Report into Lyme Green allegations completed

David McCourt

Cheshire East Council has received a formal report into actions of three senior staff in connection with the development of Lyme Green in Macclesfield.

The council appointed independent assessor Malcolm Iley, partner at London-based law firm Trowers & Hamlins, to review allegations made about the staff on 24 July. Iley interviewed 28 witnesses who gave evidence, and considered a wide range of documents and other written submissions.

The council planned to build a new waste facility at the site in Macclesfield but stopped the project at the end of November 2011 after an internal audit found evidence that officers failed to comply with rules to prevent financial and legal irregularities.

The audit committee reported that construction work had started on site before the necessary planning permissions had been secured, an issue about which the council's own planning officers complained.

The auditors also claimed the council broke rules around EU regulations for procurement by not offering for tender contracts over a certain value, leaving the council open to legal challenge from firms who may have wished to bid for work.

The confidential report will be passed to the council's staffing sub-committee for consideration. The sub-committee, which has delegated authority to act in this matter, will meet before Christmas.

Illey produced a short summary of his activities but, under the agreed procedures, will make no formal statements on the matter.

The report, as part of the council's disciplinary process for senior staff, must remain confidential to avoid prejudicing any actions that might now be taken by the council.

Cheshire East Council will make a fuller statement when this process has been completed in the New Year.

Cllr Michael Jones, council leader, said: "It is not unusual for such independent reviews to take more than 12 months, but we have reduced this timescale significantly and so kept the costs involved lower.

"I have always believed that the understandable concerns of the public, and of local councillors, about how this site development was handled must be recognised and dealt with quickly.

"On a personal note, I have been looking forward to this report, and, early in the New Year, the chief executive and I will bring forward our observations on its findings, including the need for a less opaque framework of management accountabilities and for bold service changes to replace poor internal structures and ways of working.

"We have already put in place a comprehensive action plan to improve our systems, procedures and staff training for project management and for contracting externally provided services for developments like Lyme Green. This will greatly reduce the risk of such a situation being repeated in future.

"It is important that the sub committee now be allowed to complete its important work in dealing with these serious allegations. As with all staff disciplinary matters, the council cannot risk prejudicing the proper procedure by commenting further at this time.

"I would, however, expect the staffing sub committee to take swift and robust action in response to the Mr Iley's recommendations, as I intend to do in improving the council's management structures."

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