THE consultant who highlighted bullying from ‘some individuals with power’ at Cheshire East Council will return in January to see if things have changed.

Sarah Messenger’s report for the Local Government Association (LGA), published in January 2018, found that 24 per cent of CEC staff had witnessed workplace bullying in the second half of 2017.

She will now return to CEC from January 13 to January 16 to conduct a ‘corporate peer challenge’ for the LGA, along with councillors and officers from other local authorities.

Cllr Sam Corcoran, CEC’s Labour leader, told Thursday’s full council meeting the visit would be used as ‘an improvement tool’.

He said: “They will take a health check, or MOT, of our council – helping us to reflect on what we do well, and also on areas for development – so that we continue our improvement journey.

Winsford Guardian:

“I am pleased that Sarah Messenger will be part of the team.

“[Her] report levelled some serious concerns about the culture here at the time, and I do think that was a catalyst for change. I would be very interested to hear from the LGA on what progress has been made since then.

“For what it’s worth, I think that significant progress has been made, and we are two years into a three-year culture change programme.”

CEC embarked on its ‘brighter future together’ programme following Ms Messenger’s 2018 report – including bringing in consultants Sticky Change to help improve workplace culture, at a cost of £152,460.

The council has submitted a self-assessment to the LGA as part of the ‘corporate peer challenge’, and feedback from the four-day event will be given following the visit.

READ > Owners of empty properties to face steeper Cheshire East council tax fees

LGA representatives will be visiting the council one month after Kath O’Dwyer, acting chief executive, handed in her notice to take on a new role at St Helens Council – and members praised the part she has played in helping CEC turn a corner in the past two years.

Cllr Corcoran said: “CEC has changed significantly – and for the better – since Kath O’Dwyer became acting chief executive in April 2017.

“They have been interesting times. Kath has risen to the challenges and taken difficult decisions – even where those decisions have meant matters being referred to the police.

“I thank Kath for getting us to the position where we are now – where I firmly believe the council is on the up and has a platform from which it can fly.”

Cllr Stewart Gardiner, Conservative CEC member for Knutsford, added: “This woman has saved this council almost single-handedly in steering the ship through exceedingly difficult times and I find it very difficult that she suddenly decided to walk away from it.

Winsford Guardian:

“I would like to know whether or not every effort was made by the leadership of the council, through Cllrs Corcoran and [deputy leader Craig] Browne, to encourage her to reverse her decision.”

CEC’s next steps in recruiting a permanent chief executive were discussed at a special staffing committee meeting on Thursday afternoon, away from the press and public.