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Budget Council Chaos

Budget Council ChaosWe went along to Fylde's Budget Council Meeting earlier this month, not expecting much excitement at all really - but in the event, it turned into constitutional chaos.

We were treated to yet another 'Fylde First' in terms of awful governance and its conduct of meetings.

Midway through the meeting, it was apparent to observers that the Conservative Group were about to lose all credibility by continuing to support something that they had obviously all agreed to support in advance, but which came to be shown as a position that was virtually untenable during the debate.

With their arguments in disarray, we watched the amazing spectacle as the Conservatives sought an adjournment in the middle of the Council meeting, so they could have a private group meeting to sort themselves - and their arguments - out!

Yes really.

 Please see update end 

Even more amazing was the fact that during this adjournment, members of the Conservative group also appeared to be consulting two of the Portfolio Holders who had declared a prejudicial Interest in the item being discussed when the adjournment was called for!

Readers might like guess which two Portfolio Holders found themselves (this time probably completely unwittingly), in the midst of an issue about interests and probity.

We'll give you a clue. They are from Freckleton....

The behaviour by the Conservative leadership drove a coach and horses through proper procedure and behaviour in meetings.

The whole point of a Councillor declaring a prejudicial interest and excluding themselves from a meeting is so they can't influence the decision that the meeting takes.

If the two councillors had been invited into the meeting to be consulted, it could well have rendered the subsequent decision invalid because it would have been ultra vires.

But, by causing an adjournment, the meeting was - in effect suspended - and the consultation with the 'Freckleton Two' (and here we stress this was not something either of them initiated, and we make or imply no criticism of them) was probably technically lawful because it was 'outside' the meeting.

However, the purpose of the adjournment was clearly to enable other Conservative councillors to assemble arguments that would contra the arguments being made by other councillors. And that's exactly what happened.

As we said, it might, just, be technically legal, but it drives a coach and horses through the intention of the Council's Standing Orders.

And in actual fact, they didn't even have the decency to call a proper adjournment, there was no mover and nor seconder, and no vote to adjourn.

The Mayor lost control of his meeting.

It was a first-class demonstration of how one should not chair a Council meeting.

In his desire be accommodating, the Mayor failed to keep order and uphold the Council's Constitution and the rules of debate.

That's more or less what, (if not all), he's there for.

We'll come back to why the situation arose in a minute, but before we get to the detail of that, we'll give you our overall take on the meeting itself.

Budget meetings like this one can be taught thrillers - like the one that closed the swimming pools - (that was pure civic drama if ever there was civic drama).

Or they can be mostly boring 'non-event' meetings.

The budget meeting preceding an election is usually uneventful because there are usually no controversial items. Pre-election budgets often 'giveaway' budgets to help the majority party get re-elected.

Not that anyone would ever agree that happened. It will all be set out as 'prudent housekeeping' which has created the cash that's now available. But all parties and groups do it when they have majority control. It's the elephant in the budget room in an election year.

And to be honest, we expected this year to be the same.

After the minutes of the previous meeting and declarations of interest had been disposed of, the current Council Leader, Cllr Susan Fazackerley opened the budget item and began: "As Leader of the Council I would like to express how proud I am that this council continues to go from strength to strength in delivering high quality services with diminishing resources....."

Oh Dear!

We'd be the last people to say Fylde has had it easy in recent years. It hasn't. Like every other Council, Fylde has had to bear really serious changes and reductions in funding from central Government.

But its star claim of 'freezing' Council Tax Charges for the last five years is a bit; well, 'incomplete', as claims go.

That's because an increase of 2.5% in Fylde's income has actually been met from our other pocket - via national taxation and a Government grant of 2.5% to Fylde (and most other UK Councils) each year, on condition that they agree to 'freeze' their local Council Tax charge.

However, other Government funding *is* reducing, and we agree that Fylde has not had it easy.

But this glowing and banal description of Fylde's situation we heard from Cllr Fazackerley isn't wholly right either.

She obviously hasn't seen page 31 the March 2015 issue of 'Which? Magazine' sent to us by one of our readers.

This carries a report of a Which? Food Hygiene statistical analysis.

It says "We analysed the 2013/14 Local Authority Enforcement Monitoring System data supplied to the FSA (Food Standards Authority) by local authorities. We ranked each of the 398 local authorities on the percentage of:

  • High and medium risk businesses that were compliant with hygiene requirements (50%)
  • Food premises that had been rated for risk (25%)
  • Required interventions that had been achieved (25%)

The top performers were Cherwell, Brentwood, and Broxbourne councils.

The worst performers were Enfield, City of Edinburgh, and Lewisham.

The most improved performers were Newark and Sherwood, Reigate and Banstead, and South Derbyshire.

The most deteriorated were Fylde, Welyn Hatfield, and North Hertfordshire.

We struggle to see how - according to Which? - being the "most deteriorated" Council in the UK in this arena squares with "continuing to go from strength to strength in delivering high quality services" according to Cllr Fazackerley.

To be fair, what we think this dichotomy shows, is that even where a council may be performing exceptionally well in some areas (and we freely admit Fylde has absolutely got its finances in proper order in the last 5 years), it can, at the same time, be in (or close to) 'special measures' for aspects of other services.

This happened under the former independent administration at Fylde - where they too were well in control of their financial position - perhaps even better then the present Conservative administration - because Fylde was debt free altogether - but, (as we have said before), the Council of that time adopted housing policies that absolutely suited local people, but which angered the then Central Government, (whose policy was to increase social housing), and who decided Fylde's housing operation was classed as 'failing' and Government Inspectors were planning to take over the running of Fylde's housing operation to bring it in line with Government policy.

So it is that, at various times, we have seen aspects of Fylde's Conservative administration's management described as the worst performing council in Lancashire and yet see Fylde is classed as one of the best places in the UK to live.

It often depends on when you ask, what the question is, what the topic is, how you ask the questions, and how you compile the results.

So we think even though it is election year, and we should expect some hyperbole, Cllr Fazackerley would do well to be a bit more circumspect in her self-congratulatory rhetoric.

Next up on the budget item was Princess Karen. She was even worse. She began "This Conservative budget..."

Readers will know we don't see it that way. We detest the polarisation and conflict that comes with the political party tags being used in this manner. We elect councillors to work together for the good of the area, not politicians to advance the cause of their party.

And it's not that long since Fylde's finances were in a complete mess.

They were close to having more liabilities than assets.

That too was a Conservative administration. The administration led by the former Commissar.

So the *party* in charge has no direct relationship to financial capability.

That's down to the people running the show.

Former finance officer Bernard Hayes who came on loan from Preston pulled Fylde out of the financial fire after it was almost ruined by a combination of incapable officers and members. He put in on the right path for his successors to complete the recovery. All have done well. As has Princess Karen. She now has a good grasp of how local authority finance works, and is able and competent in keeping the broad brush financial situation under review. We were a little uncomfortable with Fylde's level of borrowing in the recent past, but with low interest rates, that's not as bad as it might be, and the debt is starting to be written down as Fylde returns to better balance.

This year, Fylde's general reserve has grown to an almost unprecedented 5.1 million.

The minimum recommended level for their reserves is about 750k, so the main reserve account is currently six and a half times the minimum needed.

This year alone, they will put 1.1m into the General Reserve.

Some will see that as excellent performance and good housekeeping.

Others will see it as poor performance, because on a budget of about 10m, being 10% out at the end of the year is considered bad management.

We've not looked into the reasons for this variance, so it's quite possible there are external reasons for some of the savings, but 'end of year' savings like this often arise because some works didn't get done when they should have been done, and the money from them is 'left over' as the financial year closes.

And as Cllr Tony Ford said during the debate "It's alright having 5m in reserves but if you can't get a litter bin replaced because of shortage of funds, it's a bit much"

Cllr Buckley noted that in next year's budget, they planned to introduce the 'living wage' for Fylde employees, and hoped to explore the establishment of an Arts Officer post.

Cllr Liz Oades said she was concerned about future funding difficulties for Fylde and the vagaries of changes in Local Government finance that might come after the national elections.

She tried to get an amendment to the budget that would consult the people of Fylde on their preference for further cuts in services or increases in taxation, and to ask people what the Council's spending priorities should be. But the Conservative majority group voted her proposal down.

As we saw with the governance referendum, the Conservatives appear to believe it is *their* council, so it is for them to say what happens.

We tend to support the view that the Council does - and should - belong to the people of the area. (Just as those same people were happy to remind the Conservatives in the referendum, when they voted to remove the detestable cabinet system that the Conservatives had argued so strongly to retain).

However, eventually, the draft budget, save for two items which had been excepted in the resolution for a particular reason, was approved without modification.

But those items held all the 'excitement'.

Chiefly, concern centred on a plan to improve Freckleton's Memorial Park.

It was reported as a request from Freckleton Parish Council for 50,000 to be included in Fylde's budget as a grant toward the cost of the improvements.

Because of the way this was reported to Fylde, it meant that the councillors who were also members of Freckleton Parish Council (Cllr Trevor Fiddler, Cllr Tommy Threlfall and Cllr Louis Rigby) needed to declare a Prejudicial Interest and not to take part in the meeting.

They each declared a Prejudicial Interest - quite properly - at the start of the Budget meeting (which was why this item had been separated out from the overall budget debate), and left the room at the appropriate time.

The item in the draft budget was in the 'Budget proposals: Capital Items' pages and it showed that a grant of 50,000 had been included in the draft capital estimates for spending in the next (2015/16) financial year starting on 1 April 2015.

The narrative for it said "Last year marked the 70th anniversary of the Freckleton Air Disaster which was a tragic event of national significance. The village and Parish Council launched a project to commemorate the disaster in an appropriate manner. Parks are often the only green space where people can meet, play, relax and come close to nature and it is considered that the development of the Freckleton Memorial Park is a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives and were touched by this disaster. The park will be a place where individuals can undertake reflection at any time and will be a lasting memorial to this unique and tragic event which affected the locality of Freckleton and the wider Fylde community. Due to the special nature of this project, and the circumstances surrounding it, the Cabinet are minded to make a one off contribution towards the memorial park regeneration project in recognition of this. The contribution will be funded from the Capital Investment Reserve."

So the proposal to Council after the Freckleton Councillors had left, was to make a one off contribution, to be funded from Fylde's Capital Investment Reserve, towards the Memorial Park regeneration project to commemorate last year's 70th anniversary of the Freckleton Air Disaster.

Technically, this was the Cabinet's proposal.

It had previously been presented to Cabinet by Councillor Buckley as an "exceptional scheme" and approved there for inclusion in the draft budget.

She told the Council it was an exceptional scheme because of the 'exceptional circumstances that give rise to the formation of the friends of the park group' and to give some background to the matter, she read out a letter from the clerk to Freckleton Parish Council dated 23 May last year (2014).

Her proposal was seconded by Cllr Susan Fazackerley.

From what we can see, whilst this was being treated as a new scheme and reported to Council for approval. We think it probably could have been approved by Cabinet using their delegated powers, and we don't just see why it wasn't, unless they had left it too late to go through the statutory procedures.

But either way, it was now at Council, and Cllr Mrs Oades was not happy with the way things were being done.

She said she worried it would set a precedent because there were 15 town and parish councils, and if this was approved, it could open floodgates to other applications. She said Warton were currently considering renovation of their parks as well.

Having set up a parks group in Kirkham which had raised 300,000 in about 18 months - Cllr Oades said she was very familiar with the process to acquire grant aid - as had been done at several other parks in Fylde including Kirkham. It involved preparing a masterplan and approaching the County Council for help with external funding, but she said Freckleton was not at this stage yet.

She also said none of the money for Kirkham or any of the other parks that had been renovated, had come from Fylde Council, it all came from external sources funding.

The implication of her approach was that she thought Freckleton should be treated the same as Kirkham (and as other areas who had done the same thing) had been treated.

She was also aware that people in Freckleton has access to other funds which she thought could have been used, (implicitly leaving Fylde's money available for other projects). She cited one bequest to Freckleton which, she said, had approximately 579,000 remaining, and she knew that all the Freckleton Parish Councillors were trustees of that fund. She said she was aware that trusts could be varied, as Fylde had done at Melton Grove.

She said "So I do believe, when a parish like Freckleton is sitting on 579,000 we should be asking them whether it's possible for them to vary the trust, and I would say that this bid is premature until those questions have been asked. I would like to ask a solicitor for information on that. I'd like them to see all the paperwork."

She also referred to another fund, a charitable trust, which she had been trying to find details of, which she believed at the present time had approximately 122,000 in its accounts. She said "Again, if you add that to the money that's already there, that's a substantial amount in Freckleton's coffers"

She said she did not oppose the payment if other sources could not be used, but she said they should ask the relevant questions first. They should keep the money in Fylde's accounts as being available for Freckleton if it was needed, but not agree to its use at the present time.

Cllr Paul Hayhurst said he agreed with Cllr Oades. Fylde's capital budget was finite and not enough for them to do all they wanted now. He said they'd heard that Freckleton was one of the most prosperous parishes, and he would have expected Freckleton to have done the donkey work before they came to Fylde for funding. They should also have looked at match funding as his own parish and other parishes in Fylde had done.

He said "I realise that there is a whip on tonight, but I would hope that you would just take a step back, and just think for a minute, are we doing the right thing here?" He went on to cite many instances of parishes which, he said, had not had one penny piece from Fylde, yet had managed to secure external grant aid to fund park renovations."

Cllr Silverwood supported Cllr Oades' amendment. She said one of there employees was a member of the Freckleton 'friends' group and they had raised 7,000 by raffles and local fundraising activities, but there had been an uphill struggle because when asking for raffle prizes etc they met arguments such as - 'why are you having to raise money for the park when we know, as residents of Freckleton, that there is a huge amount of money that has been left because of the American warplane accident', and also they're aware of the Rawstron fund - and local fundraising is made more difficult by the existence of these funds. She said she was staggered to see one of the funds had 579,000 in it. She said the parks friends group had tried over the last 3 years, but had been unsuccessful in getting a penny from Freckleton Parish Council, and Fylde should look into the matter in more depth before making the grant of 50,000.

Cllr Armit said Cllr Oades had raised a lot of really good points, "....Potentially worrying points, and I do think some investigation and some work needs to be done in that" but then - in his sort of 'guess-the-missing-words' mode of speaking, and using a form of mental ju-jitsu for which he is becoming known, he did an about-face and said - "I'm not sure though, whether we should blur the two issues. This isn't a political... we've been asked to say tonight... this is budget, lets not make it political... lets not do that. We've been asked... we've been said tonight. The independent party may have a whip on, the Conservative party does not. The issue we've got here is not setting a precedent. This is a singular and particular unique tragic event..."

He then launched into a 'hearts and violins' speech which - in effect - implied that if you didn't support the 50,000, you were some sort of inadequate "Freckleton Air Disaster Denier" or some such, and he said they should hand the money over.

Cllr Nulty gave her experience of applying for such a grant and said they had not received a grant from Fylde at Wesham, but Fylde had asked them to pay 5,000 for Fylde's officer's time in helping to manage the improvement scheme which they secured external funding for. She said there should be more work done to establish the availability of external funding before Fylde made a grant. She said even a couple of years worth of interest from the two funds in Freckleton "could go a long way toward the cost of the project".

Cllr Edward Nash said the budget was in black and white and cold hard figures, but tonight there was a chance to show the heart of Fylde. Using the same sort of rhetoric as Cllr Armit, he evoked the spirit of wartime camaraderie as an argument to support the payment of 50,000. He said providing one third of what they were looking for would show compassion on the part of the Council.

Cllr Maxine Chew said "What happened in 1944 was an utter disaster, beyond our comprehension" She said no-one begrudged Freckleton their park, "and no one would begrudge them the money - as long as, as has been said, ALL avenues have been explored to find that money elsewhere."

She argued that none of her three parishes had a park at all. She had asked for funds from FBC, but they were refused. So they leased the land and borrowed the money to make provision. And when Fylde had refused to provide funds, they had also refused to provide officer time to assist in finding grants elsewhere.

She said the treatment of parishes should be equitable, and she asked "Why are the children and the people of my parish, in spite of us not suffering a disaster, not as important as the people and children in the rest of this borough? Why are my children - whose parents I represent - not given ANY consideration at all?"

She concluded "The answer from Fylde is always 'No' and that's fine, but if you all want to vote to give Freckleton this money tonight, in spite of the fact that you know they're sitting on nearly a million pounds, and haven't explored, to your knowledge, any other place to get this money from, that's fine. But an application from Singleton will be in, directly..."

Cllr Mrs Speak said "Thank you Mr Mayor. I wasn't going to speak at all actually, but I do feel the need to say something because I've lost the will to live down here. When I listen to Cllr Nash talk about a hidden tragedy that happened in Freckleton, I wholeheartedly agree. We all live with tragedies. But I'm more concerned about the hidden fortune in Freckleton, and I can just see the headlines, can't you?

More worryingly is the Freckleton Parish Council, who must be aware of all this money in trusts and in savings accounts, who haven't come forward themselves to this group of mothers and parks and said 'Don't struggle, we've got enough money in these savings accounts and in trust to do all the work for the memorial garden, because that money was given to us to do jobs like that.

The other thing I find very strange, is Cllr Buckley: has she been aware of all the money that's in trusts and in savings in Freckleton? Granted, if she hasn't known about it, then she would support this bid. But if she's known about it, and the Cabinet know about it, and two of the Cabinet members are Freckleton Parish Councillors, I don't like this at all, and it should be deferred for further investigation. It looks un-transparent, and it looks wrong to the wider public of Fylde Borough. Thank You"

We thought her conclusion was probably one of the most telling she has made at Fylde.

Cllr Prestwich said she thought they were on very dangerous ground and if there was any doubt about the money - and what she'd heard that night had been she said "quite distressing" - and she thought a deferment would be the best policy and the right policy because 'If in doubt, they should do nowt'

Cllr Peter Collins said Cllr Chew had missed something out. He said there used to be a system that groups in Fylde could bid for grant aid from Fylde Council, but that system had been done away with because basically they were collecting money from taxpayers and giving it away.

He said he's sat on the group that made decisions on grants when they used to be given (before they were stopped about ten years ago). He said they had strict criteria against which to judge the applications - the range, scale and geography of those who would benefit and so on. He said there were some he would have loved to give the money to - one of which was to repair the roof of the village hall in Cllr Chew's ward, but it didn't meet all the criteria. It got turned down. There were others he was less in favour of that were approved, but the point was they had a set of proper criteria against which to make judgements and decisions.

He concluded "If we are going back to a system of giving away taxpayers money, we should have criteria to measure them against. We should be going back to a system like that, and not merely, giving away taxpayers money willy nilly, perhaps just before an election"

Cllr Keith Beckett said "The people in Freckleton are putting the work in to try and get this Memorial garden brought up to scratch and everything else, but the Council's doing nothing. Fylde Borough are trying, but what about Freckleton Parish Council?"

Freckleton Parish Council hold all the strings, can pull all the strings, and I think they're trying to pull a fast one in this chamber. I don't go along with it. I want it deferring as Cllr Oades is saying.....

With a weary voice (probably because he knew what to expect), the Mayor called Cllr Tim Ashton to speak. Cllr Ashton asked "What will the budget say if this amendment is carried because my understanding is that you have to set a budget here tonight and you can't set a budget on deferments, so it's either in or it's out."

He's come on a lot from the 'Dim Tim' days, and this was almost a clever torpedo of a question to ask.

Sadly it wasn't as good as he'd hoped (because it was proposed to be funded from the Capital Reserve which will exist irrespective of the budget - it's like a separate savings account) so it didn't actually need a yes/no answer that night, but we don't think any of the other Councillors spotted this, and it seemed to be a better argument than it was.

There being no other speakers, the Mayor asked Princess Karen if she was ready to respond (we think he meant 'sum up') in order to conclude the debate on Cllr Mrs Oades' amendment - but the Chief Executive intervened on her behalf to say that the officers "Understood that the 50,000 would remain in the budget, but it would be subject to further investigation into whether funding has been fully explored through other avenues and the Parish Council. And it would have to come back to the Full Council to then release it"

Cue lots of heated discussion between Cllr Buckley and the present Council Leader Cllr Fazackerley - we say 'present' because we hear stories that the Conservatives have lined up Princess Karen to become Council Leader under the new Committee system (assuming she is re-elected).

Their conversation went on for some time, and the Mayor delayed calling Princess Karen to speak.

Explaining his delay, he said to the whole Council "I'm just hanging on because Cllr Buckley is taking advice"

Other councillors became restless and fidgety, and the Mayor started to lose control of the meeting as separate conversations began around the room.

Then the Mayor himself said to the Conservative leaders, "If you want a brief deferment....." and his voce trailed off.

Then he asked more directly to Cllr Buckley / Fazackerley "Do you want a deferment or are you in a position to respond, Cllr Buckley?"

We suspect he meant an adjournment.

But this was entirely the wrong approach. He is in charge of the meeting: but by asking, he transferred what should have been the Mayoral authority to Cllr Buckley and Cllr Fazackerley.

Cllr Fazackerley responded with "Can we have an adjournment" to which the Mayor asked "Is everybody happy for a five minute adjournment?"

Confusion reigned. Cllr Ashton's hand went up. Others looked at each other in confusion.

The Mayor said "I take it that is yes" and without a vote and without even a seconder, he called a five minute adjournment of the meeting.

Cllr Mrs Oades was heard to say "Why do we need an adjournment?" and the Mayor said "I think it's a question of getting the right resolution that keeps everybody, hopefully, happy"

At this point, Cllr Mrs Oades was on her feet protesting. Cllr Fazackerley was on her feet pointing and addressing the independent members. Cllr Ashton was on his feet ready to go out.

The Chief Executive stepped in.

He said "Can everybody be quiet while there are speakers? Cllr Oades, I believe they're asking for deferment (he also meant 'adjournment' we think) so that they can consider some of the points that have been raised, and get a consensus from the Cabinet and the officers just for some further advice"

The Mayor said the five minute adjournment was starting at that point, and the meeting broke up.

The Chief Executive then rather spoiled it by saying "Is that OK with everybody for a five minute adjournment?" but any response was lost in the melee of chairs being moved and people standing up and moving out of the room.

The Conservatives got up and most of them seemed to go for a private meeting in another room in the building. The Conservative Councillors from Freckleton also went into the other room.  See update at end

When the meeting resumed the Mayor called it to order, then asked Cllr Mrs Buckley to sum up.

She thanked the Mayor for his adjournment and said "There has been some misleading information shared tonight from Council members, and I'm quite happy to correct that, and one of the things that certainly needs to be corrected is that, because it has been suggested that Freckleton Parish Council has not supported the Friends group, and that is simply not the case. They've set aside 20,000 to support the friends group for this project."

She said "Also, I think there's a lot of confusion about who owns different pots or money for what purposes and who has access to it, and of course that's has been suggested unsettles members, and the information that I have is that there has been a bequest. There is a trust set up. The terms of the trust are that the capital cannot be accessed, and therefore when it's suggested that Freckleton has all this money, and yet if it is the case that it's capital to be invested and the money that can be accessed is the income, and that that income must be dispensed equally between, I understand, between churches and recreational clubs in the village, and the maximum grants from the trust tend to be around the 2,000 mark.

They also talked about the Memorial trust, that's been mentioned as well tonight, which is run independently of the Parish Council, so again I think it's quite muddied as to who has these funds for what purpose and who has access to them."

She said nevertheless there had been questions raised and information provided late in the day, so she "would like to suggest - whether it's in line with the amendment put forward, but I'd like to tighten it up. I would like to suggest that this money remains in the budget in the capital programme, and that it is not released until these further questions are explored, but that we set a timeframe on that, and that we make a decision at the next Council meeting"

She explained it again and said "Maybe that's a further amendment, but I would ask for a seconder"

Either she never learns, or she simply doesn't care.

She's been here before. She completely disregarded the amendment she was supposed to be speaking to and "suggested" - (not even properly proposed) - something like a 'Monty Python' amendment - (now for something completely different).

Last time she did something like that she had to publicly apologise to Council for proposing her own version of a resolution that others had proposed, and she had to agree to undertake further training but that doesn't seem to have worked.

The Mayor threw protocol to the wind and simply disregarded proper procedure by abandoning the rules about amendments and who may speak to them.

After Cllr Mrs Buckley had 'summed up' as the final speaker to the amendment, he invited Cllr Mrs Oades and Cllr Hayhurst to respond to what Cllr Mrs Buckley had said, adding "I'm breaking the rules slightly, but I think it's a logical way forward."

We fundamentally disagree.

When chairing meetings of the Council, the Mayor's role is to uphold the Council's Constitution and interpret its provisions and give rulings on points of order.

He must also ensure "that the Council meeting is a forum for debating matters of concern to the local community and where Councillors who are not members of the Executive can hold the Executive to account."

That's not our idea; it's what is required of the Mayor as set out by the Constitution he is supposed to be upholding.

What he did was assist the Executive to avoid being held to account by the non-Executive members of the Council, which to us seems to be the opposite of what he should have been doing.

There then followed a discussion about what aspects of the grant request needed to be investigated, who should investigate them, and who should be involved in considering the findings of the investigation.

Eventually, the Mayor said "I think we now would like the Chief Executive to put this agreement into legal words that we can all then vote for."

The Chief Executive appeared to bring back some semblance of order when he said "We're continuing to deal with it as an amendment. I was just checking whether Cllr Buckley was able to propose an alternative recommendation that was consistent with the amendment, but I'm told we're still dealing with it as an amendment then," [what we're pretty sure he meant here - but did not say - is that the Council's Constitution required an amendment to be voted on before an another amendment is debated, and this was Cllr Mrs Oades' amendment they were debating, and Cllr Mrs Buckley had no right to try to alter it].

He continued "and the amendment is: to......."  and his voice trailed off.

Readers will see why he hesitated. He SHOULD have insisted that they debate and vote to dispose of Cllr Mrs Oades' amendment and those were the words he should have read out.

But he knew that to do so would incur the wrath of Cllr Mrs Buckley and - we think - he simply didn't know what to say.

And as we all know, he who hesitates is lost.

And at this point the Mayor took over again and said "not release any further money, to keep the money in the budget but not to release it until further questions are explored and, a decision is made at the next Council"

This, of course changed the sense of Cllr Oades' amendment even further.

Now we didn't have an investigation, we had an 'exploration'.

An investigation sounds like a journey that leads to a conclusion. An 'exploration' only sounds like the journey.

The Chief Executive was back in quickly. He clearly knew how much work there would be to answer the issues raised, and didn't want to be tied down to having to report to the next meeting.

He said "I think one of the challenges we have is that this is the budget Council which is slotted in between the next ordinary Council. The deadline date for reports to be submitted to the next full council is the 14th March, 15th March 17th March. It could be a challenge to investigate all those issues and produce an appropriate report in that time frame"

The Mayor tried to change Cllr Oades' amendment yet again by saying "Can we say a further Council rather than the next Council?"

Cllr Mrs Buckley remained silent but shook her head quietly, and the Mayor said "I think it is wished that this is dealt with in this financial year, and therefore..."

Cllr Mrs Oades was on her feet again. "Surely Mr Mayor it's better to be dealt with thoroughly, than try to rush this. If it can be dealt with in time for the 14th, fair enough, but if it can't we must get the right answers. I know we have an election coming and people are wanting to get this out of the way, but I do believe it's better to get this done properly."

Then the Mayor said he was just trying to get a decision that was agreeable, and he thought a report should come to the next Council, whatever it says, and "we should be understanding that if some of that information at that next council is delivered a little bit late".

So much for his responsibility to ordinary members of the Council in enabling them to hold the Executive to account.

Neither did he appear to appreciate the statutory requirements of publishing an agenda in advance of the meeting.

The Chief Executive said "I'd be more content if Cllr Buckley would confirm what she's proposing"

Cllr Buckley began "I do feel it needs to come back to the NEXT Council. I think we should rise to the challenge for that. If for any reason there is information lacking at that time, we will make a decision at that time."

The Iron Fist was clenching inside her velvet glove.

Sensing more trouble brewing about who should be involved in taking that decision, the Mayor attempted to clarify matters further by seeking Cllr Mrs Buckley's agreement that she would welcome receipt of issues from other Councillors that she would like to have the officers to look at.

Here was yet another change to what should have been Cllr Mrs Oades' amendment. It sought to put Cllr Mrs Buckley in charge of what the officers were investigating rather than have them accountable to the Full Council in this matter.

What was that about 'holding the Executive to account' again?

Opposition councillors were about to make further points when Cllr Buckley said "I would like the officers to undertake the investigation and of course members will be able to input into that as they have done already by raising queries and questions."

The Mayor said "We have then, I think, a revised amendment. Can we now get back to proper procedure and ask you please, Chief Executive, to put that into legal language"

The Chief Executive said "We're now going to have a recorded vote on the amendment that says "The capital remains in the budget until the questions are explored and a report is brought forward to the next meeting of the Full Council, to make a decision as to whether the money actually goes, then goes into the budget"

The Mayor urged everyone to support that.

At this point, Cllr Eaves said "I don't think anyone seconded Cllr Buckley's amendment, so I stand to second it"

Those that understand these matters will be horrified that a meeting of the Full Council could ever have been allowed to debate an amendment without it having been seconded.

We certainly were. But as we have seen ably demonstrated at this meeting, Fylde gave up doing things properly quite some time ago.

At this point Cllr Duffy - who understands the Constitution probably better than any other councillor - indicated a wish to speak.

The Chief Executive anticipated him and said "I know Charlie, go on - make your Point of Order"

We detest the lack of formality displayed in Fylde these days. Referring to elected Councillors by their Christian names in what is one of the most formal situations in which Fylde operates is complete anathema to us.

Cllr Duffy said "It's not a point of order; it's a point of disorder to be honest. I mean this is just ridiculous."

The Mayor said "It might be ridiculous, but we're getting, we're getting..."

Cllr Duffy continued "so this is, I mean I appreciate the fact that you've been pragmatic and you're just trying to get to a solution, and I'm not going to object to that on this occasion, but can we have first of all a reading out of the amendment, because it's not clear what we're voting on..."

There then developed an argument between Cllr Duffy and the Mayor about the process that had led them to where they were, and whether Cllr Buckley's proposition had been amended by Cllr Oades and it was now her amendment they were voting on, or whether the Mayor believed Cllr Buckley's 'alternative amendment' as it had been termed (and which was therefore, in effect, an amendment to her own original proposition) was what they were now voting on.

This shows the constitutional mess you get into when you deviate from the proper protocol by which meetings should be run.

It was simply awful.

The Chief Executive then did a half-decent job of trying to explain what had actually happened.

He said "The original proposal is to include 50,000 capital for a contribution towards the Freckleton Memorial Gardens. That's the original proposal. The amendment, which has been - outside of our rules, ' agreed' and, and manipulated a little - but it is that the money remains in the budget until questions have been explored and a report is brought to the next meeting of the full Council. That report would actually be one that says the money is now, it stays in the budget now but it would then be released into the Capital Programme if it was approved at the next Council."

We shudder and the impropriety this statement illustrates and at his willingness to accept this situation.

The recorded vote showed the decision as being clearly carried.

So - in this awful melee of confusion, what was really going on with this item? Why was there such a fuss over it?

Given that the application from Freckleton was 12 months ago, why the sudden rush to get it all done and dusted before the next Council.

We think there's another elephant in the room.

The clues to that suspicion lie in what some of the councillors said.

Cllr Hayhurst "I realise that there is a whip on tonight,...."

Cllr Mrs Speak: "The other thing I find very strange, is Cllr Buckley, has she been aware of all the money that's in trusts and in savings in Freckleton? Granted, if she hasn't known about it, then she would support this bid. But if she's known about it, and the Cabinet know about it, and two of the Cabinet members are Freckleton Parish Councillors, I don't like this at all, and it should be deferred for further investigation. It looks un-transparent, and it looks wrong to the wider public of Fylde Borough."

Cllr Collins : "If we are going back to a system of giving away taxpayers money, we should have criteria to measure them against. We should be going back to a system like that, and not merely, giving away taxpayers money willy nilly, perhaps just before an election"

And of course, there is the almighty rush to get the decision made before the end of this financial year.

To us, this debate had the feel of an item that would help some councillors, especially in Freckleton, to enjoy wider support in the forthcoming elections, especially if news of the grant of 50,000 could be announced just before the election.

We did a bit of digging into the details behind the scenes, and we had it confirmed to us that the request had come from Freckleton Council.

However there are grounds to believe that it is not a matter that the Freckleton Parish Council as a corporate body had debated and come to a resolution about. The letter requesting the grant cites no agenda item, no vote, and no minute resolving to request the money from Fylde. We checked Freckleton's Minutes, and we could find none.

That's a bit unusual.

The request appears to have emanated from the Clerk to Freckleton Parish Council.

The justification for this action (without a Council resolution) might be his reliance on the rather vague statement in the Parish Council's Standing Orders which say "The Council shall delegate to the Clerk the authority to make routine decisions on its behalf, as and when required."

But even here, we would have expected to see a specific power of delegation on this matter made by resolution of the Parish Council.

We believe the Clerk may have acted at the suggestion of one of the Parish Councillors.

And that would most probably be a councillor who is also a member of Fylde's Cabinet, and also a member of the majority political party who themselves appeared very enthusiastic to support the idea - even though they didn't appear to know the proper details, or what other funds in the village might be available - some of which appear to be influenced or controlled by members of the Freckleton Parish Council with different hats on.

The councillor concerned had quite properly declared a prejudicial interest at Fylde's Cabinet and Council, and had not taken part in any of Fylde's meetings regarding the request for the grant. We make no criticism at all of that conduct.

But the Conservative members from Freckleton (see update at end) were party to the private meeting held during the adjournment of Fylde's full Council meeting, following which, Cllr Mrs Buckley gave further details to Fylde's Council meeting.

That's not unlawful, but this item makes us a bit uneasy. As Cllr Speak said, what's going on doesn't feel transparent.

So we had a look at the funds that had been mentioned in the debate. The first is

Freckleton Charitable Trust Limited (Reg No: 1089667).
This operates by raising money by investing on the stock market. The dividend income is then paid out in the form of grants to local community groups.

Its primary aim is "To promote the benefit of the inhabitants of Freckleton by the advancement of education and the provision of facilities in the interests of social welfare for recreation and other leisure time occupation with the object of improving the conditions of life for the said inhabitants of Freckleton."

There are 15 Trustees, and we recognise a few names as also being members of the Parish Council, but it does not appear that they are trustees simply because they are Parish Councillors

Typically, it generates about 4,000 to 6,000 a year and spends about 3,000 to 4,000. Over the last five years, it has earned more in income than it has given out in grants each year, so the fund is accumulating.

Between the years ending 5th April 2010 and April 2014, it received 24,055 and spent 16,270, so it added in the region of 7,800 to its accumulated funds. On average that's about an accumulation of 1,500 a year.

Cllr Mrs Oades suggested this charity has about 122,000 in its accounts, and wondered if the trust could be varied to allow funding of all or some of the 50,000 that had been requested.

We'll look at the details of what can and can't be done in a minute, but it is noteworthy that if the Trust needed to maintain the value of it's original money, it would need to allow the trust to grow in line with inflation, and if there is 122,000 in the accounts, then assuming an *average* rate of inflation over decades as being, say, 5%, then you could assume a need to increase the fund at the rate of 6,000 or so a year to maintain its purchasing power. In that context, an average annual surplus as a contribution to capital (if that's what's happening) of 1,500 a year over the last five years is not excessive, and is if anything, possibly too little.

The other main fund is the

Robert Rawstorne Trust Fund (Reg No: 508396)
Aim: To provide financial assistance for organisations and individuals within the village of Freckleton

Charitable Objects: 'For such recreational and religious purposes in the village of Freckleton as the Council shall in their absolute discretion think fit.'

The Trustees who control the funds are the Freckleton Parish Council.

The fund arose out of a bequest (which would probably better described as a permanent endowment) from Robert Rawstorne around 1975

Typically, this also seems to give out a bit less than it receives. In the five years from April 2010 to March 2014, it received 93,000 in income and spent around 92,000. So (assuming there is no capital growth outside the stated income) this Trust also is not squirreling excessive sums away.

We think this is the one Cllr Mrs Oades spoke about when said it had about 570,000 in its capital.

You can see why people could think they ought to spend some of that on good causes, but we believe that these charities would be more properly be termed 'permanent endowments' in which part of the requirements for Trustees is that they make provision for grants not only to current beneficiaries, but to future ones as well.

That means the Trustees are responsible for preserving the original value of the capital against inflation to be able to make the same level of grants right into the future.

The arrangements to balance capital growth and income distribution are very complicated and fraught with man-traps for the unwary. This may be why the Government recently introduced the Trusts (Capital and Income) Act of 2013, which it then further clarified by 'The Charities (Total Returns) Regulations 2013' which allows Trusts more flexibility in the allocation of their investments to better manage the preservation of capital and the distribution of income by considering the 'total return'.

This whole process is overseen by the Charity Commission who have issued their own guidance on the matter as well.

It is a complex topic because the investments that generate the best overall return will not always generate the balance of income and capital growth that meets the needs of the charity. In particular, an investment that offers good capital growth may yield a low income.

This may mean that it is not an appropriate investment for a charity that needs to have a steady flow of income for current beneficiaries, and some charities have found that their need for a certain balance of income and capital growth has prevented them from spreading their investments over a sufficiently diverse range of investments.

In some cases, charities may have found that current beneficiaries are at a disadvantage at times when, (as now) the income yields are low, even though capital growth remains healthy.

So the 'total returns' approach has proved to be an increasingly popular approach in recent times.

But that system too has disadvantages. Any fall in share values will need to be built into the calculation of the total return and, where that fall is dramatic; it could result in the total return being negative.

This is something that a charity might be able to accommodate if it already has enough 'spare' reserves from previous years that have not been used to maintain the capital value of the charity, and it can apply some or all of them to maintain the capital value.

But if the unapplied total return is reduced to nil in a negative situation, then under normal circumstances, no funds can be allocated for grants even if the investments in question have produced interest or dividend income.

Another issue is the cap on the amount that charity trustees are permitted to plough back into the investment fund.

It's obvious that it would not be appropriate for Trustees to withhold grants to current beneficiaries by squirreling their investment return away as part of the charity's investment fund, just as it would be inappropriate for them to put future beneficiaries at a disadvantage by spending the whole of the capital growth now.

The Regulations therefore cap the amount that can be reinvested in the investment fund by reference to the rise in the usually either Retail Prices Index (RPI) or the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) or some other equivalent official prices index.

This has caused some concern because (as in recent months) the amount of capital growth expected from investment for capital can reasonably be expected to exceed these rises by a significant margin at times, and linking the cap to the RPI or CPI may have no direct relation to the investments being used.

So there's a lot to think about, especially because the cap will apply even where the charity's investments are producing sufficient income to meet the needs of current beneficiaries.

None of this is straightforward, and it all depends on predictions and perceptions.

At the bottom of this matter are the questions:

  • whether the accumulated capital is sufficient to preserve the grants for future beneficiaries;
  • whether there is more than enough (and if so, whether some could or should be spent); and
  • whether (if it believes it to be a good idea) the Trust should and could provide some of the 50,000 that Fylde has been asked for.

We understand it is sometimes possible to make exceptions with the approval of the Charity Commission, and perhaps this is what Cllr Mrs Oades had in mind when she spoke of variations.

There's one other possibility of course, and that's to use, say, two years of grant aid at 20,000 in one go if the project is deemed to be so worthwhile for the folk in Freckleton.

We can't tell how much (if any) of the current capital in either of these charitable funds is 'surplus' to the needs of preserving the capital value, and without that, it's impossible to say whether any is or should be available be released or not.

As our readers will appreciate, bottoming the matter of this request has not been an easy task.

Whilst Freckleton Parish Council complies with the law, it's not the most transparent of Fylde's Parish Councils.

They only publish their decisions on their website, not their agenda (which would usually be expected to have reports that set out a lot more of what's going on, and which would enable local people to understand what is *to be* discussed, not just what the Council has decided).

We did our best to have a look at the way Freckleton had dealt with the upgrading of the Memorial Gardens

It seems to have begun as far back as November 2011 when Cllr Threlfall said the Council should be contacting FBC to seek funding and advice on how to go about upgrading the park because there were parties willing to set up working groups for such a project.

A year later in October 2012, a lady called Lyn Braithwaite updated the meeting with the progress that the Friends of the Park had made with fund raising and the consultations with the public regarding the requirements for the children's play area on the park. She thought funds would be available from the FBC's public realm, lottery grants and grants from Community social funding. She also said the Parish Council had set aside funding from the Capital expenditure programme. The Parish Council resolved that the Friends group should "produce a master plan of their wish list, with costing, for the Council to approve. They should then approach the various organisations for funding."

In May 2013, it was reported that FBC staff were helping the Friends of the Memorial park to apply for funding.

In November 2013, Cllr Threlfall reported BAE systems had promised to make a donation of 10k and Mark Wilde from FBC was helping with the fund-raising with assistance from Officers from LCC.

In December 2013 Cllr Threlfall reported that he was trying to secure support from the Council, [we assume that's Fylde Council as he was speaking to Freckleton PC] for the 70th Anniversary of the Air disaster.

In May 2014 it was stated that the Friends of the Memorial Park had been invited to apply for a grant from the Freckleton Charities Trust.

In September 2014 some details of the scheme were discussed, and Cllr Threlfall reported that Fylde's Cabinet had given approval for the Parks department to help the Friends of the Park with the design of the re-vamp of the Memorial park

In December 2014 a phasing programme was agreed, and it was stressed that a ball park estimate of Phase 1 costs, should be produced as soon as possible so that the FBC Councillors could progress funding. There was concern that if this was delayed, the funding may not be available.

At a subsequent December meeting the Parish Council asked that the detail plan of phase one (the installation of new play equipment) would be required before the public consultation meeting, and it was resolved to ratify the master plan and the phased implementation.

In January 2015, the Parish Council resolved to grant the re-vamp of the memorial park 3,193 from a total of 8,193 they had received from FBC, in respect of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme which followed a Government grant for a change in the taxbase.

So from this, our readers will be able to see that the scheme for Freckleton has been going on for some time, and things like the masterplan and costings have been dealt with to some extent at least. It is also evident that some significant funding had been promised by BAe in 2013.

That suggests to us that it is poor reporting of the item to Fylde Council which has caused some of the trouble at the budget council - because none of these details was provided for members of the Council to consider.

Furthermore, it does seem that Fylde and LCC's officers have been involved and have advised Freckleton on the seeking of external grant aid.

Again, that was not reported to Fylde's Council meeting.

So it looks to us as though two of the three main planks of the argument calling for a delay in order to find out more details can be probably be satisfied relatively easily.

The two issues that (in our view) then remain, are whether this scheme should, in effect, have special treatment, and receive the 50,000 grant from FBC when other parishes in similar situations with equally worthwhile claims, have already been refused, and whether those charitable organisations and the parish Council in Freckleton with funding in the bank ought to be asked whether they will shoulder more of the burden.

There's also a side issue in that most of the other park revamps which have taken place throughout Fylde have had a very substantial grant from the environmental grant income that arises from the artificially high charge for landfill waste that's made in order to discourage the use of landfill as a method of waste disposal. That funding stream doesn't seem to have been sought or probed by Freckleton and its advisers, and we wonder why.

This issue of the funding capital spending in parishes is one of the (probably unintended) consequences of transferring control of open spaces to parish councils.

Since that happened, there was (and until now, has remained) an assumption that parishes would also be responsible for 'their own' capital expenditure on parks because the responsibility for looking after them was transferred - and is now paid only by people within that parish (rather than being shared between all residents in Fylde).

In smaller parishes (though not so much in the more populous areas like Freckleton) this was a disastrous move for the longer term.

In a parish with 1000 or less electors (roughly 500 households who pay council tax), - which includes Elswick, Little Eccleston, Clifton, Treales, Roseacre and Wharles, Greenhalgh, Singleton, and Weeton), spending 150,000 to revamp a park or play area becomes almost impossibly expensive for such a small taxbase.

We warned about that at the time parishes were so keen to take on self determination of their parks and open spaces, but it fell on stony ground.

Be that as it may, the matter at Freckleton comes back to the Full Council meeting on Monday, and there are some very significant changes to what was previously reported.

Chief amongst these is that the new report no longer says it is a request from Freckleton Parish Council. It has morphed into a request from the Park Friends Group (and the report implies the Parish Council have simply asked on their behalf).

Addressing this change, the report to Fylde's Full Council says "The Friends Group has submitted confirmation that they were actively seeking funding support from Fylde Council as well as other organisations and that they were aware of the request made on their behalf by the Parish Council and fully supported that request."

That looks pretty much like a (poorly organised) fudge to us.

The cost of the scheme is now estimated to be between 160,000 and 180,000 and the Friends Group say they now have pledges or actual cash of 45,000, including a promise from Freckleton Parish Council of 20,000

The report continues "Cabinet's proposal within the agenda papers at Budget Council on 3rd March was to contribute 50,000 to the Friends of Freckleton Memorial Park group, the funding would not go to or be managed by Freckleton Parish Council. When the scheme design and funding package is completed Fylde Council would act as accountable body and administer, procure and deliver the scheme on behalf of the friends group through the Parks Development Team."

That's pretty much not what the previous report said.

It was undoubtedly a request from Freckleton Parish Council.

As we said, we specifically asked about this after the meeting and were told it was a request from Freckleton Parish Council and that's why the Freckleton Councillors declared a prejudicial interest and took no part in the debate. (If the request had actually been from the Friends Group the Councillors probably need only have declared a personal - if any - interest).

It's also not what Cllr Mrs Buckley told the Cabinet on 11 February 2015 when she said "The final item to consider then on the proposals is a grant of funding to Freckleton for Freckleton Memorial Park, which is part of a capital scheme that the Parish Council have worked up to the tune of 150,000.....".

That appears to us as though at that time, she thought the grant request was from and for Freckleton Parish Council.

So the report's morphing of it being a request from the 'Friends' group looks very much like a change to what Budget Council was told as far as we can see.

The report also has another interesting change.

To date, we've seen no decision by Fylde to accept 'Accountable Body' status on behalf of the Friends group as the current report suggests will happen.

'Accountable Body' status means that Fylde will be legally responsible for managing the money and the project, and we think if that were the case, Fylde would have needed to include the whole of the estimated 160,000 to 180,000 cost in its Capital estimates, (not just the grant of 50,000) with funding shown as grant income alongside the (currently provisional) 50,000 from Fylde.

That's because back in 2008, when the King George's Playing Field in St Annes was up to be re-vamped, a 'Briefing Note for Chair of Policy & Service Review Scrutiny Committee' and a 'Cabinet Report' said: "Assuming that the Council is to act as accountable body, arrangements must be made to reflect this in the Council's statement of accounts. Assuming also that the total cost of such schemes is covered by external contributions then such transactions can be regarded as "fully funded". However, because any such transactions need to be identified in the accounts and because the total sum in relation to the King George 5th scheme is over the "key decision" threshold, the issue need to be addressed through the Council's decision-making processes."

That's another reason why we think there's a fudge going on.

Monday's report then goes on to say:

"Delivery of the project would be through the Parks Development process with all procurement and project management undertaken by officers from the Parks & Greenspace Team. If members are minded to approve the bid they may wish to consider the application of conditions. The following suggestions are examples of conditions and not an exhaustive list:

  1. The project being managed and the money spent through Fylde Council's parks development processes
  2. Confirmation that funding is in place to fund the whole project (above) before going out to tender/reporting to committee (this ensures that the funding raised to date can be used as match funding for the remainder, instead of simply spending what is in place to date and developing the project piecemeal)
  3. That a time limit is placed on securing the total project funding and that if the project funding has not been secured within the time limit the contribution is rescinded and returned to the capital investment reserve.
  4. That Fylde Borough Council receive full publicity for its contribution in any publicity/communication released, including onsite notice boards"

To us, that reads as though a rapid game of officer catch-up is going on here.

This sort of basic administration should all have been sorted out long before the report got to the previous Budget council meeting.

So either this approach of having Fylde as the 'Accountable Body' was not the original plan, and they've had to rapidly change horses mid-stream, or Fylde's officers have been incredibly lax in the job they ought to have been doing in presenting this matter to Council.

We suspect it's the former.

The new report concludes "The Constitution requires a report being presented to the relevant service committee after May 2015 to satisfy financial regulations and draw down any capital funding for a project."

It also says "Should Members resolve to leave the 50,000 within the Council's approved capital programme for the Freckleton Memorial Park scheme then in line with the draft Constitution a further report will be required in due course to be approved by the Tourism and Leisure Committee drawing down the funding and setting out full details of the scheme to be delivered, including the full cost details, revenue implications, procurement path and method of financing."

That requirement reinforces our view about what has gone on here.

In effect it says the I's are not dotted and the T's are not crossed, and if Fylde is to become the Accountable Body then there's a lot more work to be done to get the scheme to a stage where it can be approved by the Council.

To us, that seems to vindicate Cllr Mrs Oades contribution to the budget debate when she proposed the amendment that would keep the money in Fylde's accounts as being available for Freckleton if it was needed, but not agree to its use at the present time.

She was absolutely right to challenge the matter at budget Council and, even if - as we expect - the Conservative Group use their majority at Monday's Council to make sure the decision is taken in favour of the grant, it looks as though it can't actually finally be decided until after May 2015 - because at present, the scheme does not appear to satisfy Fylde's financial regulations, and even the majority party can't change that.

So they should probably be grateful to Cllr Mrs Oades and her colleagues for raising the matter at Budget Council, and stopping them voting for something that would probably have been outside Fylde's constitutional authority and thus required an intervention from their Monitoring Officer.

The best we can hope for the future is that, as our leader graphic implies, this chaotic meeting is a prelude to great change at Fylde.

Dated:  29 March 2015

After publishing the above, we were contacted by Cllr Fiddler who told us that neither he nor Cllr Threlfall had joined the meeting of other Conservatives during the adjournment. We made the statement that they had done so in good faith, having been told by one Councillor present at the budget council meeting, and had it confirmed by another. However we are happy to take Cllr Fiddler's denial on this matter and have struck out the reference to it from the article. Readers will note that in several places in the article we had been at pains to point out that it was not something either of them had initiated, and we said that we made or implied no criticism of the two Councillors concerned. That remains the case. If anything we publish is factually incorrect, we will always make a correction on request. In this instance we accept that Cllr Fiddler will know what happened as well as anyone, and we are happy to take his word. We apologise to the Councillors concerned for what appears to have been incorrect information that was provided to us

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