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Town Hall (Mk2)

St Annes Town HallSince arriving at the Town Hall the current Chief Executive has embarked on a programme of change. We understand the previous political administration selected him especially for his ability to "shake things up" - and gave him a brief to do so.  In that sense, he is only following orders.

He is a determined man; we will be modernised and updated whether we like it or not - (and mostly we don't).

Not only is he determined, he is persuasive. He can smoothtalk personalities as diverse as Paul (the Mauler) Hayhurst and John (the Commissar) Coombes. That's impressive.

He is also persistent. This must be about version 14 of the plan to change the way Fylde operates.

Checked by the latest setbacks - not being able to sell off the North Beach Car Park, and not being able to use Lowther Pavilion for the proposed civic suite - he has had minions scurrying around to whip up a revised plan to destroy what is left of the architectural character of St Annes, and asset strip the town of its civic property. 

The project is so important the public cannot be trusted to know about it, so it was debated behind closed doors and in secret session with a  Conservative whip in place. The whip means any that Conservative who voted against the plan would be disciplined, and could be expelled from the party.

This makes it difficult for individual councillors to represent the views of their electorate. So Councillor Coombes must pretty much be in favour of the idea to impose the whip. See the Death of Democracy for more on this.

The latest plans will cause a storm of protest, in fact it has started already - see 'The Commissar Strikes' for the first blood.

But first, a brief recap on how things have changed in the recent past, to show how we may have reached this point, and some possible thinking behind it.....

If you wanted to shake up (or even destroy) a traditional democracy, the first thing to do would be to isolate the decision makers from dissenting views and opinions. 

To regulate the flow of information in a Council, you might, for example, remove those in senior posts whose opinions differ from your own. Perhaps you  would implement a restructuring scheme, change the job titles a bit, and make the current post holders redundant. 

Then, because you are short of experienced staff, you might farm work out to consultants who report directly to you. It's even better if you can find some consultants you have worked with before. This way, you can easily control the flow and extent of information that arrives with you, and you regulate what (and when it) goes to those who make decisions.

The next step might be to propose cost and efficiency saving as a basis for re-organising the services themselves. 

In a Council this might be something like removing the professional and technical experts from public contact. After all they are expensive and it doesn't need that level of expertise for Joe Public really. So in modern management speak, you "de-skill your front of house capability". Lets say you close the Town Hall and direct everyone to a "One Stop Shop". 

This is sold to decision makers on the idea of cost savings, but has the effect of further isolating those in positions of authority from the reality of dealing with people on a day to day basis. 

A useful side effect is that it also stops people being able to obtain information on all but the most simple of things, and the process of trying to do so is so frustrating that they usually give up quite quickly, resulting in further savings in staff time. No wonder they get renamed "Stop One Shops".

Now it's time to complete the separation (and your control) by removing the policy makers from contact with middle and junior management. Perhaps you would separate the administrative and civic functions of your council - again in the guise of short term efficiency and cost savings. 

Hey presto it works - well almost. At least it would if you can just find enough land and buildings to sell off to raise the cash to complete the modernisation scheme.

So now we are more or less up to speed. 

Fylde has followed the peer pattern and introduced "One Stop Shops". It is now looking to separate the administrative function from the ceremonial and civic aspects.

In physical terms, the latest plan looked at demolishing the existing offices at Wesham (yes, these are the only offices Fylde own that comply with the disability requirements), and building a new administrative centre there at a cost - we will have to guess, so let's say - probably in the region of 4.5 million.

Now we need the Civic Suite - a Council Chamber, Mayors parlor, rooms for Councillors and so on.

 The latest plan envisages one adjoining the old Public Offices on Clifton Drive. It involves a new building - probably added onto or adjoining the existing one. This will cost - (we have to guess again, or someone will think we have been told a secret) - probably in the order of 2.5 million.

There were other building options, some obviously makeweights, but - probably - the final figures for those costs were not available so they were not serious contenders for consideration. (Note the control and flow of information here)

So we will demolish the Town Hall and sell the site for another apartment block. Never mind that it is probably the finest example of St Annes Porritt style property; never mind that people in St Annes are fundamentally opposed to the idea; never mind that the transport links are centered on St Annes and not on Wesham; never mind that it presently serves the area of greatest population; never mind that the future of FBC as a small authority remains precarious. 

We will also sell of the depots in St David's Road North for affordable (socially subsidised) housing. The staff housed here at the moment can be put somewhere else - perhaps in a depot where the greenhouses have just been demolished in Ashton Gardens. They were just demolished in time weren't they? Wasn't that a lucky streak?

But the really difficult part of the news is that we need to raise more cash - to make finance follow function as the new doctrine has it -  because we haven't got enough land to sell to raise the 7 million, and the income from selling off the Council houses is going down rapidly. 

So we will - probably - have to borrow around 2 million and put the repayments on the Council Tax.

But at least we will have been modernised.

The final decision remains to be made.

 This decision to finalise the choices to a single option has cost councillors who stood up for their beliefs dear. Suspension from the Conservative party and loss of positions within the Council. 

The present political administration have no regard or respect for dissent. They are a danger to politics and should carry a health warning.

They do not begin to understand the word heritage. Like Oscar Wilde's cynic they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

They preside over the destruction of a beautifully designed town, they fail to check mushrooming overhead costs and consultants fees, and can't even manage to keep their accounts in order.

And they call themselves conservatives. 

Dated: 6 October 2005


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