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Wylde Fyreworks?

Wylde Fyreworks?"Remember, remember, the fifth of November - gunpowder treason and plot."    This old saying is probably the most apt way to describe what is going on at a meeting on Bonfire Night, Monday 5th November, in Wyre's Civic Centre. There's likely to be some pretty impressive fireworks as this plot unfolds. For over 12 months, Fylde's Politburo Cabinet led by Commissar John Coombs has been scheming and plotting treason on the people of Fylde, now the story is leaking out.

Without having made a mention in his election manifesto, he plans a sell-out of all the important services to Wyre Council. Fylde might as well hang a sign above its Town Hall saying "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter"

The Commissar - who as our readers know - is unable to run almost anything in Local Government properly - is finally chucking in the towel. He has given up on Fylde. He can't cope. He thinks someone else (probably anyone else) can manage the services better than he can. He is our real King Midas in reverse - almost everything he touches turns to dust instead of gold.

Back in March 2006 under the headline "WyldeFyre on the Cards Again" we predicted this sort of outcome following proposals to form a "Joint Working Committee" of the two Councils.

At that time, Councils throughout the UK were being told to look at joint working by Two Jags Prescott. He wanted to create multi purpose Unitary Councils under a new tier of Regional Government.

Two Jags wouldn't hold a referendum on Regional Government in the North East - because he knew he would have lost. So now they're trying the back door and, in their own small way, both Fylde and Wyre Councils are helping the process along.

That said, can bet your bottom dollar neither Fylde nor Wyre will be holding their own referendum on these plans anytime soon either.

All of this plotting was going on at the time of the election - but no mention was made in election addresses, so no mandate has been sought from the people of Fylde and Wyre for this fundamental change.

Even worse, the plan is to prevent the Council of each authority from considering the matter.

Fylde at least, (and probably Wyre as well) intends to restrict the decision-taking to its undemocratic Politburo, the puppets of the Commissar. (In fact, the legal advice given the Joint Committee notes the decision to implement the scheme could actually be taken by just one so-called "Portfolio Holder" using their delegated powers). So even most of your elected *Councillors* won't be allowed a vote on whether the scheme should go ahead, let alone their electorate being asked.

Not content with keeping democratically elected Councillors out of the decision; the plan also envisages a separate Joint Scrutiny Committee, rather than to allow the existing Scrutiny Committees of Fylde and Wyre to operate. So in fact, NEITHER of the Councils will be in a position to question or challenge the decisions made by this new body once it is established.

And it's not just decisions about how often to cut the grass or sweep the streets.

As well as the practical aspects of service delivery, the management and the strategic planning for delivery of a wide range of services is also being lost.

As Fylde's Solicitor puts it ".....The Streetscene Committee should be the responsible body for providing all the services within its remit for the two councils. It should therefore set policy and not just fulfil a specification.....". So the plan is to take even the policy decisions away from the Council meetings.

So what's actually going on?      What's being plotted?

The answer is a lot.

Plans are already moving apace, and there's too much to cover in one article, (including how all this might impact on a City of the Fylde merger with Blackpool) so we will be featuring various aspects over the coming weeks.

But in summary, the present proposal will see responsibility for many services moving to a new single body overseen by three cabinet members from Fylde and three from Wyre.

All the staff involved in service delivery will either transfer, and become employees of Wyre Council, or perhaps they will be made redundant if the hoped for "service efficiencies" are realised.

As Wyre's "Human Resource Advisor" (and that job title itself has enough for a full counterbalance article) puts it, "... it must be acknowledged that, in some cases, this will involve a re-organisation of staffing to deliver these services which may, in part, result in redundancies in the staffing group....."

Given that he anticipates redundancies, we wonder if he has met his obligation to notify and enter into discussions with employees and their representatives about redundancy arrangements now he is aware that redundancies are on the cards?

So what's going to be transferred?

Well Wyre Council is going to become the employer for everyone in the following services.........

Rubbish collection, recycling, commercial waste, trade waste, street cleaning, beach cleaning and management (probably now to be called "the waterfront"), public toilets, building cleaning, parks, playing fields, playgrounds, open spaces, Fylde in bloom, green flag services, allotments, burial and cremation, sea defences, flooding, land drainage, public transport co-ordination, car parking, bus shelters, street nameplates, amenity lighting, planning applications and consultations, pest control, dog control, all vehicle operations, maintenance and repair, and something called "the interface with community groups and professional associations (Parishes LCC etc)."

There are also plans for something called environmental enforcement, with fixed penalty notices being planned for dog fouling, fly tipping and so on.

So we can probably look forward to the threat of fixed penalty notices for putting out more than the allotted weight of rubbish in the not too distant future as well (A report to Fylde Council said this week ".....Fixed Penalty Notices are available for waste-related and some other offences, but their full potential has not yet been explored because their use would impact on the capacity of the team to deliver more mainstream and vitally important environmental health duties.......".).

And as if all this wasn't enough, this first tranche of services (implying there are more to follow) might also be changed to include Leisure, Culture, and Tourism Services.

If that happens, (as seems likely because leisure, culture and tourism services are also up for discussion on 5th November), it will add sport, swimming pools, parks and open space management, children's play, countryside, tourism, responsibility for creative and cultural service industries, arts development, history and heritage.

The leisure services part of the report also looks forward to "...the opportunity to develop a new suite of common strategies....." For which you can read "we want to merge everything together into a WyldFyre melting pot and average everything out".

So we are heading toward a one-size-fits-all scheme that will be a close fit to none of the distinct and individual communities that make up the administrative areas of Fylde and Wyre.

The key efficiencies that would arise by including Leisure, Culture and Tourism in the first trance include a lot of management gobbledygook - which you can be pretty sure is coded language for cuts, especially in middle and senior management - as the author might have described it - "to release the efficiency savings".

And this is only the first salvo. The new organisation (before any redundancies) is expected to have around 260 employees. This will take 60 from Wyre and 200 from Fylde.

It will leave Fylde Council with around 150 staff rather than the present 350. But that's only the staff directly employed on the services. It doesn't take account of the collateral damage that will follow in the support staff, (computer staff, payroll, personnel, finance, legal and general admin).

When Fylde loses almost 60% of its direct staff, clearly it won't need the same number of support workers

And unless they too transfer to Wyre (that is, if Wyre wants them), there will be tears before bedtime in the support departments.

So should we be bothered? Does it matter that Wyre are going to take over Fylde's services.

We believe the answer is yes. It does matter.

It will become even more difficult for the electorate to influence service delivery. The organisation delivering our services will be more remote and even less accountable. It is almost certainly herald poorer service levels - staffing cuts will mean there will be less people to do the work. (The so-called "more economical delivery mechanism")

The change will probably also lead to a reduction in the number of Councillors in both Fylde and Wyre (The so-called "streamlined governance"). Now, whilst we know this prospect might cheer up some of our readers, your Councillors ought to be regarded as doctors, the more there are, the easier they are to get to see, the more they are likely to know you, and be able and willing to help when you have a problem.

The staffing reduction might also seem like a good idea now, but Fylde will never recover from such a low base.

The reason that Wyre is now being chosen as the future employer, is mainly because Fylde has already outsourced human resources service to Blackpool Council. Its finance department is in such a mess that it can't provide the accounting service offered by Wyre, and Wyre isn't currently planning to sell off its Council depots - so there will be somewhere for the staff to work.

When Fylde is made 60% weaker, it is undoubtedly doomed, and with it, the particular voice of this area.

As for the idea of a full blown merger, if you ask people in Fylde whether they think the 1974 merger between Lytham St Anne's and Fylde Rural District Council was a good idea and whether it has improved things, we suspect you would get a pretty firm "NO" from both sides of the equation as an answer.

This latest plot will do nothing except compound the same mistake on an even bigger scale. Nevertheless, that's where this plot is leading if we let it take root.

As Wyre Council's Roger Beer puts it "...as we start to develop shared services across Fylde and Wyre, the impact and momentum of these changes will force considerable strain on the existing services within each authority. This could lead to an eventual merger of the two authorities, or each authority retaining a strategic core and the Joint Committee operating the considerably larger operational unit..".

The problem here is that - as in so much else today - political ideology, not common sense, is driving the process. If the job were to be done properly, it would begin from the top down. It would begin with a look at whether there is sufficient similarity in the reasons that various services are provided, and why, for example pensioners or young people's concessionary charges apply in some places but not others. It would look at the What and Why of services. The When, Who, and How, would come later. The present plan reverses this approach.

It is nothing more than a political intent to merge by the back door, using crude and vicious shoe-horn management techniques to work out how the existing (right or wrong) practices can best be crammed in together.

We will bring you more on this shortly.

Dated:  1 November 2007

See also: Steps toward a City of the Fylde


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