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.

Andy Brown
Monday 5th June 2023 at 12:29 pm
Just add it onto our council tax.
Jon Williams
Monday 5th June 2023 at 4:22 pm
The total amount Cheshire East paid for its chief exec over the year – including pension contributions – amounted to £241,131. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earns £164,951.

She could pay
Terry Roeves
Tuesday 6th June 2023 at 12:38 pm
Soft touch. Just say no and negotiate. Charging out rate is extortionate.
David Alexander Connor
Tuesday 6th June 2023 at 3:15 pm
Wouldn't it be an idea to canvass rate payers within the Cheshire East area and ask them?
Adrian Scott
Tuesday 6th June 2023 at 3:43 pm
Come on Craig, let's not play with words ! Money allocated in 2022/3 accounts, no immediate impact on 2023/4 budget.
The cash, whenever it was allocated is residents council tax payments and could be put to far better use. Please explain what you mean "No immediate impact" on 2023/4 budget. This suggests you are covering the possibility (probability) that there will be an effect, but covering your backside in case the situation gets worse.
Let's have your honest interpretation of the cost to residents, and where that money could be spent for the benefit of your voters.
Craig Browne
Wednesday 7th June 2023 at 8:47 pm
Hi Adrian,

Thanks for your question. I wholeheartedly agree with you that the money could have been put to far better use funding Council Services, rather than paying for an external audit report into the behaviour of members of the previous administration; however, that was not a decision that lay within the gift of the current administration, rather it is a requirement as set out in Section 24 and Schedule 7 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.

There will be no immediate impact to the 2023/24 budget in the sense that we knew this report was coming, once the police had concluded their own investigation into the conduct of our predecessors, and made provision accordingly within the accounts to cover the external auditor’s fee, at the same time delivering a balanced budget. Nevertheless, we are seeking to challenge the fee that has been laid, which we consider to be excessive.

Kind regards,