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Green Bin Bills Deferred in Fylde

Green Bin Bill DeferredWe went along to the extra-ordinary Operational Management Committee on 31 March to hear the debate about the planned green bins subscription charge, and to report it for our readers.

The good news is that the 30 a year subscription charge is not starting this August.

News that might be even better is an undertaking to look at other options.

Our own view is that we expect it to come back as part of the 2017 budget proposals, probably still as a subscription service, with minor tweaks to produce a cost that is a bit less than 30

Whether that will defuse the anger at having to pay anyway remains an open question.

 SO WHAT HAPPENED AT THE MEETING?

Well first, one Councillor wanted to know whether, because he had a green bin, he should declare a personal interest in the item. the Chief Exec seemed to say not, because everyone had them.

Next were the substitutions. Queen Elizabeth was substituting for a member who was on holiday, and Cllr Mrs Henshaw had sent apologies.

 PUBLIC PLATFORM

There was also a speaker in the 'Public Platform' which happens before the meeting proper, and any resident can have a say. Carol Lanyon (who we think is a Parish Councillor in St Annes but said she was speaking to the committee on her own behalf) - articulated what we suspect many people will have already thought. 

She said she objected to the idea of double taxation - being charged twice for the same thing (see our last article Green Bin Bills).

She also said it was unreasonable to start it in August, because it should have been part of the budget setting process that Fylde had only just gone through, not considered separately.

She worried about increased fly-tipping and the likely increase in grey bin content when garden waste was put in with household waste by some households, and she thought a Christmas tree collection scheme should be included if a subscription scheme for green waste *was* introduced

When she finished speaking, the business part of the meeting began, with Cllr David Eaves introducing the item headed "Green Waste Subscription Service" and asking the officer concerned to present her report.

 THE OFFICER REPORT

The officer did so in an abridged version of the one on the agenda paper. Her first words were "This report provides the Committee with details of one possible option to mitigate the reduction of funding from LCC following its decision to terminate the waste cost sharing agreement from March 2018, namely the implementation of a chargeable green waste subscription service."

We noted an unusually strong emphasis on the word "one" before "possible option" in what she said.

The implication of this was an acceptance that there could be other ways of mitigating the ending of support funding by LCC.

When an officer opens a report with a caveat like this, it can signal that a change is in the air from what they have recommended.

By - perhaps even subconsciously - emphasising what is being suggested is only *one* way of solving the problem, it can create a sort of psychological 'escape pod' for an officer who doesn't want to tie their credibility to the proposals they have made.

We'll come back to this later.

But it was our first clue in sensing that the green bin subscription scheme was on the road to Damascus.

If, like us, you are something of a 'civic anorak', this sort of thing alerts you to be on the lookout for other signals of change as well.

The officer went on to summarise the background and the proposal (much as we reported in 'Fylde's Green Bin Bill')

 STATEMENT FROM CLLR DAVID EAVES

When she had finished, Cllr Eaves said he would like to make a statement to the Committee Members, and he read from a prepared statement.

In his first sentence, he placed oral emphasis on the words "extremely sensitive" (which we have emboldened) saying...

Whilst I recognise this is an extremely sensitive item, the item that is before you tonight was brought to this special meeting to consider one of the options that has emerged from the reviewing of the waste collection arrangements as a result of the cost sharing payments being withdrawn.

A number of Local Authorities across Lancashire are investigating this option, with several including charges for the collection of green waste this summer. And we already know of our neighbours at Wyre and at Lancaster and at Preston who are introducing this subscription charge from this summer. Pendle, of course have been charging for some time.

Previous information regarding updates have been made to this Committee, which has also had details of charges and green waste collection arrangements.

This special meeting has been called to allow members the option of recommending the introduction of the subscription service in 2016 if it felt that was appropriate. This option would not be available to members if the item had been included in the next scheduled meeting of this Committee. This was the last chance to bring it forward, and therefore as Chairman I felt it was appropriate to formally put before the Committee, at the earliest opportunity, the principle of charging for green waste collection, now that these details are available from the review work that officers have been engaged in.

The recommendation states that the Committee consider the option of introducing a chargeable green waste subscription service.

From my meetings with the County Council and Lancashire Waste Partnership, it looks increasingly unlikely, as I have reported to this committee, that these changes are not going to bring anything like the reduction in the amount of monies that are going to be withdrawn from Fylde. They will not be able to deliver the services necessary to bridge the 763,000 which is the shortfall that this Council faces.

We have a responsibility to consider options that put the management of this deficit in our hands. This is why several other authorities across Lancashire have also considered and approved this option.

After discussion with a number of colleagues within my group, it's appropriate and proper that this option is considered, because the collection of green waste is primarily funded from the waste cost sharing payment, and we must mitigate the impact that the withdrawal of the payment has on other council services which are delivered from this core funding.

However, although the reasons stated in the report for the introduction of the service in 2016 are valid, and are the same reasons that neighbouring authorities have introduced the chargeable service this year, the budget that has been set by this Council is robust enough to defer the introduction of this service in Fylde.

In the absence of any other alternative options to the waste collection service, this is an option that we will have to include in future budget proposals, but is not required to be introduced this summer.

Including this option in future budget proposals will allow additional time for officers to carry out further research and consultation, as well as the opportunity to assess the impact in neighbouring authorities.

I would inform members that limited options are emerging out of Lancashire Waste. The time is running out. Possible options that have been discussed at that forum include: collections every three weeks; and / or a single, Lancashire-wide collection service. Neither of these would be acceptable noting the savings that are required.

Whilst I open up this item for the Committee for some discussion, I will be proposing that the subscription service for green waste is considered as part of the budget proposals, to mitigate the financial impact of the removal of the waste cost sharing payment, and I'd obviously like to throw that open to members whilst making that statement to understand where we go in the future."

He then called Cllr Julie Brickles to speak. But before we report that, we're going to pause for a moment and just go over what Cllr Eaves did and said in a bit more detail.

 OUR ANALYSIS OF THE STATEMENT

Whilst he seems like the calm voice of reason and common sense, there is a lot going on between the lines and behind the scenes of his prepared statement.

The first thing we found odd is that he was reading a prepared statement at all.

Cllr Eaves is a former Fylde Council Leader, well experienced in the ways of the Council and of marshalling his arguments. He doesn't need a written statement to read from in order to propose a deferral to next years budget.

So we thought it odd that he read a pre-prepared statement, and we can't help wondering if it was a statement that had been pre-agreed with others in his political group.

Also, his oral emphasis on the words "extremely sensitive" suggested to us that public opinion had been making itself known to members of the Council.

But whatever the reason, it confirmed the prospect that a change was in the air.

Secondly, and probably most obviously, is the fact that this meeting was called as an unscheduled 'emergency' - or at least 'extra-ordinary' - special meeting of the Committee, which Cllr Eaves said "was the last chance to bring it [this proposal] forward" and that the option to start it in 2016 "would not be available to members if the item had been included in the next scheduled meeting of this Committee"

That is technically not accurate. There are scheduled Council meetings in May and in July which could consider a recommendation in time for a start in August if they wanted to do so.

Yes, it's true that Fylde does prefer to have its May 'AGM' give the impression of being a 'coronation' for the incoming Mayor - a ceremonial occasion only. So they don't like to have any other business on its agenda. But it is, in fact a normal business meeting of the Council, just like any other, and in the past we have seen debates of great import take place at Annual Meetings of the Council.

It's also true that you could just about make out a case to argue that, if it got left until July, there wouldn't be enough time between the scheduled Council meeting on 4th July and sometime in 'August' to get the service up and running - but that depends on how much advance preparation is done before the 4th July of course, and, with an overall majority on both the Operational Management Committee and the full Council, the Conservatives could guarantee what the decision of those meetings will be if they choose to do so. It would therefore be quite safe for officers to prepare quite a lot in advance of the actual decision if they knew the minds of the Conservative group.

But in any case the 'last chance saloon' argument simply doesn't hold water - because, just as this 31 March Committee had been called as a special meeting, it is quite straightforward to call a special meeting of both the Operational Management Committee and the Full Council at anytime, and it would need only a few week's notice, so that could easily have been done as an alternative.

So we don't think the reasoning of this part of Cllr Eaves statement stands up to proper scrutiny.

The third part that we find unusual is that, right at the start of this extra-ordinary meeting, (which was called with some urgency), Cllr Eaves indicated an intention to propose (from the Chair), that they should defer consideration of the matter until the next year's budget is prepared over next winter.

That proposal simply doesn't make sense if the meeting was needed so urgently, does it?

But his dichotomy in this respect was skilfully hidden in the wording of the prepared statement.

Fourthly, we were intrigued by his saying previous updates to the committee had "also had details of charges and green waste collection arrangements". That's quite an odd statement to make. Yes, the committee may have had details of, and agreed, charges for householders in respect of the purchase of green (and other) bins, and it has considered and approved variations in the collection dates for Christmas holidays etc, but we've been to most (if not all) of the Operational Management committee meetings, and we don't recall the matter of charging for collection of green (or any other waste) having been raised before, so we were puzzled why this assertion has been included.

But for us, the most interesting part was the one where he said "After discussion with a number of colleagues within my group, it's appropriate and proper that this option is considered, ....."

We're going to return to this matter when we conclude the article.

It's also interesting to note the inclusion of the word 'primarily' in his statement - as in: "...the collection of green waste is primarily funded from the waste cost sharing payment....".

This suggests there is other income that funds it as well that we're not yet being told about.

Certainly the budget for the coming year shows an expectation of 121,000 income from recycling payments. Some of this will be for glass and cardboard etc, but by volume, and possibly by cost, the green waste re-sold as garden compost (after treatment) will be producing something to offset the collection cost.

If the volume of green waste collected goes down, so will the income from sales. That's a calculation we've not seen in the officer's reports up to now. (Unless, of course, it costs more to transport and sell than it produces in income, in which case a reduction in sales volume might actually generate an overall saving).

It was also interesting to hear Cllr Eaves say that the budget for this year is robust enough not to need to introduce the charge in August.

What that means is that they have enough financial leeway within their current accounts to be able to cover the setting up costs for a subscription scheme.

So if that's the case, we wonder, why was it suggested at all?

And why did the Council issue its own Press Release on 18th March which concluded: "Councillors will debate the issue at the special meeting and decide whether to recommend to Full Council a chargeable service. If a charge is recommended and approved, it is expected that the new subscription service will be introduced from August 2016?"

And we also wonder why Fylde had (and at the time of publication of this article still has) a public consultation running on the idea of the 30 subscription charge that says "The consultation is open to all Fylde residents from 18 March to 6 April 2016." and "The responses will be analysed and the results reported to Full Council on the 11 April 2016".

What this has the feel of when you put it all together, is that everything was set to implement the proposals in the officers report, but the road to Damascus was suddenly found not to be filled with green bin lorries - but with irate taxpayers.

And a change was being implemented.

We think, that's only right and proper, and it is a matter we will return to at the end of the article when we pull all these threads together as a conclusion.

But that's what we think Cllr Eaves' statement is really about.

It's a justification for that change of heart within the leading group.

Whether it turns out to be a real change in substance, or whether it is simply a tactical retreat to regroup before coming forward again with better presentation of similar arguments (minus the August 2016 start) remains to be seen.

But for now, we'll continue with our report of the meeting, having noted that it is the leading group's barometric assessment of public opinion that has pushed them well back into the 'Change' region.

 CLLR JULIE BRICKLES - WHOSE BINS ARE THEY?

Cllr Brickles began by saying the statement from the Chairman had wiped out three of the things she wanted to say or ask.

But there was still one matter Cllr Eaves had not addressed, and it was concerning the risk of adverse reputational impact on the Borough. She said "There's been a lot of talk within my parish and on social media about the fact that a lot of these bins people have paid for..."

She said she had looked up the Council's policy and it quite clearly said the bin would remain the property of Fylde Borough Council.

Her concern centred around the change we reported in detail in Bin Discounting? in January 2014, when Fylde abandoned its policy of providing recycling bins free of charge, and introduced a policy of requiring residents to 'buy' them at 32.15 each.

One of the conditions in this policy was that they could not take the bins with them if they moved house. The bins had to stay with the house.

So in that sense we can't see that people actually 'bought' them in the traditional sense, we imagine that (in the same way that payment for a music CD is, in fact a license to use rather than ownership of the music) they must have rented or were licensed to hold the bins for use - or some similar sort of legal construct that gave FBC the ongoing ownership of them.

Cllr Brickles went on to say she thought it would become a bone of contention if people had paid around 32 to receive a green bin, but if they decided not to subscribe to the collection service, they found that the Council came and took the green bin away even though they had paid to 'buy' it in the first place.

She thought this might run the risk of creating an adverse reputational impact for the Council.

We'd have put it even stronger.

One wide-awake businessman resident of Fylde that we spoke with about the prospect of a charge for emptying green bins being introduced said if that happened, he would be issuing a financial claim against the Council as a charge for providing space on 'his' property for 'their' bins.

You can see how these jobs snowball dear reader, can't you?

Cllr Eaves looked to the officer to provide an answer to Cllr Brickles.

She said "In deciding the format of such a policy - if we were going to implement it - we did have a look at the same policies that other local authorities introduced so we could try and show a consistent approach.

We also consulted with colleagues in other departments, including in the finance team as to what would be the most appropriate, system, that could suit the majority of people. And the other authorities have decided to not provide any discount from the bins and to not provide a rebate or a pro-rata, so that's, with the standard terms and conditions in fact of the sort that (Kendal ?) introduced two years ago, what we got as best practice.

But they were things as recommendations for discussion rather than a carte-blanche decision. That's how we would look to do it."

With all due respect to the officer concerned, that's not what her report had said.

The wording of the relevant paragraph of the report said "Residents who choose not to participate in the scheme will retain the green bins until the scheme has had the opportunity to mature after which arrangements will be put in place to return unused bins. This approach is based on feedback from authorities that have implemented schemes and have experienced an increase in take up for some period after the implementation date."

That doesn't say it's an option or something for members to consider or discuss. Furthermore, the recommendation of the report itself was very clear. It invited a clear and simple action with no expectation of it's being modified:

"That the committee consider the option of introducing a chargeable green waste subscription service and make the decision to either dismiss the option or recommend to Full Council to implement the service."

This was followed by a list of conditions that needed to be included if the decision was to progress.

(To be fair to the officer, withdrawing the bins was not in the list, but we have no doubt it would have become policy and been implemented as set out in the report if implementation had been approved, and we suspect this is what Cllr Brickles had spotted).

Cllr Eaves was quick to rectify perceptions, saying "I think in answer to your question Cllr Brickles, if somebody has bought a bin, we would be looking....., (pause) that that bin belongs to that person.

We were pleased to see him speaking what was self-evidently plain common sense.

But we were also very surprised at what he said, because the Council's clearly adopted policy on this matter was established and approved by his own Cabinet after being considered by the Council's Community Focus Scrutiny Committee (under the former Cabinet System) in January 2014.

It says "All waste receptacles provided by the Council, whether provided free of charge or purchased, are issued to the address and not the individual and must not be removed from the premises in the event of a transfer of ownership."

The report at that time also said: "Estate agents have been informed on a number of occasions that residents are required to leave the bins with the property to avoid the cost of replacements falling on the new resident."

We suppose these restrictions on 'ownership' are reflected in the terms and conditions of the supply of the bins that have been purchased.

We also think Cllr Eaves - however well intentioned - is not (since the Cabinet system was abandoned) actually in a position to take that decision himself. A policy change would be a matter for the Committee or the Council to consider and decide.

But it was even more surprising really, because the former Cabinet Portfolio Holder for bins is none other than Cllr Albert Pounder, and he is also the Vice Chairman of this Operational Management Committee under David Eaves as Chairman.

It was actually him that introduced the Policy.

Cllr Brickles, like the Yorkshire Terrier that she is, had one further question on the matter.

She evidently accepted, and was reassured by what the Chairman had said in regard to people who had paid for green bins being able to keep them, but the great majority of people had been given them 'free' in the first issue of bins, when the recycling scheme first started.

She asked "What, exactly are we as a council going to do with....(pause and change tack to explain).... In the report it says in some council areas there has been as little as a 3% take-up [of subscription-based green bins] and 3% of the bins that are out now would mean Fylde Borough Council would be collecting in thirty thousand old, used, green bins. What exactly are we going to do with potentially 30,000 old used bins?"

Good question, we thought.

The officer struggled, saying she was not familiar with that part of the report and asked for clarification of the section that Cllr Brickles was referring to.

Then she found it and said that the 3% was one extreme of the figures that had been used to calculate the average take-up rate across the country which ranged from 3% to 70%, and that involved all sorts of different schemes, including wheeled bins and disposable sacks, so it wasn't directly comparable.

Cllr Brickles said "But the question still is, what are we planning on doing with all the bins that we're bringing back in?"

The officer (who - to be fair - was doing what she should have done as an officer) said "Well, we do have a recycling scheme in place for ordinary damaged bins" adding that "Any bins that that are suitable [for re-use] would be kept in stock to be issued out to additional properties or as people joined the scheme, which would then obviously save us in the long run"

In some ways we quite warm to this officer. She's doing just what officers should do. Either she saw an opportunity to sell the same bins twice, or to at least re-issue used bins at no cost to FBC. She has a clear focus on driving down costs and driving up efficiency. You can't ask for more.

But what she demonstrates here is exactly why you need elected members in charge of the actions of officers.

The role of a councillor is, and should be, that of "the man on the Clapham omnibus". They provide the perspective of "Mr Average" and they humanise the (rightly) hard-headed commercial decisions of the best and most able officers whose focus is to deliver the most cost-effective version of the approved service that it is possible to do.

When properly balanced, that tension between efficiency-driven officers and the humanising traits of elected members is what delivers a really good local authority.

 THE DEBATE BROADENED

At this point, Cllr Ed Nash asked to speak. He said they were there to make difficult decisions, but he didn't think he knew enough about it. He said he'd looked at about 30 other councils on the internet, and most of them just leave the green bins where they are, they're not collected because it would cost too much. He said "We started this in 2004. What did we used to do before that? Down my road, even in the highest time in summer, there's about four green bins emptied. People either compost them or get rid of it some other way. There are lots of options that I see from various councils, and they deserve looking at and I would be in agreement with what you've said, that we don't need to do it this year, but when we do need to do it, in my opinion, we need to look at it in a lot more detail, and whether that means a Working Party or whatever, I just don't think we know enough to take this sort of serious decision at this time"

What we think you see here, dear reader, is the fabrication of an argument to justify support for what the Chairman has proposed. Their Officer's report had been a competent and detailed one (albeit that it only provided one option for consideration). And Cllr Nash had researched the details of what was happening in another 30 councils up and down the country, but said he still didn't feel he knew enough.

He's usually very keen to let us have the benefit of his wisdom and experience, so unless it was the fabrication of a justification, we thought this was a very unusual angle for him to come from.

Cllr Frank Andrews said they would not be thanked for stopping the service altogether. He said some of his neighbours had one or two green bins, and some even had three bins, and he thought it was fair that they should pay 30 or 60 or 90 if they use the service. He said "I don't have a problem with this"

Queen Elizabeth Oades said she favoured the idea of getting more information. In particular, she wanted to be able to look at neighbour authorities that had introduced the subscription service and what sort of impacts that was having. She also thought they should consider a wider range of options than just the one proposed in the report, and she worried about the impact on their statutory recycling targets in 2020 of participation rates fell significantly.

Cllr Hodgson wondered if they could make it a 30 charge per household rather than per bin because there was little extra cost between someone collecting one bin or two bins from the same property. He also wondered whether the collection frequency could be extended to save costs.

Cllr Richard Fradley said they were all singing from the same hymn sheet. He wanted to look at more options, and wondered whether collections for green waste could be more frequent in spring and summer and less frequent in winter, or whether they could empty the first green bin free, but charge more for the second and subsequent bins.

Cllr Oades noted that she didn't use the green bin service at all because she composted all their garden waste at home for re-use.

Cllr Pounder (who used to be in charge of bins, so should have some expert opinion to contribute) said most of the bins had been provided free of charge, and it was only new ones that people had purchased as replacements that had been paid for. He also said "This is a large amount of money we have to find from somewhere, and if it is pushed through the budget process, it will have an adverse effect on other departments", so they must think it through carefully.

The officer confirmed this saying that charges were only made for the supply of bins at new property, or as replacements for bins that had been stolen or damaged by the householder.

Cllr Pitman was concerned that the level or re-cycling could drop even to as low as what it was in 2005 which, she said, would be a retrograde step. She thought a period of 12 months grace could be well spent, and more research could be done. She seemed to favour turning the emphasis onto composting at home rather than introducing charging.

If you think about it, that approach introduces, and leads toward, the concept of abandoning the collection service and not making a charge. That would be an easy win in the circumstances, but the problem with it is that if you're at the 'green' end of the political spectrum, Fylde NEEDS to continue the green waste service, because nothing else comes near achieving the 50% of all waste being recycled if you can't count what people compost at home.

But such is the madness of taxation and legislation that sets out to use local government to change our behaviour rather than to provide us with public services.

For our own part, we're not too worried about Fylde not hitting their target of 50% recycling.

Fylde is known as a high recycling area, and if we don't hit the target very few places in the UK will have done so, and the likely outcome will be that the Government will just find a way of changing the figures so everyone (including Fylde) does meet the target.

We expect this would be done in just the same way as they allowed Fylde to retrospectively adjust the number of Planning Applications it approved within so many weeks - so as to avoid being put into Special Measures for Planning when they had already failed and, just as the Government and its water regulator colluded to fiddle the bathing water figures to turn abysmal water quality failures into 'Excellent' quality (the highest standard possible) at Fleetwood, St Annes and elsewhere on the Fylde coast.

So the 50% recycling target would be the least of our worries in this matter

 CLLR EAVES WINDS THINGS UP

With no further speakers, Cllr Eaves said "I propose that the subscription service for green waste is considered as part of the future budget proposals. I would also add to that, that within the next 12 months we are able to research other areas of opportunity with regard to other councils who are already introducing these services, and whilst looking to educate people with regard to composting, but look to all avenues in order to bring forward a final report eventually, which we can all consider at a future Operational Management meeting before it would go forward with our recommendations."

Cllr Frank Andrews seconded it, and the vote was in favour.

Cllr Eaves thanked the officer for their report. He also thanked Carol Lanyon for her observations at the beginning of the meeting, and said her suggestions and ideas would also be included in the investigations that were made, and he thanked the committee members for their participation.

Cllr Eaves has a very good style of chairing meetings.

But what he actually proposed is not a good way forward at all - assuming it runs according to the present way of doing things at Fylde.

The bit about more research and how other councils are being affected is good of course, but in reality, the process to decide this matter has now moved to become part of the budget process.

Assuming that process doesn't change from last year, it means the detailed reports on issues and options will go to the secretive 'Budget Working Group' which is composed only of Conservative councillors and meets behind closed doors.

It is they who will consider the options to sort the wheat from the chaff and formulate the preferred option. That preferred option will then go back to the Operational Management Committee for 'decision laundering' to make it appear to be a 'politically balanced' decision, before it is passed to Princess Karen's Finance and Democracy Committee as a recommendation, which the F&D committee will either accept, or change, before making it's own recommendation to the full Council budget meeting in March 2017.

So the likelihood is that this matter just dropped into the 'Dark Web' - to be decided out of sight, by the Conservative group.

Our encouragement in that belief is Cllr Eaves' quote at the meeting where the additional research was to be undertaken..." in order to bring forward a final report eventually, which we can all consider at a future Operational Management meeting"

We think that's very foolish of the Conservative group.

It's going to be a really difficult, unpopular and controversial issue, and it will be the Conservatives who will have to shoulder the blame for it if they deal with it in the same way they have decided to address other budget proposals.

This process is strategically inept on their part, but it's the process they wanted to implement to maintain their tight command and control on what happens in Fylde.

Their civically-modified chicken of a Committee system is coming home to roost, and they've left the door of the coop open for foxes.

There's one final matter to report before we conclude.

When the meeting ended, the Chief Executive was very quickly on his feet and came to the public gallery near where we were sitting. Just a couple of rows in front of us was the officer who had delivered the report. The body language of the two was very telling. Metaphorically he provided the equivalent of a comforting and avuncular arm around her shoulder and a big hug.

He would have been able to see her expression as the meeting progressed (which we could not because her back was toward us) and he obviously felt she needed reassurance.

We didn't try to listen in, but from the little shakes of her head, and from his manner toward her, we formed the view that she didn't understand why she had been hung out to dry by the councillors in the leading group.

The fact that the CE felt the need to do what he did spoke volumes to us about what had gone on anyway.

 CONCLUSIONS

We promised to draw the threads of this article together at the end, and here we are.

We begin with a quote from Cllr Eaves' Statement "After discussion with a number of colleagues within my group, it's appropriate and proper that this option is considered....."

That suggests to us that the proposal was not entirely of the officer's devising. We can only speculate on this matter - based on what was said and what we saw happen of course - but we would not be at all surprised to find there had been a quite recent discussion between the bins officer and leading FBC councillors - say Chairman David Eaves, Vice Chairman Albert Pounder, Conservative Leader Susan Fazackerley and possibly Deputy Leader and Finance supremo Karen Buckley as well, where the bins officer will have explained to them what other councils were doing, how far Fylde had got, and what some of the issues were.

In circumstances like these, it would not be unknown for an officer to be told what was expected to be in their report to the Committee.

If something like that did happen at Fylde, we think the officer would (properly) have done as she was asked, and produced the report they had asked for, but then found it publicly rejected at the Committee - and that could explain why she was so upset.

Our earlier reference to her creating a psychological 'escape pod' for herself (by stressing the agenda report was only *one* of the options that could be considered) suggested to us that she know something of what was coming.

It's likely she would have been warned of the change of heart when the Chairman and Vice Chairman were briefed - usually at a Chairman's Briefing Meeting, held a day or so before (or sometimes on the day of) the meeting itself, and she was in 'damage limitation' mode by the time the Committee meeting took place

If we're right, then not only had she been humiliated for having done what she was asked, but she was also now facing a shedload of extra work to address a frighteningly large range of alternatives with precious little steer as to what was actually wanted (other than for her to wave a Magic Wand), in order to come up with a less unpalatable option. It's no wonder she would be in need of comfort and support if that was the case. Anyone would.

We've actually got quite a regard for this officer. They're not someone we know personally, but from what we have seen of her performance, she has an enviable drive to deliver the best value possible; she can see most of the angles that need to be seen, and she has a clear brain to find a way to deliver them. If she has a downside it is that - in our opinion - she doesn't always have sufficient regard for the outcomes of her actions on the public, and whilst she has a level of self-belief that many would envy, the flipside of its benefit seems to be an expectation that she should just be left to get on with things.

Well directed, people with these qualities are terrific officers to work with, but within local government - where the public service ethos still carries considerable weight - such folk do need good direction to gently introduce the human condition into their lexicon of proposed actions.

If we're right in our speculation here, the real blame in this matter lies not with the officer who has been given the rap to carry, but in the mis-judgement of public opinion by the leading Conservative members. They are the ones who will have pushed for this extra-ordinary meeting to be held so urgently - only to propose to defer consideration of the matter for another year.

It may also be they are the ones who will have wanted the subscription service introduced this August - so that the setup costs for the subscription service would have come as additional income from 'double taxation' between August 2016 and the following April.

We also imagine they will have had the implications of crew costs and take-up levels explained to them before deciding to hold this special meeting. As we showed in Green Bin Bill, they will have known that a take-up matching Pendle's 65%, would have given Fylde a cash operating surplus of over 100,000. And even at lower take-up predictions, say only 50%, Fylde could generate a surplus of over 100,000 a year if they rejigged the staffing to suit a reduced level of service. So it was possible they knew that there was a real prospect of making a surplus over the costs on green waste.

But, they also knew that almost everyone has a green bin

So they should have realised that once their civic sleight of hand in double taxation and surplus generation opportunities became more widely known, and when people saw they were planning the introduction to start in August - at the height of the garden waste season - for reasons of their own self preservation, they would not be Happy Easter Bunnies.

Caught with their fingers dangling over an open income drawer, they have had to pretending to be closing it - and on this occasion they have had to abandon the double taxation element of their plan as the price of that mis-judgement.

Happily, that's now gone. It should not have been there in the first place.

What hasn't gone, at least not yet, is the idea of a subscription charge at all.

Remember: Cllr Eave's proposition was that: "the subscription service for green waste is considered as part of the future budget proposals"

So, just like 'The Terminator' we confidently expect it to be back.

But next time it will probably be a few pounds less, with some additional frilly bits to dress it up and make it look more palatable.

That's mostly because there *IS* nowhere else to get this sort of money from in Fylde's accounts.

It's on the scale of the Streetscene loss, and that set events in train that closed the swimming pools.

It's a change of that magnitude.

If our regular readers remember, we said in Green Bin Bill that we had some sympathy for Fylde as it tries to solve this problem, but we were critical of the dishonourable way they went about introducing this change, and about their plan for double taxation, and about starting it in the middle of the growing season for self-centred reasons.

Mrs Lanyon made similar criticisms in the Public Platform part of the meeting.

These excesses now all look set for change.

But we don't think Fylde is staging a retreat from using a subscription model for green waste, it's more likely a tactical withdrawal to re-group the arguments for it - and we think it inevitable that some form of it will appear from either April 2017 or with greater integrity, from April 2018.

We said earlier that, after public attention had been drawn to the shortcomings of their proposal, and when the road that ran between Fylde's Conservative HQ and Damascus had been predicted to be filled not with green bin lorries generating surplus cash, but with taxpayers filled with anger - a change of heart had been implemented.

It has, and we're pleased to say the worst of those measures are now gone.

Readers might like to reflect on the pressure that has brought this situation about, and especially about 'cooling-off period' that now exists between a Committee taking a decision, and the Council meeting - which can itself now require a change to be made to whatever a Committee has decided.

A change like that could not have happened under the Cabinet system, and our readers have cause to be grateful for the decision local people made in the recent Governance referendum which required the Cabinet system to be abandoned, and a more transparent Committee based system introduced.

It's still not a good enough arrangement for our liking, but it is, at least, a start - and it's having an impact.

Dated:  06 April 2016


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