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Fylde Council Budget Meeting 2013/14

Fylde Council Budget Meeting 2013/14Early March is when the full Fylde Council considers its budget for the ensuing year.

In our prevous article 'Fantasy Budgeting' we set out a preliminary skirmish that took place before the budget item proper this year.

But this is our take on the budget debate itself.

In previous years, and under the Committee system, each committee - (say 'Tourism and Leisure Committee') was much more involved in the decision making.

They would debate officer proposals such as the programme of events and entertainment for the forthcoming year, and the proposals to run sporting activity for youngsters in the summer holidays, or the plans for (what were then) new services such as 'Fylde in Bloom' and so on.

Within an overall broad-brush budget guideline that had (usually) been set by a meeting of Chairman and Vice Chairmen of all the programme committees on the advice from the Chief Finance Officer, Councillors would spend a whole day setting *their* budget for the year - and in doing so, they would allocate the budget according to their collective priority.

Some of the items that were proposed by officers would not be supported. Many were. Others might be increased or decreased in scale, and sometimes, completely new services were added.

The key point here is that the budget was set and prioritised - in detail - by the councillors we elected.

They shared a collective desire to do good works and they shouldered the responsibility for doing so. They were accountable for their decisions, and they monitored their programme throughout the year to ensure it was delivered. Furthermore, each committee publicly held officers to account for the proper delivery of the budgeted programme that the Committee had approved.

The fundamental difference for Councillors working in the Committee system was that it was THEIR budget and THEIR programme of activity for the year

That's a far cry from how it works now.

We never get to see any of the debate about priority. That (probably still) goes on between officers and cabinet members behind the scenes. But we don't get to see what's being proposed and by whom. We don't get to see which councillors support this or that proposal. So it's much harder to decide which Councillors we might or might not want to vote for in the future.

A few selected folk get a formal consultation on the budget in January each year (usually trade and business groups, that sort of thing), but the first most people know about it is when it goes to Cabinet for them to 'debate' it and recommend it to the Council.

The Cabinet's earlier consideration ("debate"?) of the budget is a wonderfully Blue Peter moment.

They receive the gloriously named 'Medium Term Financial Strategy' which is a sort of 'loose leaf' budgeting system that rolls on quarter by quarter. The MTFS is a sort of continual monitoring process, and from that you might expect the process would hold people to account for significant deviations within the approved budget.

But in reality it doesn't work like that. The budget is continually adjusted so no one is ever wrong, they simply adjust the budget as they go, and approve the latest version each quarter. That's why we refer to it as a 'loose leaf' system - it makes for easy changes, and everyone gets prizes for winning.

So what the Leader and his Cabinet get, in reality, is a high level, broad overview of income and expenditure, which they then recommend to the Full Council - who have the official responsibility for setting the budget.

This year, at the earlier Cabinet meeting, Cllr Buckley had reminded the finance officer to explain a bit more about the Reserves (accumulated savings) they had and what they planned to do with them. Then she did the 'Press Release' statement - where she set out the good bits of the budget and how hard they had worked to get here and what a wonderful job they had done, and she highlighted the key features for the ensuing year.

Cllr Pounder had said he was pleased to see one of the proposals to change the way parks development was funded so the service would be available for all Fylde areas

Leader David Eaves said he was very pleased how they had got out to the financial black hole they were in when he took over (He didn't actually describe it as a 'black hole' of course - that's just our term for almost not having any money left after the disastrous administration of the former Commissar).

And, basking in the warm glow of David Eaves' pleasure, a Leader and Cabinet vote was taken (and, not unexpectedly, approved) to recommend that MTFS as the draft budget to the Full Council meeting.

Listening to all these positives at the Cabinet meeting, we were reminded of a BBC radio programme called "The Bottom Line" broadcast last Saturday. It was a study of three businessmen who specialised in 'turning around' failing companies. They all agreed that the main cause of company failure was poor management, and a sure sign of poor management was one that saw only its achievements and not its failures.

This whole 'debate' at Cabinet took about ten minutes overall, (for the most important decision of the year). And as far as we can tell, there was no debate as such, only a series of self congratulatory backslaps that would inform and provide quotes for the press releases over the next week or two.

To be fair, Fylde has got its finances into very sound order - especially as they were close to being insolvent under the former Commissar.

Former Finance Officer Bernard Hayes did an excellent job dragging them out of the mire. With the exception of their current borrowings of about 8 million, they have cash savings in the bank of 4.7 million (the domestic equivalent of rainy day and other general savings) and a further 1.5 million in savings that are earmarked for specific purposes (the domestic equivalent to a new car fund and a holiday fund and so on), as well as what they believe is enough to run the Council for the next 12 months. So we wouldn't criticise the current robustness of Fylde's finances at all.

What we do criticise is the lack of detailed public examination of the budgets and the public examination of spending priorities, and the exclusion of rank and file councillors from the process - as we will now illustrate.

When the Cabinet Recommendations went to the full Council meeting on 4th March 2013  it was first proposed by Leader David Eaves.

He said it was the proposal of the leading group of the Council and there were no other budget proposals for the Council to consider.

He also said - in a threatening sort of a way - that any amendment to the budget that night could not be subject to the rigorous consultation and being considered by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee that the budget before them had been, and thus any amendments made at this Council meeting could not be subject to the same rigorous examination at what he called "this eleventh hour".

His sub-text here is that although this meeting is probably the most important full Council of the year which, by law, is supposed to consider and decide the budget, the Cabinet Leader is politely pointing out (some might say threatening) that anyone who wants to change anything from what he has proposed, is going to have an uphill struggle.

This of course is a travesty of what should happen.

The full Council's early March meeting each year has one sole purpose: that of considering the budget. It is the only item on the agenda, yet here we are with the power crazed Leader and Cabinet system doing their level best to prevent any changes from being made!

Cllr Eaves then gave several of his own "haven't we done well" examples, including how they have frozen Council tax for the last three years.

He omitted to mention the increases in Special Expenses that have taken place during that time which *did* increase our Council Tax in Lytham St Annes. These Special Expenses were separated from "the Council tax" by accounting changes, so he can claim the "Council Tax" part didn't go up.

And most significantly, he forgets to mention receipt of the extra grant of 2.5% a year income that Government gave Fylde (from our other taxation pocket) to compensate them for the real terms 'loss' they would sustain if they 'agreed to freeze'  the Council Tax element. In this way, spending increased, but the narrowly defined 'Council Tax' didn't

Princess Karen, as Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Finance and Resources, then formally proposed the budget for 2013 - 2014.

She explained that this year, by changing their Special Expenses accounting policy yet gain, they had managed to produce no overall increase in Council Tax this year, even including the Special Expenses. (This, of course, this is partly because of the grant they are getting from Government, but we suspect it might also be because they underspent on Special Expenses in previous years and have just absorbed that surplus from the Special Expenses budget into their revenue fund to pay for increased costs this year)

After Princess Karen finished, up jumped Cheryl Little like an excitable Jack-, or perhaps we should say, Jill-in-the-Box. She said she was pleased to see a proposal for a new annual contribution to a council-wide fund - with contributions from LCC and Lancashire Districts - to address domestic violence.

Reading a prepared script, she then rambled on about the levels of crime and said they were all caused by domestic violence (well, no, actually, she didn't really say that) but that was the impression she was wanting to give. She then went on to list a whole range of initiatives the Council was preparing in order to tackle domestic abuse.

Fylde's Cabinet has provisionally allocated 7,000 for this as a new spending item next year, and wanted the Council to agree it.

We have to say we cannot see why any of our Council Tax should be spent on what is, in our view, a police matter that they precept separately for.

Next up was Cllr Albert Pounder who said it was a good budget because the amenity cleansing grants to parishes were being increased.

Other members either supported or expressed concerns about the budget.

Dim Tim said he was excited. To loud groans from stage right, he continued: "The Conservative Administration of this Council is setting a zero percent Council Tax"

Now, we got pretty excited at this too (for a brief moment at least).

What he had said was that we wouldn't be paying ANY council tax this year.

Of course what he meant was that it was a zero percent *increase* - but then accuracy with figures never was his strong point as those of us who paid for his mistakes in Streetscene will long remember.

Several times during the meeting he made provocative comments as he attempted (and succeeded in some cases) to goad reaction from others, and to politicise the debate when, as a councillor, we believe he should have been seeking to work with other councillors for the best outcome.

Then Cllr Redcliffe spoke. He began by saying "Someone had once said that he didn't say very much at Council meetings so he was going to try and put the record straight"

We suspect he might mean us - because after he delivered a terrific oratory at the St Margaret's Shrove Tuesday debate (which was an 'Oxford Union' style debate about independence for Scotland), we did comment to him that it was a shame we were deprived of his oral ability in Council meetings.

He went on to say everyone could be excited about this budget because "it delivered for Fylde Citizens".

He spoke very well and we think he will make an able and even formidable councillor when Fylde gets a proper Committee system back.

Queen Elizabeth Oades congratulated all the staff for delivering reductions in back office costs which, she said, "had greatly contributed to the delivery of this budget" She went on to express concerns about future funding - especially about changes in Government funding - and wondering what will happen when the Government's Council Tax Freeze Grant ends and Fylde could face an accumulated deficit of around 445,000 a year. She said the Council needed a Plan B to address this.

She then proposed a budget amendment about 'planning' and said Fylde was having difficulty defending green land against aggressive development. She wanted more resources directed to complete the Local Plan quickly, including the use of external consultants if Fylde's staffing levels were the problem.

Various Conservative members spoke against this move and the arguments were articulated most clearly by Cllr Fiddler who said the Local Plan wasn't a sufficient shield, and to think so was a myth. Twelve months ago he would have said yes, but the way things had evolved recently he could not give that assurance.

He cited South Ribble Council who have an adopted local plan and it allocates land for residential development over and above that called for by the Regional Strategy. He said "You might have thought that would give them protection for their other green fields - but in the last six months, four rogue applications had been made on green fields not allocated in the local plan and were given consent against the Council's recommendation for refusal by the Government's Inspector simply because they did not have a five year land supply that was *deliverable* now."

She had put up a strong case, but when the vote on Queen Elizabeth's amendment came, it was lost.

Cllr Silverwood then proposed an amendment to the 30,000 Tourism Event Support budget that was chiefly there to support the Wartime Weekend and she wanted to know why this it wasn't run by private enterprise or sponsored. She wanted 20,000 of the fund to be shared between the various club days who were facing severe problems following the withdrawal of police support for club day processions.

Cue for a debate that broke along traditional lines with Conservatives supporting the budget as planned, and others supporting the club days.

Dim Tim brought the house down when he said the problem caused by the police withdrawing from Club Day support was because we had all elected the wrong Police Commissioner!

There was a good, if not well informed, debate on this, but when the vote came, the amendment was lost.

Next up was Cllr Alan Clayton who said he had an amendment to propose. It would add a new recommendation to the existing ones.

He said because the Council currently has no budget provision to cater for ad hoc referendums, he proposed the transfer of 120,000 from General Reserves to the existing 'Referendums' heading in the budget book.

He said the reasons for that proposition were that "the Localism Act gives the electorate the legal right to specify the form of governance that this, their council, should operate"

He went on to explain that Government had legislated that if a governance petition is presented to the Council and signed by 5% of the electorate, a referendum will be held. He had noted recent comments from the Leader that the cost would be 120,000 and that the Council is aware that "a petition is currently circulating and gathering signatures at the present time, but as a Council we have no budget provision to cater for a valid petition being presented."

He said his amendment would not cause any increase in the Council Tax bill, and would not change the overall budget, so he hoped it would be supported by colleagues from all parties. He said that if the petition did not reach the required number of signatures, or, if the council were to decide to implement the change itself (without requiring a referendum), the money would remain unspent and go back into reserves. His amendment was seconded by Cllr David Chedd.

This was a clever move, and exposed the flaw in the argument that David Eaves has been advancing that a referendum would inevitably increase Council tax.

It showed that it was entirely possible for the Council to make the change without requiring a referendum, and that it has money in its General Reserve that could fund it - if that became necessary.

To our mind it showed how the Council could properly budget for a probable expense without changing the Council Tax bills at all.

Predictably it unleashed a tirade of arguments from the Conservative benches, not so much about the budget item, but about the principle of the petition and referendum.

First speaker was Cllr Redcliffe who said what people wanted was good services, not a change of governance, and he wanted to know why, if it was so important, it was not part of the campaigns at the last election. The answer to this charge (as David Chedd was later to give) was that firstly it was part of Cllr Chedd's campaign and that of several other independent councillors who had been elected, so there was public support for it, and secondly, as far as the grassroots call for change was concerned, the provisions of the Localism Act that allowed residents to initiate change only came into effect last October, so it was not possible that it could have been introduced by the community group at the time of the last election.

Cllr Redcliffe continued, saying he thought the process should be delayed. People were more concerned about the outcomes of Governance that the issue of Governance, and he said he was totally against it.

We thought that was a shame. We thought he would do much better, and find civic life much more fulfilling under a Committee system than being part of the 'voting fodder' for Blue Peter Cabinet decisions made by his colleagues.

We also thought he was unwise to nail his colours so tightly to what is an unknown mast. If for example, there was delivery of the required number of signatures in the near future, it would at once show that people were concerned about Governance - and by making such bold statements against the issue so far in advance (and remember, this petiton is a process over which he has no control or influence), it could subsequently be taken by his electorate to indicate poor judgement on his part.

Cllr Silverwood spotted this weakness in his position, and spoke up to remind him that it was up to the residents to make that decision, not him, and not even the Council. She reminded him of Conservative election leaflets that gave strong support for the Localism Act and the way it gives a voice to the people, and this is now an opportunity for them to do just that.

She argued that the present system was undemocratic and if the petition was presented, the Council would have six months to decide what changes should be made.

Cllr Mrs Nulty said Cllr Redcliffe had missed the point. She said this is not about whether it goes forward or not, this is simply to make budget provision in case it does. It was a known and likely cost and they should properly budget for it - irrespective of what a referendum was about. She said the Council tax could not be increased midway through a year. It would have to be taken from reserves and Cllr Clayton's proposition simply regularises the position that Cllr Eaves had already stated.

Cllr Barbara Nash, like Cllr Redcliffe, said that people were not worried about Governance. She said "and you talk about 5%, what about the other 95% that haven't signed it. Why should they have to pay for what is a minority decision. Why can't you wait until 2015, then, if you still want to do so, go to the polls as we all do." And with a shrug of her shoulders she sat down.

Dear Dear we thought, She doesn't even understand the basics of what's happening here. Firstly, she seemed to be addressing those councillors not in her party with regard to this matter. But they are not the instigators of it. Clearly many support it, but it is a grassroots community vote being articulated by a community group - who could not stand for election anyway!

Furthermore, she is wrong about the 5%.  That 5% is a threshold, not a vote.  The 5% is to establish whether the remaining 95% ought to be given the opportunity to have their say in a vote.

And you can't have an election to decide a referendum anyway.

What a muddle.

And what a poor memory.  What she's missing here is that ...

  • it was HER party who trumpeted the Localism Act with such gusto and great electoral effect before the last national elections.
  • It was HER government that has only just introduced the legislation and set the rules at 5%.
  • It was HER husband who never shut up about the powers granted by the Localism Act, and
  • it was HER election leaflet that said "... I love St Annes and feel strongly that local people should be able to influence the future of where they live instead of being told what to do. Conservatives introduced the Localism Act which gives a new right for communities...."

How quickly she seems to have forgotten that after being elected.

Cllr Eaves then supported Cllr Redcliffe's comments. He said with regard to the 120,000 he has spoken with the Chief Executive to ask what would be the cost of a referendum held on its own like an election, and that was the Chief Exec's advice to him.

With his power of oratory, and his being supported by so many of the Conservative members, we wondered if we might be seeing the evolution of a new power to rival Princess Karen for the future leadership of the Conservative group here.

Cllr (and another Cabinet member) Albert Pounder said "Obviously I'm going to speak against this motion." (We could not immediately see why this should be so, but he must have his own reasons) and he then proceeded to try to take over the meeting by asking people to put their hands up if they had sat under a committee system. The Mayor was none too pleased at her meeting being usurped like this and quite properly called him to order.

He said he simply wanted to show that people were talking about something they didn't really know a lot about. (We wondered if he was speaking from experience here). He said the public had been through two elections and had already had the opportunity to say what they thought about the Committee system.

Then, adopting the same mistaken understanding as Cllr Barbara Nash, (it would probably be impolite of us to say he doesn't know what he's talking about), he said "...and to allow only 4%, - 4%, - four people out of every hundred - to make a decision that everybody else has to abide by is, is..... ridiculous, and let's be fair, we all know it is not members of this Council that are pushing this lunacy...."

Goodness, another one.

And this one can't even get the percentage right.

He really highlights the incredible calibre of our Cabinet members doesn't he?

(For those that don't know Cllr Pounder is one of the six councillors handpicked by the Leader to take all the day-to-day decisions in Fylde Council's name).

Next up was Dim Tim.  Assuming the 'maverick' mantle of former Cllr Jealous, he was in fine form, setting out his own unique brand of logic. He said "we all know what this is about. Its about a referendum and the sheets are going round the shops in Lytham St Annes to remove the Cabinet system and replace it with the Committee system. Now, whether it comes from reserves or from the Council Tax, it's a complete and utter waste of Council Taxpayers money"

He then gave an extreme view of how a Committee system could work at the worst he could imagine it, and criticised the situation where all councillors acting as the Council could change decisions that a Committee had made. He did at least have the grace to say it didn't happen like that all the time.

He then went into rant mode and personally criticised one of the Fylde Civic Awareness Group's officers to the extent that his words have had to be edited out of the published webcast video "for legal reasons"

Cllr Clayton then spoke again to reminded councillors that his proposition was simply about a budget item transfer, it was not a debate on the pros and cons of the matter. This was not the time to be discussing that aspect. His proposition was simply about making funding available in the event of the 4,000 signatures being obtained, and if the referendum was held. It may not happen at all, and if it didn't not happen then that 120.000 will go back into reserves.

Cllr Fiddler said that, at the beginning of the Council meeting, the Leader has described the budget as sound and robust and this was the best budget he'd seen in 30 years, but what worried him he said, "was not the 120,000 cost of a referendum, but that the savings in staff time that they had delivered this year came about because of the very change in Governance from a Cabinet to a Committee system, and the cost of going back to servicing a Committee system would make the 120,000 pale into complete insignificance because you're going to have to take on professional officers, at high salaries, and that would run into possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds. It's not the simple referendum, its not the 120,000 - you are going to have to change fundamentally the entire officer structure of the Council. This gives me great concern"

Now, we know Cllr Fiddler of old. We're pretty much sure he actually supports the Committee system way of operating (we've heard him say so in private many times), but as a present Cabinet member who owes his position to Leader David Eaves' selection or de-selection of him for that role, he's not likely to support a change publicly, is he?

Cllr Fiddler is also used to having things both ways. As an independent Councillor, both he, and his colleague Cllr Tommy Threlfall (also from Freckleton, and also a Cabinet member selected by David Eaves) believed they could achieve little for the residents that elected them whilst the Conservative group had a majority, so just after the election where the had stood as Independents, they 'crossed the floor' and became Conservatives.

That caused a lot of argument and bad feeling from some residents and other councillors about letting down the people that voted for them as Independent Councillors.

Although we have an issue with their integrity in this matter, we have always been able to see the point they make about being able to achieve more for their residents this way.

But what their conversion to Conservatism and their subsequent Cabinet posts show beyond doubt is that, simply by their actions, they have perfectly illustrated the impotence that this Cabinet system imposes on Independent Councillors. They thought it wasn't worth their while trying to be an independent Councillor under the Cabinet System, so they joined the party.

And as for the officer time and cost of running a Committee system, it must be that Cllr Fiddler's newly found enthusiasm for the Conservative philosophy does not extend to our Parliamentary superhero the Rt Hon St Eric Pickles - himself one of the most down to earth MP's that you're likely to find - because St Eric had a look at exactly this matter in his published 'impact assessment' of what the cost to change to a Committee system would be.

He noted there might be some small transitional costs like staff re-training and notepaper and so on, but he said "The Government does not envisage that those councils choosing to operate the committee system will be subject to any additional operational or administrative costs to those operating one of the executive models (save for transitional costs)."

So according to St Eric, it need not cost any more to run the Council with Committees and, as we have argued elsewhere, there will be a saving of around 30,000 a year from not having to pay Cllr Fiddler and his five other Cabinet colleagues 4,000 a year each in Special Responsibility Allowances (and maybe a saving on the David Eaves allowance of 6,000 a year), both of which are on top of the 3,500 a year allowance they get for being a councillor, and other savings by not needing Scrutiny Committee Chairmen with allowances, and so on.

We're sure that it wouldn't happen like this at Fylde, but you could just imagine Cabinet members in some of the less well off areas being motivated to retain the Cabinet system simply because they are getting upwards of 85 a week in income from for doing so, couldn't you?

Next speaker was Cllr Susan Fazackerley (also a Cabinet member) who said "What concerns me about this activity at the moment, to try and achieve a referendum, isn't so much the issue. I don't.... I think.... I think the Cabinet system is better, but I wouldn't go to war about it.

But what does concern me is that by saying the Cabinet system is undemocratic, we are condemning our national system of Government which is a Cabinet system. We are saying that twenty-eight out of thirty local authorities across the North West of England are being run undemocratically, and I honestly think I must have been asleep for the last however many years, because I am totally unaware of a groundswell of opinion wanting a change. Nobody has ever mentioned this to me, of the people I meet everyday in the town, it just isn't an issue. As Cllr Redcliffe said, people are interested in the streets being cleaned, the Council Tax being kept low. They aren't interested in how that is achieved - as long as it isn't achieved by a bunch of frauds and there's no malpractice and whatever, I'm not advocating that at all.

The public are being manipulated colleagues, by a very small, in fact a handful, of people. They are being manipulated and I'm not going to name any names but we all know the people I'm referring to. And really, we must not let ourselves be manipulated in this way."

The counter to the first part of what she said (about 28 councils in the NW and nobody being bothered about it) is explained in detail in our earlier article "True or False" which she must not have read.

But we were really delighted to find her agreeing with us that the public are being manipulated buy a small handful of people on Fylde's Cabinet, and the Council should not let them get away with it any longer ;-))

The Deputy Mayor Cllr Peter Collins spoke next. He has really found his voice this year, and is become a speaker to be heard. He said "I think the point here has been missed. It is not what the referendum would cost, but what it costs us in having the extravagance of a Cabinet. I refer to what Cllr Ashton said about a referendum being a complete waste of money - well that money doesn't need to be spent.

But Cllr Ashton should know what a complete and utter waste of money is, because when he was in charge of Streetscene hundreds of thousands of pounds were lost by this Council. I don't want to get into the debate of it all, and I don't want to be political, but what I want to say is that if the public get enough signatures on the petition, if the public decide they want a referendum, there will be a referendum, and is it not right that we have money in the budget to pay for it?"

Queen Elizabeth Oades spoke and said she hadn't intended to speak on this item but she'd heard such a load of claptrap tonight she would have to. She said "We heard from Cllr Pounder that the public had an opportunity to speak on this. Yes they did. And they voted to keep the Committee system in place, but the Conservatives chose to ignore the public at that time, and I think if you go back and check the records you can see that. [We have and she's right. cb] I can tell you that the public in rural Fylde support a move away from the Cabinet system, and when you see what's happened tonight you can understand why."

She went on to say she thought Cabinets could work in some places but it didn't at Fylde, were there was no will to have consensual politics. She said that was self evident from the makeup of the Cabinet and the Chairs and Vice Chairs of the Scrutiny Committees. She said it was bad practice to have the ruling group as the Chairs and Vice Chairs of committees, but they do it anyway.

She took Cllr Ashton to task for asking her "who is running the opposition" and advised she didn't run anybody, adding "We are independent and we make our own minds up on what to do. You've seen tonight the vote, we haven't all voted together, because we vote as our conscience dictates and as we feel best for the people we represent."

Warming to her theme she said the Cabinet system was in operation when we had the 700,000 loss reported on the Streetscene debacle that Cllr Ashton had been in charge of, and it had been in place during the Melton Grove affair. And as for Cllr Fiddler's threat that it would cost more - she said she did not believe that, because there were a number of committees prior to the Cabinet that would not be needed today and she thought they could make a saving.

She said she didn't think they would need the 120,000 and because she didn't think it would be needed she wasn't sure she would support the proposition, but she said it was her hope that if there was a groundswell of opinion in the Borough, the Council would listen to that groundswell.

Cllr Edward Nash said "I wasn't here in the committee system so I couldn't possibly comment on it, but if you cast your minds back to May 2011, we had a referendum together with an election for this council and parish councils and it was extremely cost effective. All I know is that we have talked tonight about prudence, and yet we want to put 100,000 plus up - well that to me is not prudent. Why do we have to do it now, nobody has answered Cllr Redcliffe's statement. Why are we not saying let's do it at the time of the next election when we can have a referendum, a borough election and parish elections all together, and we can make the most of the system that we've got here"

For those who don't know, Cllr Nash is also a Town Councillor on the St Anne's on the Sea Town Council. In fact, he chairs their Policy and Resources Committee. In many ways that position is seen as being the 'leader' of the Town Council because 'Policy and Resources' is usually the premier and most senior committee of a Council.

Gosh, we thought, he and his wife don't spoil another couple do they? This is the man whose every other word is Localism. This is the man credited with using the Localism Act to save the Victoria Hotel against all odds. This is the man we heard tell was going to use Parish Council money to buy and save the Vic for St Annes! And now he pontificates about prudence.

This is the man who only last year changed the Governance system for his own St Anne's on the Sea Town Council when he CREATED A COMMITTEE SYSTEM FROM SCRATCH as his preferred way of running the Town Council.

His Town Council Newsletter - delivered to counterbalance mansions only yesterday says - (and this is an exact quote) "The Policy and Resources Committee came into being just over a year ago and has very much vindicated the decision to establish it. All matters of policy can now be dealt with and debated in detail by the Committee before being recommended to the full council meeting for resolution.

This saves a lot of time at Full Council but more importantly allows for more detailed scrutiny of matters of importance without stifling further debate"

And now he says he "couldn't possibly comment" on a how a Committee system operates because he wasn't at Fylde when they had that system.

So, we have to ask:  if he chooses to operate a Committee system himself, how credible can his arguments in this matter be when he does one thing and says the exact opposite?

Cllr Beckett from Kirkham (ever the common-sense Councillor) said "Would it not be wise for this Council to think ahead. Four thousand signatures. I didn't know about this petition until I came here tonight, but wouldn't it be wise that if someone comes along and demands a referendum and we've got to do it, that the money's there?

What are we going to do if it's not there, call a special Council meeting to drag it out of the Reserves? Why do we have to do that? Why can't it be there, ready and waiting, if required?"

There were no further speakers, so it fell to Cllr David Chedd as seconder of the motion to wind up the case for it.

He said "It's been stated that this should be an election issue. It was. Certainly it was in my election literature an in many of my other colleagues, Independent, Ratepayer and Liberal Democrat councillors who are here tonight, and I mention that because it shows the support is there. All those people who voted for Independent councillors will, I'm sure, sign this petition when asked.

It's happening now, because it's only now that the Localism Act is allowing for it to happen, It is a grassroots movement, but as Independent councillors we don't want to wait, because we don't want to see any more disasters from the current system.

It's been likened to the Cabinet System at Central Government, but that's very different. We had a lady from the Government at the seminar the other week, and she explained a lot about how national government works, and I've since contacted her with questions about the Cabinet system, but the fact is that the Parliamentary system simply doesn't compare with this situation.

So, like it or not, the petition signatures *will* be obtained, and therefore we should allow for it in the budget.

Now, I hope we don't need the referendum. I hope that the Council will see that it is the right thing to do, and give people what they want, but until we get a commitment for that, it would be irresponsible of us not to allow for it in the budget."

He had done an excellent job here. The role of a seconder is to listen to the counter arguments during the debate, pick them up and dispose of them one by one when he speaks. That's exactly what he did. Calm, measured and coherent, so different from the raw emotion coming from those speaking against.

That opposition to the proposal arises because, for the most part, those in power feel insulted or threatened by an electorate that wants its view implemented. The ruling group think it's THEIR job to say what the electorate can have. After all, it is their role to LEAD the community, not to represent it. That's the first line of their Constitution.

The Cabinet is so used to running things itself, it can't bear the idea of someone else saying how things should be. They have forgotten they are the servants of the people. They have put themselves in the place of leading the people and they don't like the idea of being told where we want to go.

We thought most especially telling from Cllr Chedd's speech was the part where he said they knew this was coming and, as a likely item of expenditure, it would be irresponsible of them not to provide for it in the budget.

We couldn't help wondering if their auditors might take a view on this matter if no provision was made when they knew it to be likely expenditure during the year.

It then fell to Princess Karen Buckley to close (as the proposer of the overall budget motion). She said "The reason this Council has debated the Cabinet and Committee system - and I take your point that's not the amendment before us - the amendment before us is to budget for the petition that is out at the moment and that's the subject of the petition, so let's not disguise that fact because that's what this amendment is dressed up to accommodate.

And yes, it's true, there has been, we have campaigned on this issue at local elections, and the Independents have failed on that issue. They've not been supported on that issue because this Council is controlled by Conservatives under a Cabinet system, and this is a means of whipping up a change by the back door, and I wholly support Cllr Redcliffe's view that that, if this is their passion, which is absolutely fine, then save the money, and go out and campaign on it at the next local elections."

She continued "Cllr Oades suggests that tonight shows us the failings of a Cabinet system. Well, I have to say we're not in Cabinet here, we're in a full Council meeting, having a full debate, and Cllr Hardy said he had no voice, but I've just heard him, tonight, debating on this issue. To say that only eight or nine members benefit from the system is.... I think all the residents in Fylde are going to benefit from a freeze in their Council tax.

I also have to say that if the opposition engage with the Leader, and engage with the ruling party, they may see their voices heard a little more strongly, because I'm quite well aware that the Leader has offered Committee Chairmanships and Vice Chairmanships, and I've heard nothing, or have had those turned down. So failings may be at the door of the opposition and the opposition leader. Opposition members: Look to your Leader to see about engaging in this present system of Governance, rather than bleating behind the back door.

I cannot support the amendment. We do not have a petition before us to say that we need that money. If and when that happens, we will look at it, but the present state of time we do not need to budget for this.

We wouldn't be surprised to find she's had coaching or training in neuro-linguistic speech techniques. When you analyse what she said, you can see she is cunning linguist. She is, as we have said before, a formidable advocate. In 'real life' it's her job to convince others, and she is good at it.

But she makes two fundamental errors in her approach here. Firstly, her political aspiration to get to Westminster blinds her to her role of a Councillor - which is about working together for the good of the local community. It is about seeking consensus. Those aspirant politicians at Fylde, including Princess Karen and Dim Tim see things only in terms of politics. They create an imaginary political party they call "the opposition" as though Fylde was the parliament where they long to be.

Her confrontational approach is not at all what a Council should be about, and it is fostered in the confrontational atmosphere wrought by the Cabinet system.

Secondly, she presumes this matter of the petition and the referendum is being driven by her illusory "opposition" (and it therefore has to be opposed by her 'side').

It is not.

Undoubtedly many of them support it, and some may be helping to bring it about, but they are not driving it. They are not the petition organiser, the Fylde Civic Awareness Group is.

Yes, Independent, Ratepayer and Liberal Democrat councillors have called for a change back to the Committee system at regular intervals since it was abandoned. (We have also been told by some Conservative councillors that they also support the idea of changing back to a Committee system because would give more of them a voice, and the opportunity to influence things, but they are unable or unwilling to make their views known in public for fear of sanction by their political party - just as former Cllr Barbara Pagett was sanctioned by the same group before turning Independent).

But what Cllr Mrs Buckley and others fail or refuse to understand is that this move is a genuine grassroots movement that came from a public meeting in 2008 whose mandate for abandonment of the Cabinet system and a change to the Committee system was voted on by 200 people.

Not one of those 200 people voted against it, (and the 200 included Conservative Councillors like Colin Walton, Angela Jacques and Christine Ackeroyd). The mandate of that meeting was picked up by the Fylde Civic Awareness Group and it is they who are driving this forward, not the "opposition" that Princess Karen loves to hate.

We were expecting a vote when she finished speaking, but Cllr Peter Hardy interjected and asked for a Recorded Vote. The Chief Executive (rather tetchily we thought) said they could have one if it was supported by five members. More than five hands went up.

A recorded vote is where, rather than just a numeric show of hands each Councillor is called and has to say 'for' or 'against' or 'abstain' (A bit like calling a school register - if they still do that).

The result of that vote is now public and it is:

The proposition was to move 120,000 from Reserves to the existing Referendum budget heading.

The vote was:

Cllr Brenda Ackers Against   Cllr Gail Goodman Against
Cllr Ben Aitken Against   Cllr Nigel Goodrich Against
Cllr Christine Akeroyd Against   Cllr Peter Hardy For
Cllr Frank Andrews Against   Cllr Kathleen Harper For
Cllr Tim Armit Against   Cllr Paul Hayhurst Absent
Cllr Susan Ashton Against   Cllr Howard Henshaw Abstain
Cllr Timothy Ashton Against   Cllr Karen Henshaw Abstain
Cllr Keith Beckett For   Cllr Paul Hodgson Absent
Cllr Julie Brickles Abstain   Cllr Ken Hopwood For
Cllr Karen Buckley Against   Cllr Angela Jacques Against
Cllr Maxine Chew Absent   Cllr Cheryl Little Against
Cllr Peter Collins For   Cllr Kiran Mulholland Absent
Cllr David Chedd For   Cllr Barbara Nash Against
Cllr Alan Clayton For   Cllr Edward Nash Against
Cllr  Simon Cox Absent   Cllr Linda Nulty For
Cllr Fabian Craig-Wilson Against   Cllr Elizabeth Oades Abstain
Cllr Susanne Cunningham Against   Cllr Albert Pounder Against
Cllr John Davies For   Cllr Dawn Prestwich Against
Cllr Leonard Davies Against   Cllr Richard Redcliffe Against
Cllr David Donaldson Against   Cllr  Louis Rigby Abstain
Cllr Charles Duffy Absent   Cllr Elaine Silverwood For
Cllr Kevin Eastham Abstain   Cllr John Singleton Absent
Cllr David Eaves Against   Cllr Heather Speak Abstain
Cllr Susan Fazackerley Against   Cllr Thomas Threlfall Against
Cllr Fiddler, Trevor Against   Cllr Vivien Willder Against
Cllr Tony Ford Absent      

Group breakdown of the vote...

FOR the proposition

Con:  0 Ind: 8 RateP: 2 LibDem: 0 NonA: 0 Total: 10

AGAINST the proposition

Con: 26 Ind: 0 RateP: 0 LibDem: 0 NonA: 0 Total: 26


Con:  0 Ind: 4 RateP: 1 LibDem: 2 NonA: 0 Total:  7

ABSENT at the vote  (8)

Con:  2 Ind: 3 RateP: 0 LibDem: 1 NonA: 2 Total:  8

From the above we can see which Councillors....

  • knew there was a high probability of a referendum occurring,
  • knew a professional estimate of what it would cost,
  • knew that it would fall within the budget year 2013/14, and
  • were presented with a way of funding it without increasing the Council tax, without changing the overall budget that has been consulted on, and considered by Scrutiny (who must have missed thinking about this item),
  • and without needing to call a special meeting to fund it
  • voted against making this provision so they could continue to intimidate the electorate by threatening it will increase the Council tax charge.

We're pretty sure it will not increase anyone's Council Tax anyway.

This is because the first signature on the petition was in February. For the petition to be valid it needs to obtain the 4,000 signatures within a year. That means it will be completed probably before January next year (and may be sooner). If it is, and the ruling group refuse to recognise public opinion and force a referendum to be held, the cost can only fall within the current financial year, so it will HAVE to be met from Reserves or budget savings, and will not be charged to Council Tax.

The only way it could possibly be charged to Council tax would be if a separate special Supplementary Tax was levied for it. That would be electoral suicide, and it won't happen.

So if there is any cost involved, it will most likely have to be met from Reserves, and the sensible thing would have been to make that provision now.

One thing did puzzle us in this debate, and that was the absence of advice from the Section 151 Finance Officer on this matter.

His report to Council failed to mention provision for the cost of a referendum at all. There are pages and pages of possible expenditure that has been classified according to how much risk they pose to the Council and how likely they are to arise, but the referendum cost gets no mention at all.

He is quick to champion the robustness of the Cabinet's as proposals, but he failed to advise the Council that, with known probable expenditure likely to arise for a referendum they should actually budget for that cost. Nor did he offer advice during the debate in the Council meeting.

That's not exactly good budget preparation and good advice as far as we can see, but it does seem to show what we have often seen - an example of meeting the needs of he Cabinet more readily than meeting the needs of the whole Council.

So we will have to wait for the next thrilling instalment of this saga - as they used to say in the pictures.....

Dated:  20 March 2013


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