Elections for seats on Cheshire East Council are still 12 months away but our local councillors seem to be planning for its arrival.
I hope all the political parties takes a practical view when it comes to selecting candidates for the 2015 elections. The Chronicle, and I suspect the electorate, will not be impressed if the same old faces line up to appeal for votes after four years of racking up failure after failure.
I’m actually a bit worried what we’ll do: newspapers don’t usually take sides in elections but Cheshire East’s track record thus far proves that the current lot are just not good enough.
A few have probably survived from the old urban district days, and certainly most were on the old, smaller councillors, where being keen was enough. Cheshire East is a big organisation and needs more skills than just “being keen”.
So it’s not that the councillors are terrible; they’re just not equipped to deal with the more demanding role.
The proof of all this is the failures that embattled Cheshire East has faced over the last years. All of them would have been avoided if the council had been better run, most of them if councillors had generally been of a higher calibre. We want new faces, people with transferable skills from the private sector, not people whose only skill is having been a party member for 30 years.
I think council leader Michael Jones is able and charismatic. He might shoot his mouth off and give us entertaining quotes but under the bluster he’s getting things done.
Closer to home, Congleton’s Peter Mason is clearly rattled. He normally only writes letters to us in the weeks immediately before elections but he sent two last week, the second of which appears this week.
Last week, he said he was never involved in the Lyme Green fiasco (he preferred the word “project”) and was not mentioned in the report. He praised the council for its ability to reduce waste and for its openness.
As readers this week pointed out, Coun Mason has been a Cabinet member throughout the life of Cheshire East and, when parking charges were introduced, adhered to the policy of corporate responsibility.
As for his claims that Cheshire East is open: he can claim innocence over Lyme Green only because the council has refused to name names.
While I actually find the reasons for withholding the names given by the Information Commissioner to be reasonable, Cabinet members like Coun Mason can’t have it both ways — if the names are secret, he can’t say he’s not one of them.
And what if ALL the Cabinet members said they were not named? Would there be a strong public interest reason in going back to the Commissioner to find out who’s telling the truth?
Cheshire East deputy leader Coun Dave Brown is also not going without a fight.
He told a meeting that residents could sign an e-petition against the Government’s building policy; despite being a Conservative himself he said developers were “raping and pillaging” the town and said the Government policy “gets up my nose”.
“I feel strongly about this,” he told the meeting – but not strongly enough, while deputy leader or on the Cabinet, to push through a local plan before developers had the chance to rape and pillage.
He got a bit technical talking about the Liverpool vs the Sedgefield method for estimating housing demand and claims that the Government moved the goalposts.
But the fact would appear to remain that if Cheshire East had had a robust local plan in the first place, the goalposts would have been set in concrete and immovable.
While a number of other councils are in the same boat, others are not, so the goal post moving is not universal. Coun Brown was on the old Congleton Borough Council, which also made a hash of its local plan.
Meanwhile Couns Roland Domleo — former leader of the old borough — and Gordon Baxendale have taken a firmer tone.
In another letter to the Chronicle, they come over all practical in regards to what they call the Cheshire East link road. They skilfully manage to distance themselves from Cheshire East in a more positive way, by looking to the future.
The letter is quite impressive, but Coun Domleo was leader of the plan-less Congleton borough before it merged with Cheshire East, and has been on the Cabinet and served as deputy leader of the new authority.
He was also involved in one of my more embarrassing moments in recent years. Chatting to him during the period when heads rolled post-Lyme Green, I said that the Chronicle should really find out which idiot appointed some of the sacked people in the first place.
There was a heavy silence before Coun Domleo admitted that he’d been on the selection committee that recruited new officers. Ah. If it wasn’t Roland and I didn’t think he was a decent man, we’d have run a story.
I’ve also got some sympathy there — I’ve recruited some stinkers in my time, they all interviewed well. But still.
In fairness to all councillors, I suspect a lot of the authority’s problems were due to poor leadership from the start of Cheshire East Council’s life and the council leader (Wesley Fitzgerald) and the chief exec (Erica Wenzel) from those early days have both gone.
But Peter Mason, Roland Domleo and Dave Brown were all happy to trumpet that they were ON the Cabinet when appointed, saying it would give the old Congleton borough a voice. They can’t now turn round and say that, well, that wasn’t quite right and they actually didn’t do much at all but now it will all be different.
I just hope that the candidates selected for the 2015 elections have better hustings speeches than “It wasn’t me and I don’t agree with the Party in whose name I’m standing either”.
That way surely lies another four years of disasters.
And actually, for Tories who are saying that the Government has annoyed them, there’s an easy answer – leave the Tory Party and stand as an independent. Somehow I can’t see that happening.