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The New Committees: Operational Management

The New Committees: Operational ManagementEncouraging (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:

The first meeting in the new system was the Operational Management Committee.

This apt but perhaps un-illuminating name covers the work of the staff and subcontractors who undertake practical service delivery (empty the bins, cut the grass, that sort of thing).

It differs from committees like 'Health and Environment' and 'Leisure' (who all used to manage 'their own' workforces), but when the Local Government Act 1988 introduced and extended 'Compulsory Competitive Tendering' into councils, it in effect separated the role of Client (the Programme Committee who specifies the work to be done) from the role Contractor (who does the actual work to the Specification that has been set), and it is this latter group that fall under the remit of the Operational Management Committee.

The Committee Chairman is Cllr David Eaves, and we think he will be well suited to this role. The Vice Chairman is Cllr Albert Pounder who has a commercial head on his shoulders too.

Cllr Eaves opened the meeting by saying "Good Evening everybody, and welcome to the very first Operational Management Committee meeting. We'll all be renowned for making a little piece of history within this latest move within the Fylde Council and the start of the Committee System".

He went on to welcome those new (and old) to the Council and to have those present to introduce themselves and say where they were from.

He apologised for it being a light agenda that evening but said it would be more meaty in the future. He said there was one item for decision (The rest being marked 'For information'), and that decision item was taken first.

It was to make recommendations to the Full Council about who should be appointed to various outside bodies or working groups to which the Council is invited to send members which were relevant to the Committee's work.

There were only two outside representations to consider (The Lancashire Waste Partnership, and the Fylde Peninsular Coastal Programme Group) together with one (Car parking) working group which the Committee would (re-)populate with Committee members.

Cllr Eaves called for nominations to these bodies, and said he would "sincerely like to hold the Lancashire Waste Partnership role on behalf of the Committee", and he said he would like to nominate Cllr Pounder for the Coastal Programme Group.

Whilst some may say he should have sought open nominations, (and to be fair, he did ask if there were any other nominations), it is not unusual for the Chairman or Vice Chairman to represent the Committee, and all present declared their consent to his proposal.

So far as the Car Parking group was concerned, he asked for volunteers to sit on the group.

Several indicated willingness, and were selected. In this instance the Committee was advised that there was no requirement for the group to be politically balanced to reflect the makeup of the whole Council, but Cllr Eaves said he was happy to make it open to those outside his own party.

His tone and style throughout the meeting was faultless. He allowed ample latitude to both those of his own party and those not of his party to ask questions and make comment as they picked up the threads of items placed before them on the agenda, and he was consensual in style. We thought it was a first class performance as a chairman.

Admittedly it is early days, and it was an exceptionally light agenda with what should have been only one item for decision (the rest were marked 'For Information'), and there was nothing contentious to cause conflict, but the culture of this meeting, and the style and tone of the Chairman were first class.

His approach at this meeting resulted in a harmonious attempt by all present (irrespective of party allegiance) to work together to address problems, and there was no party bickering at all.

We wanted to rung a flag up to celebrate.

It was a real pleasure to see councillors working together for the common good of Fylde.







Next came the Information Items.

Readers will recall that we had worried here that Fylde's political-party-driven opponents of working in Committees might try to stifle debate by adopting something like this 'Information Item' practice.

Whether it happens in this way over time remains to be seen, but the approach set by Cllr Eaves on this occasion was, again, first class. He positively encouraged discussion and debate equally from all shades of opinion on the Committee.

Better still, when the Committee had been briefed on a matter that will become a huge problem for Fylde (when LCC remove -in our case 700,000 - of their funding support for Fylde's re-cycling scheme - as they are doing to varying values in all Lancashire Boroughs), Cllr Eves said that Cllr Mrs Buckley (who was in the Public Gallery) had expressed a wish to address the Committee and when the Committee had finished on this item, he invited her to speak.

So here was a non-committee member being invited to speak at the Committee meeting. (Such a practice would be unthinkable under the former Cabinet System).

Cllr Mrs Buckley - who has her hand very firmly around Fylde's Finances - spoke about the LCC's decision. She said "This item comes before this Committee for 'Information Only' and therefore for no particular resolution or proposals to be made. But I would like to ask you to consider a resolution or a proposal tonight, because my deep concern is about the lack of action and the delay that has gone on since Lancashire County Council made their decision to pull out of the cost sharing arrangement.

It is some time ago now that we were notified of this and there's been quite a lot of talk since that time, but very little action, if any at all. And the urgency will not rest with Lancashire County Council because they have made their decision. There's nothing for them - they can now sit back - they've made their decision. We are the ones that are going to be three quarters of a million pounds worse off come 2018/19.

So my request to you Chairman is that we put some timeframe around this please, because if we just wait until something comes out of Lancashire County Council, it may not do so. Therefore the Districts should be more pro-active in doing something because it's the Districts that are taking a hit, and a very large hit at that.

And if we are not able to work with the Districts in order to seek an alternative arrangement, it will be for this Council to look at how can we save three quarters of a million pounds from this area, or across the whole Council as a whole, because we cannot afford to be going anywhere near 2018/19 and not have this resolved.

My nervousness always, at using - we have robust reserves - but my nervousness always going into those reserves, because looking to the future, and seeing such a large revenue deficit falling upon this council. So that's why I asked to speak tonight Chairman. It's for you and the Committee to consider putting some timeframe around this; a two-pronged approach really, one that we work with District Councils to move forward with this work - because it will be for District Councils to do this work, whether or not in conjunction with Lancashire County Council, and secondly, for our own operational department to start to consider other ways in which we can make up that shortfall should it come to pass."

We'll look at the detail of what's going on with LCC in a future article, but we were pleased to see Cllr Mrs Buckley using her position as a non-committee member to try to influence the Committee.

We were even more impressed when Cllr Eaves then encouraged frank and open debate on the proposal by all the Committee.

His approach paid dividends because it was non-Conservative councillors proposed and seconded more or less what Cllr Buckley had asked them to do.

And (if such a thing were possible), we were even more pleased that a precedent had been set by the former Leader of the Council and the current Deputy Leader (who also Chairs the Finance and Democracy Committee), that an item marked 'For Information' can be debated by the Committee and result in the moving of a resolution and subsequent vote to define a course of action.

If that, (as we believe it should), continues for the future, it suggests that concerns about attempts to limit discussion and restrict the implementation of resolutions by declaring some items as being for 'Information Only', are unfounded.

The Committee actually resolved to

"1. Write with immediate effect to Lancashire County Council requesting them to act on the waste review as a matter of urgency.


2. Write to all the district authorities affected encouraging the need to work together and to keep the matter of the review on the agenda at each Lancashire Waste Partnership meeting."

So when the first of the new Committee meetings closed, we thought it had been a very good example of how to run a committee meeting.

We were heartened.

On a scale of 1 to 10, we'd give it 10.

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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