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Listen up! Here’s my advice to our incoming leaders

Over the past few months our council has two new people at the top – Coun Michael Jones, our new leader, and Kim Ryley our new chief executive, who tells us he’s not yet got to grips with Cheshire East but will be spending every Friday in his town hall office honing his knowledge.

Over the past few months our council has two new people at the top – Coun Michael Jones, our new leader, and Kim Ryley our new chief executive, who tells us he’s not yet got to grips with Cheshire East but will be spending every Friday in his town hall office honing his knowledge.

Personally, I’d like to see him doing that out on the streets talking to residents rather than having his ear bent by civil servants. Coun Jones is, however, an entirely different character who has spent his life working in the results-orientated private sector unfamiliar with the procrastination and obfuscation so beloved by town hall officials.

I wish them both enormous success (I really do) and as a seasoned commentator on town hall politics I offer the following advice:

Avoid grandiose statements like, ‘I can make the system sing’. The ‘Reaching for the Stars’ policy employed by previous incumbents left taxpayers with a £800K bill for an illegal waste transfer station and a £600K overspend on town hall refurbishments. So, you can see why residents would worry that the song might be: ‘Gimme money!’ that’s what I want.’

Do not say, ‘I won’t restructure management.’ If there is one thing the public has learned since the inception of Cheshire East it is the ineptitude of top management. (It wasn’t social workers, refuse collectors and gardeners who blew £800K at Lyme Green.)

The concept of Cheshire East and the entire reason residents voted to replace the old county council was a promise to reduce costs to taxpayers. To date, the only benefits appear to be to officers’ salaries and councillors’ allowances. Taxpayers need to see some payback if CEC is to gain any credibility.

Do learn to trust public opinion, it has an excellent track record compared to council policy. Residents fought a determined battle to prevent councillors approving every application for new and late night drinking establishments. They were universally ignored. Result: Cheshire East is now one of the top regions in the UK for alcohol abuse.

Over a decade ago a huge public petition was handed into Macclesfield town hall imploring the council to approve an application for a multiplex cinema at Lyme Green. That application was refused (twice) and despite council assurances no other operator has applied. Well done.

Sorry to bang on about the Lyme Green fiasco but there are a number of serious points you should consider: Residents concern that construction was in progress was initially denied then subsequently explained as a ‘cleaning up’ process and only admitted after the Express supplied photographic evidence. Parish councillors were fobbed off with denials numerous times before the truth was told. Are residents to produce incontrovertible evidence in every case before they hear the truth? If so make it known before the next local elections.

CECs need to offer more encouragement to enterprising ideas and not adopt a negative stance on every new initiative. Insisting cafe owners.

buy a licence to serve refreshments outside their premises was a killer move for some small businesses struggling to weather the current financial crisis. It smacked of Big Brother and did nothing for the reputation of CEC. In reality the negative publicity far outweighed the revenue raised.

Finally, and most importantly, residents need to see the same financial prudence shown by CEC as they impose on others. It’s no good urging people to cut back when the council is refurbishing its own offices and blowing the budget with impunity. Taxpayers would like to see officers more accountable for their actions like other workers. (Incompetent) heads must roll if there is to be any credence to us ‘all being in it together.’

Oh yes, one more thing. If Mr Ryley is only in office for a few weeks can we skip the whip round when he goes? The last one cost us £50K.

 

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