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CPA - Interim Results

CPA Interim ResultsIn 'CPA Inspection Due', the graphic we used showed a man with a 'thumbs-up' sign. We've used another one here. This isn't accidental. Despite Fylde Council's reputation for representing its electorate having fallen further and faster than any administration before it,  the probable CPA outcome is an improvement in Fylde's assessment rating (the civic equivalent of an ofsted school inspection).

This is because the Commissar has 'bought' the assessment result.

By that we don't mean that he bribed the inspectors, but that he has redirected all the Council's resources to meeting the needs of the CPA inspection, not into meeting the needs of local residents.

So he may get a CPA point or two, but in doing so, he has secured the failure of the present administration at the next election.

Electorally, he is a dead man walking. And even when he goes (and we think that will be by March when the CPA result comes out), the group he leads is so badly tainted, and the electorate are so angry, and the council's coffers so empty, that we doubt the situation can be pulled back for the next Borough Council election.

Some of our readers may think we have a personal grudge against the Commissar. We don't. Personally speaking he is honourable, polite, charming and a first class speaker. Furthermore, you won't find a counterbalance report that attacks anyone personally - only their professional acts and judgements as civic employees or representatives. With John Coombes, the issue is that professionally, he is exceptionally driven and ambitious; he lives and breathes party politics, and his values don't include belief in the benefits of public service.

That may be eminently suited to running a Government Whip's department, but it means he is not a fit person to run a local council - however nice a man he is.

Cultivated and tutored in civic affairs by the former chief executive Ken Lee - whose philosophy is at the root of so much of our trouble - he firmly believes in the Cabinet system that has taken virtually all the power and decision making away from the Council and placed it in the hands of whoever is 'Leader'.

Way back in 'Death of Democracy' in 2005, counterbalance said the introduction of the Cabinet system would result in Machiavellian plots. Then in 'Saint Barbara Goes Solo' a year later, we showed (after Barbara Pagett was 'excommunicated' for voting against the group and we 'cannonised' her) how damaging it was to have a Council run by a Cabinet of competing aspirants.

We went on to show how that degree of control in one person isolates you from reality because people tell you what you want to hear, not what's really happening.

Frequently people in such positions end up saying they have been badly advised, and we've heard the Commissar saying that recently.

He still fails to see the damage that the Cabinet system has caused to local democracy and, quite possibly without realising it, he has overtly politicised the Council; its officers; and decisions that should be  made by a collection of people with the best interests of Fylde - not the best interests of a political party - at heart.

The closure of the pools was his poll-tax; his nemesis.   And the huge waste of money buying a few CPA points - and squandering his electoral credits in the process - has finished him off.

His days are numbered and he can't continue for much longer.   As we said in our recent newsflash to counterbalance subscribers, we think it will be sooner.

Such is the perversion of modern day local politics that listening to, and doing what the Government wants, can get you a good result on the CPA inspection, even if - as here - it means you are doing the opposite of what the people that elected you want you to spend their money on.

Nowhere was that more plain that the agenda for the last Cabinet meeting.

Our last two reports, including 'State of Emergency', showed how Fylde is in potentially disastrous financial straits.

It is considering staff redundancies in the current year. It is stopping all spending except that it is contractually or legally obliged to meet.

Yet on the same agenda is a report called 'Team Lancashire' a ridiculous waste of money and officer time if ever you saw one. But then came the even more wonderful report "Integrating Equality & Diversity into Procurement."

This report, and the prominence given to it, beautifully illustrates what is wrong with Fylde.

Not enough money for Christmas Lights, can't afford to meet a promise given only weeks ago to reduce pre-Christmas parking charges, closing swimming baths, hostels where people don't want them, and freezing all but essential spending, and at the same time the Cabinet approve and introduce a 30 page policy to require all suppliers of goods and services to have equality and diversity policies in place before they can be considered as a supplier for Fylde Council -

Yes, and that's even when the Council has virtually stopped buying goods and services because they have broken the bank and spent-up all our money

To get a higher CPA score, the Commissar believes he must demonstrate a commitment to 'Ethical Standards' and, as the report itself says, "in accordance with best practice in corporate governance, and as part of the body of work that the authority is undertaking to move towards Level 3 of the Equality Standard. The Council operates fair and ethical practices that this policy reinforces"

Yes really.   Not enough money to pay its staff and it thinks this is important.

It adds "The Council is an equal opportunities employer and is committed to promoting equality of opportunity for all people irrespective of gender, age, race, religious belief, sexual preference or disability."

Yes really,   Never mind that children who haven't learned to swim could drown, this is the really important thing in life.

The policy has been introduced because "The Council is committed to ensure that all suppliers abide by the law and are working to best practice in the area of equality. All suppliers, as part of the tender process, will be required to provide evidence that they have an equal opportunities policy in place and that are committed to this policy."

That's what is really important to Fylde Council at the moment.

30 pages of absolute, unnecessary, expensive and wasteful politically correct rubbish.

But it will get them brownie points for their Comprehensive Performance Assessment.

And judging by the feedback that's coming out of the CPA inspection, Fylde could move up a pip or two from its next-to-the-bottom rating.

The inspectors said there were clear signs of improvement from last time. (Yes, really!)

However, they did say that some areas have stayed the same since the last inspection and there was more improvement needed.

So what did the inspectors like and what didn't they like about FBC in the week they spent here?

Well, on the positive side:

  • They thought Fylde's community leadership was much improved and doing well. [We will continue to point out that the people of this area are perfectly capable of managing their own lives. We don't need to be led or managed. What we do want is for our views to be represented by those we elect. This is the reverse of what Government plans for us of course; such is the travesty of its target setting scheme for local councils].
  • They thought Fylde was very well thought of by what they call local stakeholders such as Police, LCC etc
  • They loved the idea of the Multi Agency Agreement that will grow into the City of the Fylde. They thought it was excellent we are all working together toward that aim.
  • They thought the 'difficult' decisions the Council had taken on Heeley Road Hostel and closing the swimming pools were 'positive.' We also heard they had described them as 'brave' and that they were seen as unpopular decisions that had been made but where the Council has stuck to its ground in the light of huge public dissent.
  • They also liked the way Fylde listens to the public. They think the Council is doing all that could be expected. They especially liked the Listening Day and State of Borough event, both of which represented good practice. [They said]
  • They loved the 'Shaping the Place' plan that Fylde has usurped from the hands of the St David's Road Community Group in the St Albans Road area, and they especially liked the way people with second homes were now being taxed to pay more taxpayers money into the Local Strategic Partnership to fund this scheme.
  • They liked Fylde's Scrutiny Process (yes really!) and thought it was impressive. (We may have something to say about this shortly). They said the process was impressive, independent and produced good evidence of its impact.
  • They also said that political leadership had noticeable improved since their last review, and they thought strong political leadership was a good thing (Obviously this lot don't subscribe to the view that armies are led and the electorate should be represented)
  • They said the Council having a formal 'opposition' in place now was a major plus, and it was an excellent idea to have shadow portfolio holders. This is something readers will know we fundamentally disagree with. It was the root cause of fracture when Paul Hayhurst separated from other independent councillors. He would have no truck with the idea of creating a formal opposition group, arguing that independent councillors were not a homogenous political group, but a collective of individuals all with their own views, each representing their own community. Nor would he have anything to do with forming shadow 'opposition posts.' counterbalance stands 100% with him on this one. By forming an 'opposition' group those involved have given legitimacy and justification to the politicisation of the Council, weakened their own independence, and (by allowing themselves to be manipulated), have opened the door to this inspection showing they have played a part in justifying the Council getting a higher CPA score than its residents believe it deserves. We hope those involved will change their minds.
  • The inspectors also thought there had been moderate improvement in member's behaviour in meetings, (for this you can read less argument, less passion, less heat and less debate, more blandness, and less disagreement). They thought the relationship between the groups (for which read 'political groups' - now that almost all 'non-Conservative' councillors are classed as a 'group') was still fragile, but relationships were better between members and officers.
  • They were very pleased with the Chief Executive - saying he showed good, strong, positive leadership. (Based on recent events, we are going to differ on this one as well).
  • They thought the back office staff of the council were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and committed, and middle management was also positive and enthusiastic, but very worried about the lack of money and not having enough staff to do a proper job.
  • They were also impressed that FBC was setting its priorities well. They thought this was the best news of all. They said waste collection was being well done; looking after the natural environment was also good. The streets are well cleaned; the fear of crime was well managed. The housing service was good, as was the affordable housing. The Heeley Road decision was singled out as a good decision too. (counterbalance soon expects to show just how wrong they are on this one).
  • They thought the Park View 4 U scheme was very good. They also said the work done in St Annes Square was very good. It has filled the shops and created jobs (yes really, that's what they said), But they also noted that because Fylde was a high earning area, the Council didn't need to do too much with Economic Development. It was managing OK on its own.

If those were the good points, what didn't they like?

  • Mostly, they didn't think enough had been done on diversity and equality, and what had been done was not effective enough. They said more should be done in all spheres and departments. (That, of course is why you see such stupid, politically correct reports like the one above, that waste huge amounts of officer time to prepare, monitor and enforce, that cause overhead cost increases that we all have to bear as the Town Hall window cleaner and its toilet roll supplier have to produce and be inspected on their "equality and diversity policies")
  • They also thought the perception of the Local Strategic Partnership was poor, because not enough people understand its role and what it does. They thought Fylde could make more of the work that LSP is able to do. (We say this anomalous white elephant QUANGO should be chopped out altogether, saving us oodles of cash in the process)
  • They said the council's communication with parish councils, pressure groups was somewhat lacking. There was no clear strategy, and the approach was not consistent. (There lies the rub. We know the parish council meeting gave the CPA inspectors a rough ride as they expressed their view of Fylde, as did several community groups. This is the fundamental problem that Fylde can't square.   It can - and indeed does - listen - until its blue in the face. But when what we say we want is discarded in favour of what Government wants, there will never be a solution)
  • They also said Fylde didn't have enough 'capacity' - essentially this means it hasn't got the resources (staff and cash) to do what is needed. This flawed approach simply extends the disastrous 'finance follows function'  principle set several years ago by Ken Lee
  • They were also a bit hesitant about the new staffing structure with Directorates, saying they were not sure it would be effective.
  • They also criticised the complaints system, saying Fylde didn't look at complaints regularly and it needs to put actions into place to answer them. (Based on present performance, we don't think they could employ enough staff to deal with all the complaints people in this area have)

They saw the main threats at the moment as being the planning service (as we have previously said, this is close to meltdown at Fylde, with no fault at all attached to the officers here)

So what happens now?

Well, the Inspectors have gone away to digest what they found. They will also be looking in the evidence base they have compiled from the Council, and from what individuals who have sent to them views and submissions. They will also look at the results of the MORI poll that is being conducted as part of the scheme.

There is probably still time to send your views on Fylde Council's performance if you want to. Addresses and email links are highlighted on our 'CPA Inspection Due' page.

They expect to have everything ready in draft by mid February (17th is a likely date we hear). After that report is agreed with the Council an announcement will be made whether FBC has moved up, down or stayed on the next to the bottom 'Weak' rung of the performance table that Councils are fitted into these days, and the final report and decision will be published in March.

We doubt if the Commissar will survive to see it published in his name.

Dated:  24 November 2008


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