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State of Emergency

State of EmergencyImmediately following the Cabinet meeting of 20 November 2008, a financial State of Emergency came into being at Fylde Council.

The Leader and Deputy Leader were given exceptional powers to control spending, fees, and charges. The Chief Executive claimed the Politburo Cabinet could itself usurp those powers from the few that remain with the full Council meeting. We're not so sure, but we will only find that out at the Council meeting this coming Monday.

Curiously, this meeting, which reported the repercussions of the biggest financial disaster that Fylde has ever suffered,  wasn't being video recorded for a webcast, so unless you were there, you won't get to know what happened.

We were there for our readers.

The reason Fylde's State of Emergency exists is that its finances are shot to pieces because of incompetent management by the Commissar. They are short of about £400,000.

As we showed in 'MTFS November 2008' if the report was genuine, things are really dire.

As usual, the Commissar tried to tell us that it was all the fault of the pensioners bus money, and nothing to do with the £609,000 lost by Dim Tim and the Streetscene fiasco, or the total £1.2 million deficit he reported at this time last year.

Nor is it to do with anything like the extra £100,000 they have lost on the Wyre refuse contract this year. (and that's £100,000 on top of the *extra* £500,000 that was allocated to Streetscene for 2008/9 this time last year which is now magically absorbed into its "normal" budget).

Deputy Leader Roger Small (who can add up, and is now in charge of 'Finance and Efficiency' since that not so nice Paul Rigsby was sacked from the job for not being able to add up last year) did sterling job in measured tones to play down the significance of it all, and to give bland, stonewall answers to most to the questions. He didn't tell a single lie, but he often resorted to avoiding the issue altogether, or not telling the whole story.

He also used the "G" word we have been waiting for,  saying it had been "an exceptional year in global financial terms" so it wasn't anything to do with Fylde. Even the new Finance Supremo was wheeled in to say the problems facing Fylde were also facing other local authorities. He picks his words carefully that one. And of course he is right. Fylde faces the same problems that other councils do; it's just that they haven't got our financially incompetent Commissar running them to put them into dodo that's as deep as it is here.

Cllr Small said the bus money "looked as though it could cost Fylde and extra £300,000 to £400,000 this year out of ratepayers" and that was on top of all the money the Government had given us to put into the pot.

Whether this is right or not remains to be seen. We have grave doubts.

Its based on an analysis of the first four months of a new scheme that had novelty value, good weather, and all Preston's bus costs being averaged out because they didn't have proper journey recording equipment on their buses.

He explained in very reasonable terms how an unreasonable increase of 110% in energy costs was something over which the Council had no control, and that the Wyre Bins contract was not overspending (failing to add at this point that it was not overspending because they added in the extra £609,000 from the year before and the £500,000 extra reported last year).

After Roger Small fielded a barrage of questions from non-Conservative Councillors, the Chief Executive Phillip Woodward brought the item to a close by saying that like everyone else, in a time of economic storm, Fylde had to "batten down the hatches"

Again, this failed to mention it was on his watch that the huge Streetscene and other losses took place when the staff he was responsible for failed to have an accounting system that could balance the books or reconcile bank statements from April to November last year.

We're now 12 months on and we've still not had a report as to why, nor seen the full details of the losses made by Streetscene (which is being renamed so we won't remember the losses it made as easily). We even understand the principal Streetscene officer that was suspended (one who we don't think was wholly responsible for the losses) is STILL suspended - presumably on full pay - and we are picking up gossip that a severance package is being discussed with him. Perhaps some people think if it can be dragged on for long enough we will all forget about where responsibility lies. 

No chance.

Just before the vote Simon Renwick asked the Finance Supremo if he would just tell them why the council was in this dire financial position. The reply was that the main cause is concessionary fares. he said these are not being funded properly or equitably, and the Government is in denial about it.

Just in case counterbalance readers might be in any doubt, Councillor Renwick sought confirmation saying "So we're in this position because of external pressures?" We couldn't quite hear the reply because of the gasps of disbelief all around us in the public gallery, but it looked like a "yes"

And there dear reader, ended the meeting that received the most disastrous financial statement this council has ever had. Unless they get on top of it, there will be commissioners running Fylde by the summer, and much, much higher bills for us all as a result when the profligacy is brought to an end.

The first of those cost increases will happen on Monday when Dim Tim will withdraw the undertaking made by Commissar Leader John Coombes to make town centre parking free over Christmas. We wouldn't even be surprised to see the cost go up.

This is another example of spin (that co-incidentally hit the headlines when the CPA inspectors were here). The pools are saved, then they're not. We're managing the finances prudently, no we're not. We're making a profit on the Wyre bin contract, no we're not. Parking will be free then it won't.

It's getting difficult to believe anything the Commissar and his Politburo members say these days. Any day now he'll say he's not resigning. Then he will go, and someone else will have a terrible time trying to pick up the pieces.

And so it was that the Politburo voted to approve the 'State of Emergency' recommendations.

We couldn't help thinking of tiny Little Eccleston with Larbreck Parish Council's offer (population just four hundred and odd) back in March when they offered to lend the spendthrift Fylde Council some of their savings to tide the Council over. As we said at the time, we vote for their Clerk to take over at Fylde. At least they know what savings are. Maybe they will renew their offer again now.

Dated:  23 November 2008


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