You couldn’t make it up

Anyone who runs a business will know the importance of keeping proper records and having a paper trail.

Here at the Chronicle, we require a purchase order for larger adverts, so that we have it in writing that company X wants an advert of a specified size in a certain edition and knows it will cost so much.

It protects us — no-one can say they didn’t order the advert — and it protects the customer, if (and this rarely happens) we forget to run the ad, run it the wrong size or try and charge the wrong price.

Likewise, when people pay their bills, they want an invoice with their order number on, so they can cross check, and often a receipt of some sort so they can prove where their money went.

When our staff claim expenses we need to see a receipt, to prove the money was spent. It’s all very basic stuff.

So it’s shocking to learn that Congleton Town Council apparently doesn’t do any of this.

A little digging by Coun John Saville Crowther over the Simnet fiasco, and the council’s missing £20,000, has ascertained the fact that the council not only failed to have a form of contract with Simnet, it also never got a receipt for the money.

We reckon that this cuts the chance of it ever getting the money back from Simnet from slim to zero. There’s no evidence of any order being placed or any money changing hands.

This makes the council’s decision to discuss and change to its financial regulations even more bizarre: it’s not only local government guidelines that appear to have been breached but common sense.

No amount of rules and regulations can prevent someone handing over £20,000 with no contract and not asking for a receipt.

A letter to the Chronicle this week says we should do more to unearth the facts, but short of staging a Watergate-style break-in and stealing the evidence, there’s not much more we can do.

However, we suspect that some readers will not be happy with the response to our questions from £60,000-a-year town clerk Brian Hogan who, when asked to comment on Coun Saville Crowther’s letter told our reporter: “This issue is closed as far as the council is concerned.

You can write whatever you like, but nothing more will be said.”

We suspect there’s a lot more to be said.

***

Not that we’re any more impressed with the antics of the Opposition on Cheshire East Council, calling for a vote of no confidence in leader Coun Michael Jones.

They knew it was doomed and a waste of time — and money — but persisted anyway. It was nothing but electioneering.

Coun Jones’s critics claimed there was a culture of “fear and loathing” in Cheshire East.

The Opposition attacked Coun Jones for instilling fear in staff —which is ironic given that two members of the Opposition have been accused by others of something along the same lines.

Macclesfield Independent Brendan Murphy, a leading critic of Coun Jones, was convicted in 2012 of pursuing a campaign of harassment against his neighbours.

As well as being fined, Coun Murphy was made the subject of a restraining order.

Coun Sam Corcoran meanwhile — who we like, and it grieves us to raise this — was found guilty of breaching Cheshire East Council’s code of conduct.

This was down to over eagerness, in talking to a couple involved in a planning matter, but they accused him of failing to identify himself and being intimidating.

A council committee found that he breached the council code of conduct, with the  person appointed to the panel as an independent member, saying: “I believe it constitutes a certain degree of bullying.”

In the end, Cheshire East’s Code of Conduct Resolution Panel found that Coun Corcoran had breached the code’s section that related to councillors conducting themselves in a manner “which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute”.

While he was not found to have acted in a bullying manner  – and we certainly don’t think he is a bully – his case shows how behaviour can easily be construed as bullying. Perhaps it should have given Opposition councillors some pause for thought before launching their attack on Coun Jones.

Neither of these has as much brass neck as UKIP’s Brian Silvester, who claimed (well he would) that Tories would be “swept out of office” for supporting Coun Jones and accused Coun Jones of being “inept”.

This is the same Coun Silvester who was fined £45,000 at Chester Crown Court for failing to obtain the necessary licence for a house in multiple occupation, and 11 fire safety offences.

The fire service said the breaches “could ultimately have led to serious injury or potential death”.

Now that’s inept.

***

Reading this column back, we suddenly realised what the phrase “you just couldn’t make it up” means.

If we fictionalised the shambles in our local government for a television series — one council stumping up £20k and not asking for a receipt, another having a councillor who’s been fined for heavily being incompetent accusing people of ineptness — no-one would believe you. The critics would say “that would never happen in real life”.

There is some hope.

Over in Biddulph, a local worthy, Jill Salt, who works hard for the community and speaks a lot of common sense, has decided to stand for council. We hope she does well.

Over in Cheshire, our views on the competence of Cheshire East councillors is well known. May’s elections should see people voting for good candidates, not someone who happens to be wearing the right coloured rosette.

Let’s hope the latest events prompt some independent councillors to come forward and stand.

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