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Citizens Advice ?

Citizens Advice ?Interesting.

That's the word to describe Fylde's final debate on its 2006/07 budget. All the decisions had really been made, but this was to be the last ditch attempt to keep funds flowing into the Citizen's Advice Bureau service in St Annes and Kirkham.

The Commissar opened the batting by saying "Fylde has a lower than normal Council Tax level" (well of course it does, its a wealthy middle class retirement haven, it's not the middle of Toxteth or Burnley, and it doesn't have their problems to deal with).

Anticipating the debate to come he said "This Council will work with the CAB (Citizen's Advice Bureau) to help it raise funds elsewhere."

At the time of speaking, he was planning to cut 36,800 from the money Fylde pays them. He has in his reserve accounts 863,000 and in his Earmarked Reserve accounts 4 million. That's enough to fund CAB for over a hundred and thirty years. But he claimed they couldn't afford the 36,800 because they would have to make a lot of savings next year, and they need to tighten the belt now.

Saint Barbara Pagett opened the batting for the opposition. counterbalance readers will remember she was a Conservative, but was suspended for speaking her mind (and more importantly voting according to her own beliefs - which is no longer tolerated). She is the first of Coombes' chickens come home to roost, and is most unlikely to remain a Conservative for much longer we think, She proposed an amendment that the final decision on CAB funding be deferred until the relevant brief-holder had had talked to them about the withdrawal of  funds, and reported back to the Council on the outcome of the discussions.

Lytham's Steve Mason made a sensible, cogent and well-reasoned argument in support, pointing out that the good work done on debt counseling would be decimated by the proposed cut. (At this point, the Conservatives looked as though they were listening with closed ears and glazed eyes)

John Bennet spoke without his usual common sense for the second time in one evening, fuelling our view that he is about to sell his soul to the devil for a mess of pottage (or perhaps to the Commissar for the chairmanship of a Committee). He said giving them the money would open a can of worms, and we would be giving them 125 per day of taxpayers money.

The next speaker was Councillor Kiran Mulholland of Freckleton. Now this speech was a real eye-opener. He is a very astute and able speaker. Often (in our opinion) wrong, but nevertheless good at advocacy.

He launched into a strong attack on CAB, saying he didn't feel able to give taxpayers money to charity (So much for the corporate aim of working in partnership with others, so much for alternative means of service delivery). He went on to say he had heard they could probably cope with the funding cut, and he'd love to know how much the Chief Executive of CAB got paid.

This provoked Paul  Hayhurst to remind them that John Bennett had said the grant was 125 per day, and our Chief Executive (allegedly costing Fylde's taxpayers 100 per hour) was being  paid more the Tony Blair on a pro-rata basis.

The speech from Kiran Mulholand was so out of character for him, counterbalance suspects it has found the second Committee Chairmanship in the gift of the Commissar.

Remember, you heard it first on counterbalance.

Toward the end of the debate, Councillor Albert Pounder, brief-holder for Partnerships or whatever it is called now, rose to speak. 

He is in charge of partnerships and working with community groups, and the person that Saint Barbara's amendment would have had meet with CAB. 

There was a silence of anticipation just before the intrepid Albert poured forth his pearls of wisdom on the topic.

He began with phrases like "they must put their house in order" and "We can't allow the small minority who use it to affect all ratepayers of this Borough

Not exactly what the volunteers from CAB who were at the meeting had hoped to hear, and probably not the best opening for someone whose job it is to secure the help and support of community groups and volunteers to work with the Council.

Looks like this chap will fit well into the Commissar's mould of "If you don't agree, just compromise to our view".

Saint Barbara's amendment to defer the cut to CAB funds was defeated, as was a similar one from Wesham's Linda Nulty, who said she was sorry to hear Councilor Pounder had already decided the matter when the issue was being debated by the council as he spoke.

Paul Hayhurst then tried a similar amendment, but linked the funding to a 1% cut is salaries which he claimed had gone up by a huge amount since John Coombes came to power.

Needless to say, the Council decided to stick with the budget including the cut to CAB, and they thus keep the 4.8 million in their reserves.

Dated 2 March 2006


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