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Former CWaC leader's council credit card paid for 12 guests at 1539 restaurant

Meals paid for on rates included lunch for a dozen Cheshire business leaders

 

Cheshire West and Chester council leader Mike Jones

Ex-Tory council leader Mike Jones used a council credit card to buy meals for up to 12 guests according to details released by the local authority which is investigating all his card transactions.

As leader, Cllr Jones was the only council member with a ‘purchase card’ which was used to pay for food and drink, rail travel, parking and hotels during the course of his council business.

Details now released show some of the meals bought on the card for more than £300 and £400 were for several diners including 12 Cheshire business leaders on one occasion.

Cllr Mike Jones speaking to Cheshire Chief Constable Simon Byrne during Operation Crossbow 3(Image: David Holmes)

Cheshire West and Chester Council launched a probe after newly elected Labour councillor Ben Powell, who won the Blacon by-election yesterday (Thursday, April 20), raised concerns on receiving a Freedom of Information (FOI) response.

Mr Powell has also written to Cheshire chief constable Simon Byrne asking for an investigation ‘to determine whether a criminal offence has been committed’.

​Cllr Jones has not responded to The Chronicle’s request for a comment but has provided explanations to CWaC for some of the expenditure.

Mark Wynn, director of corporate services, who is carrying out an internal review into the use of the card, pointed out that Cllr Jones, in his role as leader, regularly met with potential external investors with a view to attracting regeneration and development to the borough, using the card on these occasions.​

Newly elected Labour councillor for Blacon Ben Powell

​Mr Powell was concerned about:

■ High value expenditure at restaurants and pubs

■ Four transactions at Conservative Party fund-raising events

■ Card used to pay off £35 NCP Ltd parking fine

Now the council has provided more detail about the expenditure including a £319 lunch including alcohol at Chester Racecourse’s 1539 restaurant for Cheshire business leaders attended by 12 guests.

1539 restaurant and bar at Chester racecourse

A meal including alcohol at M&P Inns Ltd at Tattenhall, which cost £375, was for a day-long ministerial delegation to the borough arranged by the council.

And a receipt shows a £448 meal including alcohol at Nunsmere Hall hotel, Northwich, was for seven people although no justification is given.

Another meal including alcohol at La Brasserie within The Chester Grosvenor hotel cost £289.95, which the receipt shows was for seven guests, although again no justification is given for the hospitality.

The Chester Grosvenor hotel(Image: Infinite 3d Ltd 2010)

​Council director ​Mr Wynn said ​the Tattenhall councillor, who was leader of CWaC until Labour took control in May 2015, says he was lobbying ministers on behalf of the authority when he used the card at the United and Cecil Club (U&C) – a members-only dining club, run by Tim Lord, which raises substantial funds for the Conservative Party.

And the council has clarified that on one occasion Cllr Jones was accompanied to the U&C dinner by an advisor retained by the council to work on its bid to pilot community budgets.

CWaC said the event was attended by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and ‘was an opportunity for the former leader and advisor to lobby on behalf of the council’.

Former CWaC Mike Jones with the new CWaC leader Samantha Dixon at the June 2015 election count. Photo by Ian Cooper

In addition, Cllr Jones’ recollection was that he asked for the £35 parking fine paid for on the credit card to be deducted from his councillor’s allowance.

The council has revealed its ongoing internal review will cover the following areas:

■ An analysis of all transactions

■ Identification of supporting information for each transaction

■ A view, where possible, on reasonableness of expenditure

■ Whether any transactions breached council policies at the time the expenditure was incurred

■ Any other information that comes to light during the review

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) HQ building in Chester(Image: Ian Cooper)

A council spokesperson said: “The findings will be publicly available although some details may need to be redacted for legal reasons.”

And it was confirmed the external auditor will be asked for their view on the scope of the review and the way it has been conducted. CWaC says it ‘will share any information that is requested by the police’.

Asked whether Cllr Jones could face disciplinary action and be asked to pay back money if any spending was found to be unjustified, the council spokesperson responded: “This would be considered as part of the review, if appropriate.”

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