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Cooking the Books?

Cooking the Books?When Fylde councillors debated the closing figures for their 2004/05 budget, it was evident many were in the dark about where our money was being spent. The Council's "Modernisation" scheme has made it much more difficult for rank and file members to keep track of what is going on.

Under the nine-man Executive Committee arrangement, the present leader of Fylde Council's ruling Conservative group, John Coombes now takes the credit - and therefore the responsibility - for the Council's overall performance.

First he presided over the missing 500,000 the Auditors found in the Council's books, and their warning about the way the Councils books were being kept. 

The next year he failed to ensure adequate corrective action was taken, and the problems were worse. Auditors couldn't even undertake the audit because the books did not have the information they needed. A strongly critical audit report resulted in the Council meeting out at Elswick, where calls for resignation were narrowly avoided.

This year, the bandstand, shelters and other public buildings along the promenade are going to rack and ruin for lack of maintenance. After trying to close most of the public toilets, he dramatically increased parking and leisure charges, sold part of Ashton Gardens for yet more apartments, and now plans to sell or redevelop the Town Hall, Public Offices, St David's Road North Depot, Wesham Offices and North Beach car park. 

The Council has just closed its accounts for last year. They show he overspent by 512,000 and has taken that from balances, reducing them to 758,000. 

The 4 million he got from selling off Fylde's council houses to New Fylde Housing has been - as Councillor John Bennett described it at the Council meeting - "frittered away", so there is now only 1.3 million of that money left.

What is not so easy to see in the books is that although he took 512k out of the General reserve to cover the overspending, he also deposited twice as much (actually 1.1 million) INTO some other "earmarked" reserve accounts, several of which were only created during last year. But then, he has to find something to do with income such as the 80,000 a year from selling sand from the beach, and the 120,000 a year takings on the miniature golf course, and the 400,000 a year from the increased parking charges.

So let's see, at the start of this year, as well as expecting the usual income from our council taxes - and the extra from all the new apartments that have been built - and the takings from sand, golf, and parking etc, he had cash reserves in the bank comprising: a general reserve of 750,000 plus other reserve accounts totaling 1.9 million, plus council house sale proceeds of 1.3 million. I make that going on for 4,000,000 in the bank. 

Then he has the nerve to say he could not afford the 60k a year repayments on a loan to match fund the lottery scheme for Ashton Gardens that would have brought in grant aid of 1.5 million. The sale of sand alone would have covered the payments, costing taxpayers nothing extra at all.

Last week, Councillor Coombes said, "The council does an incredible job of balancing the books"

I couldn't agree more. The job he is doing is not credible at all. 

Dated: 31 July 2005


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