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Snippets: June 2010

Snippets June 2010CABINET ON MONDAY
Next Monday is Cllr David Eaves' first formal Cabinet meeting as Leader. So what's on his agenda?

Well, apart from reviewing what the policy committees have been looking at, there are really three items,

  • Refurbishment at the Crem;
  • The Draft Fylde Housing Action Plan; and
  • The budget outturn for the year ended April 2010.

Elsewhere in this counterbalance, we liken Fylde to a supertanker flowing through the ocean at full speed.  It's difficult to slow down, let alone stop or turn around at anything like a sensible speed. So you can expect to see the Commissar's influence still flowing for a while longer even though now there's a new (and, on early signs, more competent) navigator on the Bridge.

So we're happy to give the new man six or nine months to stamp his influence. It follows that during this period, if we're critical, it shouldn't necessarily be taken as criticism of the new Leader.

So, with that caveat, lets have a look at what's going on.

Crematorium Refurbishment
The Crem was budgeted to have new cremators and some technical equipment that it's probably better not to go into in too much detail. This kit is very expensive. It will also mean a bigish loss of income from what is a primary income generator for Fylde whilst it is closed for renewal.

Someone noticed they could usefully do a good refurbishment of the building as well whilst it is closed (although they seem only to have noticed this opportunity after a biggish underspend has been discovered)

So the Cabinet is now being asked to approve an extra spending of £166,000 - of which £66,000 comes from savings in the cost of the Cremator work (which is fine), and the other £100,000 comes from a virement (transfer) from the current year repairs and maintenance budget. This is much less fine.

It's less fine because it means that £100,000 hasn't been spent on repairs and maintenance that should have been.

In St Annes alone, we can see shelters in disrepair, sand-shields that are broken and dilapidated (and causing additional regular sand clearance costs from roads and pavements).

There's also a lack of maintenance evident on  things like the Ornamental Fountain in the Promenade Gardens that was re-furbished with an £80,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery fund about six years ago, but which has been desperate for a coat of paint for at least two years now and is a rusty eyesore in the resort's shop window. It has since attracted damage and now needs a lot more spending on it. Stitches in time were not applied here.

This lack of maintenance during the year seems to have arisen from a staff re-organisation in the department that should have dealt with the maintenance. They seem to have been so preoccupied with that process that the work itself got forgotten and wasn't done.

Much as we might wring our hands at the officer incompetence that has allowed a £100,000 maintenance underspend to arise, there's probably not much that can be done about the spilt milk now, and if they still can't get their fingers out and do the maintenance that is needed, we guess the money might as well be spent at the Crem.

Draft Housing Action Plan
Again, this is one of those supertanker reports that has been in progress for some time.

It purports to have "...both a long term view of how the Fylde Coast's housing offer can be further improved, and short term priorities for policy and for the delivery of effective housing services."   (Yawn.)

It also has a well-buried reference to Muir Group and the Homes and Communities Agency who are still identified to provide a "Supported Housing scheme for homeless households" (a 'Homeless Hostel' to ordinary folk). This is an echo of the move that caused the Commissar so much trouble at Heeley Road over the last year or two. No doubt there will be a few people keeping an eye on developments in that direction, especially since Fylde has been so successful in its primary aim of reducing the number of homeless households, and thus reducing the need for the hostel in the first place.

But the report is already out of date. It uses housing numbers in the 'Regional Spatial Strategy' - a document that has now been signalled for abolition by counterbalance's great friend Eric Pickles. The Action Plan also refers to an undemocratic QUANGO called '4NW' (don't even ask) which has also been abolished by Pickles. And there are other things too.

For example, the direction in which Fylde was being driven was toward a 'City of the Fylde' (actually it was more likely to have been called the Fylde Coast Unitary Authority) but that idea too has hit the buffers thanks to Pickles.

He is unpicking and undoing all the work put in place by John Prescott's 'Regional Government' agenda.

Wonderful.

He has already passed legislation that stopped plans going forward for half a dozen new Unitary Councils elsewhere in the UK, so the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre merger is, thankfully, once again, almost certainly off the cards.

In turn, that change has reduced the importance of 'joint working' schemes such as the Multi Area Agreement (that Fylde was rushing into). The joint housing strategy was a fundamental component of that plan, but the agreement no longer has the weight it had in 'Pre-Pickles' times.

So, with much of the data in this Housing Action Plan predicated on a false premise, we think the Cabinet would be well advised to send it back for a very slow re-think - based on the new economic realities; the abolitions that are presently in train and those yet to come; and the severe budget cuts that will hit Fylde next year.

The alternative would be to approve the Action Plan and tell the staff to put it quietly onto the shelf.

Budget Outturn for Last Year
We've only had a quick look at this item, and we might be able to expand it after the meeting, but it seems as though there was an underspend of £916,000 at the close of play last March, (and that's even after paying an extra and unbudgeted £494,000 to what is called a 'Pensions Accounting Adjustment').

When extra from Government Grants are added in, it takes the surplus for the year to £1.379 million.

That's better than an overspend of course, but it demonstrates what hopefully will be one of the last acts of financial mismanagement from the Commissar's reign. In former days, we can say with certainty that spending officers would have been roasted alive for failing to complete the projects the Council had expected to be completed with the budget they had allocated. And so they should.

So what's going to happen to the spare dosh now? Where's the £1.4m of spare cash going to be stashed?

Well, before the accounts are *formally* closed, the plan (to be approved by Cabinet on Monday) is to put £1.040 million of it into some special, out-of-sight, reserves, with the remaining £399,000 being either used this year, or transferred to what are known as 'balances' - which is another sort of reserve (i.e. a reserve that is not identified for something specific)

The Special Reserves include a new "Comprehensive Spending Review Reserve" which will hold £521,000 (which sounds as though it is going to be used to offset the impact of the Government's spending cuts in the year leading up to an election), and a new "Concessionary Fares Reserve" holding £117,000 in case there is an adverse legal judgement in the rate that Councils have to pay the bus companies.

We also think there may be more cash being stashed away, but it's either so well buried in the report as to be almost invisible (and even we can't find it at present), or there's some unusually inaccurate adding-up by the finance boss. We haven't got to grips with that issue yet, but we might be able to bring you more shortly.


TIPPED OVER THE EDGE?
It looks as though - at least so far as County Hall is concerned - the battle to save St Annes Tip / Recycling Centre is over and lost.

A call-in request was launched by Liberal Democrat County Councillors, and this forced a re-think of the plan to close it.

We understand Liberal Democrat councillors from across the County spoke against closure, and although our long-serving County Councillor Queen Elizabeth Oades was unable to attend, her place was taken by the 'newly' elected Fylde West County Councillor St Paul Hayhurst. He led the independent call to prevent closure on behalf of St Annes residents, and is a first class advocate. St Annes Town Council Mayor Cllr Tony Ford was also invited to contribute to the debate and argued strongly against closure.

However, despite their efforts on our behalf, the call-in motion was turned down by seven votes to three. The Conservative majority on LCC (who had proposed the closure) felt it was a robust report, and all areas had been covered.

So that's the end of the road as far as LCC is concerned. It's now down to whether Fylde's new Leader can put some sort of a deal together with Blackpool to keep it open, perhaps on a part time basis.

As one our readers is wont to remind us in such circumstances "What did those who elected the zero tax increase administration at County Hall think they were voting for?"


WREA GREEN ELECTION
Speaking of elections, there must have been some very muted trumpeting recently, (because several Fylde Councillors of our acquaintance claim not to have known anything about it), but the poll for the Wrea Green by-election caused by the death of Cllr Lyndsay Greening has been both announced, and closed, with hardly anyone knowing.

So Wrea Green voters will be going to the polls on Thursday 1 July to elect a new councillor for Fylde from amongst the following:

  • Frank Roland Andrews, St Nicholas Grove, Wrea Green. Conservative Party.
  • David Hobson, Parkside Road, St Annes. Green Party.
  • Janet Wardell, Richmond Avenue, Wrea Green. Independent.

We don't know any of these personally, but we do know that Janet Wardell stood for Election to Fylde West as a Conservative candidate (where she came a close second to St Paul Hayhurst) last May, so she must be odds-on favourite to win - but it's curious why she hasn't been selected as the official Conservative candidate this time.

That is, of course, unless they're trying to assess how electable Fylde councillors are if they stand as independents. On the face of it, the move seems daft, because they're going to split the Conservative vote by fielding an official candidate and a former official candidate e (now described as an independent).

Maybe the Conservatives didn't think she had the profile to win this one, and the chap they've nominated does. But Janet Wardell has some well known names in her nomination box, which shows there are some well-known, and well-connected local folk that support her, so she must be a credible choice if she puts the effort into canvassing.

Polling will be at Ribby-with-Wrea CE School, between 7am and 10pm.


KILNHOUSE ELECTION
Following the death of Councillor John Prestwich,  there's a vacancy for a councillor in Kilnhouse Ward.

But from what we can see, an election is only going to happen if two or more electors of the area write to the Fylde Council's Elections officer and ask him to call an election, (as is their right under the Local Government Act 1972 (Section 89))

So if any of our readers fancy standing for election to Fylde as a Councillor, now's the time to talk with Fylde's Electoral Registration Officer about what's involved, to give him a letter signed by two people from the area who are on the electoral roll, asking him to call the election.

Then you'll need to get the nomination forms to fill in.

You don't actually have to live in Kilnhouse Ward (or even in St Annes) to stand for election there, but you do have to live, (or have land or business  within) something like five miles of the Fylde Borough boundary.

If no-one asks for an election, it's likely that the vacancy will stay vacant.


POLICY DECISIONS
Princess Karen Buckley has been busy making decisions.  She's been approving some new policies.  

Three, in fact: 'Career Breaks', 'Work Life Balance' and a 'Smoke Free workplace''

Quietly, on the day before the budget, she snuck out her 'Individual Member Decision" and gave notice that she plans to give final approval to it on 29th June.

So what's involved in each of them?

Career Break Policy
The Career Breaks policy says "Career break schemes allow greater flexibility to allow staff to balance work and home responsibilities and may enhance staff development through opportunities for travel or study."

In essence it lets people have time away from work (without pay) for things like

  • Personal development, for example, extended periods of travel, voluntary service overseas or other volunteering work or unpaid charitable activities.
  • Full or part-time education or other types of study.
  • Caring for dependants.
  • Child care
  • An unexpected change in personal circumstances, for example bereavement, domestic abuse, although the employee may be able to request special leave in these circumstances.
  • To undertake religious or belief observance or pilgrimage.
  • Accompanying a partner on a temporary job related posting/secondment overseas or outside reasonable traveling [sic] distance.

But you can't have a career break to take up paid employment elsewhere, (well, not unless it involves undertaking voluntary service overseas in developing countries, or has been granted further education purposes, and the person wants to take a holiday job, or where the paid work is part of, say a period of industrial experience arranged by a college).

There will be two sorts of career break available: a short term break (of up to a year) where the job is kept open for you (That's really nice of them isn't it?); and a long term option from one to five years where you have to resign, but when you want to come back, they try and fit you in if they can.

So that's the Career Break Policy.

We think it's a bit odd - introducing a policy like this when so many local government employees are about to be given a 'career break' whether they want it or not - but then, what do we know about such matters?

The next policy she approved is also about not working at Fylde when you're an employee of Fylde..

Work Life Balance
This policy begins by saying how important it is to retain employees, to recruit the best people, to make Fylde a better place to work, and a host of other sugar-sweet, motherhood and apple-pie 'reasons' why such a policy should be introduced.

You can tell from the over-the top attempt to justify the idea that this is really something that's not right.

Its 'Statement of Intent' begins "The Council supports flexible working/different ways of working to achieve a balance between home and work as part of its overall commitment and strategy designed to promote equal opportunities in employment. This policy aims to enable good practice in Work-life balance to be for the benefit of both the council and all employees."

It then goes on to describe in detail, another shedload of politically correct options that people can use to avoid having to subject themselves to the discipline and rigours of proper work. (i.e. where you contract with an employer to provide a regular and set number of hours for their exclusive use). The opt-out clauses being proposed here include:

  • Flexi-Time and Annualised Hours
  • Part-time Staff and "V-Time"
  • Jobsharing.
  • Term-time working
  • Parental / Maternity / Adoption Leave / Time off for Dependants
  • Career breaks
  • Homeworking
  • Secondments
  • Compressed Hours
  • Self-Rostering
  • Time off for Religious Observance (where it is noted that failure to do this may could as 'Religious Discrimination')

Readers will have guessed by now that we come from the Dinosaur Branch of the work ethic, and we regard this sort of rubbish in the same way we regard the 'Regional Leaders Board (4NW)', The Regional Spatial Strategy and The Standards Board, - a gross waste of our money.

We can only hope that Eric Pickles gets enough time to examine , then abolish, this stupidity, just as he has already abolished (or signalled an intention to abolish) the other examples we have given.

When the country is spending £1 in every £4 using borrowed money. When our sovereign debt is growing with annual costs that you can't even begin to get a handle on. When thousands of people are losing, and are yet still to lose, their jobs, then now is most definitely NOT the time to be fiddling with PC policies like these which inevitably push up the cost of Local Government and take money away from frontline services.

These policies are a nonsense and ought to be thrown in the bin at any time, but in the current climate they're just out of touch with reality.

However, we doubt that Princess Karen will agree. She is set to approve them.

Demonstrably poor judgement we say.

Still, they'll provide one more brownie point for someone with more common-sense to overturn at a future date.

If readers think it's odd that Fylde's new Leader isn't making more fuss on these sort of matters, it will be useful to bear in mind that Councils are like Supertankers, and those (like Fylde) that have been going in the wrong direction for some time have built up a head of speed that means they will take time to stop, and even longer to turn around.

These policies - provisionally approved by Princess Karen - are clearly pre-austerity policies that haven't yet had the eye of common sense run over them. Also, they're quite possibly at the outward edge of what Fylde's Leader regards as important enough to warrant his attention if he has bigger fish to fry (and fixing the finances, and sorting out the mess left by the Commissar, are very much bigger fish so far as he is concerned) - so it looks as though Princess K is being allowed to demonstrate her own judgement in this matter.

Smoke Free Policy
The third policy that she has provisionally agreed, and is also up for final approval by Princess K on 29th June is the Smoke Free Policy.

Readers shouldn't take this description as meaning the freedom to smoke, its more a 'smoke-free' policy (but they've left out the hyphen).

Quite the contrary in fact. The fascists have been out again, seeking to impose a ban on what others might want to do.

The Council used to allow smoking in its offices and, indeed, in some of its meetings. This depended on the vote of the individual committee. So some committees decided they would be 'smoking committees' and others not. Democracy in action.

And it was not unusual for a non-smoking Chairman of a committee to vote *against* a smoking ban in their committee on the basis of toleration of others. That's all gone now of course, and there is a ban on smoking anywhere inside the buildings.

And this new policy is set to extend that prohibition to the outdoors.

It says "Smoke-free means smoking is not permitted anywhere on Fylde Borough Council owned or occupied premises (this includes all areas up to the perimeter) or in Fylde Borough Council vehicles. There are no exceptions to this rule for staff, visitors or contractors. All Council owned sites and depots are no smoking locations under this policy."

Now although it's not intended, there are likely to be some awkward side-effects of this badly framed policy.

Clearly they don't mean it, but a smoking prohibition 'anywhere on Fylde Borough Council owned or occupied premises' would include the promenade, the parks, and even the beach. This is either very sloppy drafting, or a deliberate hole in the fence being left to drive a coach and horses through later.

The introduction of a smoking ban on 'visitors' on the promenade appears to be a really interesting line in tourism promotion for Fylde.

But  its just a badly written policy. It's not meant to apply to 'visitors' of course (well, not now, at least), because in the detail later on, the policy fails to include 'visitors' as a category of persons subject to the policy (told you it was sloppy and badly thought out). It says it only applies to three classes of person, vis:

  • Employees - (so they won't be allowed to smoke if they work outdoors as a park gardener, for example).
  • Contractors who are working for the council on council owned property - so the contract workman repairing the park shelter won't be allowed to smoke after his lunch if he wants to (unless he goes and sits on the road)
  • Households where smoking takes place, and which are visited by  the Council's staff or contractors.

The underlying aim is set out clearly (if not very accurately in terms of grammar) when it says "The Council is seeking to manage smoking during working hours by making it as discrete [sic] and 'invisible' as possible"

The Policy goes on to say "Employees cannot smoke during their working day when on duty under any circumstances."

Nor are they "permitted to smoke in open spaces whilst in the presence of any person under the age of 18 whilst undertaking duties as a council employee" (We wonder how far 'in the presence of' might mean, say, on the beach)

This is really taking things too far.

We wonder if employees could 'mix 'n' match' the new policies and negotiate, say, a career break, or a reduced working day, in order not to be working when they want a ciggy?

This smoke-free policy means the gardeners, (or whoever) can share a park bench with an old guy with a pipe full of baccy merrily smoking his life away if he wants to, but they won't be allowed to sit next to him and smoke because they are in a park or on a promenade that is 'council owned or occupied.'

The Policy gives a specific example of this, and suggests that even when smoking during unpaid breaks, (like lunchtime) employees should not smoke on Council property.

Even if the off-duty staff leave the Council property during the working day (maybe they will have to go to the Pub's smoking area for their lunch break in order to be able to light up?) it says they should make sure that where possible the Fylde Borough Council branding on their uniform is covered up, and their ID badge is concealed.

What nonsense.

The 'Home Visit' rules are even more draconian. They hint at the withdrawal of services from the homes of those that smoke.

This next quote is also from the policy.  It will become a leaflet that will be handed to all 'new and existing clients' who receive a visit from a council employee at home. (ie those of us who used to be called taxpayers, and for whom, the council's staff used to be public servants),

We will be asked to provide 'a smoke-free working environment' for the council's staff. Yes, really.

(When that happens, we can see a few officers being kept on doorsteps in the rain whilst they explain what it is they have come to talk about)

The leaflet will say.....

"...We therefore ask if you would do everything possible to provide a smoke free environment when staff visit you in your home.

How to Protect Staff from Exposure to Second-hand Smoke

  • Refrain from smoking inside the house for at lease [sic] 1 hour before they arrive.

  • If reasonable to do so, open windows and doors to fully ventilate the area.

  • Try to keep one room smoke free at all times.

During the Visit

  • Do not smoke or let anyone else in the house smoke in the area.

  • Wherever possible, when the member of staff is in the house, ask other smokers to go outside to smoke.

Fylde Borough Council Policy
We ask our staff to assess whether any environment they enter is safe for them to provide their services. If a smoke free environment cannot be provided, a risk assessment will be required in order to reduce the risk to a level that is as low as is reasonably practicable. We will support staff to leave an environment they deem to be unsafe. If necessary, you will be offered alternative service options."

Here's another paragraph from this self-righteous and barmy policy: "It will be the responsibility of ALL managers and supervisors to ensure adherence to this policy. Any employee who believes the policy is being breached should report this to his/her own manager. Persistent and intentional breaches of the policy will be dealt with under the council's Disciplinary procedure. ANY intentional breach in an area of particular safety risk will be treated as a serious matter and will be handled under the Disciplinary procedure"

(Note the CAPITAL LETTERS beloved of control freaks).

This is not common sense. Nor is it reasonable. This is the work of someone who feels so personally inadequate they have to try to normalise their own unhappy existence by wielding unreasonable power over others.

Sad.

This ought to have been another report that was binned before it saw light of day. It shows that common sense and tolerance is sadly lacking at Fylde and Political Correctness has been allowed to become rampant.    Eric! Fylde needs you!

It also shows that when officers have enough time to spend on this sort of rubbish, there are still financial savings to be made. Maybe sense will return next year when they've made themselves so unaffordable their jobs will be long-vanished into the ether.

No doubt we will be accused by some of being pro-smoking in this matter.

We're not.

We'd prefer it if people didn't. Smoking isn't good for you, and some people find it offensive.

But then, some of the affronts to tailoring, and those adorned with face shrapnel that we see walking the streets are also offensive. But we tolerate them, not persecute them.

In conclusion, we would add that, contrary to what you're probably imagining by now, counterbalance doesn't smoke. (We might occasionally inflame, and sometime we make steam come out of some people's ears, but we don't smoke). However, if any of our readers want to do so whilst reading counterbalance, they're very welcome to do so, (that's as long as they don't work for the council as an employee or contractor and read it on council controlled land with their FBC Logo showing of course).

With her support for these policies, we think it makes Princess Karen seem very pushy, doesn't it?

Dated:   23 June 2010


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