AFTER three eventful years at the helm of Cheshire East Council, Cllr Rachel Bailey insists the authority is now in much better shape.

The Audlem member has stepped down as Conservative group leader following a shock election which saw the party lose its decade-long control of CEC, and she will be replaced as council leader on May 22.

It follows three years which have seen the council be nominated for more than 40 awards, secure funding for major infrastructure projects and adopt its local plan for housing.

But the council has referred seven matters on to Cheshire Police for investigation and had three of its top officers suspended during that time – and Cllr Bailey admits it has been a challenge to shake those issues off.

She said: “It is not that I am angry, I am actually really thrilled that we have got to the point that we have with CEC performance and staff morale.

Knutsford Guardian:

“My only sadness is that we could not get that message across – that negative campaigning and Brexit won the day. I am really sad to see some excellent councillors lose their seat, but that is democracy.

“My challenge to myself had been two years, so I could have easily said 12 months ago that I had done my job, but having got through two years I recognised it was right and responsible to take the council forwards to the elections.

“I was not able to shake off the cries regarding legacy, even though those issues related to me in no way whatsoever, nor do they relate to so many members of the group. But it is time for a new start and we need consensus.”

Cllr Bailey took over the reins as CEC leader in 2016 following Michael Jones’ decision to step down in the wake of the Core Fit scandal, which involved the awarding of contracts to the then-leader’s physiotherapist.

She believes the council now has much stronger governance following her time at the helm – but insists she has still had to deal with slurs against her name on social media, and ‘vicious attacks’ against the Conservative group during the election, despite the work she has put in.

Cllr Bailey said: “Politics needs to look at itself seriously if it is to be about reputation and good service delivery. If it is about a warzone then so be it.

Knutsford Guardian:

“People have contacted me to say they are relieved I have finished because of the attacks I took, but I was happy to lead the council because it was in a mess – it was right that I took responsibility to put it back on track.

“When I became leader morale was low, the reputation of CEC was not good.

“I saw no healthy governance when I became leader and became aware of the facts.”

The Conservatives now have 34 members on CEC to Labour’s 25, 19 independents and four Liberal Democrats.

Labour’s Cllr Sam Corcoran and Cllr Arthur Moran, former independent group leader, have played down the idea that Brexit was key to the Tories’ struggles – but Cllr Bailey disagrees.

She said: “Compared with 2011 – not 2015, as the General Election exaggerated that turnout – the total Conservative vote fell from 90,000 to 60,000. Crucially, both Labour and the Lib Dem numbers are also down quite a bit from 2011 – but the independents went up by 8,000. Everyone else stayed at home.

Knutsford Guardian:

“In Tytherington there was a 1,300 majority that was slashed. That’s not normal local politics.

“Even if you take into account Ainsley Arnold had responsibility for the local plan, those votes did not go to Labour, they went to an independent. The independents absolutely saw their vote on the back of Brexit.”

Cllr Janet Clowes is set to take over the reins as Conservative group leader and is expected to challenge Labour’s Cllr Sam Corcoran for the position of council leader on May 22.

“I sincerely hope that all groups will take responsibility to move forward in practicing governance and ensuring that CEC builds on those solid foundations,” Cllr Bailey added.


Labour and the independents set for CEC agreement

“A member of staff who I did not know contacted me to thank me after I announced I was standing down. They said CEC was a very different place because of my leadership.

“It is a very different style of leadership, with a different culture, and I am very happy to hand the baton on to Cllr Clowes to build on what I have achieved.

“[Cllr Clowes] has got my support, and I know she has got the Conservative group’s support – and rightly so.”