Damning report into 'bullying and inappropriate behaviour' of Council's former Leader

A report provided by external auditors Grant Thornton has been published, which provides 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.

Grant Thornton reported "In our view, there was a pattern of bullying and inappropriate behaviour on the part of the former Leader, which whilst denied by him, led to distortions to good governance. This led moreover to increasing tensions between different officers, different members and the all important relationship between the two groups.

"This then resulted in the former Leader's resignation and over a further period of three years of destabilisation (2016 -2018), many senior officers resigned as a result, either on their own volition, or in some cases, in the context of unconcluded disciplinary investigations.

"A lengthy police investigation started in late 2015. The police eventually decided in 2020 not to bring any prosecutions. In our view, there remains a public interest in these matters being aired publicly and analysed, both for accountability purposes for the local electorate and more widely to identify the underlying causes for the benefit of the local government sector as a whole."

They concluded that the Council's former Leader, appointed in May 2012, behaved "in a manner that sought to influence certain senior officers into taking steps and decisions that would achieve his own objectives" in relation to CoreFit, even if this meant bypassing or overriding the Council's established controls.

Stating "In our view, some of his wider behaviours were bullying, intimidatory and aimed at seeking to get his own way in matters without recourse to the normal procedures."

While the report does not make any recommendations for any specific remedial action to be taken, and acknowledges the council's track record in dealing with the issues set out, it does make three recommendations to the Council:

● The first recommendation is that the council should carefully consider the report, noting the historical events and to give full and proper consideration to them;

● The second recommendation relates to the continuing internal audit assurance work in relation to land transactions;

● The third recommendation is for the council to discuss the report with the current auditors and identify with the current external auditors any areas which may require consideration.

The report will be discussed at a special meeting of Cheshire East Council on Wednesday, 1st February.

Dr Lorraine O'Donnell, chief executive of Cheshire East Council, said: "In the years since the events set out in this report, there have been many changes to governance, leadership, processes and culture at the council. The report acknowledges these improvements and makes no recommendations for the council for any further remedial action to address the historical failings. It provides assurance that the council has done a great deal to move on from the period in question.

"The report focuses on the impact of an individual member's behaviour and influence, which then led to wider impacts on governance and decision making.

"The report provides further information about the events in 2015. It also provides reassurance regarding the significant improvements made by the council and our ongoing commitment to openness and transparency."

The report is available online at: www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/publicinterest