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countering the spin and providing the balance


The First Politburo Meeting

Fylde Politburo Cabinet Makes Preparations Commissar Coombs first Politburo Cabinet meeting homed in on  Wesham today.  Most of the public who attended simply could not believe what had happened to their Council. The nine man Politburo Cabinet took control, and centre stage, whilst a handful of other Councillors occupied side benches at a discreet distance from the new powerbase. 

Most of the public were unable to sit down and had to stand, emphasising the priority of the new Politburo. Clearly we should consider ourselves fortunate to be allowed to watch the progress.

All the agenda items were met with "Blue Peter" decisions (here's one I made earlier). As they came out of an ante-room, it looked as though the issues had already been decided out of the public gaze.

Ensconced in his new-found role, Commissar Coombes announced to the assembled Councillors that in future, Politburo Cabinet meetings would require any Councillor who was not a member of the nine man Cabinet, to submit written questions in advance of the meeting, and our Beloved Commissar Leader would then choose which, if any, of the questions that would be answered. But as a special concession, for tonight only, he would allow one oral question from each Councillor so long as it was a question and not a statement.

New temporary Chief Executive and dedicated follower of fashion, Bill Taylor, backed up the Commissar, saying "You now have 21st century tools to do the job. The Council has delegated power to the Cabinet and they will now make all the decisions". So, there is no need for other Councillors to get involved in these decisions at all.

Kirkham's firebrand Councillor Liz Oades was gobsmacked to be told she could ask only one question regarding Mill Street Carpark, and the 40 or so members of Kirkham's business community who attended the meeting must have been shellshocked at this travesty of democracy.

Emboldened by his new power, and energised like a colossus, the Commissar vigorously strode through the 146 pages of a magnificent agenda, which dignified the occasion at least by its volume, if not by its quality of content and clarity.

The decisions of moment upon which the attention of the aspirant Commissars of the Politburo focused included:

2) Mill Street Car Park
The politburo decided not to let Kirkham's Mill Street Car Park become a trust managed by local people. Although the Commissar wants people to pay locally for local services, the Politburo patently doesn't want them to run them as well.

3). Fees for other car parks 
Car parks are now seen not so much as something to attract spending visitors into the towns, but as a cash cow where visitors are fleeced (or should that be milked?) of as much of their coin of the realm as is possible. 

Cabinet also noted that they couldn't make enough income from the St Paul's Avenue car park at Fairhaven, so its future is to be referred to the "Asset Management Group" (an ordeal it is not likely to survive in its present form). counterbalance wonders if it will be (yet more) flats, or whether the Commissar has a more commercial use in mind.

4) Communications Strategy
This revised "Communications Strategy" will have been a bit rich for anyone that has ever tried to phone the Council. 

Barclaycard 's Bombay Branch is easier to get hold of. 

One paragraph glories by beginning "Management thinkers have debated long and hard over the difference between strategy and policy which is one of the reasons why they have often been bundled together. The definition of both terms as used in a managerial context is outlined below to help clarify some of the difference and help understand the need for their separation:"

counterbalance eagerly turned the page, anticipating the pearls of wisdom to follow, and was somewhat let down to find the following:

"Strategy - A planned long term aim or objective

Policy - A course or principle of action proposed by an organisation"

And they wonder why they have no officer time to actually answer the phones or any money keep the loos open. There are another 13 pages of claptrap in like vein.

5). Statement of Community Involvement
Next comes the grandly titled "Statement of Community Involvement" which is a review of the comments made following consultation on how FBC will involve the public in its newest development control arrangements. 

The report is dry as dustwater, (usually a sign something important is being hidden), but life is too short to read all 52 pages of this report and proposals (This probably goes for most of the Politburo as well). And the fact that the author has chosen to use Microsoft's "Comic Sans" typeface rather than the corporate style, emphasises that he has both "dumbed it down" for the plebs to read, and that it is literally "without humour" so there is not much point in looking for meat.

6) Blackpool local plan
Changes to the Blackpool local plan that highlight a spat about sand extraction from St Annes beach.

7). Prudential Indicators 
This is the outturn position for 2004/05. Has Gordon Brown moved into Fylde we wonder? This is another dry as dustwater report, mostly about minor accounting changes, but counterbalance knows better than to allow boring financial texts like this to pass unexamined, and sure enough, buried in the middle of it you will find the first glimpse of something interesting. Fylde has been bitterly complaining that it is short of money, and can't make ends meet, but in 2004/05 the Council's investments generated 343,000 in interest. Now, to generate that much interest, counterbalance thinks a big lump of money must be hiding somewhere. 

8) Treasury Management Strategy 
Another dry report, though with flickers of interest. Income from the sale of ex Council houses to sitting tenants is going down, as the arrangements to buy them are made less attractive. Fylde had been banking on this to fund the town hall redevelopment plans, so things seem to be getting tougher on that front. But then, in the middle of page 99 is the hidden nugget which says  "An examination of the earmarked reserves and other internally held balances indicate that potentially up to 4 million is available for investment for periods over one year." 

Regular readers will remember last July, when, in 'Cooking the Books' counterbalance reported how the Council had 'overspent' by 512k and taken this money out of its General Reserve but at the same time, they also paid 1.1 million into these Special Reserves.

Since then, the Council has continued to complain it has no money. Most recently the infamous Commissar's cry of - we need an extra 700,000 to cover overspending

Yet in this report the Council declares it has grown its Earmarked Reserves to 4,000,000 (yes, that did say four million pounds sterling) since April 2005. These reserves are hidden from the view of most councillors unless they plough through boring financial reports like this - and we're not finished yet. Read on for more thrilling installments.

9) Capital Monitoring 
This reports how progress is going on spending on the big projects. Not much to decide here, mostly an update of progress. However, there will be 713,000 that they can't spend by 1st April this year, so they plan to carry this money forward to next year.

10) Concessionary Travel scheme. 
Two lots of good news followed by a sting in the tail. 

First, the Government has said that all over 60s should have free bus passes from next year. Previously, the Fylde scheme allowed for half price bus passes. If Fylde's scheme had continued, it would have cost 318,500 next year. However, it has to become free. 

The Politburo considered five options. The least generous would see free travel after 9.30am, but only for journeys within Fylde's borough boundary. 

The middle option would give this together with half price travel before 9.30am in Fylde, and half price travel after 9.30 anywhere in the northwest area. 

The most generous option would give free travel after 9.30am anywhere in the northwest (and to journeys that start and end in the north west). 

The second bit of good news is that the Politburo plumped for option 3, which is an improvement on the present scheme. The report shows this as having no additional cost implication because the Government has provided an extra 486,000 to Fylde, and enough of this has been built in to cover the extra costs of travel concessions for Option 3. 

If they went for the most generous plan (option 5), it would cost an 'extra' 117,000. Read on for the sting.

11) Revenue and Capital budgets for 2006/07 
This is the last report on the 146 page agenda. Seasoned watchers will know it is the most significant item because by this time everyone is tired and ready for home, fed up of the arguing that has taken up the whole night, and the  item should pass without too much debate.

There is a lot to take in, and we will probably devote a future page to it, but the beginning of the report is really interesting. 

You will remember how in the last few weeks, Commissar Coombes has been shouting about his budget deficit of 700,000 and how they will have to close swimming pools and Age Concern, and shut down parks, and stop having a Mayor and increase fees again.. 

Well, this report shows the shortfall has magically dropped from 700,000 to 383,000. It also shows how the 383k is to be found. 

CAB will lose out significantly and a number of other small items head for the chop, but the biggest saving by far (205,000) comes from...... you guessed, concessionary travel. So what the Commissar will trumpet as a triumph for the politburo in giving better travel concessions, could have been even better if they hadn't snaffled the 205,000 from it, and kept the 4million salted away in their reserves.

And with cash like that lying around, they don't really have to cut the CAB and other items.

When spin and financial sleight of hand have reached these levels its really sad.

Dated:  15 February 2006


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