Posted: Sat 27th Apr 2024

Flintshire Council’s Chief Executive ‘extremely agitated’ over confidential Aura report leak

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

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Flintshire Council’s chief executive said he was ‘extremely agitated’ by the leak of a confidential report that has exposed deteriorating relations with Aura Leisure and Libraries Limited, the company managing most of the county’s leisure centres.

The council has said police could get involved after the cabinet report was sent to the Local Democracy Reporting Service earlier this week.

The confidential report was prepared by officers for the council’s cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

It was reported last month that council officials were considering withdrawing financial support when the local authority’s latest agreement with employee-owned Aura was due to end on March 31.

Aura’s chief executive, Mike Welch, hit out at the situation, claiming in a letter that it had caused “significant stress” to the charitable organisation’s 250-plus staff.

It was later announced that the two parties had agreed on a short-term funding deal while the council explored its options.

The leaked report has now cast doubt on whether the arrangement will continue when it ends in mid-July.

The report presented to members of Flintshire’s cabinet outlined several options for the future running of services, including bringing them back in-house or finding an alternative delivery model.

In the document, Damian Hughes, the authority’s corporate manager for capital and assets, said: “The council has sought to work with Aura on a new longer-term arrangement, but relationships have become strained, particularly around funding, and the terms of any new agreement.”

He added: “Aura’s continued stance to refuse reasonable council offers, or seek renegotiation of everything, is a drain on the council’s resources, is an inefficient use of time, and is not in the spirit of collaborative working.”

Before Wednesday’s cabinet meeting went into a ‘behind closed doors’ session, Flintshire’s chief executive Neal Cockerton said: “I’m incredibly disappointed by this breach and really quite annoyed by the whole thing.

“It has undermined the relationship and the work that we’re doing with Aura, if it didn’t need to be undermined any more.

“I make no bones about it – this is a significant and serious issue. It goes to the heart of the working relationships with officers, members, and staff.

“If you detect that I am extremely agitated by this, then you would be absolutely right.

“It’s just completely unacceptable and completely unnecessary, to be quite honest.”

Flintshire’s chief governance officer Gareth Owens told cabinet members the leaking of the documents “undermines the fundamental reporting process that needs to exist within an organisation such as this. We have officers providing full and frank reports and advice to councillors.”

He said council leader Ian Roberts, “you have asked me to look into the matter because clearly and understandably you’re very concerned about it.”

“You’ve asked me to report to the appropriate authority, whether that be in the case of officers, their senior manager, or whether it be the police or the ombudsman in the case of members.

“We will start by looking at whether the email that circulated the agenda has been forwarded to a private email address outside of the organisation.”

Video of Flintshire’s chief executive Neal Cockerton stating he was “extremely agitated” by the document leak. 

A ‘decision sheet’ published following Wednesday’s private session states the cabinet has directed the Education, Youth & Culture Overview and Scrutiny Committee to convene a special meeting to review the proposed options.

The meeting aims to explore various strategies to improve these services comprehensively and is scheduled to take place as soon as possible.

Furthermore, the cabinet has requested an urgent report to be prepared and presented back to them.

The report will include feedback from the Education, Youth & Culture Overview and Scrutiny Committee and input from Aura.

There will be confidential updates provided to members, ensuring they are kept informed of all developments.

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