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Being Positive for Once

Being Positive for OnceThe fallout from our last report about Fylde Council's appalling accounting mess continues to rumble on. As we forecast, Brian White, former finance officer has now gone to pastures new; the last Politburo Cabinet meeting heard an exception report that they were failing to pay invoices in time because they couldn't reconcile two different accounting systems, and Chief Executive Philip Woodward sent a newsletter round to all Councillors saying that their finances were "not in meltdown" (Which we had never claimed. We simply said they didn't know how much money they had).

He went on to say the local press might pick up the story, and to counteract any negative press comment, he said:

"At the year end we still had over £250,000 more in our revenue balances than the minimum recommended level, so our finances are not in 'meltdown';

We also hold a number of 'earmarked reserves' which are held for specific purposes such as :

  • £875,000 of commuted sum payments from developers of new market housing in the Borough, earmarked for the provision of affordable housing;
  • £260,000 to cushion any potential imbalance in the housing benefit subsidy payment made to us by the Department of Work & Pensions later in the year;
  • £ 21,000 of funds from the sale of the Council's interest in a bus company in the late 1990s, retained for use in Ansdell.

This being the case, its arguably tricky for the Commissar to keep pleading poverty as he does,  and it's a public disgrace that there is a Grade II Listed octagonal  shelter on St Anne's Promenade that has been boarded up for more than two years because this penny wise and pound foolish Council spends its money on strategies and consultants and not on looking after our property.

One Councillor, who is known to counterbalance, told us everything we said in 'No Accounting for Fylde' was right, but in reality, things were actually slightly worse than we had reported.

We were not surprised. We had the inside story.

Perhaps stung by the failure to properly manage his accounting service, Mr Woodward struck out at counterbalance, and told Councillors "You may have heard of a local website called 'counterbalance'. From what I've seen of it its purpose seems to be to criticise anything the Council does rather than offer any alternative constructive solutions to local issues."

Actually - as those who read us regularly will know - it's not that often we criticise the Council.

We respect (even where we may disagree with) the collective decisions made by the 52 Councillors we elect. However, these days, the Council proper has been usurped and emasculated by the appalling Politburo Cabinet system, and most decisions are kept from them.

So what we do (regularly) criticise is the morally illegitimate and representationally bankrupt Politburo Cabinet system that is at work here, the aspirational and overtly party political style adopted by the Commissar, his dogmatic, confrontational approach, together with his lack of consensus working, and the big blue-sky strategic thinking that is liberally applied (with oodles of consultancy handouts) when Fylde claims it can't even afford to repair the shelters on its promenade.

 

That said, we couldn't miss such a wonderful opportunity to be positive, could we? So, Mr Woodward, here's our short list of positive things that could be done.

1). Restore Democracy
Abandon the wholly undemocratic Politburo Cabinet system. Widen the knowledgebase of decisions by restoring the committee system supported by the oversight by the full Council. Remove the aspirational culture that pits councillors against each other instead of encouraging them to work together.

2). Restore Consensus
The overt politicisation of decisions has been bad for the area, and bad for the Council. There is no place for it in local Government. We elect Councillors to represent us, not to spout a party line. Decisions should be based on the needs of the local electorate, not party dogma.

3). Act on what you hear.
It's all well and good listening, but when you listen with a closed mind, when you consult on decisions that are already taken, when you confuse consultation with promotion, and when you think partnerships means we should do as we are told, you alienate the electorate and promote apathy. Don't just listen, hear and act.

4). Represent us
Don't assume we have given you a mandate to "lead" us. We haven't. If we had wanted to be "led" we would have joined the Army. What we want is for Councillors to represent our views. They have the honour to be our public servants, they should not aspire to be Commissars who believe they are in charge of us.

5). Focus on the electorate
You should trust your electorate and gear your efforts to them. Let local people set your priorities, not the grey uniformity of political correctness, nor the artificial targets and priorities of the Audit Commission - they don't elect you, nor does the Government. We do. Yes, you must stay within the law, but your priority should be your local electorate. Resist all attempts to make you the passive, obedient, locally important administrative arm of central Government.

6). Use more common sense, less strategy
Common sense has been in very short supply in recent years. Where is the sense in introducing a "Parenting Strategy" for Fylde when you can't even keep the loos open? What on earth is the point of wasting time sending all your staff on equality and diversity training courses when they haven't got the time to repair listed buildings on the seafront, and they are boarded up for year after year? Dump the dogma and send in the sense.

7). Be accountable
Don't hide inside and behind "partnerships". We elect you to run our public services, not monitor the police, nor the health service and others. Stop diluting both your influence and your accountability by joining in these "partnerships."  Run the public services we expect you to provide yourselves, not as a hidden member of amorphous "partnerships" such as Fylde Local Strategic Partnership, The Older People’s Strategic Partnership, Fylde Community Safety Partnership, Lancashire Economic Partnership, Lancashire Highways Partnership, Kirkham & Rural Fylde Partnership, Lancashire Forum on Poverty and Economic Disadvantage, Lancashire Tourism Partnership, N.W. Lancashire Public Transport Liaison Committee, North West Lancashire Community Legal Service Partnership, St Anne's on Sea Development Partnership.....

We could go on (for weeks!) ..... but we suspect our attempt to be positive like this isn't what Mr Woodward had in mind, so at this point we stop. If it's the case that he is still malcontent, he might take heart from a proper old-fashioned decision made by Fylde's Development Control Committee which we report at Key Lessons

Dated: 1 October 2007


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