COUNCILLORS are calling for a fresh look at the costly failure of a taxpayer-funded business – more than three years after it was wound up.

CoSocius was established in May 2014 and owned by both Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester councils – providing IT and HR services for the two authorities.

But in October 2015, a joint committee from the two councils agreed to dissolve the firm, which had operating losses of £800,000 in its first year – and was forecast to lose more beyond that.

From April 2016, CEC took on the IT services for the two councils while CWAC took responsibility for their HR services – but both councils needed to meet the cost of CoSocius’ overspend, which was expected to be £2.8 million as of March 18, 2016.

Northwich Guardian:

At a scrutiny committee meeting when CWAC-owned companies were set to be discussed, Kenny Cunningham, from West Cheshire TUC, called on the council to set up an inquiry into CoSocius’ collapse.

“This was a company which lost council tax payers around £2.8 million when it failed,” he said.

“In December 2017 at a scrutiny committee, it was requested that there should be an investigation into it. Nothing has happened as far as we are aware, and this seems like a fairly pressing point.

“Given the loss of public money, is there any explanation as to why no investigation has taken place, why none of the council committees have looked into this, and who is making the decision to not look into it?”

Members of the CWAC overview and scrutiny committee were told last Thursday night that the matter had been previously considered for scrutiny – but that it was decided there would be ‘minimal additional value’ to it because it had already been considered by the shared services board.

But that board contained cabinet members from the two authorities, and scrutiny committee members called for the opportunity to take another look into the issue.

Cllr Ben Powell, Labour, said: “I did request that this committee looked at the debacle surrounding CoSocius and I’ve never been given a satisfactory reason around why we couldn’t. I’m still of the opinion that it does warrant scrutiny.

Northwich Guardian:

“The joint committee was not a scrutiny committee, it was a committee of cabinet members from both authorities, which was a very different thing.

“I’ll just leave it at the fact that I am deeply dissatisfied by the way that this matter has been handled by everyone concerned.”

Cllr Harry Tonge, Conservative, added: “I would support [Cllr Powell’s] particular view. This is an area where significant learning could be uncovered.

“A review by the people who were actually in control of the project is not the best way of handling a scrutiny approach or an audit approach.

Northwich Guardian:

“We have addressed council companies, we have ways and means of actually doing this, so there should be a way of actually putting this into the forum of a scrutiny committee.”

The committee recommended that CoSocius’ collapse should be scrutinised during the next council administration, following May’s election.

READ MORE: How the Guardian covered the decision to call time on CoSocius