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A Town Council For Lytham?

A Town Council for Lytham?There's been an awful lot of cobblers written about the idea of a Town Council for Lytham in the last few weeks, and we thought Lythamites and their friends would like some clarity about what a Town Council for Lytham might be and do. counterbalance has some experience in these matters, probably more than any of those who have been pontificating in the local paper of late.

But first, you need to understand why the idea of having a Town Council for Lytham is suddenly on the agenda now, when until recently it has been the last thing the Borough Council wanted.

It's all to do with the Commissar's repackaged 'Equitable Taxation' plans. You'll be relieved that we're not going into all that again here, the history is well covered elsewhere in counterbalance, (and we are likely to get into it again soon).

Suffice here to say he wants to have a Town Council for Lytham so he can try to dump the lump of Lytham's parks and open space maintenance spending onto it, just as he is trying to con the St Anne's Town Council to do at present, so he can take anywhere up to two million pounds more in Council tax from us.

Back when Ken Lee was Chief Executive, the Commissar was brainwashed into believing that the job of the local council is to manage (sorry, lead) its community, rather than to deliver public services. Back then, the plan was to drop the services we expect, so they could spend the money on spin, deception and what counterbalance calls 'social engineering." The plan was to teach the well-to-do folk around here they must become equal to folk in less advantaged areas.

Part of the spin and deception ingredient involved setting up a series of Neighbourhood Forums throughout Fylde. The aim was to give the illusion that residents were being listened to and consulted, when in fact the forum would be chaired, minuted, and have its agenda set, by the Borough Council. (See what we mean about managing us?).

Anyway, they soon came across a problem. Most places in Fylde already had a Parish or Town Council that did proper listening and consultation So they planned to make a start, and set the mould for the forum idea with the good folk of St Anne's and Lytham.

However, something happened to spoil their plan.

Seeing how their views were being disregarded by the Borough Council, and being angry about all sorts of local matters, (especially the resurrected plan to sell off part of Ashton Gardens), the residents of St Anne's had already taken the matter into their own hands and started the process to create a Town Council of their own that would speak on their behalf, and keep the worst excesses of the Borough administration in check.

This threw the Forum idea off-course for a while.

When the St Anne's Town Council was formed, the forum plan was dropped altogether there. But the idea didn't go away, and after the dust of forming the St Anne's TC had settled, up popped the idea of a Forum again. But this time, it was Lytham that was honoured.

The process was executed almost silently and without any of the usual publicity and spin. A selected few of Lytham's movers and shakers were invited to attend a meeting with some Lytham Councillors to explore issues of common interest. You can see our report of the meeting here.

With (the then Councillor) Ray Norsworthy in the chair the meeting concluded with agreement that they should have another meeting, and it should take the format of a forum. This of course was a preplanned nonsense. It was an attempt to give a cloak of democracy to a scheme that would manage the folk of Lytham. As one of the participants told us, the Civic Society representative spotted the trend early on, and made some sharp observations - that apparently were not too well received - about meetings not being conducted as they would have expected.

Undeterred, more meetings were held, (an early one of which decided a Town Council for Lytham was not needed). These meetings may still be going on, but because the group is not truly independent, and is really the puppet of the town hall, it was never going to go anywhere.

All this time, the Commissar was trying to get his 'Equitable Taxation' plans pushed through.

He was threatening Parish and Town Councils like St Anne's that if they didn't fall into his way of doing things, he would use a technique known as 'Special Expenses' and would charge the cost to (in this example) St Anne's residents anyway. The effect of this plan would have put Fylde's Council Tax in St Anne's up by an extra 9% in one go, and give the potential for it to rise still higher whilst not going over the Government's capping limit.

He wanted (and still wants) to dump the lump of spending on parks and open spaces onto Town and Parish Councils, so it is outside Fylde's capping calculation, and he can raise more in tax before he hits the Government limit of a 5% increase.

Behind the scenes, a friend of counterbalance was having a dialogue with the Council's external auditors about all of this. They made a ruling that if the Special Expenses technique was used, it would still count as being the Borough Council's expenditure, and within its capping limit. From that point on, there was no practical benefit to the Commissar using this Special Expenses approach.

He tried it on again a couple of times again, but the sensible St Anne's Town Councillors, under the eagle eye of Chairman Barbara Mackenzie, saw through his con trick and refused to have anything to do with it. By doing this, they saved both Lytham and St Anne's taxpayers an increase of 9% in their council tax.

So with the Special Expenses idea closed to him, the only way the Commissar could go was to persuade St Anne's Town Council to voluntarily adopt the idea. That's playing out at the moment, and there are moves going on behind the scenes to 'persuade' the Town Council.

As an aside, we understand the Commissar may have insisted that anyone who was a Conservative and planning to stand for the St Anne's Town Council, had to stand on a Conservative ticket. Thus Roger Walker and Christine Ackeroyd who stood as non-aligned candidates last time, stood as formal Conservative candidates this time.

The spreading of political dogma into areas where it should not exist is typical of the Commissar, and is most regrettable.

However, out of the seven Town Councillors that were elected to St Anne's Town Council, three stood as Conservative ticket holders , so the Commissar thinks he could be in with bit of a chance.

We think otherwise.

But in case he can't persuade or coerce St Anne's Town Council to comply, he is covering his bets and hoping to set up a tame Town Council in Lytham. Undoubtedly, he hopes to use this as the thin end of his repackaged 'Equitable Taxation' wedge.

Now you see why the idea of a Town Council for Lytham is now being talked up by the Commissar's acolytes in Lytham.

Suddenly the road to Damascus goes straight through Lytham, and  the man who up to now has only been interested in getting his picture taken by the railway line, and trying to build huts on St Anne's Beach that they could sell off to raise money, (Councillor Richard Fulford-Brown) suddenly finds himself extolling the virtues of Lytham having its own Town Council.

His letter to the Express speaks of there being certain financial advantages (You bet!   But it's advantage for the Commissar's new 'Dump the Lump' version of 'Equitable Taxation' that we're talking about here).

He also speaks of it being "a more formalised debating forum for local pressure groups and organisations such as Defend Lytham, the Civic Society, the Chamber of Trade...." and so on. The subtext here is about distancing the Borough Council from the legitimate pressures these groups bring to bear.

He concludes that he is "minded to suggest we look into the possibility of setting up a Lytham Town Council provided it did not involve residents in any additional expense"

The arrogance here is compounded by his ignorance when he says "....these local parish and town councils at present have no powers and can only make recommendations or raise objections....." This statement is entirely wrong.

A Town or Parish Council is a statutory body with powers to tax just as the Borough Council is. They are constituted by an Act of Parliament, and have a wide range of powers, not much different to those available to a Borough Council. The main difference is that they are typically run by people who understand common sense better than dogma, so they tend to be better regarded.

Then, the following week in the Express, along comes Ray Norsworthy. Having failed to get elected to the Borough Council at all this time, and now styling himself "Chairman Lytham Community Forum." He criticises previous writers saying "..... its a pity some writers did not research the facts."

Right on! Mr Chairman.

He says he is in favour of setting up a Lytham Town Council, but not as another layer of bureaucracy.

He says "I believe if set up properly the town council would improve communications between elected representatives and residents of Lytham, devolve responsibility for local facilities and do both at a reduced cost to you the council tax payer"

Note that by definition it is another layer of Local Governance. But however hard he might want to do it, nothing can be 'devolved' from the Borough Council.

A Town or Parish Council is autonymous and a completely separate entity from the Borough Council. With some minor exceptions, it makes its own decisions about what it does, or does not, do, and it levies its own precept (tax). 

Like the Borough Council, it is beholden to no-one except its electorate and the law.

Mr Norsworthy goes on to explain that before the Town Council is set up it must request and be allocated specific responsibilities. He goes on, resplendent in his ignorance of these matters, to list several playing fields (notably avoiding the Green), adding that the Town Council would be responsible for maintaining and improving them.

Again, before it is established, it can request or accept no responsibilities. It has no mandate to do so because it does not exist. It has no budget to do so, and having no legal status until it is created, it cannot lawfully do so.

Nor can any undertaking to do anything be given on its behalf. Decisions can only be made by those who are elected, after they are elected. And the decisions made will depend entirely on who is elected and how they vote in Council, so statements of what it "would do" are nothing more than speculation presented as fact.

It is also worth noting that any Town or Parish Council worth its salt would expect to own the land it was looking after. (Maybe this is why the Green wasn't included in Mr Norsworthy's missive) but he makes no mention of the deeds of this (or any) land being passed to a new Town Council, just the responsibility of doing the work, and paying for it, and there's the clue as to what's really going on.

As we said at the beginning, this is the new deceptive route to 'Equitable Taxation Mk2'

He further explains "The Town Council would consist of between 10 and 15 Councillors, i.e. two or three per ward. They would be elected but would not receive allowances. It would employ a Town Clerk at 5/6,000 pa and no other direct staff. The cost of maintaining the specified facilities would therefore be considerably less than for the Borough....." (who he goes on to say has a staff of more than 400).

All of these things except the number of Councillors (where the Electoral Commission hold sway) are matters to be decided by the Parish or Town Council itself. No-one else has any authority to make them, and the choice as to whether they employ staff or pay contractors is, again, a matter entirely for those that are elected if a Town Council is created. 

Perhaps Mr Norsworthy is just jumping the gun a bit and thinking that, having failed to get elected to the Borough Council, he is bound to be elected to, and would automatically run, a Lytham Town Council.

But what we really have here is a softening up process on Lythamites.

As Fylde's second in command, David Joy, said publicly "The issue is the avoidance of capping"

What you see here is the beginnings of a campaign to create a tame Town Council for Lytham that will be more compliant with the Commissar's need to dump a lump of his expenditure onto them.

He wants to lose up to 1,000,000 of spending from HIS books, and thereby get anything up to another million of spending by keeping HIS level of spending the same as it was before, (or even dropping it a bit), by conning the Town Council into raising the million or so themselves by levying 'their own' tax.

You can just see the spin now, can't you?

"What? No. It's not us that's put the Council Tax up. Look at the figures. Our charge is (the same as / slightly less than) last year. No, it's this new Lytham Town Council where all the extra spending is going. They are going to look after the playing fields now, so they have charged you for the cost of that."

He really does think we were born yesterday.

All that said, there is a real danger lurking in these proposals. The St Anne's Town Council succeeded because there was a committed group of volunteers from seven different community groups that came together voluntarily to create first a Steering Group, then the Town Council itself, by petitioning for it. Many of them stood for election to it, and several remain independent Councillors today.

But a Borough Council can also ask for a Parish Council to be created, and if they were to do that, as seems likely from the rhetoric, and there is no real involvement from the community, there is a chance that the Commissar's political nominees will be elected if sufficient independent local people don't get involved and stand for election.

In that case, the good people of Lytham could see the Commissar's placemen being set up to run Lytham. That might well lead to them raising a Lytham specific tax in the order of a million or so, to run the parks and open spaces, whilst claiming to be more efficient. as they do so.

This would leave the commissar free to charge the same Council Tax as he charged us last year, and at the same time get another million pounds of our tax to mis-spend.

Not a pretty thought.

Dated: 22 July 2007


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