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The New Committees: Full Council

The New Committees: Full CouncilEncouraging (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 report in this septuple of articles.

This Full Council Meeting    needs a bit of an introduction of its own.
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In the 'old days'  each of the Committees came to a provisional decision and passed that as  a recommendation to the meeting of the Full Council, where all 51 Councillors we elect from across all the wards and parishes across the whole of the Fylde, (from Squires Gate Lane to Lytham, to almost Lea in Preston in the south east, and the Great Eccleston boundary in the North) actually took the decisions.

Mostly they rubber stamped what had been proposed by the Committees, but the process gave all councillors the right to speak - to propose a reference back for reconsideration or for a wording change, and to call for a vote on any matter that was of interest to their electorate which had been on any of the Committee agendas.

At the present time, Fylde has implemented a modified version of the Committee system where Committees themselves take the final decisions unless 10 or more people say they want an item on a committee agenda to be removed for consideration by the full Council, or where the same number of people (within 6 days of a decision being taken), call for that decision to be suspended, and the matter be re-considered by the full council.

So the full council becomes Fylde's formal 'scrutiny' system, and it decides overall policy and the annual budget.

Readers will see that the Conservative majority at Fylde, has implemented a committee system which is as close as they can get to the ethos of the former Cabinet system. As Cllr Mrs Oades said in the Finance and Democracy Committee.

It's not the Cabinet, as we shall see, but it is closer to that than we would like.

Unusually, this Council meeting actually has the minutes of each of the committees on it's agenda, so it looked as though there was going to be some connection between the Council and the decisions taken by the Committees. We thought that was worth a look so we went along.

We were not disappointed.

The meeting was of interest partly because of several democracy and procedural issues that were raised there, and partly because of the bombshell that was exploded in the last item - where the Conservative group forced through big increases in the cash allowances paid to - in particular - Committee Chairman and Vice Chairmen, and an absolutely huge increase in the allowance paid to Council Leader Cllr Susan Fazackerley.

FULL COUNCIL  6 July 2015
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For the new councillors, this was their first experience meeting of the very formal (although these days a bit less than it used to be) Council as a corporate body.

We are very pleased that Full Council is now accorded the status it deserves as the supreme decision-making body for local people in Fylde Borough.

It was always a complete nonsense that a Cabinet of 7 or 8 elected members was allowed to override the will of 52 elected members. It defied common sense altogether.

So what of the full Council meeting itself?

Well, there were actually two meetings in one. The first was a special meeting to consider awarding the accolade of Honorary Alderman to Cllr Dawn Prestwich and Cllr Howard Henshaw, both of which were passed nem-con. It is tradition at Fylde that anyone serving more than 20 as a Councillor should become an Honorary Alderman if they retire from Civic Life and this meeting was no exception.

Immediately following this meeting was the scheduled business meeting of the Council.

We had been puzzled when we saw one item on the agenda which consisted of the minutes of the recent committee meetings and the minutes of some of the Cabinet and other committees under the old Cabinet system.

There was an obvious need for the Council to confirm the minutes of its own last meeting. There was an equally obvious need for the minutes of the final Scrutiny Committees to be approved by some body, and there was no longer a Cabinet that could do so (even though that's not what the agenda said they were on it  for).

So it seemed logical to us that they should be approved by full Council.

We also found it heartening to see the Minutes of the last Cabinet listed there as well - because to us, that seemed to re-inforce the supremacy of the full Council over the former Cabinet, exactly as it should be.

But given that the new Committee system features autonymous committees (except if ten councillors ask for an item or decision to be referred to the next meeting of the Full Council), we couldn't exactly see why the minutes of those recent Committee meetings were on the Council agenda.

If it was a case of informing all members of the decisions taken, that could have been done by circulating the minutes.

Indeed, given that Fylde has (foolishly and unnecessarily in our view), implemented a post-decision time limit of 6 working days for a decision to be challenged, then circulating the minutes soon after the meeting (and not waiting until full council to inform members) is virtually essential.

That's because - as Fylde's Constitution says "...the 'recovery period' means, in relation to a decision, the period of six working days commencing with the day of the meeting that made the decision..."

So for all councillors to know what decisions were made (and thus be able to institute the 'recovery' process if they wish to do so), the minutes must have to be pretty sharp in being written and circulated to all members.

So we were curious about what exactly the various minutes were doing on the agenda.

The Mayor introduced the first of them as "Agenda item2: Confirmation of Minutes. I will propose from the Chair that the minutes of the previous [full Council] meeting held on 20th May 2015 be confirmed as a correct record" Cllr Fazackerley seconded them, (again illustrating the supremacy of the Mayor and Full Council, because under the old Cabinet System, the Leader would have proposed them), and the minutes were accepted without comment or dissent.

The Mayor then said "Item number 3, the Committee minutes on page 3 of the agenda.

I'd like to propose that the minutes from the former Scrutiny Meetings are approved so that they can be formally signed off, and confirmation of the minutes from the first cycle of Committee meetings. It is intended that, in future, the minutes from the Committees will only come before the full Council in the event of the recovery of a decision."

Cllr Fazackerley rose to speak, she said "Mr Mayor, I'm happy to second that proposal"

Now, this looks to us like a classic Fylde Fudge.

We believe, as we have always believed, that the minutes of Committees should be approved by a meeting of the full Council.

In other words, The committees should be making recommendations to the full Council for it's approval. That's what appeared to have happened here.

To change that process would - we believe - require a formal decision of the Full council to delegate its power to the Committees.

But we suspect that's what some members of the Council - and perhaps some of the officers - think they did at this meeting.

We don't.

And we suspect when other members of the Council reflect on exactly what has been said, they too will wonder whether or not that is the case.

The key issue will be the quotation from the Mayor which said "It is intended that, in future, the minutes from the Committees will only come before the full Council in the event of the recovery of a decision." and specifically, whether approving that statement constitutes a decision by the Council to agree to that process.

It *was* part of the Mayor's proposition, and on one interpretation, it may be argued that the full Council has now been persuaded into agreeing to this procedure - by voting for his proposition.

On another interpretation, it is something which was a matter of 'information and clarification' that was provided as additional information as the full Council approved the minutes of the first cycle of Committees.

The 'Fylde Fudge' (as we expect to refer to it in future), leaves the matter in a grey area, but we suspect the majority-group members and officers (and it's difficult to say exactly where this fudge arose) will expect it to be cast in stone from now on.

But we believe it can be changed at any time by a simple majority vote of the Full Council.

That's not going to happen anytime soon of course, with the Conservative majority as it is, but we will be reminding folk of the possibility of making such a change from time to time.

Before the vote could be taken, Cllr Peter Collins (we think unwittingly) exposed the flaw in this matter.

He said "Mr Mayor, does this mean that the minutes of the meeting that have been held since the election can still be challenged, or are they being accepted by the Council tonight?"

We are entirely clear that, based on what the Mayor had proposed, the Council was being asked to confirm the minutes of the first cycle of Committee meetings. His words could not have been more clear.

But he was unsure of what answer to give. So he turned to the Chief Executive, who turned to the Director of Resources for an answer.

She said "They are brought before you this evening for accuracy purposes to confirm that they are an accurate record of what transpired at the particular meeting, so it is to clarify, not to re-open discussion or debate about any of the particular matters. There are other mechanisms through the Constitution to allow that going forward if members so wish."

Clear as mud we thought, and another side effect of the 'Fylde Fudge'.

The purpose of confirming *it's own* minutes as an accurate record is indeed (and has always been) the limiting scope for debate when a Council or a Committee considers its own minutes.

But this was not only the Council considering its own minutes, it was Council considering the minutes of various now supposedly autonomous committees, and it was therefore not appropriate for the full Council to confirm them as a correct record of what had 'transpired' at the meetings in this way - unless all the councillors had been at each of them.

If (as the Mayor had implied) they were being voted on that night, the minutes of those meetings should have been proposed as a correct record by their relevant Chairmen, duly seconded and voted on.

But that didn't happen.

Cllr Collins (who is not someone to get easily confused) was still (we think understandably) not clear about the process.

He said "It does say, No1 in the item, any matters of accuracy should be raised at the next meeting of the relevant Committee. Now, I want to question the accuracy of the minutes of the Development Management Committee held on 17th. There is a Development Management Committee the coming Wednesday, should I be raising this matter then, or now?"

The officer answered "Just to clarify, through the Mayor, you should raise it at the meeting of the Development Management Committee"

We were now totally confused (as no doubt our readers will be as well).

The Mayor had just called for confirmation of the minutes of the first cycle of Committees (including Development Management). It had been duly seconded by the Leader of the Council, and as soon as that vote was taken, as far as we can see, the minutes would have been confirmed as a correct record of the meeting.

So we believe Cllr Collins should have been advised to raise the matter there and then, at Council.

But he was not. So either the proposition that the Council were invited to vote upon was wrong and should not have been allowed, or the minutes were confirmed when the vote to approve them was taken.

So we wouldn't be surprised if Cllr Collins was told on 17th that the minutes had already been approved and there's nothing he can do.

Cllr Keith Beckett spoke next to say the former Committee system saw the Committees make recommendations to the Council, and the Council would then ratify or change the decisions that had been taken and he had hoped that was the way the Council would operate now.

This time the Chief Executive answered "Through the Mayor, this time the Constitution agreed that - the working group that formed the Constitution that was approved at this Council - is that the decisions will be made at the parent Committees unless, of course there is recovery or the call-in of them."

After that, the vote was taken on the motion proposed by the Mayor and seconded by Cllr Fazackerley, and it became the resolution of the Council.

We don't think the Chief Executive's explanation made things much clearer at all, and so far as we can see, there are two possibilities:

Either the Mayor and Cllr Fazackerley's proposition to confirm the minutes of the post-election committees was constitutionally improper and the minutes were only presented for noting (as the agenda said). But, having said that, the Mayor's proposition was what the Council voted on.

Or

The Council *was* required to vote on them, and to confirm that in future they would not do so - in which case the Mayor's and Cllr Fazackerley's proposition was what was intended, and the agenda statement about them being just for noting was either wrong or misleadingly phrased.

Either way, in our view there remains a great deal of uncertainty about the authority for decisions and minutes that were made at this meeting.

It's usual that in cases of conflict or uncertainty such as this, either the most recent decision of the Council is the one that stands, or the decision of the Mayor is final.

In either of these alternatives were to be applied, the Committee minutes were approved by the Full Council.

Not an auspicious start. Muddy waters.

The next agenda item of any significance came as questions from members of the public.

This facility has changed a bit since the Committee system was introduced. It now allows a question to be asked, and one supplementary follow up question to be asked, provided that it relates directly to the answer that has been given to the first question.

The first question was about Fylde's new governance arrangements: "Fylde's current Constitution empowers the Full Council to set the terms of reference for Committees. It has done so and, most of those committees may now "establish any Working Group to consider, and make recommendations, on any issues within the remit of the committee's terms of reference."

And my question is: To whom may a Working Group make such recommendations - to the full Council, or only to the Committee from which they were formed?"


Cllr Fazackerley answered, saying "As illustrated within the question, a Committee can establish any working group it thinks necessary, to consider and make recommendations on issues within its own remit. This provision is contained within the Council's terms of reference. If a working party has been established and reviewed a matter and made subsequent recommendations, these recommendations would then be duly considered by the Committee which established the working party. The Committee would have the ability to make a decision based on the deliberations of the working group and its subsequent recommendations"

There was a supplementary question.

It was "Given that Working groups will take their own decisions on what recommendations they will make,  are they therefore technically classed as sub-committees of the Committee that spawned them?

The answer was "The Working Group will make recommendations, it will not make decisions, the Committee will make the decision"

We didn't exactly think that was a proper answer to the supplementary question asked. But it is the one that was given.

The next public question came from (former Cllr) Kevin Eastham. He asked a complicated question that has also been taxing us for a while. It relates to the changes at Blackpool Airport, and the creation of the Enterprise Zone there.

We plan to have a look at this matter in some detail in the near future, but in essence he was concerned that because the Airport owners have development powers that do not require planning permission from the Local authority if the development is for 'operational' airport purposes, then the creation of the Enterprise Zone might allow Balfour Beatty to change some of the existing 'operational' uses into more lucrative land uses, and to replace the 'lost' operational use elsewhere on the airport - perhaps even within Fylde's Green Belt, where they may do so without needing planning permission.

In effect, he was concerned about the potential for what we might term 'Planning Laundering' - and he wanted to know what was Fylde's position on the Enterprise Zone, and what is the significance and impact of its status on the green belt.

Cllr Fiddler responded to say that after jet flights finished, the concept of the Enterprise Zone was put forward "primarily to maintain and promote the residual airport operations". He said that when Fylde was consulted on the proposal to create the Enterprise Zone, "it was very supportive, provided there was a guarantee that Fylde's green belt policies would not be compromised. Such a guarantee has been given"

Turning to the second issue he said the simple answer was that it would not materially or significantly affect the green belt. He said the development rights enjoyed by airports were granted by Parliament, and with or without the enterprise zone, those rights continued to exist, so the Enterprise Zone as such would not make any difference to the rights and powers for airport development.

The supplementary question was whether, in discussions with the promoters of the Enterprise Zone Cllr Fiddler had asked them why - if the green belt was not to be affected - why did they include it in the green belt?, and had it been suggested to them that it might be better if the boundary of the Enterprise Zone didn't include the green belt, so that all would be very clear.

Cllr Fiddler referred to historic concerns on this matter by former Cllr Eastham who had wanted the Council to support an 'Article 4 Directive' (which had it been successful would have removed the overriding development rights that the airport owners enjoy). He argued that the question was "irrelevant" in terms of the Enterprise Zone impacting on the development of the green belt. He said if the airport owners wanted to do development now that met the 'operational need' criteria, they could do it, irrespective of the Enterprise Zone.

A polite, but clearly angry, questioner sought further clarification because he didn't think the question had been answered, but the Mayor would not allow him to continue.

He tried several times, but was eventually told there would be no further discussion of the matter at this meeting.

We think this the Enterprise zone and it's potential impact is something that needs another dose of looking at, and we hope to do so fairly soon.

And with that, the Council meeting went onto its subsequent agenda items with the appointments to outside bodies.

Cllr Fazackerley said it was for the Council to make the appointments, but they had first sought nominations from the Programme Committees.

She clarified the position about the representatives being drawn only from the relevant Committee saying "Although desirable, it is not essential that these nominations arise from the Committee to which the appointment relates."

So, the horse's mouth had also contradicted the impression Cllr Aitken had given to his committee as he has sought not to recommend Cllr Mrs Oades and put himself and Cllr Speak (who had not been present at the committee meeting) forward.

And with that, she put forward some changes to the recommendations from the Committees.

They were Cllr Linda Nulty to CAB, The Mayor to the Community Projects Fund, Cllr Ed Nash to the North West of England and the Isle of Man Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, Cllr Angela Jacques to the Ormerod Trust, Cllr Liz Oades to the Police and Crime Commissioner Panel.

To us, that seemed a small victory for common sense, given the clumsy attempt that has been made to remove Cllr Mrs Oades at Cllr Aitken's Committee.

There were a couple of proposals from non-conservative councillors to make further changes, but they were defeated by overwhelming vote of the majority party.

Then we came to the bombshell item - Members' Allowances

The agenda item said that (as usual) the Independent Review Panel that Fylde had appointed to make recommendations on allowances had done so to the 26th January Council.

Their recommendations had been implemented on an interim basis, pending further consideration (notably because of the change to the Committee system).

The report noted that by law, a 'Basic Allowance' must be paid to all members of the Council.

This is essentially to do with remuneration that compensates for, for example, loss of wages when attending meetings, and the time taken in dealing with constituents and so on.

It is an allowance paid irrespective of how much or how little is done by an individual, and it's not related to the level of responsibility they may have.

All Councils in the UK (except Town and Parish Councils) have to pay the basic allowance, though the amount is set locally.

It's also separate from certain expenses that Councillors may claim against approved items of spending (typically mileage expenses per mile or other travel expenses on Approved Duties, and some other expenses such as accommodation and refreshment, for example). These expenses are available for any Councillor to claim, but not all do so. We know of several who say the basic allowance meets what they believe to be their reasonable needs, and they do not submit expenses claims. These (and the allowances) are a matter of public record for each councillor.

Finally, there is another allowance, called a 'Special Responsibility Allowance' which Councils may choose to pay to their members. Payment of this is not a legal requirement (as the Basic Allowance is), it is a discretionary payment made to compensate those who have additional responsibilities - typically Committee Chairmen (or Cabinet members under the Executive system).

Fylde chose to make such payments when the option was introduced and, to be fair, in comparison with most other Councils, Fylde's payments are lower.

But then Fylde is one of the smallest Councils in the country and if you take Lancashire and compare Fylde's allowances against other councils on a 'per elector' basis, or on a 'per £ of Council spending' basis - which (so far as the Remuneration Panel is concerned) we don't think they've ever looked at (although we have) - then within Lancashire, Fylde is not the lowest remunerated Council, in some instances it is already quite high.

But it is true that even when the Panel has recommended increases in the past, they have by no means always been implemented by Councillors.

We don't support the paying of allowances at all. We strongly oppose them in principle. Even the Basic Allowance that Fylde is obliged to pay by law is a bad approach in our view. We are entirely happy with the full re-imbursement of legitimate expenses for things like mileage and travel and subsistence - expenses that are claimed against out of pocket costs. But just as Fylde's Parish and Town Councils are not paid, we don't think other councillors should be paid either.

It's not a popular view amongst councillors, but that's where we come from, and as far as Fylde is concerned, we would pay the legally required 'Basic Allowance' together with proper out of pocket expenses, but not any other allowances.

Fylde's Remuneration Panel Don't share that view, and in January, having considered both the difficult financial straits facing Fylde, and the changes that Governance would bring, they said "The Panel felt considerable responsibility to not further add to the Councilís financial burden by recommending increases to membersí allowances" so they mostly said 'carry on as before'  and they recommended Fylde to pay:

BASIC ALLOWANCE

  • Maintain the present level £3,500 per Councillor for 2015/16 .


EXPENSES

  • To continue to pay travel and subsistence allowances, with an increase in the mileage rate to 45p per mile
  • To continue to pay dependentsí carersí allowance at the current rate


SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY ALLOWANCES
To recognise the change in governance with the following changes to the Members special responsibility allowance per year:

  • Leader of the Council - £6,000
  • Deputy Leader of the Council - £3,000
  • Six Committee Chairmen (except as below) - £3250.00 each.
  • Six Vice-Chairmen of the above Committees - £1,625.00 each
  • Chairmen of the Public Protection and Licensing Committees - £1,625.00 each
  • Vice-Chairmen of the Public Protection and Licensing Committees - £812.50 each
  • Leader of each political group - £32 per group member.
  • To continue to pay £250 per annum to each of the three Independent persons, who work with the Standards and Audit Committee and the Monitoring Officer.

The report to this Full Council meeting in July restated these arrangements and the report of January 2015 (which had been implemented pro-tem since), and which invited the Council to reconsider the recommendations of the Independent Remuneration Panel, and to make any changes to the scheme of membersí allowances as they saw fit.

As ever, the report included the proviso that in doing so, the law required councillors to 'have regard' to the recommendations of the Independent Remuneration Panel.

We though there was something in the offing here. The Officer report has a box at the end in which the implications of decisions have to be specified. The Finance box said "The provision for the cost of Membersí Allowances within the approved revenue budget for 2015/16 is in the sum of £240,138. Any increases in allowance levels would therefore result in increased revenue costs."

And that's just where the debate went.

It was Princess Karen who led on this item. She said "It falls to me to have the pleasure to speak to this item" We pretty much figure that was tongue in cheek.

She went on "Having looked carefully at the proposals, and taking into account the information that went before the Independent Review Panel, looking at the allowances across Lancashire in general, and also giving due regard to the changes in governance, I am proposing some amendments to various allowances this evening."

After thanking the Panel and noted that Fylde had been reluctant to make the increases they had recommended in the past, she went on to say "Having said that, I am about to propose that we again divert from some of their suggestions, and I will explain why.

The Basic Allowance of £3,500 was last set at this level in 2006, so some nine years ago. If that had increased in line with inflation from that time, the figure would be slightly over £4,500 today. But if you go back further, to 2001, when the Basic Allowance was £2,500.... and applied inflationary changes from that date, we arrive at a figure of slightly over £3,700 today. And it is therefore the lower of the two figures that I am using as a comparator. Looking across Lancashire, the level of Basic Allowance varies enormously, from £1,500 to £8,000. My proposal this evening is to set the level of the Basic Allowance at Fylde at £3,750 with effect from 7th May."

That's actually an increase of £250 (just over 7%) on the £3,500 proposed by the Panel.

She said "We are, as Council will know, embarking on a radical shift in governance which alters the responsibilities and the workload on councillors. It is important to recognise that whilst individuals' authority may be less, for instance, a Chairman does not have the ability to make a decision on their own, as a Portfolio Holder did, workload is just as onerous, if not moreso. Indeed and I refer to the report of the Independent Remuneration Panel, where they recognise this, and they state, and I quote 'The change in governance would place more responsibility on the Chairmen of the new programme committees.' So there's clearly a recognition from the Remuneration Panel of the onerous responsibility of these new Committees."

We noted that she didn't go on to quote the next sentence in the report that said 'The Panel felt considerable responsibility to not further add to the Councilís financial burden by recommending increases to membersí allowances.' or the sentence a couple of lines before which said 'In common with other councils, the financial settlement for Fylde continued to be extremely challenging. The council continues to explore all opportunities to reduce expenditure through efficiency saving schemes'.

But she did go on to say "And I propose to set the level of the Special Responsibility Allowances, bearing in mind their comments, as follows:

  • For the Chairmen of the five programme committees, at the level of £4,000
  • Their Vice Chairmen at half that at £2,000
  • For the Chairman of the combined Audit and Standards Committee at £3,250 (as the Independent Remuneration Panel report)
  • And Vice Chairman at £1,625
  • For the Chairman of Licensing £1,625
  • And the Chairman of Public Protection at £1,625 again in line with the Remuneration report
  • And the Vice Chairmen at 50% of these figures at £812.50
  • The position of the Member Development Steering group has not, so far, attracted an allowance, and yet that work, the work that is done is considerable, and ensures that training for members is relevant and frequent. I particularly commend the training arranged for new members, and I'm sure they have hugely benefited from it. I propose to address that anomaly, and put forward a modest allowance for the chairman of £2,000.
  • The Independent Remuneration Panel recommended an allowance for the Deputy Leader at £3,000 which I propose is confirmed, along with recommendations for mileage, time limits for claims, carers allowance, payments to independent persons, and payments to group leaders.

Then it came.

"The position of Leader of the Council however is not, in my opinion, adequately addressed in the recommendations.

This is where the difference between workload and formal responsibilities is very stark.

And I am not certain what level of information was put before the Panel for their deliberations. And the reason I say this is because of the statement in the report which says, an again I quote '..formal responsibilities would be confined to answering, or choosing another member to answer, questions from members of the public at council meetings.'

I know from working with our present and past leaders that the workload demanded of the Leader of the Council is substantial, and I have asked Cllr Fazackerley to provide me with a snapshot of her role and the wider responsibilities she performs as Leader"


There followed a (predictably) long list of meetings she attended, (at least some of which were clearly her own choice and not a requirement of the post). We suspect most busy councillors could produce a list just as long, if not longer.

We struggle with this concept because the clue is in the official name of the allowance: it is for 'Special Responsibility', and not in any way connected with effort or workload.

Cllr Buckley continued "Again I look across Lancashire at the Districts, the average Special Responsibility Allowance for a Leader across the Lancashire Districts, just the districts, is £10,782 I therefore propose to increase the Leader's Allowance at Fylde to £10,000.

These proposals amount to a total of £56,318 Special Responsibility Payments which compared to £60,888 under the previous governance system, so I am proposing an overall reduction in Special Responsibility Payments."


You couldn't make it up, could you? It's comparing apples and pears. Talk about twisted logic. The overall cost was undoubtedly going up, but she focussed on the Special Responsibility Payments (under a completely different set of responsibilities), which were less.

We were reminded of the famous David Brent sketch where - when telling his staff they were being made redundant in a re-structuring - added that he had got a promotion in the same re-structure, and that he wondered why they all looked glum and were not happy for him.

We struggled to be happy for her, too.

Cllr Mrs Buckley concluded "These proposals, taken in their entirety, together with provision for expenses and National Insurance require an increase in the budget of £8,180 and I therefore propose an unfunded budget increase in that amount."

There's so much wrong here that we don't know where to start.

We know we're going to be out of step with the rest of the world when we say that, for the most part, given that Fylde is obliged by law to pay the Basic Allowance which is the lions share of the total cost, we can't really get excited about the amounts that Councillors believe is due to them by way of an increase. It's not that big a deal for us. An extra £8k a year is really neither here nor there.

But there is a great deal wrong with what Fylde's Conservatives have done here.

We are concerned that the change will, in future, be used to justify the claim that the Committee system costs more than the Cabinet system and that would be used as an excuse to change back to a Cabinet in 10 years time.

And it *is* just Fylde's Conservatives who took this decision to increase their allowances, because every other councillor (except the Mayor who remained neutral and abstained) voted against it. Many said they were appalled and horrified at what the Conservatives had done.

So why are we worried about what happened if we're not that bothered about the money?

Firstly, and as we have seen to be not uncommon in the past, the Council is being treated with contempt by Cllr Mrs Buckley who dealt with this as an oral amendment.

She failed to produce even copies of a printed page to hand round at the meeting with all the figures on, let alone what should have been done with proper notice. It looked to us very much like she was hoping to spring it on unsuspecting and unprepared councillors. That's most definitely not the right way to do things, and displays an arrogance and disregard for the processes of council that - in our view - amounts to contempt.

And it's not as though she only just decided to propose the amendment on the spur of the moment that evening .

She has known since the last Conservative Group meeting three or more weeks ago that this is what was going to happen.

It was that meeting that took the decision to raise the allowances, especially the allowance for the Leader who was clearly feeling badly done to by losing her Cabinet Portfolio Holder's allowance.

Cllr Fazackerley said as much later in the meeting in the Council meeting "I would just like to make - I find this quite embarrassing - talking about money is embarrassing - and I am obviously one of the people whose allowance has been 'whacked up' to quote a member of the opposition tonight. Can I tell you that my financial position as far as the Council is concerned, is exactly the same - or would be if this goes through - as it was before, because I have lost my Cabinet member's allowance. Now, I could have taken on a Chairmanship of one of the Programme Committees, but I was advised by the Local Government Association - to name one body - not to do that, and to keep a sort of watching brief on all committees rather than take responsibility for one particular committee, and that is why I am not a Committee chairman"

The tone of that pretty much sounds to us like she felt she had lost out and couldn't get it back via a Chairmanship, so another way had to be fixed.

It's true that Cllr Fazackerley was one of the people who has lost out when the grossly inflated sums paid to Cabinet members (who's eight Cabinet meetings a year and Special Responsibility Allowance of £3,500 a year on top of their basic allowance - remunerated them at the equivalent of £500 a meeting) were abandoned in the return to the Committee system.

Sounds to us like she's hoping to get back to where she was before.

Stroud Council - which has already (voluntarily) returned to the Committee system - planed to redistribute some of the former Cabinet Member allowances to other Councillors who would have a bigger role on decision making in committees, *and* as well as that, they said they expected to make savings of £50,000 a year by returning to the Committee System.

Fylde will increase its costs by £8,000 just in payments to councillors.

Secondly, irrespective of the sums involved, the very principle of these increases throws a huge insult into the face of those members of the electorate who are suffering - and about to suffer more - as the Conservatives move to reduce welfare dependency. The timing - more or less at the same time that Greece was almost declared bankrupt and the Government declared a £12 billion reduction in its welfare bill, could scarcely have been more insensitive.

But it was a politically expedient time of course. The accepted wisdom is that unpopular decisions should be taken immediately after an election so the electorate has time to adjust and forget them before the next one. But it was still incredibly insensitive.

Thirdly, the information provided orally by Cllr Buckley was selectively presented. We can (and we're sure our readers will) see holes through many of the arguments she presented.

For example, if we take Cllr Buckley's use of inflation to justify the increase in the basic allowance (£2,500 in 2001 to £3,700 in 2015 - an increase of 48% over the term) and apply that to the Leaders Special Responsibility Allowance over the same period the results are quite startling.

In 2001, (according to the table in the report to the Council) the Council Leader (under the old - and more directly comparable - Committee system) received a total of £4,000 per year.

So applying a 48% increase to that figure suggests that today's Special Responsibility Allowance for the Leader should be £5,920

Not £10,000

But it's actually worse, because that figure of £4,000 a year in 2001 INCLUDED a Basic Allowance of £2,500 which each Councillor received at that time (p21/22 of the Council agenda papers)

So the Special Responsibility Payment itself would have been just £1,500 in 2001.

So applying the 48% increase to that means that today's Special Responsibility Allowance for the Leader should be just £2,220 if Cllr Mrs Buckley's 'inflation' criteria were to be used consistently.

But her proposition was to make the Leader's Special Responsibility Allowance £10,000.

And Cllr Fazackerley will also get the £3,750 Basic Allowance (that all Councillors get) On TOP of that £10,000.

That means the proposal (which all the Conservatives present voted through with their block majority vote) will pay Cllr Susan Fazackerley four and a half times (or more) what she ought to be getting based on inflation applied to the payments made under the old Committee system using Cllr Buckley's logic.

Perhaps she will go down in the annals as 'Fylde's Four Times Fazackerley'

At a time when people are struggling to cope with bills, and visits to foodbanks are increasing, the scale of this increase is no only unjustifiable, it is obscene.

Fourthly, the idea of the Chairman of the Finance and Democracy Committee proposing an 'unfunded budget increase' to pay for the extra allowances is, quite frankly very bad form. What is actually happening here is that she has proposed an increase in spending without saying where the money is coming from. Councillors from other groups ought not to have allowed this to go unchallenged, but it looks as though they missed what was said in the heat of the moment. They ought to have called on Cllr Buckley to say where she would take the money from to fund the extra £8,000

It wouldn't have made any difference to the outcome of course (the scale of the Conservative vote is now such that it would carry the majority almost no matter what), but a key role of those not in the majority party is to hold the powers that be to account, to expose the things they do that are improper - and spending money you haven't got in the budget is one of those things.

There were members who took her to task. First, and not unexpectedly was Saint Paul Hayhurst (fresh from being lauded in other camps as the saviour of residents in Plumpton and Roseacre for his almost single handed success in turning of the County Council fracking vote. He is truly amazing when he sets his mind to something. He was the one who called for the legal opinion regarding the County's competence to issue a refusal to be given to councillors and published for the public to see. It showed that what officers had been telling the Councillors wasn't quite the whole story, and it shifted opinion amongst councillors).

But here he was at Fylde, first to his feet, he said, "I'm absolutely horrified with what I've just heard. The timing of it could not be worse, could it?

Fylde Borough Council has got lots of elderly people on fixed incomes in its borough and here we are, rewarding ourselves with massive increases, particularly at Leader level, for reduced responsibilities."
adding "When the Government is trying desperately hard to reduce public expenditure, and yet we have a Conservative authority here which is going completely in the opposite direction. I'm just appalled by what I've just heard."

Several complained about the 'fag packet' delivery of the amendment where they had to scrabble to make notes of the figures as they were given orally, and Cllr Beckett, supported by Cllr Brickles, proposed an amendment to defer consideration until they had proper information.

That amendment was (as it was always going to be) easily voted down by the Conservative majority.

Cllr Mrs Nulty invoked standing orders to call for a recorded vote on the substantive motion. Such a call only needs five people to support it and it was agreed, so at least readers will be able to see who voted for the increase.

Cllr Liz Oades - always worth listening to said "I'm ashamed to think that one of the first decisions of this new Council is going to be that we are rewarding ourselves with more money, and I certainly can't vote to do that."

She went on to say "I've heard ex-cabinet members say they've lost money under this new system, and I feel that it's quite wrong to even think that.

The Committee system removed decision making from cabinet members, that's what they were paid for, decision taking. The Committee system means that all councillors make decisions. It is no longer with Cabinet members, and Chairmen have no more right to decision making than anybody else"

"I feel that there is no justification for these huge rises and I feel ashamed that we're even discussing this, so I will be voting against this tonight".


Fifthly, Cllr Buckley was keen to quote from the Independent Remuneration Panel, but less keen to use its full story. She did quote just the end of a paragraph though, as readers will see. In respect of the Leader, and considering the role of the Leader in the post-Cabinet age, the full paragraph actually said:

"35. The role of the Leader of the Council will also change significantly. Under the present system, the Leader is responsible for appointing the Cabinet, chairs Cabinet meetings and has authority to take any executive decision on behalf of the council. Those responsibilities will no longer exist under a committee system. The leader would still be expected to be the political figurehead of the council and the leading advocate for local communities. However, his formal responsibilities would be confined to answering, or choosing another member to answer, questions from members of the public at council meetings."

When you see the wider picture, it doesn't quite look the same as the one Cllr Mrs Buckley painted does it?

There are dozens more arguments that expose holes in the logic and the calculations advanced to justify the changes.

But they are irrelevant.

That's because there was never going to be any logic, and there was never going to be any argument, that would change this decision at Fylde Council. It was set in concrete long before the meeting

That's because ahving agreed it at the Conservative Party Group Meeting, all the Conservative members were all required to vote in favour of the increase in allowances.

It had been decided within the Party that this was going to happen, and in such circumstances (as former Cllr Barbara Pagett will tell you), disciplinary action descends on any member who fails to toe the party line.

The party rules say they must support a collective decision, even if they disagree with it. They must not vote against a collective majority party decision that has been made within the party. And they may only abstain or be absent from a Council or committee meeting in very limited circumstances.

Those are the party rules. And to remain a member of the party you have to accept them or leave.

That happened to former Cllr Barbara Pagett. She could not, in all conscience support the introduction of the undemocratic Cabinet system, and voted against it. She was either suspended (or was threatened with suspension) by the Conservative party and she said 'OK, I'm off' - and became an independent councillor and was re-elected by widespread public acclaim at every election until she chose to step down.

That's also what we think happened Peter Wood. Some of our readers will remember, was a bright able young chap who was elected on a Conservative ticket and became, for a while, a member of the Conservative Association Management Team. But he left, disillusioned, partway through his first term and asked us to publish one of his letters.

So, for a number of the newly elected Conservative members, we think the recent Council meeting will have been decidedly uncomfortable. It will have been a baptism of fire for those (and we're sure there will have been some), who fundamentally disagreed with the increase in allowances, but who will have had to put up their hands in support of the vote whilst their heads were down.

That's not at all a comfortable position if you have the integrity to believe that your first responsibility is to your electorate rather than to your party.

So: Cllr Buckley's amendment to the Independent Remuneration Panel's previous recommendation was to increases the allowances and it was voted through.

Voting for the increases (28) were : (All Conservatives)
Councillors Aitken, Akeroyd, Andrews, Blackshaw, Buckley, Cornah, Donaldson, Eaves, Fazackerley, Fiddler, Fradley, Goodman, Green, Harvey, Jacques, Little, B Nash, E Nash, Neale, Pitman, Pounder, Redcliffe, Settle, Singleton, Small, Taylor, Thomas and Willder

Voting against the increases (16) were : Councillors Barker (L), Beckett (I), Brickles (I), Chew (I), Clayton (I), P Collins (I), Ford (LD), Hayhurst (INA), Henshaw (LD), Hodgson (I), Lloyd (FR), Mulholland (INA), Nulty (I), Oades (I), Rigby (I) and Silverwood (I).

Abstentions (1): Councillor Hardy (I) (Mayor)

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


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