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Fylde's Governance Consultation

Governance ConsultationIn our article '22 May 2014: Fylde's Democracy Day' we reported the result of the Fylde Governance referendum.

The referendum had been held because 4,600 people signed a petition organised by the Fylde Civic Awareness Group that had called for a change back to the Committee system.

In the referendum, just short of 12,000 people voted for the change and, under the Localism Act, Fylde Council was obliged to change the way it conducted its business.

Then, in 'Only Five More Cabinets' in July, we reported that Fylde had received a presentation about how to bring about the change, and we were able to outline that presentation for our readers.

Encouragingly, we noted that Fylde planned to set up a cross-party group to look into what arrangements should be put in place

We also made some observations as to what we would like to see vis:

  • changes to Special Responsibility Payments for Chairmen and Vice Chairmen,
  • a significant reduction in the decisions delegated to Officers.
  • restoration of the former Committee Style budget book.
  • a rethink on delegation to committees.

Fylde has made some further progress, but the discussions are taking place within a Working Group, so the agenda and minutes of that group are not being published for everyone to see what is being discussed and decided.

Transparency still doesn't rule the day.

That's nothing special of course, Fylde doesn't usually publish agenda and minutes of its working groups. But it is a shame that we don't know the details of what's going on when it's something the public initiated.

But despite this, Fylde has just opened a consultation on how the Committee System should operate, and the Council is inviting comments from the public and local groups about what they would like to see.

Readers can follow this link for a copy of Fylde's invitation to comment on proposals, but the proposals are only set out in outline and there is no helpful text to describe what the various options might be within each heading.

The Fylde Civic Awareness Group must have had access to the detailed information because they have been very quick to publish their own response to the consultation and it goes into quite some detail.

We got the impression from reading it they were not altogether happy with some of the directions being considered by Fylde's Working Group.

You get the sense that they have picked out the key points and offered their own take on what should happen.

As their submission says, they were the group who spoke to up to 4,600 people who signed the petition, so they can be expected to have a good feel on what people told them they wanted to see.

Readers can follow this link to see the Fylde Civic Awareness Group's Consultation Response.

But, as usual, counterbalance can go a bit further.

We are able to provide our readers with a download of the unpublished notes of Fylde's Governance Working Group of 4th August 2014.

More importantly, we also have a copy of the unpublished agenda and reports of the details being considered by the Governance Working Group on 2 September which resulted in the consultation invitation. This document has a lot of detailed information about the changes that are being considered.

In its broadest sense, the change to Committees means that Council meetings will become decision making machines - Full Council will generally not consider any of the detailed work that needs to be done, nor should Full Council be the place for asking questions or having discussions (except to discuss recommendations that have been referred upward from Committees, or where a specific motion or amendment has been proposed).

The detailed work and the discussions and questioning will generally take place in the Committees, but if the matter is very complex, it may be that a committee forms a sub-group (with no decision taking powers) to undertake some detailed investigations and to report their findings to the Committee.

We know our readers are keen to understand the workings of their council, so we're going to take a look at the issues Fylde and others are considering, and provide a plain English outline of what the Council seems to be thinking, what the Fylde Civic Awareness Group (FCAG) have said on the matter, and our own take on it.

Our aim in doing this is to equip counterbalance readers with as much detail as possible so they can make well-informed comments in response to the Councils offer of consultation.

 ROLE OF FULL COUNCIL 
FBC: Full Council meetings will be restored to become the ultimate authority and will set parameters for all other committees.
FCAG: No comment
counterbalance:Very welcome return of ultimate authority for all councillors voting together.
 

 COMMITTEES and NAMES 

FBC: New committees to replace Cabinet Portfolios are
(1) Tourism and Leisure,
(2) Operational Management,
(3) Health and Housing and
(4) Finance.

Previous Committees to stay in place are
(1) Audit Committee,
(2) Chief Officers Employment Committee,
(3) Development Management Committee,
(4) Licensing Committee and
(5) Public Protection Committee

The present Standards Committee will come under the Audit Committee and the Planning Policy function will come under the Development Management Committee

There will be no Scrutiny Committees (The scrutiny function will become the responsibility of individual Committees or full council)

FCAG: No comment
counterbalance: We think costs savings could be achieved by merging some of these committees. For example, some of the independent oversight of the Audit Committee's work could go to Full Council meetings, and its other work could go to the Finance Committee, with the Audit Committee being abolished

We would also like to see the existing Licensing and Public Protection Committees merged to effect cost savings.

We'd also like to see the 'Chief Officers Employment' and 'Standards Committees' absorbed into a Finance Committee with a remit that has been widened to include Policy and Finance (At present, there do not seem to be any plans for cross-cutting policy formulation except at Council.)

 

 TERMS OF REFERENCE OF THE COMMITTEES ;

FBC:

Please see Appendix 5 of the Agenda for 2 September for details This has a report showing what topics each committee will cover.

FCAG:  No comment except on the Finance Committee which they argue should become a Policy and Finance Committee and comprise the Chairman and Vice Chairmen of each of the other Committees and any others as necessary.

FCAG also say this Committee's remit should be broadened to include

  • preparatory work to draft policy for Council approval,
  • to address proposals that cut across Committee boundaries (or issues that fall within no committee's terms of reference), and
  • to deal with requests for additional funding or unexpected receipts arising outside the approved budgets.
counterbalance: There are a few interesting issues in the allocation of responsibilities to committees.
  • Economic development is proposed to be slotted into the role of the Development Management Committee. That's probably sensible, but it could equally go into Tourism and Leisure given the importance of tourism to the local economy.
  • The Tourism and Leisure Committee gets Sand Dune Management. We assume this will include management of the Local Nature Reserve. We regard that as a sensible placement and hope that it will re-focus attention on the fact that the main purpose of the central and north beach area is for tourism, whilst outside these areas wildlife  concerns will hold sway..
  • We didn't see anything about the Tourist Information service in the terms of reference. Nor could we see who was allocated issues such as the Christmas lighting schemes or the ever growing 'In Bloom' schemes.
  • To our mind, putting 'Customer access, ICT and website' in the middle of what is otherwise a committee about refuse collection, loos, street cleaning and dog control seems a bit odd.
  • Also the proposed 'Health and Housing Committee' has a 'Partnership Interface.'   We'd have expected to see that heading in all the service committee agendas, and hope that - for example - responsibility for the interpretation scheme and displays via the partnership scheme at Lytham Windmill would be the remit of the Tourism and Leisure Committee rather than the Health and Housing Committee.

We also support FCAG's proposal to broaden the remit of what was to have been the Finance Committee, to become a Policy and Finance Committee, which (we agree) should comprise all the Chairman and Vice Chairmen from other committees plusn others as necessary.

 

 MEETING DATES 

FBC: The initial thought seems to have been a six-weekly cycle of meetings.

However, the Chief Executive's first stab at reporting the 'Resource Implications' brings with it dire warnings (see later).

He notes that that fewer meetings earlier in the day all receiving electronic copies requires less resource than more meetings, in the evenings all paper based.

FCAG:No Comment
counterbalance: The spectre of the tail wagging the dog as officers try to put the frighteners on councillors is not far from what we might have expected.

Limiting what needs to be done based on the convenience and cost of staff is anathema to us (and to the Secretary of State - of which more comes later). We urge readers and Councillors to disregard Cassandra's warnings.

The arrangement of meetings need be no different than it is now. This year there was a plan to have seven Cabinet meetings, but in the year to December 2014 there will actually have been nine meetings of the Cabinet (15/01/2014, 17/02/2014, 05/03/2014, 26/03/2014, 07/05/2014, 27/05/2014, 25/06/2014, 24/09/2014, 26/11/2014).

That's at least as frequently (if not more so) than a six week cycle.

It's also true that the six weekly cycle of meetings was the adopted routine of Fylde Council before the Cabinet system was introduced.

As we've said before on this matter, there was a 'committee week' during which all the Committee meetings took place. (Tourism and Leisure Monday, Environmental Health and Housing Tuesday or whatever).

The following week there was a Policy and Resources meeting to consider it's own items and any requests for additional spending outside the approved budget (or unexpected additional income) that had arisen during 'Committees week',

Then the full Council met on the Monday of the following week and mostly rubber-stamped the decisions taken by the service Committees and the Policy and Resources Committee.

Doing things that way meant that from the first committee to a final decision took at most two weeks..

Most important in this timetable was that fact that decisions of the Committees were reported in the media and if public concern arose, there was a period of up to two weeks, during which councillors could discuss it informally.

If they too became concerned, they could refuse to approve that item in the committee minutes, and ask the originating Committee to reconsider it (or sometimes the Full Council might take the decision and change it itself).

That two week period was key to ensuring the public support was carried with the eventual decision that Councillors made..

There were then four weeks before the 'Committee cycle' started over again.

We see no reason why that system can't be used again.

 

 COMMITTEE DELEGATION 

FBC:

Each committee will have full delegated authority to make decisions within the parameters set by full council.

But there will be a mechanism under which a committee will be prevented from exercising its delegated authority in a particular matter (i.e. it will only be permitted to make a recommendation to Full Council, rather than take a decision) under procedure rules that remain to be developed.

There will also be a separate mechanism under which decisions made by committees could be referred to the council for reconsideration.

There will be the ability for Full Council to take any function it has delegated to a Committee, in place of that Committee: and a Committee may of its own volition, refer or recommend a decision in respect of a delegated function to be taken by Full Council.

In principle, this sounds fine, but as ever, the devil lurks in the detail, so we would strongly advise readers to look at the details Fylde is considering in Appendix 8 of the Working Group Agenda.

FCAG:

This proposal appears to be their major concern. FCAG has very strong views about each Councillor having the automatic right to speak and to vote on any decision the Council might be planning to take.

They say this is necessary in order for councillors to represent the perspective of their electorate and do the job they were elected for. They are worried that Fylde's current approach will require not just one, but several Councillors to 'sign up' in order to effect a 'challenge' to a Committee decision or an agenda item.

They express a preference for the former system (where committees did not take 'final' decisions themselves, but came to a provisional decision framed as a recommendation to the Full Council meeting) - at which just one proposer and seconder would be required to trigger a challenge.

They argue that because the Committee system restores primacy of decision taking to the Full Council, it would only take a proposer and a seconder using the 'Notice of Motion' facility to trigger a debate  and vote on the matter in Council, and thus change the decision  a committee had already taken.

Such an approach would not require more than a proposer and a seconder, and it would not need complicated time periods within which a challenge would need to be made (as the present Scrutiny system does, and as Fylde appears to be contemplating for the future)..

In essence FCAG's argument is that under the Committee System the meeting of the Full Council has been restored to primacy, and from next May any decision it takes will override any committee decision. - So the simplest and most sensible approach is to accept that situation and have Committees make recommendations to Full Council.

counterbalance:

We don't like the idea of (and can't see the sense of) multiple proposers to trigger an action. It could only have value if you thought that some councillors might ride their own hobby-horse unreasonably, or filibuster to waste time. But there are already (and will no doubt be in the future) provisions to deal with this sort of problem.

Firstly there will be a speaking time limit on each speaker at Full Council (which will probably become a much more formal meeting). That is typically between five and fifteen minutes.

Secondly there is a provision under Standing Orders to propose that 'The speaker be no longer heard.' The invocation of this Standing Order causes an immediate call for a seconder and if it is seconded it requires an immediate vote of the Full Council. If that vote is to invoke the standing order, the Councillor who was speaking must cease to do so, or the meeting will be adjourned.

Thirdly, if all else fails there is the draconian 'Guillotine Motion' again invoking Standing Orders that 'The question now be put'. If proposed, seconded and carried in an immediate vote, it terminates all debate and moves straight to the vote on the matter.

So there are plenty of options to regulate recalcitrant orators without resorting to multiple proposers and complicated timetables..

In this important matter we're pretty much with FCAG's perspective.

 

 COMMITTEE SIZE 

FBC:is heading toward 12 councillors on a committee.
FCAG:

No Comment

counterbalance:This is a much more important issue than it seems. All Committees have to reflect the party political balance of the overall Council, so if the Council were 50% Labour and 50% Conservative, each committee would have to echo that proportion.

However, where you get multi-party councils like Fylde - which has an exceptionally high proportion of independent councillors who are not actually a political party, and others which the law says must be classed as 'individually non-aligned' councillors (don't even ask), then the sums get much more complicated, and the issue of 'remainders' (say 0.25 of a person) become very relevant to a voting majority.

It's even more complicated because its not a simple calculation. There are other factors that have to be taken into account..

Fylde will have complicated spreadsheets to analyse all this, and for 51 councillors, the number of majority party councillors on any committee will differ depending on the number of councillors allocated to that committee. It won't affect more than one seat on a committee, but some sizes of committee could theoretically end up with no overall majority and a Chairman's casting vote frequently in use.

We guess that because Fylde has a majority party, they will be driving the 12-per-committee idea and that will give them an advantageous majority.

Our own take would be to have committees that are sized about one third of the whole Council, so that each member gets to sit on two or three committees. In Fylde that would give a committee size of 17 members.

We think that would also allow each of the individually non-aligned councillors or the smallest political party to have one place on each of the committees and that can only be right. With 12 seats per committee non-aligned councillors only have a single seat on three of the eight politically balanced committees, and the Lib Dems and Ratepayers only have places on four of the eight committees.

We argue that the aim should be to have as big a spread of culture and vision, and as great a depth of experience from elected members as is commensurate with a manageable size of committee. And to us 15 to 17 or perhaps 18 is about the right number.
 

 DELEGATIONS TO OFFICERS ;

FBC: Delegations to officers will be the same as in the current constitution.
FCAG: Delegations to officers should be reduced. They are not elected and cannot be unelected. Councillors should take decisions wherever possible.
counterbalance: Technically, officers execute all decisions the Council takes, but there is a difference between executing a decision and taking it. We believe far too much has already been delegated to Fylde's officers. The Committee system has capacity to reabsorb much more of the decision taking, and it should do so.
 

 PUBLIC SPEAKING AT MEETINGS ;

FBC:

 Is considering whether to have, and if so, what processes and restrictions should apply to, members of the public who want to address committees or meetings of the Full Council (Presently known as the Public Platform). Please see the Agenda Report for full details of these issues.

FCAG:

 No comment

counterbalance: We think the Public Platform has been a welcome innovation, but it frequently produces a dilemma for councillors who are told on the one hand they have established policies which need to be followed, and on the other hand the public expect to be able to influence decisions when they speak.

This dichotomy affects all small councils like Fylde who live close to their electorate and have members who are mostly not interested in policy, but are interested in the *effects* of policy on their electorate.

It produces an even worse dichotomy where national party-political policy drives decisions against the wishes of local people.

Even so, we favour the retention of a Public Platform specifically because it focuses attention away from party and national policy and onto the local electorate - which is entirely the purpose of having local councillors in the first place.

We'd like to see the Public Platform made easier to use where possible. We think officers should be made available to those who wish to speak, so that more cogent and accurate arguments may be presented.

For the same reason, we don't favour pre-registration as a requirement. We argue there should be no limit on the numbers of people who wish to speak. If people feel strongly enough to give up their time and create family arrangements to let them attend a committee and make their point, then the least that their councillors can do is to hear them out.

Where there is a lot of interest, we do support the idea of avoiding repetitious speakers, and we think ward councillors could play a useful role in helping to ensure that speakers take one aspect or topic each where many points need to be addressed.

We support the idea of a time limit per speaker, but think that the present three minutes is too short and ten minutes would be too long. We don't support the idea of time limited Public Platforms, but we can see why they would be attractive to members.

One very interesting aspect of Fylde's thinking on Public Platforms is the thought that present Chairman of the Development Management Committee, Cllr Ben Aitken has asked the working group to look at the present arrangements for public speaking at the DM Committee meetings. The tone of Appendix 4 of the report  seems to be heading toward limiting the number of people or otherwise restricting those that can speak at DM committees. There's also a long list of what happens at Public Platforms in nearby councils - which is interesting.

But none of these other Councils is directly comparable of course, because most have not yet changed to the Committee System of operation. Only Ribble Valley (which never left the Committee System) is a really valid comparator, and they say they have no limit on the number of public speakers, and each speaker is allowed four or five minutes.

We think the salient point here is that if councillors are proposing things that their electorate are generally happy about, there won't be so many public speakers. It's only when people are cross that they appear in force. Perhaps Cllr Aitken might want to cogitate on that.

 

 COUNCIL LEADER 

FBC: There will continue to be a Leader of the Council, appointed and removable by a vote of the Full Council, but they are still debating whether or not the Leader would sit on a specific committee or have the (ex-offcio) right to sit on any and all committees.
FCAG: Do not support the Leader's right to be a member of every Committee, but do support the position of a Leader to articulate the will of the whole council. They suggest the Leader should chair the Finance Committee.
counterbalance: Like FCAG, we think the Council should have a Leader, but it should be a non-party-political role and should speak for the whole council not just their own political group.
 

 RELATIONSHIPS WITH GROUPS 

FBC:

Not yet addressed except mentioned in Health and Housing Committee terms of reference

FCAG::

 No comment

counterbalance:

 No comment as yet

 

 THE BUDGET 

FBC: Amongst other things, the Working Group is considering where and how to consider budget proposals before they are presented to Council. They are also considering where responsibility for approved capital spending will rest, and where budget monitoring will sit.

We get the feeling that Fylde's officers are heading toward a system that would put budget approval and monitoring in the hands of a finance committee.

FCAGHas a lot to say about this, and we urge readers to read their submission on the matter.

Basically they want Fylde's officers to prepare draft budgets within an overall Council allocation that has been set by Government or the Finance Committee, and for each Committee then to debate and approve all individual items of spending that are in excess of £500, for the Finance Committee to arbitrate or negotiate between committees where spending exceeds the available funds, and for the Committees to receive monitoring reports from officers on how their spending is going.

The underpinning logic of this position is to give Committees the responsibility to both devise their service programmes and to tie them in to owning those decisions and programmes by monitoring their progress both practically and financially.

counterbalance: We fully support what FCAG has said.

It's no good giving committees the responsibility for things without giving them the means to do them. Committees need to be trusted to do this - as indeed, they always used to be. It is a system that works.

Taking budget monitoring and estimating away from them emasculates their ability to deliver the programmes and vests power with the single finance committee. That's not what committee governance is about.

In addition we believe capital spending should follow the same principle. Bids from programme committees should be assembled and arbitrated via the Finance Committee within the amount thought prudent. It should then be up to individual spending committees to instruct their officers to execute the spending and to monitor its progress.

Rocket science it is not.

It's actually nothing more than the way it was done before the Cabinet system was dumped on an unwilling Fylde electorate.

 

 URGENT BUSINESS 

FBC:

Fylde's idea on this is either an “Urgency Committee” entitled to exercise all functions of the council in a situation of urgency, but this is not being supported by officers as they say it would have to be a formal committee, subject to the same rules for calling of meetings etc as any other committee.

Their other consideration is that power should be delegated to the Chief Executive to take any action (including incurring expenditure) "where he considers that urgent action is required to protect the interests of inhabitants of the council’s district or of the council and it is not practicable to wait until a quorate meeting of the council or an appropriate committee can be convened. The power could be required to be exercised following consultation with the leader (or any named additional or other member)."

FCAG: Argue that Fylde should use the Policy and Finance Committee that FCAG has proposed for this purpose.
counterbalance: Fylde's officer's proposal on this matter drives a coach and horses through the principle of democratic decision making.

It is truly awful.

It casts the Chief Executive in the role of Policeman, Judge, Jury and Executioner, and it is plain wrong.

There is ample scope to call an extra-ordinary urgent committee in the event of some disaster.

We have all too often seen the Cabinet system declare something to be urgent only to prevent other members discussing it properly and questioning the decision.

This proposal to delegate all urgent business to the Chief Executive could become nothing more than a formalised extension of that role.

The most recent instance was when Portfolio Holder Trevor Fiddler declared the decision on the Local Plan to be exceptionally urgent when he sought the endorsement of the Council for the consultation version.

We believe that was nothing more than a pretext to stop other councillors calling in what was a deeply unpopular decision (Under the Cabinet System, formally 'Urgent Decisions' are exempt from being called-in).

He has since - after widespread public and member pressure - announced a full re-consultation on the local plan - and that will add about six months to the process. So much for it being an extremely urgent decision.

Another example was the Commissar's Special Executive Cabinet Item on the 'Growth Point Scheme' - a truly disastrous idea that he had been conned into believing was essential for Fylde's future. It was signed with no proper debate and consideration because it was so urgent it had to be submitted to Government the following day. This was only urgent because Fylde's officers had been either incompetent or complicit with him in making it urgent. It has been considered in other councils (who also signed it) for months before Fylde's members heard about it.

There are other instances too. So we argue very strongly against giving any one individual such power.

Our Chief Executive already revels in the undemocratic decisions exercised by the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Economic Development Company who - as far as we can see at the moment were at least one of - if they were not the prime - movers in agreeing the designation of Warton and Westby as an Economically Deprived Area - a declaration which came out of the blue to Fylde's members and as an unwanted shock to Fylde's ward councillors and to Warton and Westby Parish Councils who wrote strong letters of objection to it. Fylde's CE is a Director of that company which takes decisions about the future of Fylde, yet it publishes no public agenda or minutes and is not susceptible to the Freedom of Information Act. It is wholly undemocratic.

We regard the idea that Fylde's Chief Executive alone could decide::

  • what items were urgent,
  • what is in the interests of Fylde's inhabitants,
  • when 'the Council' needed protecting (remember the former Chief Executive's golden payoff to the Streetscene manager with an inbuilt gagging clause to 'protect the Council's reputational integrity')
  • whether it is 'practical' to call a meeting of the council or an appropriate committeee

is far too wide a scope and this idea needs to be dropped like a hot potato as soon as possible.

 

 IMPACT ON RESOURCES 

 FBC: The Chief Executive has produced a paper on this topic. Readers can see it for themselves as Appendix 6 of the Working Party Agenda.

It says FBC can't decide what resources they will need until they know what's required - and that has to be right. It also says Fylde has made staff savings especially in senior and middle management levels, and that's true as well.

The report concludes that only when the Terms of Reference are known will the officers be able to calculate the resources needed to operate the Council.
FCAG: No Comment
counterbalance:We regard this paper as disingenuous. It says the right things (as above) but its tone is whinging and it takes half-truths to set a scene that is unduly pessimistic and threatening.

Take for example the paragraph that says "The number of committees has already been agreed in February 2014 with four service committees and no separate scrutiny. In number terms this equates to four entities replacing three, the Cabinet and two scrutiny committees. There is a requirement to service an extra committee and this will have resource implications in administration, report writing and any subsequent request that require research, analysis or follow up."

What this fails to point out is that the functions associated with that administration - report writing and requests that require research analysis or follow up - formerly belonged to a Portfolio Holder, and there were six or seven of them, not one Cabinet.

So in reality, there is not one extra committee to service
  • Finance has a Portfolio Holder and will have a Finance Committee. That's no change.
  • Leisure and Culture has a Portfolio Holder and it will become a Tourism and Leisure Committee. That's no change.
  • Planning and Development has a Portfolio Holder. That will be absorbed into the Development Management Committee so that's a reduction of one.
  • Customer and Operational Services has a Portfolio Holder and it will become an Operational Services Committee. That's no change.
  • Social Wellbeing has a Portfolio Holder and it will have a Health and Housing Committee. That's no change.
  • Environment and Partnerships has a Portfolio Holder and most if not all of its work is being absorbed intro the Health and Housing and Operational Services Committee, so that's a reduction of one.

So using the Chief Executive's own approach in terms of responsibilities, there will be two redundant Scrutiny Committees and two redundant Portfolios. That's a reduction of four, not an increase of one.

Having said that, both these claims are a nonsense because the work remains to be done whoever undertakes the decision-making on it.

Portfolio Holders require reports and information and budget monitoring on the services they are responsible for just as Committees will.

The workload isn't changing.

The only thing that is changing is the identity of the people to whom the information will be provided and from whom execution instructions will be delivered. It will be the same level of reporting, the same level of research, analysis and follow up, irrespective of whoever takes the decision.

So far as we can see, in terms of officer time, the only increase will be in attendance at two or more committees if the matter they are reporting spans the remits of more than one committee.

We're also unimpressed with the claim about senior and middle management staffing reductions.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true, what is not also presented in the Chief Executive's report is a list of all the work that these staff used to do that has now been farmed out and is now sub-contracted to Blackpool Council and Preston Council and probably Wyre Council as well for all we know.

So the staff reductions have been offset by the work of large departments (such as revenues and benefits and council tax) which is now undertaken by staff employed by Blackpool Council and no doubt the senior and middle management costs from Blackpool are included in the sum we pay for the subcontracted service..

It's for these sort of reasons that St Eric Pickles has said there was no reason that a change to the Committee System of operation should cost anything more than it costs any council at present.

His official 'Impact Assessment' of the cost of changing to Committees sets out that there should be no increase.  (Pages 2 and 7 have the relevant bits highlighted for our readers).

From analysis undertaken in the Department of Communities and Local Government, the Secretary of State believes the only reason for an increase in costs is in what are called transitional costs.

These include the cost of the referendum (which has already been accounted for) and probably some training for Councillors to operate the new system and some new stationery.

But that's not all going to be additional for all councillors because a set of Councillor Induction training events always follows an election, just as the introduction of the Committee system will. So that cost isn't going to change either. The only change will be the content of what they are told about how the council will conduct its business.

So we don't buy the whinge that leads in the direction of needing more staff. We think it's either selective reporting to build the staffing base, or a politically motivated 'sour grapes' move to be able to say the cost of doing what the people of Fylde said they wanted is going to be more expensive.

 

 WARD COUNCILLORS 

FBC:No Comment
FCAG:Urge the Council to devise special arrangements so ward councillors are more involved in decisions affecting their ward.
counterbalance:We support special consideration for Ward Councillors where an issue affects primarily just one ward
 

 SUBSTITUTION 

FBC:No comment
FCAG: Say that because they assume Fylde's Constitution will allow any member to attend any committee and speak as of right,  they see less need for the practice of substitution.

This currently happens where a Councillor does not attend, and can nominate a substitute Councillor to attend in their place.

FCAG argue that committees will have a greater capacity for work, so the need for substitute members on committees - (members who may not have the background and understanding of that committee's work) is lessened, and FCAG argue there is no reason for the Council to not operate a 'substitute members' system under the Committee system.
counterbalance: When Committees are small in size this becomes more relevant, but we dislike it in principle.

In theory, if a member is ill or is otherwise *unable* to attend there is some justification, but too often, we have seen this practice used by political groups to remove a Councillor who might be less inclined to 'toe the party line', and replace them with someone more hawkish. We've also seen councillors duck out of unpopular decisions and put a stooge in their place, so they don't have to face the wrath of their own electorate on a 'difficult' issue. So overall, we're with FCAG on this one

 

 SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY ALLOWANCES ;

FBC: No comment
FCAG No comment
counterbalance:This is one of our 'bete noire's'.

We fully support the recovery of costs and spending that councillors have incurred against receipts or other appropriate documentary evidence, but we have never supported the idea of paying allowances (which need no evidential justification).

We're aware of the argument that says you have to re-imburse those who lose pay or earning potential when they attend approved duties as a Councillor, but we don't agree with it.

It is a path that leads some to Councillors to regard what they do for their community as paid employment, and the allowance becomes part of their notional annual income.

We'd rather have Councillors who have been successful themselves; no longer have the need to earn their daily bread, and who want to give something back to the community that provided the success they have achieved in their working lives.

But that's not the way it works. today

By law, each Borough councillor in the UK receives a Basic Allowance. At Fylde, this is currently £3,500 a year. It must be paid unless the individual Councillor declines to accept it.

In addition, all Councillors are entitled to claim certain expenses such as travelling to approved duties, and subsistence (food and drink) that is a direct result of their carrying out their duties. These generally don't amount to a lot of money and quite a few members don't claim them at all over and above their basic allowance.

But on top of that, The Council *chooses* to pay discretionary allowances which it calls 'Special Responsibility Allowances'.

There is no need to make these payments. Unlike the Basic Allowances, they are not mandatory.

Fylde says they are intended to reflect the additional responsibility that some councillors have.

On top of their £3,500 a year Basic Allowance (and any expenses if claimed) the following Special Responsibility Allowances are paid

  • Leader of the Council - £6,000.00
  • Members of the Cabinet - £4,000
  • Chairmen of a Scrutiny Committee, and the Development Management Committee - £3,250.00
  • Vice-Chairmen of the above Committees -£1,625.00
  • Chairmen of the Public Protection and Licensing Committees - £1,625.00
  • Vice-Chairmen of the above Committees - £812.50
  • Chairman of the Standards Committee - £1,900.00
  • Vice–Chairman of the Standards Committee - £950.00
  • Chairman of the Audit Committee - £1,980
  • Vice-Chairman of the Audit Committee - £990
  • Leader of each political group - £32 per group member.

So the Council currently has recurring annual budget provision of £61,838 for special responsibility allowances for various roles within the existing governance arrangements. If other governance arrangements are implemented, then the cost of special responsibility allowances may be more or less than the existing budget provision.

Fylde says that its 'Independent Remuneration Panel' (Which receives advice and reports on comparative costs elsewhere etc from Fylde's Officers) would consider the matter in the first instance and make recommendations to the Council to consider.

For the reasons we have set out above, we would not pay these allowances at all. We would discontinue them.

But if they are retained, we would like to see the 'Independent Remuneration Panel' being given information that compares Fylde with other councils not just on the basis of the actual sum paid by each different council (which is what they are told at present), but also on the basis of the discretionary allowances paid per head of electorate, and also per £ of budget expenditure for which the individual is responsible. That would give a better comparison with the scale of responsibility at Fylde in relation to other councils.

Even if these allowances continue to be paid, we believe there are savings to be achieved. Not least because of the removal of two Cabinet Portfolios whose work will merge into other Committees, and the discontinuation of two Scrutiny Committees. That alone could deliver almost £18,000 a year savings.

After two years, we would have recovered the nominal cost of the referendum and move into surplus

Then there's also potential to reduce the payment that other Cabinet members get now.

When the responsibility for the decisions they currently take alone becomes a responsibility shared with 12 or more Committee members they will be less responsible.

As an example of the possibilities here, Stroud Council (which to be fair is bigger than Fylde) is also changing to the Committee system, but it has said it expects to make savings of more than £50,000 a year as councillor allowances are cut to reflect their changed responsibilities in the committee system..

Readers can see how much each member of Fylde Council received for each of the last few years


So, where does all this leave us?

Well, we hope it leaves our counterbalance readers amongst the best-informed people in Fylde to be able to respond to Fylde Council's invitation to provide views about how the new Committee System should work.

The easiest way to do this is to visit the Fylde Civic Awareness Group's page at www.fylde.biz where you can download the consultation letter from FBC which has all the details.

You might feel you have enough information to respond to it from reading this article and its linked documents, but if you are interested and want to know more, you can also download the FCAG response to the consultation from the same www.fylde.biz webpage for more information.

The consultation only runs until 30th September so it would be a good idea to do it soon if you have time.

If you don't have time to work out your own comments, you could simply email the address in Fylde's invitation letter and (assuming you agree with them) simply say you support the comments submitted by the Fylde Civic Awareness Group.

In the first of our Governance articles 'Time to Restore Democracy?' back in January 2013 we promised readers an opportunity to become involved in the Governance change process, and didn't our readers just get involved.

Our readers offered to be some of the 50 letterboxes to receive the completed petition forms. Others arranged for petitions to be distributed and signed. Some arranged meetings for FCAG to make a presentation about the petition and referendum. Several helped FCAG collect signatures in the town centres, or said they would have one of the campaign posts as a garden stake to publicise the referendum. Some even donated money to FCAG's campaign.

This is the final stage in the campaign - to persuade Fylde Council to listen to what the Fylde electorate want as the way the Committee System will operate..

We hope you will find the time to send your views to the Working Group that's debating what to recommend to the Full Council that will take the final decision.

Dated:   16 Aug 2014


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