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Extra Ordinary Council Meeting

Extra-Ordinary Council MeetingEven before we get started on this extra ordinary Council meeting of Monday 18 July 2011, there have been some extra-ordinary events taking place in the last few days.

Readers will remember that the Mayor, Cllr Howard Henshaw had asked the Chief Executive to call a meeting of the Council before Melton Grove was sold, or alternatively, to stay the sale until after the next scheduled Council meeting could debate it.

A meeting was duly fixed for Monday 18 July. But the word came out that completion of the disposal was going to take place on the Friday *before* the full Council meeting.

So, as we reported in 'Conservative Group Meeting' on 12 July, the Mayor requested an "informal meeting of councillors" on Wednesday 13 July. (This could not be a formal Council meeting because he didn't have the time to call that before the disposal)

We believe his aim in calling the informal meeting was to let officers know the strength of feeling from all parties, in the hope that they would hold the disposal back until after the Council on Monday.

On behalf of the Mayor, the Chief Executive sent the email inviting *all* Councillors to the informal meeting on Wednesday.

But the Conservative Group must have been so afraid of what their Conservative councillors might hear at the meeting, they issued a blanket ban, and instructed all Conservatives not to attend the Mayor's Wednesday meeting. And that was despite the fact that some individual Conservative Councillors had asked the Mayor to hold it.

Next, Chief Executive Philip Woodward - reputedly in consultation with senior conservatives - decided that the informal meeting had now become a 'political meeting' (presumably because the Conservatives had been told not to attend so it would no longer have representatives from all parties there) and the Mayor was summarily told by email that he would have to pay for the use of the Town Hall for the meeting, for the attendant's time, and for any cups of tea served at the meeting.

How absolutely petty and childish they have become.

They are a laughing stock . And deservedly so.

Extraordinary is the right word.

We heard Queen Elizabeth Oades was fuming (and the Mayor was none too pleased either) and she wrote a very strongly worded letter to the Chief Executive and to all Councillors setting out the constitutional damage that was being done.

We then heard it might have been her letter that caused a hiccup in the completion of the disposal, but as this part of counterbalance is written on Sunday evening, the situation with that is still not clear, and we doubt we it will be so before Monday's Extra-Ordinary Council meeting.

We also heard that Saint Louis the Magnificent had been into the Town Hall to have a talk with Mr Woodward after he had been dismissed as a Director of CLHA.

We would have LOVED to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting. We heard Saint Louis gave Philip Woodward "a piece of his mind" about the Chief Executive's role in the matter. We say Bravo! - It's about time someone did some straight talking!

Personally, one way or another we don't think the Chief Executive can survive the damage he has done to himself with this scandal.

He has brought the post of what should be an impartial Chief Executive into disrepute. He has completely lost the confidence of the independent and other non-conservative Councillors, he has insulted both the Mayor and the Council as a whole - and the Conservatives themselves will soon be looking for a scapegoat to blame for the Melton Grove scandal,  so one way or another, we think he'll be gone by spring.

We were also picking up gossip about quite senior Conservatives who were talking about 'U turns' and 'changes of heart.' regarding at least some aspects of the Melton Grove issue - if only the need to examine what has gone so horribly wrong.

So, although we think the Conservative vote will probably hold, and the evening will be a damp squib of a meeting, it is just possible that anything might happen.

And then it could be a truly Extra-Ordinary meeting.

It's at the United Reformed Church, St. Georges Road, St. Annes and it starts at 7pm. We know that because that, at least, is still printed on the Council's website page.

But there isn't an agenda on the website (there was a few days ago and we managed to get a copy but it's now vanished).

The one we had was very basic. It had no item to confirm the previous minutes, and no 'Mayor's Announcements', and no 'Chief Executive's Communications' items.

It had only one item: 'Notices of Motion' and the separate report stating that Council is requested to consider the notice of motion from Cllr Elaine Silverwood received on 8th July.

We're doubtful about the date here because this is the Motion that she had on the agenda for Council of 28 Feb, but which Mr Woodward failed to call at that meeting and has since pretended it did not exist.

The motion says: "We feel that the disposal of Melton Grove should be debated by the full council to ensure that the right decision is made in the interests of the residents of the Borough" and it is supported by eight councillors signatures.

Ominously the Agenda paper did say that such motions are automatically referred to Cabinet or a committee unless the proposers request it is dealt with at that meeting.

If they do so request, there is an immediate vote on whether to debate the motion or not.

It used to be for the Mayor  as Chairman of the meeting to decide whether to have the debate immediately or not, but the year before Cllr Oades became Mayor, the officers recommended changing the Constitution so the whole council voted on the decision which, of course, means that the Conservative majority makes the decision.

The words "Up" and "Stitch" spring readily to mind, and they've kept that rule in place for Cllr Henshaw this year as well.

So when we set off for the meeting we were not sure whether the meeting was still on (because the agenda had been removed from the Council Website). We were not sure if there would be any debate (or whether the Conservatives would vote down any discussion on the matter) and we weren't sure whether the Clifton Lytham Housing Association had been sold off via an exchange of contracts or not.

It was going to be a truly extra-ordinary meeting, and we'll report it in the next section.

With the new members assembled for their first official Council meeting, there was an air of expectation. Group meetings were being held in ante rooms as usually happens, prior to the start.

The Mayor opened the meeting and, visibly bristling, he surprised (we think) everyone by making a statement about the informal meeting of councillors on Wednesday evening. He explained that he had received representation from all political groups about the lack of transparency on the disposal of Melton Grove and he said the Chief Executive together with the Leader and Deputy Leader had decided that it had taken on the appearance of a political meeting and he would have to pay for it.

He said that although he has now been told he would not be charged, he wanted to make the point that it was not a political meeting and he had been very dissatisfied with the process.

With that, normal business resumed.

In the declarations of interest section, Cllr Ashton declared a personal and prejudicial interest and left the meeting. Cllrs Pounder and Ackers declared a personal interest.

Cllr Elaine Silverwood moved her notice of motion to have Melton Grove disposal debated by full Council. Cllr David Chedd seconded it. Then Cllr Liz Oades proposed an amendment, but the Chief Executive said before considering that, they would have to vote on whether to debate it straight away or not.

That vote was taken and the result was interesting. We picked out several Conservatives who supported the need to have the debate now. We've put the results opposite. The overall result was 24 to debate the motion, 17 against.

Cllr Oades' amendment was to refer the process by which Melton Grove had been dealt with to detailed forensic scrutiny which should take no longer than one or two months and that the Scrutiny Chairman should be able to draw on independent external advice. She said she and many other people were unhappy with the processes and she needed reassuring they had acted honourably. She was seconded by Cllr Linda Nulty.

First up was Cllr Trevor Fiddler who (despite having voted against having the debate in the first vote!) said he thanked Cllr Oades for bringing the amendment. He noted that she didn't ask to consider the principle of the sale but the processes that had been employed. He said he simply couldn't understand how they ended up with a developer when they wanted a Registered Social Landlord.

Next was Cllr Kiran Mulholland who chairs the Scrutiny Committee that is expected to investigate the matter. (He had supported having the debate) He said he had made it known for some time that he was not happy with the process. And to a hushed assembly he said he was extremely sad that the sale had been finalised last Friday and with that he confirmed that the deal was done. Again he said "I find that extremely sad" adding that he would welcome the Scrutiny Committee finding everything had been whiter than white, but at present he felt dirty and guilty by association.

Amazingly, having allowed the sale to take place the Friday before, and having voted only ten minutes earlier not to let Cllr Oades' amendment be discussed that evening,  Fylde's Leader got to his feet and said he supported the matter going to scrutiny, he appreciated Cllr Mulholland's view, and he wanted scrutiny to be a swift process.

Shame he didn't think of that before he let it be sold last Friday then isn't it!

This point was not lost on Saint Paul Hayhurst who said he welcomed the Leader's comments, but if he had felt like that, why did he not simply delay the sale by one day so the Council could have debated the sale before it was sold?

St Paul continued -  it had seemed like a competition as to which could produce the more dramatic revelations each day, 'News International' or 'Melton Grove'.

He said it was a very sad reflection this disposal was not delayed one day, but had been rushed through to sell it before tonight's meeting.

He concluded by saying "The last I heard from the Conservatives was that no-one knows whether it has been done correctly or not"

And with that the vote was taken.

It was an overwhelming decision to refer the matter to scrutiny as Cllr Mrs Oades had proposed.

We are simply and utterly amazed at the Damascenian conversions that are crawling out of every corner now it's too late to do anything.

For those that want it the voting result (as close as we could record  it) we have an approximation of it below. (If you find you're recorded wrongly please let us know and we will correct it until the final minutes are published)

A=Absent or Abstained        ?=didn't hear

Councillor Debate
Send to
  Councillor Debate
Send to
Ackers Yes No   Goodman A A
Aitken No Yes   Goodrich A A
Ackeroyd No Yes   Hardy Yes Yes
Andrews Yes Yes   Harper Yes Yes
Armit No Yes   Hayhurst Yes Yes
Ashton T A A   Henshaw H Yes Yes
Ashton S No Yes   Henshaw K Yes Yes
Beckett Yes Yes   Hodgson Yes Yes
Brickels Yes Yes   Hopwood Yes Yes
Buckley A A   Jacques No Yes
Chedd Yes Yes   Little No Yes
Chew Yes Yes   Mulholland Yes Yes
Clayton Yes Yes   Nash No Yes
Collins Yes Yes   Nulty Yes Yes
Cox No Yes   Oades Yes Yes
Craig-Wilson A A   Pounder No Yes
Cunningham No Yes   Prestwich A A
Davies JR A A   Redcliffe A A
Davies L Yes Yes   Rigby Yes Yes
Donaldson No Yes   Silverwood Yes Yes
Duffy Yes Yes   Singleton No Yes
Eaves No Yes   Speak Yes Yes
Eastham A Yes   Threlfall No Yes
Fazackerley No Yes   Willder No Yes
Fiddler No Yes   Wood Yes Yes
Ford A A   For 24 41
        Against 17 1

So what does it all mean?

Well it further reinforces our belief that the Chief Executive is mortally wounded.

We'll have to wait and see what comes out of the Scrutiny meetings. Cllr Mulholland will do a good job if he is allowed. Some of the independents were suggesting he might be changed as Chairman of Scrutiny and someone more, shall we say, amenable to persuasion might be instituted. We don't think the Conservatives would do that, but then we didn't think they'd do what they have done so far so who are we to know.

As for the folk of Melton Grove, we'll they've been dropped in it and will have to struggle as best they can. There are a couple of rearguard possibilities that are being looked at that might help, but they have been sold down the river by this administration alright and that's a taint that won't leave those running the show at the moment.

Dated:  18 July 2011

The webcast of the meeting gave us chance to get some actual quotes as to what was said. We've reproduced some selected ones here, but you can see the full debate on the webcast on Fylde's website.

the Council's Portfolio Holder Cllr Trevor Fiddler (who admitted to having signed the sale agreement without properly understanding what it was he was being asked to sign), said of the call to scrutinise the process "....We do need a comprehensive, very forensic scrutiny of what the process entailed.... There have been so many questions asked, those questions require answers, and those concerns are shared by both sides of the Council. For myself personally, I can't understand how a decision in principle for the Melton Grove to be sold to a Registered Social Landlord, a decision made, a preferred option made to that effect, suddenly within months evolves into an animal that describes major redevelopment of that site. I have not come across any Councillor of Fylde Borough who understands how that process evolved in such a way. I don't know of any Councillor who has any information, or any knowledge, on how that decision by Clifton Housing Board evolved to a point which accepted major redevelopment. And I do not know how Windmill Oaks came forward, confidently, with a tender, when we assumed that people responding to the sale had to be registered social landlords. So there are many questions. And if it transpires that these decisions were made without a political input, then of course it brings into focus the relationship between elected members and officers, and therefore scrutiny is the best place to go in depth into the processes described by Cllr Oades and I would support it."

The Scrutiny Chairman Cllr Mulholland said "I would welcome this going to Scrutiny, I find it extremely sad that the sale was finalised late on Friday... We've all seen the emails. There are concerns on all sides of the Council. There has been a plea for transparency. Quite frankly, I will be very pleased to scrutinise this and for everything to come out whiter than white, because at this very moment, I am feeling dirty by association. For me, twenty years a Councillor of Fylde Borough Council, this is the darkest moment I've had. I have never known such suspicion and some of it, I believe, with reason until it's explained until it's gone into, and I feel guilty by association. I think this has been an appalling episode, I can't see, I mean we had a situation last week which could have come out of a Brian Rix farce when we had Senior Officers running round hand delivering this and hand delivering that, to beat deadlines. What an absolute disgrace...."

The Council Leader himself said "I fully support this matter to go to Scrutiny, I have made, er, asked, various questions, observations from various people, and not been able to receive some correct, well, some answers, I appreciate Cllr Mulholland's comments with regard to how he feels with regard to the process.,.. It is through Scrutiny, that the report from Scrutiny will provide all the answers that all members of this Council needs."

Unless the Scrutiny Committee result is already pre-ordained as a Hutton-style whitewash (and we hope and trust that's not the case), then you have to wonder what on earth some of these folk were doing - if they're only now starting to ask questions about what they have already done.

Why didn't they ask (or even take notice of the public outcry)  at the time?


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