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David Eaves Resigns

David Eaves ResignsThe shock news that Fylde Council Leader has resigned as Conservative Party Group Leader and as Leader of Fylde Council, caught everyone - or almost everyone - by surprise.

Regular readers will know that - whilst we are frequent critics of what individuals may do and say in public life - we draw a distinct separation between public and private life and, for the most part, unless it overflows into public life, we don't comment on what happens in the private lives of public figures.

However, we would like to make a small exception here to say we were very sorry to hear that Cllr Eaves has personal and family health concerns at the present time, and we hope he can resolve those concerns as quickly as possible. On a personal level, we send our very best wishes and hope he has better health in the future.

In his public life, like the Commissar before him, Cllr Eaves displayed a very personable manner and has been even more unfailingly calm and polite, but as one of our readers is apt to tell us, people in public life should be are judged by what they do, not who they are, or what they say.

So it's right - as we did when the former commissar stepped down - that we should review Cllr Eaves' tenure of the Leadership of Fylde Council to see what he has done. It's also apt for us to speculate who might be lining up to step into his shoes.

The previous incumbent of Fylde's Leadership was the 'villain we all loved to hate' - 'Commissar' John Coombes. In April 2010, he said he would stand down a month later on 10 May.

In early May, we said we expected Princess Karen Buckley - who had produced a very creditable result following her standing as an MP in Hyndburn - to contest the Fylde Conservative Group Leadership election on Monday 10th.

If she did contest that election, she either withdrew or wasn't selected. (For fairly obvious reasons, readers will understand that we don't get to hear all the internal workings of Fylde's Conservative Association).

The person who was elected as the Conservative party group leader was Cllr David Eaves. He was subsequently elected as Leader of the Council.

In a statement we thought to be quite telling at the time of his inauguration, his Conservative colleague, and (then) Mayor, Cllr Paul Rigby, said he wasn't sure whether to congratulate Cllr Eaves or to commiserate with him in his new role as Leader.

Echoing that theme, Cllr Janine Owen stood to express her best wishes to Cllr Eaves as he accepted what she described as "a poisoned chalice".

Cllr Eaves said he saw it as a great challenge. He saw it as a great honour, and he thanked his colleagues for all the support he had received. He wanted to say to everybody that he is passionate about Fylde and he wanted to work with every member of the council, in order to take it forward, and provide the residents of the Borough with the quality services that it deserves.

We said at that time that, because he had only been elected in 2007, he would not have the 'usual' experience of council procedures that he probably needed to be 'top dog', and that situation brought with it the risk of his being given the run-around by those with more experience.

In the early days of his Leadership, with just one notable exception, we reported the areas for which he had taken responsibility had been dealt with in a very satisfactory way - and even that one issue was a legacy from the time of the former Commissar.

Cllr Eaves told us that he hoped we would see a different approach to the way the Council was run.

We did.

His early pronouncements were much more bridge-building and inclusive.

He signalled a willingness to work with councillors from other persuasions rather than attempting to beat them into submission as had been the case up to then.

We were happy to say we looked forward to such a new direction.

As far as we were concerned, he started as Leader with a clean slate, and we were hopeful.

At his first Cabinet meeting in June 2012, we were delighted.

Gone was the Alpha-male 'A Type' behaviour of the Commissar, and in was a much more collegiate and encompassing style.

In September, he shuffled his Cabinet.  Roger Small stepped down as Deputy Leader, Susan Fazackerley stepped up. Princess Karen switched to finance, and Freckleton's Cllr Tommy Threlfall entered the Cabinet for the first time in Princess Karen's old shoes.

Next, the former Commissar's foolish plan for a grandiose White Elephant Town Hall was ditched in favour of a more affordable refurbishment of the existing building. Although they have not since been able to make the finances for this scheme stack up by selling assets, this was, nevertheless, a step in the right direction at the time.

As was the re-opening of St Annes Swimming Pool - despite some issues around the selection of the operator.

But by October things started to go wrong.

As we said in "Enter the Puppet Master' we detected the manipulative hand of the former Commissar disrupting the plans of Leader Cllr David Eaves.

We were told that Cllr David Eaves had privately assured St Annes Town Councillors that he would support their proposal to increase their number to 18 and it would go back to Council quickly and have the long standing matter resolved.

We were also told that a subsequent private meeting of the Fylde Conservative group had seen heated argument on this matter and, in the end, the group vote had failed to support their new Leader's position.

This was the first indication that he may become a prisoner of his own party.

We noted that Cllrs Tim Ashton, Karen Buckley and Roger Small all spoke against the increase to 18. This group, we noted, was the powerbase of the former Commissar.

We said in that article "So if we are right, what we have in David Eaves is a Leader who appears to be a good, honourable and consensual Councillor, trapped within the rules of his party, and potentially held captive by it."

We also said that backing David Eaves with his consensual style was not going to be first nature to the Conservative group, but if they didn't, they would be backing back an alliance of individuals who got them into the mess they were in in the first place.

In December, things took a turn for the worse with the re-introduction of the great tax con that would introduce 'Differential Taxation" and "Special Expenses.

This con trick to by-pass the Council Tax freeze was followed with enthusiasm.

By the next February, what was to become Fylde's greatest shame and its biggest scandal broke into the news.

Melton Grove.

At a quickly re-formed Ansdell Business Group, there was talk of using some of Melton Grove sale proceeds to fund improvements to Ansdell centre.

Then in 'Capital Funding Request - Lytham Hall'  we reported a request from Lytham Town Trust for 300,000 toward its match funding Heritage Lottery appeal for Lytham Hall.

This was a request that - we were told - just happened to co-incide with Fylde's unexpected income from the sale of Melton Grove.

In that article we said "This is a defining moment for Councillor David Eaves.

It is his own 'Swimming Pool' moment.

If he drops the idea of selling Melton Grove and replaces those Directors who are (literally) incapable of running it properly, he could earn widespread respect from the right thinking people of Fylde.

If he allows it to steamroller through, on a pre-packed Conservative majority vote in Scrutiny and Cabinet, and takes the developer's thirty pieces of silver that the Council patently does not *need*; if he breaks faith with the covenant made with the Clifton family; if he fails in his duty of care to the residents of Melton Grove, then he will be betraying the trust that has been placed in him by many who had hopes for honesty and transparency from his administration - especially after that of the Commissar."

Not only did he allow it to steamroller through, he took the helm of the steamroller at the Cabinet Meeting when he proposed that approval of a grant to the Heritage Trust for the North West should be "conditional upon the sale of Clifton (Lytham) Housing Association Ltd " and that the capital grant should "be fully funded from the Clifton (Lytham) Housing Association Ltd sale receipt"

Belt and braces.

He proposed this at Cabinet as the Council Leader, and we regarded it as a disgraceful betrayal of public trust.

We were criticised for likening this betrayal of vulnerable tenants to that of Judas., but we still see it in that way.

It may have been, and we suspect quite possibly it *was* the case, that he was being driven by others in this matter, just as he had been driven over the number of members St Annes Town Council should have.

But if he was, he allowed himself to be driven. He had a choice, and the least bad thing that can be said about the choice he made is that he chose not to exercise the right choice.

From that point onward, we saw the early promise had gone. Whether that was of his own making, or whether he was - as we had worried - the prisoner of others in his own party we have never been able to resolve.

Either he had been lying about his promise to have a more open, listening, and consensual style, or he was no longer in a position to deliver on the promise he made, and he was having to deliver an agenda that was being set - out of sight - by others.

Having initially accorded him a clean slate and been hopeful for Fylde's future with him as Leader, in our eyes, the sale of Melton Grove - which he piloted through - simply destroyed any regard we had for him as a Councillor. He had crossed the red line from which there could be no recovery.

After that, the Great Tax Con was implemented, and we found ourselves paying more for the same service - just as we reported in 'Zero Percent? - Not on your life' when Fylde's supposed zero percent increase resulted in increases of between 4.55 or even 20% and 30% in some cases.

Since then we had:

  •  the failure to adequately deal with the Bathing Waters issue that will bring warning notices advising against going in the sea on Fylde's beaches next year;
  • the dreadful mess that the Local Plan has become;
  • the very improper distribution by Cllr Eaves - under his own signature as Leader of the Council - of what was actually Conservative Party information, but was designed to appear as an official Town Hall publication that set out to persuade and urge people not to sign the petition to return Fylde to the Committee system.

Had it been official literature, it would have broken the law, because the Council was legally obliged to remain neutral in the matter.

Then we had his crowning glory - or not, when we discovered that Cllr Eaves had not actually been the Leader of Fylde Council for almost two years because they forgot to elect him - until an emergency Council meeting did so in March 2013.

This was followed by the issue of the local plan 'Preferred Options' document that was not supported by almost half the Council and which has since had to be abandoned because the information on which it was based was so badly out of date that it compromised the plan itself, and it compromised the public consultation that Fylde undertook knowing that the data was out of date.

Councillors from all the other parties had called for reconsideration of the plan at the time, but their concerns were disregarded.

Consensual working had followed the Dodo.

It was now extinct.

Then we saw Fylde narrowly escape being placed into Special Measures for Planning (and even then only by adjusting the figures they had previously submitted).

We've seen not one, but two Minority Reports disagreeing with the basis on which the Local Plan had been prepared.

We've seen a Joint Statement from all the community planning groups in Fylde declaring Fylde's first planning consultation to be unsound.

We've seen senior Conservative Portfolio Holders responsible for Planning and the Environment disclose pecuniary interests arising from payments received from Cuadrilla two years after they took the money, when they should have declared it within 28 days of receipt.

And we've seen meeting after meeting in recent times vying for position as being the worst meeting Fylde has ever held as the majority administration - unable to win arguments by convincement - had to resort to administrative sleight of hand to get its own way.

We see this week's Express quotes Cllr eaves as saying that Fylde is in the best financial position in its history.

There is no doubting that he - and more especially Princess Karen - have done a sterling job in choosing Bernard Hayes to rectify the appalling financial damage the former Commissar wrought on Fylde, and they followed that with the present Officer - whose hands have proved to be very capable. We happily applaud what they have done to get Fylde's finances back on track.

But they are only now where they should have been all along.

Cllr Eaves also takes pride that "the Council has been named as one of the top 20 best places in the country to live"

With a bit more thought it will be seen that it is Fylde itself that is one of the best places to live (rather than the Council), and that's chiefly down to the magnificent efforts of volunteers such as Lytham in Bloom and the other community groups that have stepped in to take over the reins of what the Council used to do, but has withdrawn from doing as it has reduced its spending to be able to deliver low, or no, council tax increases in the face of increasing operational costs.

So, what is the sum of Cllr Eaves' tenure of the Fylde's Leadership?

What would his 'school report' say?

We think it might say "Always polite, punctual and well turned out, but lacks the ability to deliver on his early promise."

But now the spotlight turns on who might succeed him as Leader.

Who will steer Fylde's future to - and probably into - the return of the Committee system of Governance that will prevail from next May?

We can only speculate of course, but for what it's worth here's our take on it.

The immediate future will see Deputy Leader Cllr Susan Fazackerley take the helm until the Conservative group choose themselves a new local party leader on 10th November.

That person (because the Conservatives have a controlling majority in Council votes) will then become the new Leader of Fylde Council.

We see three tiers of possibility

The first tier has to be Cllr Fazackerley. It's normal - though not compulsory - for a deputy to assume the reins.

In the next tier, we'd put the aspirants; the hungry ones seeking more power: We think that would include people like Tim Ashton and Karen Buckley, both of whom have sought higher office elsewhere.

The third tier would be a mixed bag of folk having different reasons for being put there.

In this group we'd put people like Richard Redcliffe, Ben Aitken, Tim Armit, Trevor Fiddler, and perhaps Albert Pounder. Bringing up the tail end of this group would be the possibles like Brenda Ackers and Ed Nash.

Our own preference would actually be someone who is not on this list at all, but the above are, we think, the most likely contenders from amongst the existing councillors.

It's just possible that the Conservative group could choose a party leader who is not a Councillor of course, in which case the Fylde leadership would be a separate matter. But either way, we think the Fylde Leader is likely to be in the above lists.

We also stress at this point that none of the people on our list have even indicated a willingness to be considered for the Leadership. The list is entirely of our own imagination.

Cllr Fazackerley
Has a lot of experience of both how the Council works now, and how it worked under the Committee system. She has a good grasp of the council's processes and we understand she is popular within her group (even if less so with some of our readers). She also has a good understanding of, and demonstrates empathy with, the beliefs, attitudes and values that underpin Fylde as an area; the culture that makes Fylde so different from other places. She has little to prove, is procedurally quite formal, and is most comfortable seeking consensus - all of which have to be positives.

On the negative side, we think her preference for harmony suggests discomfort with conflict, and we wonder if she would be happy, or even comfortable, in the role in the longer term.

Cllr Buckley
Comes from a very different route. Quite clearly she has shown Parliamentary aspirations in the past and if she is hoping for a Parliamentary seat to contest in May, hers might only be a short tenure if she were to contest the Fylde leadership. She is very able, and is a very accomplished advocate with the oral skill to put just enough doubt in your mind about the options she does not want, to persuade you to agree with the option she does want. She has also, to her great credit, worked with Fylde's finance department to restore financial stability to the Borough. Grasping the intricacies of local government finance is quite close to rocket science, and she had made what we believe to be a good job of doing so.

On the negative side, we don't find her beliefs attitudes and values harmonise as closely with the Fylde culture as those of, say, Cllr Fazackerley for example. We are also discomforted by what appears to be her ability to smile as though butter couldn't possibly melt in such a sweet disposition, whilst metaphorically sliding the dagger between the ribs of her opponent in a debate. We prefer more open and straightforward warfare. We christened her 'Princess Karen' because she appeared to be the natural 'heir apparent' a while ago but that seems to have waned in recent times. Whether that's because her focus is elsewhere remains to be seen.

Cllr (Tim) Ashton
Also aspires to higher office - as evidenced by his failed attempt to become Lancashire's Police Commissioner. Whether leading Fylde would be high enough of an office for him is unclear. His style is solidly adversarial and he dislikes consensus.

There is little we can say about our view on his suitability as Leader that would not bring a call from his lawyers, so we'll just say we hope he is not chosen.

Cllr Redcliffe
Is first amongst our third group. He is a stablemate of Cllr Eaves in Ansdell with a good brain and an ability to speak in public. As we have reported in our last two articles, we thought he was shaping up to be a potential future Leader with the orations he gave at Development Management Committee and Full Council, but even we didn't quite expect the possibility to be so quick.

He's from the new intake of councillors last year - and so, like Cllr Eaves when he was elected, his five year experience of local government procedures is limited compared with, say, Cllr Fazackerley or Cllr Ashton, and that can be a handicap. He took several meetings before he spoke, so we don't have much of an idea about how closely his own beliefs and the Fylde culture fit together, but they do look to be close, if not an exact fit. If we were placing a bet, he's be our outsider that comes up on the rails and surprises everyone.

Cllr Aitken
Almost made it into our second tier because he seems to aspire to higher office. We wouldn't be surprised if he wanted to have a go at the leadership, but we would be surprised if he were chosen. We don't think it's likely he would get enough support if he were to stand.

Cllr Armit
Is, like Cllr Redcliffe, from the last intake. Like Cllr Aitken he also has aspiration for higher office. He has had an interesting time so far trying to drag Fylde out of what he sees as its old-fashiondness to bring it into the 20th (let alone the 21st) century.

This clash of cultures (his own and Fylde's) is likely to rule him out of any leadership contest. He can also be outspoken and, whilst that's no bad thing, we think some of his colleagues will have been less than delighted when he has done so. He comes from a business background and, for the most part, he seeks to apply that culture to the way Fylde operates. As yet he doesn't seem to have understood that Councils exist for a very different purpose to businesses. He might fancy his chances a Leader, but we don't at this stage.

Cllr Fiddler
In may ways, has all the experience of local government you could wish for. But we've found him to be a great one for the broad brush, and not one for details though, and you need the details to lead Fylde. He's a capable debater and understands procedure.

But we're pretty sure he won't be chosen as leader. That's partly because he has blotted his copybook with the recent declaration of interests debacle and that's still in people's minds, but mostly because - although it's an unwritten law - it's almost certain that Fylde Conservatives will only choose someone from the coastal strip to be their leader, and as a Freckleton councillor, that alone would likely rule Cllr Fiddler out in reality.

Cllr Pounder
Is in the list because of his length of service and his position on the Cabinet, but like Cllr Fiddler we can't see him as Leader

Cllr Ackers
Is here because she was Party Chairman or some similar post in the Conservative group. Her loyalty to the group is unswerving. Her style is close to that of Cllr (Tim) Ashton and her ability gave cause for criticism by the Scrutiny Committee Chairman who investigated the Melton Grove scandal. She's a possible, but we think unlikely, candidate.

The last spot on our list goes to Cllr Ed Nash. He's made a name for himself in lots of ways, and no doubt believes he has a lot to offer, so we have included him as an outside possibility.

We think the next leader will be from the list above, and if pushed to choose one of those we've listed we'd probably plump for either Cllr Fazackerley or Cllr Redcliffe ourselves.

Dated:  17 October 2014


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