scandals'

The leader of Cheshire East Council councillor Michael Jones

Cheshire East’s former leader has launched a blistering attack on the current leadership in the latest battle between the council’s warring Tories.

Coun Michael Jones went on the attack after current leader Rachel Bailey (Con) and acting chief executive Kath O’Dwyer wrote to Secretary of State Sajid Javid saying the controversies facing the council ‘are legacy matters, not issues relating to the current leadership or management of the council’.

That open letter came after Sandbach residents wrote to Mr Javid MP calling for Government intervention into the scandal-hit council.

Now Coun Jones has contacted the Secretary of State saying he wants ‘to put the record straight’.

In a letter which pulls no punches, Coun Jones said he totally accepts responsibility for his actions but believes the unspecified ‘legacy issues’ referred to in their letter is simply a

‘deliberate attempt to distract.’

He continues: “It should be noted that in my cabinet, Coun Rachel Bailey held domain over the children and families portfolio and Coun [Janet] Clowes controlled adults and public health.

“These accounted for some 65 per cent of our net budget.

“Coun Bailey, for a significant period also had responsibility for delivering the much-delayed Local Plan.

“Therefore, if there are legacy issues surely Coun Bailey and Clowes must take the lion’s share, such as did their portfolios.”

Coun Jones stated in the letter that, as leader, his primary focus was on driving Cheshire East Council to be more innovative, entrepreneurial and much more commercially minded while ensuring that Cheshire East put residents first.

“When I resigned in December 2015, to mitigate the embarrassment of blue on blue attacks, I left a council which was rated number one in

13 areas nationally, including rural business support,” said Coun Jones.

He said when he was leader all the borough’s Conservative MPs were re-elected in 2015.

“Contrast these results with 2017 where we saw excellent MP Edward Timpson lose his Conservative majority by some 50 votes helped by Rachel Bailey protesting alongside Laura Smith about education funding. It was this naive act which I believe was the cause of the loss of the seat,” claimed Coun Jones.

The former council leader said in 2015 a survey showed staff morale was high and services were doing well.

He continued: “Staff morale has plummeted, staff grievances soared particularly complaints of current bullying.

“The cabinet are collectively quiet and secretive and the attack on me is to distract you from the incessant media scandals, concerning air quality monitoring, [a member of] staff threatening suicide, ... not paying minimum wage to care staff; it is endless and current.

“Only last week was there a headline blasting the council.... this isn’t legacy stuff!”

He referred to the recent announcement by the council of a budget shortfall.

“The overspend is also attributable to the council spending millions on consultants, interim staff and the cost of covering staff suspensions which includes the chief executive, the monitoring officer.... Even the S151 officer has had his duties removed and given to an interim... Staff and residents are paying the price, hence the action groups and petitions,” claimed Coun Jones.

Coun Jones defended his record and said he would claim some legacy issues under his leadership.

“£9.6 billion of investment in Cheshire East in my time as leader including, HS2 coming to Crewe, the Bentley investment for the Bentayga, the saving of Alderley Park, and the delivery and funding for a plethora of new roads, roundabouts and junctions, all making Cheshire East one of the safest areas in the country for road users. All done without a council tax increase, without an overspend and strong asset sales,” he said in the letter.

He praised people who had worked with him at the time – including Caroline Simpson who led the regeneration team and former Coun Peter Raynes, who was cabinet member for finance.

Then he launched a broadside on current cabinet member Peter Groves who, he said, ‘has increased member allowances, cut children services and introduced the largest council tax ever, 5pc’.

“He then resigns from the finance portfolio and stays in the cabinet in a non-job...” claimed Coun Jones.

The former Tory group leader attacked current cabinet member for finance Paul Bates referring to the incident at full council in July when Coun Bates had told councillors that the £2.3m they were voting on to transfer to Ansa was not a gift and would be repaid by the company.

It later transpired the money would not be repaid.

Coun Jones claimed Coun Bates had publicly misled the whole council.

He then continued his attack on Coun Rachel Bailey.

Rachel Bailey

“The overspend is under her watch, as is the bullying and crashing of staff morale and she can’t excuse herself from the borough’s housing and planning problems as she was responsible for the delayed local plan for two crucial years,” claimed Coun Jones.

“I fear blaming so-called “legacy issues” is scant excuse for a council which... has suspended senior staff on full pay, on an ongoing basis.”

He concluded: “Together my cabinet, our MPs and I got things done and I believe Cheshire East was a far better place than today, as much as it saddens me to say that.”

The Express contacted all four members on Thursday afternoon who were mentioned by Coun Jones in his letter.

Coun Clowes said: “Thank you for advising me of Coun Jones’ statement.

“It is disappointing that once again he has chosen, to make unsubstantiated personal attacks in the press.

“Having taken independent legal advice, I will not comment further at this time but will continue to support the on-going police investigation and carry out my duties both as a ward councillor and cabinet member. Cheshire East residents remain my first priority.”

Councillors Bailey, Groves and Bates have not replied.

The government has now received letters of concern about Tory-run Cheshire East from two recently elected Cheshire East MPs - Labour’s Laura Smith (Crewe & Nantwich) and Conservative Esther McVey (Tatton).

Action groups in Sandbach and Wilmslow have also written to Mr Javid and a Macclesfield residents’ group has written to Sandbach residents saying it backs their stand.

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