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Two's? Company

Two's? CompanyIn 'Doing the Business' we showed how, back in February, Fylde Council planned to create a shell trading company. The Commissar's press release at the time suggested he hoped to take advantage of 'relaxed legislation' that allows Councils to compete with the private sector.

These quasi-businesses are known as ALMO's (Arms Length Management Organisations), and they can be used to distance people and politicians from the deliverer of a service, thus removing the democratic influence that is the whole point of it being a Council run service in the first place.

This can also make it appear more 'efficient' of course.

ALMO's can focus more on services that make money, and less on the need to provide services that don't turn a profit.

Back in February, we couldn't work out how Fylde was going to use its new ALMO baby, but now things might be getting more clear.

First: Thanks to questions at a Joint Meeting with Wyre, we now know the company is called "FBC Solutions Ltd" as was registered on 5 March 2007.

Second: We know the Directors of the company are - (according to Fylde's present Streetscene supremo David Jenkinson speaking at the joint Wyre/Fylde meeting on bonfire night) - they are:

  • Ian Curtis (FBC Solicitor),
  • himself (He's a sort of Works Manager),
  • "and a chap called Brian White" (the former FBC finance officer).

So there are no elected Councillors, only hired hands.

Third: It hasn't traded commercially yet, which begs the question - "Why?"

The answer is quite interesting, and may well hark back to the Commissar's 'relaxed legislation' quote.

You see, if your Council has a low 'League Table' (CPA) rating, any of the companies it might create are prohibited from trading with anyone except other Councils.

So at present, Fylde can only 'trade' with other local authorities.

This is because Fylde's CPA rating is poor (and would be heading toward 'transparent' if there was such a grade). so there's not much hope there either.

However, it could trade commercially if it was in partnership with another Council who had a 'Fair' or better rating.

Wyre, of course, has a rating that is 'improving' according to the Audit Commission who measure these things.

So maybe a merger with, or partnership with, or a takeover by, Wyre could change the trading status of FBC Solutions Ltd.

Then we might see the vehicle maintenance section competing with local garages or car hire companies for trade, and FBC Solutions gardeners competing with local landscaping companies to tidy or lay out your garden.

Given that no politicians are Directors of the company, it is not presently clear whether it would trade as a separate entity to the new Joint Community Services department of Fylde and Wyre, (i.e. like a cuckoo in the Joint nest, gradually taking over the resources and killing off the opposition) or, whether it will assume political directors and trade on behalf of the joint venture.

That conundrum remains to be resolved.

Either way, it's a dangerous animal and needs to be watched.

Dated:  8 November 2007


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