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Various Updates (Policy, Pool, By-Elections)

Various updates (Policy, Pool, By-Elections)POLICY APPROVALS
(Updated from Snippets June 2010)
Tuesday was the day that the final decision on Policies for 'Career Breaks', 'Work Life Balance' and a 'Smoke Free workplace'' was due to be made by Princess Karen Buckley.

We understand some of the other Councillors had made representations to her on these matters and she, together with Cllr David Eaves has reviewed the decision she was proposing to make.

Impressively, she has made some changes.

To be honest there's not as many changes as we would have made, but they are quite significant, and she deserves credit for being willing to do so at all. It is unusual for policies that have got this far to be changed.

The changes she has made are:

1). Consideration of the Career Break Policy has been postponed until after the result of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review is known in October 2010.

2). The Smoke-Free Policy has been approved, but paragraphs 3.2, 4.7 and appendices 1 and 2 have been deleted so that the policy refers to council property and premises only.

Almost certainly that sort of change would not have happened under the Commissar's reign.

So this is another, welcome, example of a new administration being willing to listen to others, and to act on what it hears. We very much welcome that approach.


ST ANNES POOL UPDATE
We hear that things are not going altogether swimmingly.

That's not so say the St Annes Pool isn't going to open. It is.

And with almost no doubt, it will be the YMCA who are running it, but we hear that the other bidder in the process is crying foul on the way the decision was made.

Readers will remember that in 'Who's in the Swim?' we provided a very detailed look at the two tenders and concluded that, comparatively speaking, we were paying through the nose for the 'safe pair of hands' that the YMCA represented, whilst the commercial tenderer offered a very much lower price, with apparently more swimming, free use for under 16s, and other community leisure facilities.

But the council had thought he might not be able to achieve the number of uses and memberships the he had predicted they would get, and on which he had based his financial projections. So they concluded he was less suitable.

Our own take on this situation is that it is a complete mess.

The former Commissar's insistence that the pool was a business that should have turned a profit showed a complete lack of understanding of public service delivery, and as soon as he realised it would never operate profitably as a swimming pool, he wanted rid of it.

Hence the 'tender' that said in effect; 'Here's a closed swimming pool building, we'd like some swimming going on, but you can do more or less anything else to make it pay. Tell us how much you will pay us for the chance to make money out of it, or how cheaply you can do it if we have to pay something.'

With a 'tender' as open as that, there was never going to be any possibility of being able to objectively compare the bids you received.

In fact, we wondered once or twice during the 'tender' process, if it was nothing more than an elaborate mechanism to sanitise a decision that had alread been made to refuse the commercial operator who was pestering officers as he wanted to take over the pool.

We understand that commercial operator is now very aggrieved, and currently following two lines of action.

Firstly, we hear he has engaged a solicitor and instructed a barrister whose further efforts on his client's behalf have resulted in advice suggesting that if Fylde's decision to award the contract to the YMCA were to be tested in court,(on the basis that they had unreasonably rerfusing to award the contract to him, the lowest tenderer) it is likely he could be awarded damages in the region of 800,000 for the losses he has incurred in preparing the tender, and in the loss of profits and so on for the contract term.

Secondly, we hear the Council's external auditors have had a preliminary look at the tendering and letting process and are, themselves, deciding whether to take some action.

If they decide to act, it's most likely this would be a Public Interest Investigation to see whether the process to let and award the contract was fair and in the best interests of Fylde's taxpayers. We'd quite like to see the result of such an investigation. We don't believe this was a clear cut decision at all.

The basis for the claims now being made by the commercial operator are believed to include emails and correspondence that was leaked to him from within Fylde BC (so it looks as though someone there thinks he was badly done by). We're told the documents suggest unfairness in the selection process.

He alleges the YMCA are being paid a lot more than he would have charged. He also claims the YMCA will close the small pool, and they will cut the number of lifeguards on duty - which, he argues, will compromise safety. He also says the YMCA will only open the pool for 60 hours a week where it was previously open for 80 hours.

He also alleges that the YMCA in effect 'blackmailed' the Council to get the contract by threatening to withdraw from operating the Kirkham pool if they were not awarded the contract for St Annes.

He bases this allegation on a quotation from the confidential tender evaluation report to Fylde's Cabinet where officers advised (paragraph 3.3.3.7) "If an alternative provider [other than the YMCA] is selected at St Annes Pool, the YMCA will need to evaluate where its resources need to be allocated."

He also alleges that the Council unfairly selected the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) to advise on the tender, because they failed to invite a view from, for example, the Fitness Industry Association (trade body for fitness suites etc) and, as a result, FBC stacked the deck against his bid by being selective on who advised on evaluating the tenders. (This is relevant because the tender documents deliberately did not restrict the uses offered within the building. But by only using the ASA to advise, it implies that the tenders should have offered only swimming)

Regular readers will remember his scheme planned a fitness suite in place of the Managers office and staff rooms. As a result of consulting only the ASA, he alleges the council took undue notice of their advice that in his bid there was a "Lack of focus on the provision of swimming as the primary use of the facility. Adult and Child swimming lessons, adult aqua classes etc"

But today we heard that a the YMCA is putting a fitness suite upstairs in the old cafe. This was definitely not in their original bid, but it will take some of the steam out of the understandable allegations of poor value being made by the commercial tenderer. We're led to believe the YM will use their 'old' (ie existing) equipment from the St Annes YMCA which is going to be replaced as part of a 400,000 upgrade to the main YMCA fitness suites.

That's quite a big investment for them to make when they were arguing they couldn't reduce the pool tender price any lower because all their finances were committed elsewhere.

The commercial tenderer makes several other allegations of impropriety or financial disadvantage, and we understand that cordial relations between him and the Council have now broken down, and if he continues to pursue the claims, it will become a waiting game to see how it all pans out, and whether be is 'bought off' by FBC, or whether it goes to court.

We understand that to avoid going to court he is looking to be compensated for the money he has spent preparing his bid, and that he also wants a committment to keep the small pool open (as he claims his tender would have done), and to see a quadrupling of the school swimming time in the YMCA's bid (again as he claims his tender would have provided this level of school use).

Those last two demands seem unusual at first sight. They don't produce any benefit to him, so why would he make such a demand?

We can see three possible reasons. The most altruistic is that as a local chap he believes he could have provided these facilities and they ought to be there for the young people.

The second, less altruistic, is that it would probably make the pool much more costly for the YMCA to operate and that might seem to be 'rough justice' as far as he is concerned.

Thirdly, they are populist media topics and could trigger a wave of adverse publicity around the time the pool opens, and in the run up to the May local council elections next year.

As we concluded in 'Who's in the Swim?', whilst we welcome the move to re-open the pool, we have nagging doubts about its future, and we think those involved in the process are not yet out of deep water.


WREA GREEN BY-ELECTION UPDATE
We're still puzzled by how this sneaked out with hardly anyone knowing about it.

If (our best mate) Eric Pickles means what he says about encouraging more people to get involved in local democracy he could probably make a start with a big scythe amongst some of Fylde Council's officers for failing to publicise this better.

We've no doubt they did the minimum necessary to comply with the legislation, but that's not the point - as they will shortly find out from Eric. From what we hear, even the councillors didn't get a notice to tell them about it.

That said, we have been ferreting around, and now have the inside track on why Janet Wardell stood as a Conservative at the County Election but is standing as an Independent in this one.

We hear she has fallen out with the Conservatives. It seems she was asked to go before an interview or candidate selection panel of some sort where she was told she was not a suitable candidate.

OOOps

From what we know of her she is a seasoned campaigner for the Conservatives and has fought in most, if not all, of the County, District and General elections, and has worked pretty hard for them.

It's no great surprise that she was pretty cross (we actually heard the word 'furious') and tore up her membership of the Conservative party.

Then she (obviously having better access to election infromation than most people) acquired and submitted the nomination form to stand in the by-election as an Independent.

OOOps (2)

Then to compound the injury, we understand the Conservatives contacted her and asked her to withdraw her nomination.

OOOps (3)

Then it seems they said she could have "a safe seat in Lytham St. Annes next May if she did withdraw".

OOOps (4)

(We wondered if that meant the Commissar was stepping down altogether next year, but allegedly they did say a 'safe seat' - so maybe it was somewhere else in St Annes).

By now she was even more cross, (we heard she was "absolutely incandescent with rage") and she is now working very hard to get elected as an Independent councillor in Wrea Green.

This is going to be an interesting fight.  It might also show just how 'safe' the Lytham St Annes Conservative seats are, and what value can properly be attributed to the promise of one.

Dated:   30 June 2010


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