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Any Play Dough 07/08

Play Dough 07/08To finalise its 2007/08 budget last night, the Council went back to the Fylde Rugby Club  - scene of awful acoustics last time we were there. Same layout - long thin room, public chairs perched at one end. This time the microphones worked, but a rogue air-conditioning unit or kitchen extractor fan made its presence felt with that sort of rhythmic symphonic vibration often associated with the drone of wartime aircraft.

Although ostensibly the meeting was to fix the final budget, it had been fixed already really, when the Politburo met before the last formal meeting, but this was the rubber stamp of authority.

The Chief Executive had two announcements to make. First, the Government had provided an unexpected 25k extra in grant, so FBC was slightly better off, and secondly, the agenda papers showed a charge would be made for parking on North Beach Car Park which was a typing error. No charge is to be made.

Going through the motions of the meeting, and confident of his voting fodder, the Commissar proposed the budget saying he would use the 25k to support playgrounds.

There must be some significant problems with playgrounds, because much of the night was spent trying to get money for them rather than other things, or maybe we're just close to an election, and playgrounds are an emotive issue.

The Commissar did his usual spin introduction for his budget. He was again economical with the truth when he said the total grant [from Government] had been used to fund the concessionary travel scheme. 

As we have already shown in ' Budget Busting Bus Blues' he snaffled half the grant to balance last year's budget, only to find he has actually spent almost three times what they budgeted because he didn't have arrangements in place to check what he was being charged. Some estimating! 

But his introduction was really not much more than the usual budget knockabout, picking the most advantageous statistics to suit his position and so on. 

Interestingly he said they were the second lowest council tax in Lancashire (hardly surprising really when we have almost no deprivation and no 'inner city' problems of East Lancs), He went on to say that if Fylde had charged like Rossendale, (who are the highest Lancs spenders) we would have an extra 2 million to spend - which would make all the difference.

Using Rossendale as a comparison is an interesting choice. He is fond of saying Fylde was a failing Council under the previous administration, and it was only inches away from being taken over by Government appointed managers. This is usually followed by the triumphal claim that "it's only us that have turned it round". 

Rossendale (quite disgracefully in our view, but that's another story) had all its chief officers dismissed, and it's Councillors only survived by cowardly ignoring their electorate and submitting to the will of the managers that Government appointed to run the town. 

As a result of having appointed managers make decisions instead of elected representatives, they now have the highest council tax in Lancashire.

Might there be a lesson there, we wonder?

Anyway, the Commissar concluded his address with the proposal to implement a 4.95% increase for Fylde which, when added to all the others, will result in an overall increase of 5.5% because the Police are precepting for an 11percent increase in their budget. It remains to be seen if their claim will be capped, and the overall level will come down.

There were five amendments proposed at the Council meeting, mostly by Paul (The Mauler) Hayhurst, Queen Elizabeth Oades of Kirkham, and Saint Barbara Pagett.

Quite a lot of time was spent debating them, but the results were never in doubt. The Conservative group voted together, and all the amendments were lost.

The first amendment would have instructed officers to reduce their salary budgets by 1% (given that they had gone up by 4million in 4 years). This would bring the budget increase down to the level of inflation and assist all the people on fixed incomes who were struggling to make ends meet. 

Councillor John Bennett, who speaks his mind, supported the reduction, saying "If we spent less time telling people what a good council we are, and instead we would just be a good council, things would be better" He went on to say whatever administration was running the Council after the next election, they really would have to make changes that allowed councillors to speak - which they could not do under the cabinet system.

The Commissar retorted they were already making savings on staff, especially because they were in the process of 'sharing' the revenues and benefits staff with Blackpool (for which, read a backdoor Blackpool takeover of Fylde and Wyre), and they were lining up the planning service as the next group of Fylde staff to be 'shared' (Looks like Greater Blackpool / City of the Fylde is on its way then)

One Councillor called for the vote on to be recorded (A recorded vote is where the names of everyone present is published, to show which way they voted), but proposition was defeated by the Conservative group.

The vote to amend the budget and save 1% of staff costs was defeated: 18 for - 25 votes against, and voting anonymity reigned.

The next amendment was to cut the staff travel and subsistence budget by 10%

Proposing this idea, Paul Hayhurst asked the officers to tell Councillors what current rates of mileage allowance and essential car user payments were paid to staff. Not one of the officers present, including the chief finance officer, could tell him. 

Hayhurst said they were spending 210k per year on travel and subsistence and he thought a 10% reduction could be made in order to fund playground equipment replacements. Again the amendment to reduce mileage expense payments was defeated when the Conservatives voted against it together.

One of the Councillors asked a rather complicated question, and was gently chastised by the Mayor who said they could have asked the relevant cabinet member at any time in the last few weeks. This prompted John Bennett to his feet again to mildly chastise the Mayor, pointing out that it was only by asking a question at a Council meeting that other councillors would hear the answer, and more importantly, where those in the public gallery would hear the answers.

Undeterred, Cllr Hayhurst proposed a further amendment, to delete what he referred to as the 'spin' (public relations) budget of 25k, and a further 3k to send officer(s) to the 'Nations in Bloom' ceremony. He said we should focus on our core purpose which was not saying what a wonderful council we were, but actually fixing the playgrounds. Again his suggestion was defeated.

Then came Queen Elizabeth Oades of Kirkham and No Nonsense Heather Speak from Newton and Treales, who proposed the removal of 55k allocated to Lytham Cenotaph gardens at the recent Politburo meeting, and cuts in other spending including the complete waste of money trying to control the Spartina grass on the beach and low level lighting at Fairhaven lake that we spoke about in 'Cabinet Budget 07/08'. 

Queen Elizabeth was on good form, declaring it to be a "Fur coat and no knickers" budget (we presume this was about presentation versus substance, and not a comment on the befurred Mayoral Robes). A strong case was made for about 100k to be removed, and re-prioritised to community sports coaches, bus shelters and lighting repairs. Needless to say, the Conservative group preferred their own ideas and voted against the plan.

This debate got a bit heated in places. 

Mild-mannered Cllr Kevin Eastham was forthright in his criticism of the lack of routine maintenance. Supporting the amendment, he said we regenerated places, then allowed them to degenerate until they needed regenerating again. He referred to the need to maintain the lights on Lytham promenade which were rusting and badly in need of painting.

Saint Barbara Pagett suggested that instead of asking for the 55k for the cenotaph gardens at the Politburo meeting, Dim Tim could help do up the gardens in Lytham in a more practical sense because he is a gardener - a claim we feel sure would be hotly disputed by one of our regular readers who has been dissatisfied with his work. 

In the heat of the moment, the Commissar dropped his guard and told Paul Hayhurst if he had put up the Council Tax as he should have done in former years, we wouldn't now be in the mess we are in. Interesting.

This drew a response with rather mixed metaphors from Cllr Hayhurst who said that previous decisions were made by the whole council, but now democracy had gone out of the window, and the Council had gone to the dogs since the Cabinet system was introduced, because the Cabinet now makes its decisions behind closed doors.

Time and again Paul Hayhurst raised the need to spend money on the children's playgrounds, and time and again it was refused.

The final amendment was from St. Barbara Pagett and (everyone's favourite uncle) Councillor Ron Wilson. They again targeted the Politburo's decision to give Dim Tim 55k for Lytham's 'In Bloom' efforts when other areas have raised funds as a community effort. All to no avail of course, the Conservatives and their allies defeated all the amendments.

This debate got a bit confusing when Lytham's Ray Norsworthy got hot under the collar and complained St Barbara's amendment would disrespect the war dead. But then he went on to say the 'Lytham in Bloom' volunteers had raised 15k themselves, and this 55k was really for re-paving the gardens around the cenotaph. 

So whether anyone knew what they were really voting for here is doubtful. No scheme had been set out, and the Politburo hadn't considered any of the details. So the 55k might have been for extra flowers, or for doing up the war memorial, (or even, given Fylde's recent track record, for paying consultants to look at it)

As the Commissar said "We don't need details, we only need to look at the bottom line to make decisions on finance"

The budget as proposed by the Politburo was then approved and, unless there is capping of the police budget, the Council Tax for a Band D property in Fylde will be between 160.98 and 180.95 per month (1390.57 to 1410.54 per year) depending on how much your local Parish Council has levied.

So there we have it gentle reader, more or less as we predicted in 'Cabinet Budget 07/08'. The budget was nodded through by the Conservative majority who, according to the Commissar all had a free vote. 

It was just that they all individually came to the same conclusion, at the same time, in each of the votes.

Dated: 2 March 2007


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