The New Committees: Tourism and Leisure
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:
TOURISM AND LEISURE COMMITTEE 4 June 2015
The second Committee meeting was of the newly constituted Tourism and Leisure Committee chaired by Cllr Cheryl Little.
Here again it was mostly sweetness and light, with a very light agenda with decisions required only on who to recommend to Council as the Committee's nominee to various outside bodies.
The other items (Arts Service Review, Restoration of Fairhaven Lake and Gardens – Procurement of Consultants, and Year End Performance 2014/15) were simply updates from officers on where the Council was with these items.
But we detected a pattern beginning to emerge about officers seeming to run the show with councillors being told what they were doing.
That said, it's early days, and the Committees haven't found their feet yet.
Again, the less experienced but willing and consensual Cllr Little was a very accommodating Chairman, allowing a broad spectrum of comment from all parts of her committee, just as Cllr Eaves had done.
During her meeting, we noted only three points worth a mention.
One independent councillor was concerned that the allocation of places on external bodies was not being determined by political balance (which we don't think is required to be anyway). They quizzed the fact that 'the Opposition' usually nominated their
own people. We think that was a genuine mistake (because we don't recall that ever happening with external appointments) but more sadly, we were sorry to hear the use of the term 'the Opposition' in this regard.
Under the Committee system there should be no need for an 'Opposition'. It is for all elected councillors to work together collectively, irrespective of political party or group allegiances.
So it's evident that it's not only the majority party that will have to do some mindset adjusting.
The second was a rather sweet little cameo when the Chairman had been nominated to represent FBC one of the external bodies relevant to that Committee and she was asking if there were any other nominations (which all the experienced non-conservatives
knew would result in a block vote to choose the Chairman anyway, so they stayed silent).
But one of the new and less experienced Conservative members decided he would have liked a go at that particular post said he would like to propose himself.
A silence fell on the Committee.
It is uncommon for a councillor to formally propose themselves like this (usually they arrange for someone else to do it for them) and it is unheard of for a group member to what was, in effect an open challenge to another member of the same group for
a position like this, (it's quite possible the potential interloper hadn't realised that there was only one position being offered here, and that he was, in fact, making a direct challenge to the Chairman).
An air of quiet uncertainty descended on the Committee.
Someone (we think it was Cllr Ashton the Vice Chairman) unblocked the stunned silence by asking if that proposal was seconded. It was not, so it fell, and Cllr Little was the chosen one again.
After that potential minor hiatus, all went tickety-boo for the rest of the meeting.
The Chairman's tone was open, and she encouraged others to participate and take part in the decisions. She appeared genuinely shocked (and we believed her) when someone suggested one of the matters on her agenda had been decided by the Conservative
Group before the meeting.
We think this bodes well for the future.
The third noteworthy point in the business of the meeting was actually an inconsequential aside and an explanation from Head of Leisure and Culture (Darren Bell) who was reporting the exciting things that Fylde was going to do with Fairhaven Lake when
it got the Lottery Grant.
His report noted that they were applying for £236,834 as a 'Development Grant' from the Lottery Fund (to which the Council had budgeted a £20,000 contribution). This grant was requested simply to fund the working-up of detailed proposals that would
enable them to submit a further bid for around £2million for what was described as a 'restoration scheme' (but which in practice, would probably - based on our previous experience - have become something more akin to an 'Improvement Scheme').
He said the Report was "really to bring the Committee up to speed with what we [the officers] are doing at Fairhaven Lake because over the next few years there will be a fair amount of change"
(The tenor of his approach serves to illustrate the sort of thing we mean about officers taking ownership of matters should be the province of, and driven by, elected members of the Committee)
He continued "We will be informed on 23 June if we've been successful".
Then came the aside.
He said "If we've been unsuccessful then you'll all have to console me because I don't think I'll be able to stand it. But being positive, we are going to be successful, we need to hit the ground running. What we're proposing to do is we're proposing
to engage a lady called Jane Alexander to project-manage the scheme. Jane has been involved with working our bid up so far. Jane is actually the Heritage Lottery Monitoring Officer at Lytham Hall. She's worked there with the Lottery Fund, so she knows
exactly what we need to do, and what we need to say, so we're proposing to go and engage Jane, and then following that, we're then looking at engaging the various disciplines to work up the detailed design, so we will need an architect, landscape
architect, quantity surveyor, engineers to work up the designs for the buildings and landscapes."
"It's not just about restoring the built heritage, it's also about people, so we have to develop an 'Activity Development Plan' which looks at our own uses - the programmes and activities that we will be implementing..."
(Readers will see from this
what we mean about it appearing more as an 'Improvement Scheme' on completion).
Now, as it turns out, we all know the Committee will have to be dishing out boxes of Kleenex to console Mr Bell on what has turned out to be his failure to secure even the £200k Development Grant (let alone the estimated £2m grant for the work). And
that situation seems to be despite what might appear to some of our readers to be a somewhat incestuous arrangement where he was expecting to engage the Heritage Fund's Lottery Monitor (who is monitoring for the HLF the working of Lytham Hall's
Lottery scheme) in order to use her expertise to help prepare Fylde's bid for Development Funding which, in the event, has not been granted.
Still, it's an ill wind, and we think quite a few folk living around Fairhaven Lake could end up being grateful that there will be no "Activity Development Officer" appointed to implement an 'Activity Development Plan' with it's attendant risk of
disturbing the mostly peace and quiet that now prevails at Fairhaven.
And there is another small silver lining.
It's likely that Mr Bell and his staff are now going to have enough time on their hands to undertake all the little jobs the Committee might decide it wants them to do (now the plan to produce the grandiose scheme is either abandoned or in mothballs).
And, of course, there's the £20,000 which the Council had budgeted as it's own 10% contribution to the Development Grant. That's not going to be needed for that purpose now, and it should give the Committee a bit of funding to work at to get some
smaller projects decided upon.
All in all, we'd give the conduct of this meeting 7 or 8 out of 10 for a better-than-average performance.
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