Melton Grove: Plumbing New Depths.
In 1985, when Liverpool Council's Derek "Degsy" Hatton took on the Labour Government in a political game of cat
and mouse - sometimes using his own Council's staff as pawns in his power struggle with Government - he is generally credited with having defined the lowest depths to which a Local Authority councillor could sink.
Neil Kinnock made a famous speech about it.
He said: "I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with a far-fetched series of resolutions,.... and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council, a Labour council, hiring taxis to scuttle round the city handing out
redundancy notices to its own workers. I tell you - and you'll listen - you can't play politics with people's jobs and people's homes and people's services."
Until this week we thought Degsy's depth was the lowest point to which an elected councillor could sink.
But last week Dim Tim had a good try at vying to beat it.
Readers will remember that Cllr Ashton is a Director of Lytham Town Trust Ltd - the Company that own Lytham Hall.
He and his fellow Directors of Lytham Hall will benefit to the tune of £300,000 from the sale of the Clifton (Lytham) Housing Association when this money is provided to support a lottery bid they have submitted.
The decision to do so has already been made.
To obscure its real intent, FBC has changed its wording about giving some of the Melton Grove Money to Lytham Hall. However, that *is* what's going on.
We've said before and we say it again now so we're not misunderstood. Lytham Hall is an important and worthy property, and we've no problem with FBC contributing to its lottery bid if that's what they want to do on our behalf.
They now have cash a-plenty to do so.
Just last week, Fylde's 'Medium Term Financial Strategy Update' showed how FBC were putting an extra (yes, that's right, an EXTRA) £899,000 of underspending into their General Reserve (and that General Reserve already stood at
£2.1, million so they're now sitting on around £3 million when the minimum recommended level for this General Reserve is £750,000).
(For those who struggle to read Fylde's accounts, just look at the 2011-06-28-Cabinet-Agenda.pdf on page 19, last line in the table, the figure of
(889) in red - which by Fylde's logic, represents a "favourable variance" from that expected. That's the extra cash going into the reserve).
Even after last week's Cabinet quietly slid in £297,000 of additional (what they call 'slippage') spending out of that saving at the same meeting, they can still easily find the £100,000 that the Hall has sought for each of the next three years.
They just put THREE TIMES that amount as an UNEXPECTED WINDFALL SURPLUS into their piggy bank reserve.
But they are wrong; absolutely wrong; and it is absolutely immoral, to have brought about the disposal of Melton Grove in order to fund the grant to Lytham Hall - and that's what was really planned to happen.
It was even more discreditable to have hidden the transaction from the Council's 2011/12 accounts (even though they planned to do both the sale and the grant in that year) in an attempt to prevent all members of the Council considering and debating it.
The plan to sell
and link the funding was set in stone at a former Cabinet meeting. David Eaves was the one who proposed it at that Cabinet Meeting and, in doing so, he explicitly linked the disposal of Melton Grove to funding the Hall grant.
Since then, he has jumped on
Cllr Kevin Eastham's former Cllr John Coombes'* (*please see the end of this article regarding this edit) bandwagon to make the link less visible, and the money for the Hall is now called "funding from unexpected capital receipts" or words to that effect, but that's only been re-worded so the
Council can hide what's really going on.
It was always the case that the Melton Grove money was earmarked for the Hall.
Readers will recall that as well as being a Director of Lytham Hall, Councillor Ashton is also a Director of the Clifton (Lytham) Housing Association (CLHA) - the private limited company (wholly controlled by Fylde Council), which manages Melton
And Cllr Ashton has been party to CLHA's decision to its being sold to a developer over the heads of the residents, for something in the order of £1.4million (when it's actually worth over £4m on the open market according to their own surveyor).
But there was a problem with the sale.
Cllr Louis Rigby, a giant of a man amongst the miserable snivelling members of the Board of CLHA has thus far held up the sale by refusing to hand over his share.
They want rid of Cllr Rigby.
But as we suspected, the lily-livered weaklings on the Board, and the Uriah Heep-like officers advising them, dare not risk taking his removal as a Director to the meeting of the full Council for approval, (as they should), because they know
they would not get it.
Cllr Rigby is far too well respected for his integrity and honesty to be dismissed as a Director by the Full Council so, as we previously reported, there was a meeting last week (See our article 'Fylde's
Tyranny') at which the Directors of CLHA planned to secede from the control of the Council in order to be able to sack Councillor Louis Rigby themselves.
But when the Directors meeting was held, the decision to secede and to sack Cllr Rigby could not be made, because a change to the Articles of Association requires the support of 75% of the Directors and Cllr Ashton was not there.
He was on holiday.
So the pre-emptive move that had been planned by the Directors had to be delayed.
They had planned it for last week so it would take place ahead of a scheduled debate on the whole matter of Melton Grove by the Full Council meeting on 25 July.
The agenda for that Council meeting already contains approval of the minutes of last ordinary Council meeting. It also contains the Motion proposed by Cllr Elaine Silverwood for the Council itself to debate and determine what happens to Melton Grove.
We know there are Councillors who want to challenge the accuracy of minutes of the previous meeting.
There are also Councillors ready to challenge the decision to sell Melton Grove at all.
But the Directors and top Council Officers are planning to pre-empt that debate in Full Council. They wanted the disposal of Melton Grove "done and dusted" in the next fortnight.
To make that happen, they will, (or by now might already have) faxed a document to Cllr Ashton whilst he is on holiday. He will sign and fax it back, setting his approval to the change in the Articles of Association. It seems that according to company law, it will take about a
fortnight or so after that for the Directors to be in a position to sack Cllr Louis Rigby as a Director.
Liverpool had Degsy Hatton "scuttling round in taxis" and "playing politics with people's jobs and people's homes and people's services."
Fylde has Dim Tim faxing his approval of the sale of peoples homes over their heads and "playing politics with people's jobs and people's homes and people's services."
If it wasn't so serious we could all have a smile about it. But it is
serious, and it's not funny. It's disgraceful.
And at this point we're going to misquote Neil Kinnock again
"I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with a far-fetched series of resolutions,.... and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Conservative council, a Conservative council, scuttling faxes abroad in order to sack
more honourable councillors who are doing their duty to protect vulnerable elderly residents. I tell you - and you'll listen - you can't play politics with people's jobs and people's homes and people's services."
That's just what it is.
According to Portfolio Holder Trevor Fiddler, his decision to dispose of Melton Grove is an ideological one based on Party Politics, (because, as he said, the Conservatives don't believe Councils should run social housing).
He refers to Melton
Grove as "an anomaly"
But then of course, Fylde is also getting an extra £1.4m or so, (and £300,000 of this will go Lytham Hall).
And we're asked to believe it's an entire co-incidence that Dim Tim is a Director of both organisations.
Frankly there is only one way to describe the process that resulted in the Cabinet resolutions that said:
1. That, the Cabinet agrees, in principle, to a capital grant of £300,000 being made to the Heritage Trust for the North West for the Lytham Hall restoration appeal conditional upon the successful sale of Clifton (Lytham) Housing Association Ltd and
the council receiving the capital receipt.
2. That the Council be recommended to agree an addition to the capital programme in accordance with recommendation 1, to be fully funded from the Clifton (Lytham) Housing Association sale receipt.
It stinks of a stitch-up to get rid of Cllr Louis Rigby
It stinks of a stitch-up to set the MG Directors outside the control of the Council
It stinks of a stitch-up to sell Melton Grove to fund the grant to Lytham Hall
It stinks of a stitch-up that was originally intended to make the grant to the hall appear as a vote-winner - just in time for the last election.
It stinks of a stitch-up by the consultants who suggested to the CLHA that they should switch from disposal to a social landlord - and sell to a property development company (without testing the market for property development companies of course).
The logic / reason for the change of heart can be read between the lines of an illuminating passage in the 'Options Appraisal' report provided to the CLHA Directors by Morris Dean. We're going to quote it. It says:
"There are two main drivers for this [Options] appraisal, each diametrically opposite, namely:
A desire to retain Melton Grove for social housing either in its existing or expanded form and,
To enable the Council to maximise a return out of its land and property asset which contributes little if at all to revenues?"
That choice neatly sums up all that is wrong with Fylde Council. Its morals and ethics now run no further than its wallet. It is withdrawing from providing many public services - and it is using that opportunity to generate additional taxes through
higher charges for those that remain. It indulges in asset disposals that sell off the family silver, and it implements new charges for things we're already paying for.
We again go back to Cllr Armit's previous quotation "What is a council for? Think back to our small villages choosing the elders to look after them, to represent them, to ensure all that the village needed was in place. When did Fylde borough change
from being the people's representative and enabler to, in most people's opinion, the enemy? "
In the 1950's, a council standing on moral ground that is so far above the present Council's stance that it is now all but invisible to them, was trusted to act with integrity.
For more than 50 years it did. It managed the Melton Grove estate. It quietly accommodated worthy local people of meagre means. It managed, repaired and updated the property. It preserved a green enclave of Leafy Lytham that was iconic to the name. It
kept within its budget, and it knew what it was here for. It had a clear mandate, and it absolutely knew that mandate was about keeping faith with the community, not asset stripping.
And it did all this as its civic duty. It did it year after year, without fuss, without reward, and without accolade. 'Elders' like John Tavernor just got on and did it. He understood what it meant to be a councillor.
The present, greedy little bunch of con-artists and shysters are behaving like a vulture capitalist making their assets sweat, and stripping out the profit. Fylde has become a whore to the highest bidder and it is a public disgrace that it should do
Now they want rid of the only board member with the courage to stand up to them: they plan to remove Cllr Rigby.
There has been no Council debate or decision about rights and wrongs of whether the Directors (who are both appointed and removed by meetings of the Full Council) have the right to remove themselves from the control of the Council anyway. (Let alone
whether they should have the authority to sack Councillor Rigby)
Their stance might fit the requirements of company law, but CLHA is controlled by the Council. And that has yet to have its say.
Our readers will know that we have steadfastly maintained over recent years that it was the former Commissar John Coombes who was causing the problems at Fylde. But one of our readers has consistently told us we were wrong in that assessment, and it was council officers
that were working the Commissar like a puppet. We honestly couldn't see that, but he's not here now, and the problem continues, so maybe our reader had a point.
You'd have thought after getting rid of the Commissar the Conservative group would have breathed a collective sigh of relief; and exorcised all their evil demons along with him.
They could have started up with a new clean sheet.
But no, they walked headlong into another public relations disaster with the scandal of Melton Grove.
We understand there are still skirmishes going on in the background between the Melton Grove folk and Council officers, to stop the disposal taking place before the matter is debated in the open at full Council - where each councillor will have to
stand up and be counted - just as they should be.
And equally, officers at the highest level are thrusting ahead with the plans to forestall debate by the full Council they are supposed to serve as a whole, whilst other officers are disregarding the wider public good that they are duty bound to hold
in the highest regard - and that should mean, if necessary, above that of their employer.
But there are still a few chinks of light shining through for the residents.
Not least amongst these is some advice (actually from the barrister that our readers helped to fund), which could see the whole decision to dispose of Melton Grove declared void even if it takes place. The developer could yet end up holding an
expensive poisoned chalice instead of an asset ready for stripping and redevelopment.
In some ways, that might prove a fitting conclusion.
Dated: 4 July 2011
* CORRECTION: 4 July 2011
Cllr Eastham has asked us to point out that he did not propose the form of words that we used.
On re-examination, he is correct. (The full details - including actual quotes are in 'Still a Shambles')
He proposed a different wording which only sought an 'in principle' approval of the grant to the Hall. This was then re-interpreted by Cllr David Eaves (who seconded Cllr Eastham's amendment).
Then Cllr Eastham re-clarified his wording to include the sentence "funding from elsewhere," as a condition to be met for the payment.
Cllr Karen Buckley wasn't happy with this. She wanted the expression "and conditional upon the sale of Lytham Housing Association" adding in to the resolution.
Then (former) Cllr John Coombes, said it should say ""conditional on the identification of surplus additional capital receipts being identified." His amendment was seconded, but not voted on before it was accepted.
So the final wording was put by the Chief Executive as a sort of revised 'composite' resolution saying:
"to agree the recommendation of Cabinet in principle, to a grant of £300,000 being made to the Heritage Trust for the North West for the Lytham Hall restoration fund, subject to:
1) further detailed information being available to the Council on a) financial arrangements; b) Public Access; c) Project timetable; d) other funding contributions
2) recommendation 1 to be subject to the receipt of equivalent additional capital receipt being identified in the Council's capital programme."
That said, the draft (as yet unapproved) minutes of that Council meeting credit Cllr Eaves with the above resolution, and it's being seconded by Cllr Karen Buckley.
So in terms of bandwagons, it was more likely that of former Cllr Coombes' but even so, it's not yet clear whose it was, and we were therefore wrong to say it was Cllr Eastham's. We apologise to him and our readers for doing so.