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Faux Scrutiny Committee

Faux ScrutinyThe whitewash is almost complete as we welcome readers to the wonderful world that was the Streetscene Scrutiny Committee at Fylde this week.

It will probably help if we first explain that the purpose of a Scrutiny Committee is twofold.

One role is to research an issue and send a view on it to the Cabinet or the Council for them to consider. In this sense they act as a preparatory committee, assembling the facts and producing a report that should improve or change something.

Secondly, their role is to act as a watchdog. Like the select committee system in Parliament, they should be one of the checks and balances on the Executive. Where something has gone wrong they can, and should, call meetings and inquiries, require evidence to be given, call witnesses to be investigated, and so on. They act (or at least should act) like a committee of inquiry in this regard.

We've yet to see this second role ever happen at Fylde. That might be to do with the fact that (by law) the political balance of the committee must match that of the full Council. So in practice it is all too easy for the majority party to simply vote down anything they don't like or that might embarrass them.

This particular meeting of the 'Performance Improvement Scrutiny Committee' had just one agenda item, a report called "Out-Turn Expenditure 2007/08 - Streetscene Services"

This report purported to enact a resolution of the Council on 27th July 2009 where Saint Paul Hayhurst of Elswick had proposed that "Given the extent of the losses and the subsequent impact on the Council and its services, the Council requires that an urgent Special Council meeting be held to debate the financial problems experienced by the former Streetscene department in 2007/8. The debate to be preceded by an open scrutiny session of the full Council with the participation of all senior officers and former and present portfolio holders."

So the purpose of this meeting should really have been to consider whether to have a debate by full council or not.

But the title of the report gives you the first clue this was never going to happen.

The title should have been 'Notice of Motion: Proposed Debate in Council' or some such heading. But it wasn't going anywhere near that topic.

The second clue came in the fourth paragraph that read "On the same matter the Audit Committee had also resolved (inter alia) that -......whilst the Committee recognise that the financial circumstances experienced by the former Streetscene Department in 2007/08 may fall out of the remit of the Audit Committee, it recommended that .... the most appropriate committee be provided with ..... an explanation of the matter."

So what was being set up here was a takeover and sidelining of the Council's resolution so the Audit Commission's resolution could be used to debate the Streetscene problems out of the public eye. That, of course, means most of the Councillors wouldn't know what happened or who was to blame for the huge loss that closed the swimming pools.

And if those on the Scrutiny Committee could limit the debate at Scrutiny, it would keep everything nice and quiet.

In fact, the Council's resolution wasn't debated at all as far as we could see.

What this so called 'Scrutiny' committee did (with the exception of Cllrs Paul Hayhurst, David Chedd and Linda Nulty) was to accept the sanitised and incomplete picture they had been painted by the person who bore overall responsibility for what had gone wrong.

What was even more amazing is that the Officer with ultimate responsibility for the debacle wrote and presented the report, and the two Portfolio Holders in post at the time were sitting there, large as life, one there as a member of the committee that should have been scrutinising what they had done. Furthermore, the councillors with ultimate responsibility for causing (and separately for failing to sort out) this mess, weren't even called to give evidence.

The Chairman of the committee clearly hadn't a clue about conducting a committee of inquiry. (That's a charitable perception. Some might say he intended the outcome to be a whitewash).

For example, when trying to investigate and establish what happened when a group of people are involved, it's usual to separate each of the participants and interview them one at a time.

It's also usual to separate the witnesses when they give evidence as well. That way, no-one except the interviewer knows what the others have said, and you're more likely to spot the inconsistencies that need to be probed.

Not this chairman. He was quite happy to have the 'defendants' on the jury!

Dim Tim was Portfolio Holder for Streetscene at the time and Paul Rigby was Portfolio Holder for Finance and Efficiency. Dim Tim was a member of the Committee that was supposed to be doing the investigating!

Saint Paul Hayhurst picked this up quite early on and asked the Chairman whether Cllr Ashton should be part of the committee, because he expected that the Committee would want to question him about his involvement in the Streetscene problems.

He also expected that the Chief Executive would be called upon to answer questions about his role and responsibility. He actually said he thought this situation was "like having the accused sat on the jury"

At this point Dim Tim answered on behalf of the Chairman (yes really) and said he was "No longer the Portfolio Holder for Streetscene, and he was quite happy, quite happy, he repeated, to take questions, and answer where he could, and then make a balanced view once we've deliberated"

Amazing.

Saint Paul said he was also surprised the Council's solicitor wasn't there to advise them, because it did seem an anomaly to have the person in charge of the department sitting on the committee that makes the decision as to what happened and why it happened. He also wondered if Cllr Ashton should not have declared an interest.

Dim Tim said he could understand if it had been a quasi judicial Committee (which actually it should have been if it's Chairman had run it properly), but at the end of the day it was an Overview and Scrutiny Committee which will make recommendations to the Full Council, and those assembled wouldn't actually make a decision that night. He kept repeating that because he was no longer the Portfolio Holder he could have an unbiased view.

Then from the public gallery, up popped the Commissar to say he had spoken with the Council's Solicitor prior to this meeting to ensure that Cllr Ashton could attend the meeting, and he had said there was no reason whatsoever why Cllr Ashton could not attend the meeting as a member of the committee, and his interjection on this matter was just to put members minds at rest.

Yeah, right!

Our readers will know from what they have seen already this was turning into the stitch-up it was always going to be.

But like Lord Mandleson, Saint Paul is a fighter not a quitter, and continued as best he could. He asked Mr Woodward why there was not any proper financial monitoring in place at the time.

The reply came "That was the same question asked the Finance Manager at the time"

St Paul said the Chief Executive's report referred to the Constitution which set out the responsibilities of the Finance Officer, but he then quoted from the Constitution about the Chief Executive's responsibilities, pointing out it said he was responsible for reporting to the Council

  • the manner in which the discharge of the Council's functions is co-ordinated;
  • the number and grade of staff required for the discharge of the Council's functions; and
  • the organisation and proper management of those staff.

That's pretty conclusive, as overall responsibility goes.

But at Fylde, (as we shall see), the buck stops one place below "here" because it was to stop at the Finance Manager and the Streetscene Manager.

Then St Paul (who - alongside a lot of other councillors - is on the counterbalance notification list) moved on to ask the Chief Executive when he first knew about the losses from Streetscene.

He went on to say that the Council had been told in 2008 that losses first came to light in November 2007 (even though they started in January 2007) which was 10 or 11 months earlier.

He then asked why it might be that, in August 2007, it was already clear to the public that there were problems in the Finance Department because the 12th August issue of counterbalance said "and big spending departments like Tim Ashton's Streetscene are not actually sure whether they are solvent or bankrupt because nobody knows"

So he wanted to know how counterbalance knew in August 07 that there were problems that the Chief Executive didn't know about until November.

The Chief Executive replied saying "Chairman, I don't know what counterbalance is, so I......" and the rest of his reply was lost in hoots of laughter and derision and Saint Paul said "I am absolutely astonished by that response, that you don't know what counterbalance is. I think there is even more concern about your role as Chief Executive because if you don't have a clue about counterbalance, its obvious why you don't have a clue about what's happening in Fylde either".

In fact, we can reveal that the Chief Executive *does* know about counterbalance because on 17th August, five days after we published "No Accounting for Fylde" he sent out his 'Members Newsletter' where he said:

"You may have heard of a local website called 'counterbalance'. From what I've seen of it its purpose seems to be to criticise anything the Council does rather than offer any alternative constructive solutions to local issues. The local press have been made aware of an article posted on this site on 12th August about the Council's financial and accountancy operations.

Just in case anything makes the pages of the local papers over the next few days I thought it might help Members if I circulated a couple of basic 'home truths':

  • Yes, we were 26 days late in publishing the formal final accounts for the financial year 2006/07 - the sole reason for this was unexpected staff absence and turnover affecting our capacity;
  • At the year end we still had over £250,000 more in our revenue balances than the minimum recommended level, so our finances are not in 'meltdown';
  • We also hold a number of 'earmarked reserves' which are held for specific purposes such as:
    • 875,000 of commuted sum payments from developers of new market housing in the Borough, earmarked for the provision of affordable housing;
    • 260,000 to cushion any potential imbalance in the housing benefit subsidy payment made to us by the Department of Work & Pensions later in the year;
    • 21,000 of funds from the sale of the Council's interest in a bus company in the late 1990s, retained for use in Ansdell.

You can read the newsletter in full here.

If the Chief Executive would like to join our (free) notification list  (notify@counterbalance.org.uk) that lets subscribers know when a new article is published we'd be happy to let him join those in Fylde who really do know what's going on at the Council.

However, back in the Faux Scrutiny Committee; St Paul kept up a series of probing questions trying to find out what had gone on. Each was parried or stonewalled. (With some skill it has to be said).

Then Dim Tim tried to take control of the Committee again and said Cllr Hayhurst was hogging the questions and he was getting fed up with it all going round in the same circles. The chairman smoothed his ruffled feathers with a "yes, well it's alright" (yes really) before inviting Cllr Paul Rigby to interceded.

Cllr Rigby said he didn't like Cllr Hayhurst's "brutal behaviour toward the Chief Executive" and that he should be addressing things through the Chairman. (Obviously here's another one who doesn't understand what the Scrutiny Committee is there for), and it wasn't an interrogation of the Chief Executive.

He was wrong of course - whether at this meeting, or the full Council, what was needed was exactly a full and open interrogation and an exposition of what went wrong. Until then, there will continue to be damaging speculation about responsibility, motives, capability and competence.

Whilst it will be manna from heaven for the non-conservative Councillors in the lead up to the next election (so it's understandable that some might be happy for it to remain a mystery) it is corrosive and corrupting of the public perception for the whole council, and it is hugely damaging for democracy.

Cllr Rigby said he had determined not to speak but he had been responsible for the Finance Portfolio and he was holding his hand up to that.

He added that the Finance officer did not prepare a report highlighting variances in the Streetscene department, and that officer had resigned. He said that Cllr Hayhurst obviously reads counterbalance and he recognised he has been "going on about this matter since that time and cannot argue with him on that, but, you know, in all honesty, I personally can only receive the information that the section 151 officer presented to me as the Portfolio Holder"

What you see here is the nearest our readers are going to get to a proper apology. It is clear - and we believe him - that Cllr Rigby genuinely regrets his inability to detect what was going on, and he is no doubt a wiser and more cautious man for his experience.

In many ways, it was not his fault; we suspect that if pushed, he would admit that the intricacies of local authority finance were not really his forte.

In which case, dear reader, you might ask why the Commissar handpicked him to shoulder that burden. Cllr Rigby has some striking resemblances to 'Boxer' the horse in Orwell's Animal Farm. Hardworking, loyal, and ultimately, expendable.

At this point, St Paul tried to resume his questioning, but was stopped by the Chairman who said he'd had long enough and he wanted other councillors to have a say. Cllr Hayhurst tried to explain that it was necessary to continue because the constitution showed that the Chief Executive was responsible for the matter and he did not appear to accept that responsibility.

Voices became raised and tempers flared as the Chairman and Saint Paul and Dim Tim re-enacted the battle scene from the fateful 3 March Council meeting that closed the swimming pool.

Cllr Ashton was chided at one point and his cries of "I can't help it" and "it's too much" and "I'll do what I want" filled the room before the embarrassed Chairman's cry of "Shut up",  followed by "Stop it now!"  began to calm things down a bit.

Saint Paul continued to explain that the Chief Executive was specifically responsible for co-ordinating the Council's functions, and for deciding which grades and how many staff were required to discharge those functions. He was also responsible for deciding how the staff should be organised and managed. So he was the person the Council should hold responsible when there had been a breakdown.

You could see quite clearly this route was leading toward a motion of censure (or stronger) for the Chief Executive, as Cllr Hayhurst sat back to let others take up the questioning.

Chief amongst these was Wesham's Cllr Linda Nulty, who scored some direct hits with several of the matters she raised, but she lacks the power and the impact to make them even point-scoring blows, let alone knockouts. She regretted the situation had led to much speculation and distrust both within the Council and in the general public, and it could all have been avoided if in the first instance they could have had a proper report at the time. She said this report they had now still left many questions unanswered.

At this point we'll break from the proceedings at the Faux Scrutiny Committee and give readers our own take on what went on.

At the root cause of all Fylde's problems is a civic inferiority complex that comes about because the Commissar is trying to punch above his weight.

Fylde is actually a big to medium sized Parish Council, but since he joined the Regional Assembly, he wants to appear like the bigger boys there, so he emulates them and spends like them (on policies, strategies and most especially on consultancies).

Furthermore, whenever Government says "Jump" his response is 'Is that high enough?' So although we elected a supposedly Conservative administration, it is not conservative at all, it's falling over itself to do the bidding of New Labour and to tick the Audit Commission's boxes.

Because of this it listens to, but no longer acts on, the wishes of its electorate. (Mind you, in fairness, it only lays claim to be a listening Council).

He has farmed out as many of the services as he can get away with. Blackpool now run Fylde's Personnel (HR) function, they process the council tax demands and provide the tax collection services. Preston provides our financial services. "And" as Jimmy Cricket would say, "there's more"

So when a bright young officer took on Streetscene with a plan to take over Wyre's dustbin and street cleaning services he was delighted.

He was even happier when the contract to do so was won by Fylde who put in the cheapest price.

That was an impressive job.

We actually knew the officers at Wyre personally and they were sharp cookies who would have priced their contract bid very competitively, so beating them was a real feather in Fylde's cap.

Assuming of course, it could be done for the money Fylde said they could do it for.

The Commissar and Dim Tim would no doubt have been won over by the Streetscene manager's suggestion that by winning the contract, the council could spread its present overheads over almost double the number of manual staff - thus reducing Fylde's unit cost at a stroke and making them look much more efficient on the statistical returns. It could also (assuming it got a better report from Government) start to trade in competition with the private sector.

So they closed their maintenance depot in Heeley Road and the Depot on St David's Road, and withdrew from other areas. They took over Wyre's depots at Thornton (but not the Fleetwood one) and set up a new vehicle maintenance depot in the centre of the enlarged refuse collection contract area - an industrial estate in Poulton le Fylde.

This was to become the hub of income production for Fylde.

As soon as Fylde got its performance box ticked by government (remember the "Is this high enough?" quote) they would start offering MOTs and commercial vehicle repairs in competition with the Fylde's commercial garages, make shedloads of dosh and we'd all live happily ever after.

But lying within all of this were several booby traps that a more experienced Councillor might have thought to look for.

Firstly - although we haven't seen the detailed pricing of the joint Fylde and Wyre bin contract, we know enough about them and how they work to say that the contract was probably 'bought' by Fylde.

By that we mean that the price they submitted to do the specified work was below what it would cost them.

To recover that loss, they used extra-ordinarily high rates of charging for 'extras' to the contract.

So whenever say, a new block of houses was built over the five years or whatever of the contract, and those houses would need their bins adding into the rounds, and Fylde would be getting hugely excessive payments for that work.

It's one of the oldest tricks in the contracting book. Submit a low tender, and charge high unit costs for any extras.

The other booby trap was the anticipated income of over £100,000 from commercial repairs that was never going to materialise.

Contracting isn't like any other Council work, it needs the laws of the jungle and the skills of the deceiver. The exact opposite of what the Council should be about. No wonder they were not up to keeping track of what was going on. Contracting is a very hand-to-mouth existence and you need rapid adaptability and the operational dexterity to change your plans in response to what happens. Again this is not what Councils are famed for.

By all accounts the officer in charge of Streetscene was extremely popular with Councillors. Many thought the sun shone out of the back of his neck. That's always a dangerous sign. It means when they ring him up with a problem from one of their electorate, he says "It'll be done this afternoon Councillor", and come hell or high water it will be. (No matter what the cost). Councillors just love it when their elector rings them up the day after and says that was marvellous service, thank you. It also means another secure vote for them next time.

This sort of agile, dextrous, responsive, hand-to-mouth operation often ends up costing more than you expected. But also it usually means that the guy in charge has his finger on the pulse and knows what's what in terms of making things happen, and if he's clever enough he will manage to stay one step ahead of everyone else all the time. He might well be able to conjure the money around and re-balance his books, letting one thing cross subsidise another to show an overall balance.

That is, until there is a disaster outside his control - like a disgruntled employee firebombing the depot with the total loss of half a dozen bin lorries, costing around £100,000 each to replace, and a contractual obligation that needs them running and emptying people's bins. Tomorrow morning!

Now, if it had only been Fylde's work involved, it might have been worthwhile borrowing £600,000 to buy new lorries.

Written down over say, 5 or 7 years, that would have been an annual cost of around £120k a year. Bad, but not disastrous.

However, because this was a contract with Wyre, there was no guarantee their part would be renewed beyond the contract period (and in fact there were early signs that Wyre was not happy about having to pay for 'extras' even back in 2007 and they might not renew).

So the period for paying back a loan to buy new lorries wouldn't allow a manageable recovery rate to write the lorries down over. So the 'get some new lorries' option was probably closed off. (We think there might have been other ways around this, but it looks as though they didn't try to find a workaround for the borrowing).

Some people have since said that the vehicles should have been insured on a 'new for old' basis. Whilst that might have merit, we tend to agree that the costs of insuring such vehicles would clearly not have been affordable from within the contract price. This begs the question of course, as to whether the contract bid was put in at the right price, and whether it was sensible to bid for another Council's work anyway.

So what actually happened was that the written-off lorries were bought from the insurers. These were repaired by mechanics working through the nights on premium rates for quite some time and thousands spent in spare parts to resurrect the dead lorries, and by hiring in bin lorries at premium rates to cover the shortfall whilst the work was going on.

We detailed all of this and more in Burying the Rubbish if readers want more details.

The report from the Chief Executive doesn't quite set the scene as we have done here; it simply says there were three main costs:

  • Fuel overspend (£150,000)
  • Increased repair and servicing costs (£300,000)
  • Income not achieved £140,000

We've explained all but the fuel overspend in Burying the Rubbish, and it might not surprise readers to note that if you move your garaging and maintenance depot from Heeley Road to Poulton, the journeys will be longer from St Anne's. As a result, your fuel costs are likely to increase and so on.

Be this as it may, the Chief Executive's report describes the fuel costs as "reduced (and unexplained) provision for vehicle fuel costs" which suggests that it wasn't an overspend as such but a spending estimate that had been put in as artificially low.

If this is what happened, we would speculate that someone knew there were in trouble with this contract and was trying to doctor the figures today in the hope that tomorrow - "something would turn up" for them.

It might have been a combination of both, but whatever it was, the disaster unfolded around us, first at £609,000, then at £709,000 when the loss of projected income was added in.

Mind you, this was all before the expenditure that was chargeable to the Wyre part of the contract was magically reduced by £300,000 when some vehicle fleet costs that had been "incorrectly allocated to the Wyre operation." in the 2007/08 accounts were corrected in the 2008/09 by moving approx £300,000 of them to the Fylde operation.

So the Wyre contract didn't show as making a loss. If it had, it would probably have cost Dim Tim his head given his repeated assurances at Cabinet and at Council that the Wyre contract was making a surplus overall.

So if that's what really happened, what did the Chief Executive's report say about it, and what should have been done differently?

The original (secret) report that has not been published, (nor was it distributed to all councillors), began by saying it was setting out a "...description of and commentary on..." the matter. This placed the Chief Executive in the position of official / independent observer when he should have been providing an explanation for his failure as Head of the paid Service. So you can see where it started from.

He expected "the Council" to learn from his "reference points".

So far as we can see 'the Council' did nothing wrong at all and had no responsibility in this matter. It was the officers and the cabinet - and possibly a Scrutiny Committee or two that need to learn from it.

Given that part of the allegation against the Streetscene manager was for "use of council assets for personal and private gain" we would like to know why were the police not invited to investigate.

The Budget Monitoring reports to Cabinet in September and November 2007 show nothing of these problems. They mention a possible £170,000 *overall* deficit across all council spending, and some extra costs for recycling cardboard in Blackpool and reduced income from the crematorium, but nothing about the Streetscene losses, yet this is when - according to the Chief Executive - the problems were known about.

In fact on the same agenda (page 19) is an item headed "Risk Assessment and Sensitivity Analysis" which says it is "An assessment of the risks associated with the medium term financial strategy is included at Appendix 2. This includes the controls and processes in place to control and monitor them."

The appendix gives a table which shows that the risk of spending exceeding the budget at Fylde was officially classified as "Low" and the risk of Unforeseen spending was also "Low".

Talk about fiddling whilst Rome burns.

This is a perfect example of what's wrong at Fylde. They're spending ages of officer time producing reports such as "Moving to Excellence" and no one has time to be watching the shop and doing the real work that should be done.

The report also mentions a "significant proportion" of reserves being used. They went down from something like £ 2,348,000 on 31.March 2007 to something like £182,000 on 31 March 2008.

Our readers might use a term a bit stronger than "significant proportion" but then, it's probably all about the impression you're trying to create.

The published version of the report also says that the "compromise agreement" under which the Streetscene manager left the Council "would bring a quicker and more cost-effective solution to the matter for the Council rather than the unknown (and potentially much more significant) costs of a disciplinary hearing and subsequent Employment Tribunal which would hold no guarantee of a favourable outcome for the Council."

What it does show is that there was no evidence of a case to answer for the Streetscene manager.

The report also says that the compromise agreement "was felt to be the most pragmatic option which exposed the Council to the least amount of additional financial and reputational risk and was therefore agreed in accordance with the Constitution, existing personnel policies and in dialogue with the Council Leader and the Leader of the opposition."

We expect Queen Elizabeth will be mad at that. And in expectation of her ire when she returns from holiday, the Chief Executive did at least clarify at the meeting that what he really meant, was that he told her what he had done after he had agreed it with the Leader.

So much for the new openness and transparency that the independent councillors enjoy for becoming a formal "opposition"

Incredibly the Chief Executive's report adds "It should be noted, however, that as no formal hearing was held, the allegations that were the subject of the investigation have not been formally established as justified."

In reality what this says is we didn't have anything on him guv, and that was after two years of investigation.

What a shambles.

The report goes on to identify the "Lessons Learned" from this shambles.

At the fourth bullet point it says "The important role of the Cabinet and of the Performance Improvement Scrutiny Committee in monitoring the in-year financial performance of the Council should not be underestimated."

In effect this says the Cabinet was asleep on the job, but worse, the Performance Improvement Scrutiny Committee - the one to whom the report was made, (and who were actually surveying the empty stable that night), has failed in its job.

We wonder where Cllr Karen Buckley's Scrutiny Committee was in all of this. That's the one that is supposed to keep the Cabinet's performance under review. Has it called for a report? Has it held an examination in public (or even in private)? Has it done anything about this matter? The answer is a big fat zero.

Another lesson to be learned is that "The importance of undertaking regular performance appraisals, with all members of staff, which define the clear expectations both of the employer and the employee, is not to be understated." If these were not being undertaken previously, why were they not? And if they were, where are the relevant ones, and what did they say about the performance of the individuals concerned?

Returning to the Faux Scrutiny Committee, Dim Tim explained what he knew about it and concluded "It was unfortunate it happened, I regret it...... that it happened..... but I don't think anybody acted in a way, deliberately, to act wrongly in what happened, and at the end of the day nobody died"

He may be right. But even setting aside the issue of intentional wrongdoing, it still leaves the matter of competence. And that has not been assessed formally.

Toward the end of the meeting, Cllr Hayhurst said he had listened to the excuses for having no financial management accountability or appraisal procedure that recorded the performance issues, and never actually getting the question of how much was paid in severance pay answered, he proposed a motion of censure on the Chief Executive for his failure to undertake the duties outlined in the Constitution. This was seconded by Cllr David Chedd.

Cllr Ashton said it was his belief that "Cllr Hayhurst had a personal vendetta against the Chief Executive, and that this is a malicious act by him to undermine the authority of the Chief Executive" and he called upon Cllr Hayhurst to withdraw the motion. (We wondered where he got all those big words from)

Saint Paul said he was not going to withdraw the report. He said the Chief Executive was responsible for those two employees whose performance had caused the problem. He was also responsible for ensuring the Council had coordination between its departments which clearly had not happened, and he was responsible for ensuring there were sufficient staff to do a proper job which his own report had said were insufficient.

They'd had no proper financial management and no risk assessment. That was properly the responsibility of the Head of the Paid Service and for those failures censure was appropriate.

The Chairman put the motion of censure to the vote and it was lost. We understand it was supported by Cllrs Hayhurst, Chedd, and Nulty; and opposed by Cllrs Hyde, Akeroyd, Ashton, amd Hopwood.

Then Cllr Ashton proposed the recommendation on the Chief Executive's Report - that it be noted - which, of course, was voted through as it was always going to be.

As Cllr Linda Nulty said earlier "This report has still left many questions unanswered".

The Commissar will pay the price for this at the 2011 election.

He will pay the price for his failures with Streetscene, and the consequences of it. That's the closure of our swimming pools, emptying of the council's reserves, and special borrowing to cover the residual shortfall on day to day spending that Fylde's taxpayers will be paying back over the next 25 years.

Sure he's now in panic mode to re-open the swimming pool, but even there he will have to backtrack to get it open again. The magic expressions of interest he had clearly didn't materialise into a satisfactory bid, or he wouldn't have extended the deadline for tenders by another month. He also doesn't seem to want to get into bed with the man who proposed taking over the pool and running it for the Council (see "Pooling Ideas?") and if that's the case, there's only one road left for him. Cap in hand to the YMCA with a better offer so they can run our pool as they do in Wyre.

None of this is a 'good thing' of course. And even though he thinks he is, he's not going to be let off the hook for it come the election - pool or no pool.

The folk of this area aren't stupid.

He will be remembered for two things: financial and managerial incompetence of the worst order, and the introduction of the Cabinet system - which is specifically the worst thing he has done.

As we said in "The Cabinet is formed" way back in 2006  "You will soon see how far the source of power is insulated from the ability of the electorate to directly hold it to account."

This Streetscene issue has provided a perfect example of that.

Dated:  24 September 2009.


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