The New Committees: Env. Health and Housing
Encouraging (well at least at the start).
That was our impression of the first couple of meetings under the new committee system which is now in operation at Fylde.
Sadly, it went downhill rapidly, and by the end of the cycle of meetings, we were much less hopeful.
We couldn't get to all the meetings, but we did manage most of the 'new' Committees, and it's those we now report vis:
ENVIRONMENT, HEALTH AND HOUSING COMMITTEE 9 June 2015
The next Committee Meeting a few days later, was the new Environment, Health and Housing Committee on 9th June.
Again the opening comments and introductions were very welcoming, but the tone of this meeting as it went on was a bit less consensual than the two previous committees.
That was probably more to do with the style and approach of the Chairman (Cllr Ben Aitken) than it was to do with policy.
To us he seems used to getting his own way, and - again to us - he seems to approach the Committee as he might in his former employment in education. That is to say he seems to expect to lead: to say what's going to happen, and he then invites others
to agree with him, rather than asking for the various views and seeking to devise a consensus or majority agreement.
So we thought his committee was a less pleasant experience than the two previous committees.
It was a bigger, more meaty agenda, with five decision items and three information items, and the Committee got stuck into it.
The first was a proposition referred by Full Council to look at increasing the size of the Crematorium because it is often full to overflowing at present when a large service takes place there.
This idea was (eventually) refused on the basis of cost
(which is, to us, the weakest of arguments as the crematorium is the biggest revenue generating service the Council has, and whatever might be done to increase it's popularity ought to be seen as a good investment).
However, the Committee did agree to
a working group being formed to look at long term issues regarding the crematorium, including capacity, in light of the number of housing developments in and around the borough.
To conclude the debate on this item, the Chairman read out a pre-prepared proposition which was seconded by his colleague, and which held out the promise of another look at the idea in the future. This was carried by a majority vote.
We can't say it *was* the case, but to us, it had the feel of being a
decision that had been sidelined for the moment by the majority group because it had been proposed by an independent member, but we might see it again in the not too distant future
wearing a different hat. At least, that was the impression we took away with us.
One other point of note was in the appointments to outside bodies. This item began by looking like a less-than-satisfactory stitch-up from the majority group to take all the important positions, but quickly fell apart when independent members failed to
rise the bait, and eventually, with (for this committee) 18 positions to fill and only 12 members on the Committee, the requirement to add significantly to the workload of councillors who are already busy people, was actually making the
appointments difficult to fill with majority party members.
There was also one especially awkward moment when the matter of the Police and Crime Commissioner Panel was considered. Cllr Mrs Oades currently occupies this role for Fylde, but is not a member of this Committee.
Seeming to have anticipated this as an issue, Cllr Aitken had earlier said "One of the things I have checked and double checked, and the Leader's here, [in the public gallery] and she will nod or shake her head if she wants to. I did ask could anyone
from outside of this committee take these responsibilities, and the answer was: It is the responsibility of this Committee."
The implication (and certainly the tone in which it was said) undoubtedly led the Committee to believe that it could only be current members of the Committee who could be recommended to represent Fylde on external bodies.
We're pretty sure that's not the case (especially as subsequent committees made appointments from outside their own number, and it is actually Full Council that must take the final decisions).
It seemed to us that this was an intention to remove Cllr Mrs Oades and replace her with a member of the current Committee, and we thought the Chairman's use of language and tone appeared to set out to lead members in this direction.
So when it came to the Police and Crime Commissioner Panel nominations, the Chairman said he was going to put himself forward for that.
Then one independent member said as far as she knew it was usually on Tuesday morning, and it was in Blackburn. To which the Chairman said "Really? Wow! Every single one? To Blackburn? Wow." Adding "So I really need someone else to.... Do you think
Cllr Speak [who was not present at the meeting but is a member of the Committee] would be able to go? Do you think it would be unwise to put her name down, or do you think she'd...." his voice trailed off.
The next decision on this PCC Panel item was to nominate the Chairman (Cllr Aitkin) and Cllr Mrs Speak (who was not present at the meeting) to share the role. But then it seemed as though it was all going to fall on Cllr Speak's shoulders. That was not
the final decision when it went to Full Council however.
One other point of note in this meeting was the appointment of Ratepayer Cllr Roger Lloyd to the 'East Lytham Working Group' (This is a group set up by the Environment Agency to address flood risk and land drainage concerns relating to land east of
Lytham). We have the feeling that's going to prove a very controversial and difficult position for him to be in in the not too distant future, and we look forward to reporting more on it shortly.
Using a scale of 1 to 10, we'd give the conduct of this committee about 5 or 6. 'Patchy' might be a good description.
Sadly, things didn't improve as the Committees cycle went on.
We plan to keep track of the way the committees and the arrangements evolve, and we expect to bring readers further news from time to time.
Dated: 20 July 2015