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Council Budget 2016

FBC Budget 16There were stormy and bad tempered scenes at Fylde's Full Council Budget Meeting on 2 March, where all the Independent, Liberal Democrat, Fylde Ratepayer and Labour councillors refused to support the budget proposed by the Conservative group.

Twice, the Mayor had to call for order, then take to his feet in order to demonstrate his requirement for Cllr Tim Ashton to stop speaking out of turn, and disregarding the Mayor's ruling.

When the Mayor or Chairman of a properly conducted meeting stands up, everyone else has to sit down and shut up. That's everyone except Cllr Tim Ashton of course. Unwilling to accept the Mayor's authority, he first spoke from a seated position (which itself is an insult to the Mayor), then he also stood up, saying "I've had enough of this" and made as though to storm out of the meeting.

It seemed to us that he changed his mind about leaving when he got part-way toward the door, and went to get a drink instead - before bringing that  drink back with him when he returned to his seat.

In our view, his behaviour was insulting, disrespectful, impolite and unpardonable.

But we have seen Cllr Ashton's arrogance demonstrated in this way before. We have no time for his petulant and childish behaviour, nor for his adversarial yah boo style of politics which defines other councillors as 'opponents' and 'the opposition' in order to falsely justify his deriding and dismissing of everything they suggest.

We have occasionally been the subject of Cllr Ashton's ire ourselves when we have reported his stupidity, outlandish, or incompetent behaviour in these pages.

And when, on such occasions, he has sought to provoke an argument with us regarding what we have said, we have told him, as we are happy to repeat again, that in our view, criticism only has meaning when it comes from those for whom you have respect, and his criticism of us is simply as water off a duck's back.

But in what we consider to be his worst behaviour in our presence - behaviour to which we did take exception - we were in the public gallery of a council meeting accompanied by a lady, when he had one of his tantrums toward us. It was treated as water from a ducks back, but our guest told him his behaviour was not appropriate, to which, in front of staff and other councillors, his aggressive attitude turned on her, and he (repeatedly) gesticulated with two fingers in her face - as though to demonstrate his disdain for her - saying he would do as he wished.

That evening, we thought he brought shame to the name of his otherwise well-respected family, disgrace upon himself, and he brought his office as a councillor into disrepute.

We would not have spoken to any lady in that manner, and our request for a due apology for his unwarranted outburst to her was, (not altogether unexpectedly), disregarded.

So it was no great surprise to us that he was not even prepared to accept the ruling of the Mayor to stay silent when he was told to do so during the March 2016 budget meeting..

But it wasn't only Cllr Ashton who displaying their displeasure. Cllr Mrs Oades was the target of one of his jibes, and it was her forthright response to his comment that gave rise to his outburst.

We believe this disharmony at Budget Council is founded in a growing sense of frustration amongst minority group councillors.

For several weeks now, we have been reporting that sense of frustration amongst councillors outside the Conservative group's central command and control mechanism.

Councillors in the five other groups or parties on the Council are increasingly being marginalised from decision-taking - and even from being able to provide proper scrutiny to the decisions that *are* being taken by Fylde's Conservative councillors.

Our readers might have picked up our (unusually) more frequent use of the word 'Conservative' in our last few articles about Fylde.

Previously, we have sought to avoid overt party political comments in counterbalance. But the problem we now face is that the Council is so divided by the Conservative group's exclusion of other perspectives, it has become difficult for us to refer to 'the Council' as an entity because it is no longer a single entity, it is a council of two parts - A Conservative part and a non-Conservative part.

The arrangements that the (Conservative) majority have now put in place as the way things will be run have de-facto politicised so many issues, (budget, constitution, corporate plan), that anyone advocating a contrary position has, of necessity, to be standing on ground that is outside the Conservative group

Where previously we may have made comment on a decision of 'the council' it is no longer a decision of 'the Council'. It is usually a decision taken by the Conservative Party group - because in an increasing number of instances, that decision has come about without allowing meaningful input from others.

We regret this, and would prefer not to have to address the Council as "the Conservatives" but it is the case that consensual working is simply not happening.

And Fylde's officers appear unable or unwilling to bring about any significant process of healing to bear on this gaping wound between the two factions of the Council.

As a result, there is a growing, festering, untreated sore at the heart of Fylde Council.

It appears to us to centre on the change to the Committee system of governance.

Readers will remember that the Conservative group strongly opposed this change and, despite there being a clear majority of Fylde's electors voting in favour of that change in a local referendum, the Conservatives are unwilling meet the expressed will of the people and operate the Committee system in a fair an even-handed way.

Equally, those outside the Conservative group had expected that re-introducing the Committee system would restore collective decision-taking, consensual working, and result in all shades of opinion working together for the benefit of Fylde residents, instead of the benefit of a political party.

It is now becoming clear that Fylde's Conservative group is unwilling to work consensually, and it does not even share the aim of working together.

Fylde's officers have (foolishly in our view) allowed a governance system to be put in place which - as its creases unfurl - is increasingly being perceived as favouring a single political group (the Conservative group), and it is perceived to exclude the legitimate and proper contributions from those outside this group.

Furthermore, the present Chief Executive appears to favour probably the most informal and modernising approach to civic matters that we have seen from any previous holder of that office.

The danger with such a modernising approach is that in fostering and promoting informality, it risks damaging the safeguards that are specifically designed to preserve the neutrality of, and to separate the roles of, officers and members.

That formality exists to protect the impartiality, and the perception of impartiality, of officers.

We worry that the present direction heralds a dangerous, uncomfortable, and slippery path for officers in the future, as the rift between elected members deepens, and collaborative working becomes more and more impossible.

Our regular readers will recall the first instance of the Conservative group's unwillingness to work together with other councillors.

It came when Princess Karen announced - at the very first meeting of the Finance and Democracy Committee - that they would use their Conservative majority to ensure that detailed work to prepare the annual budget would be restricted to Conservative Councillors (using a device called a 'Working Party').

Just like the process to prepare Fylde's Corporate Plan, that Budget Working Group has been meeting over the winter out of the public gaze.

It has deliberately excluded councillors from all the other five groups or parties.

It has published no agenda for its meetings. It has published no minutes of its meetings. It has excluded all non-conservative councillors, and it has refused to open its meetings to the public.

It is the body which has produced this budget, that Councillor Mrs Oades described as having been prepared by a Conservative One-Party-State Budget Working Group.

It's not difficult to see the justification for this perception.

And when the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Sue stood up to announce it, it did feel very much like a sanitised, vanilla, one-party state announcement.

Cllr Oades had some justification to describe the process in this way because, (as with the Corporate Plan), all the preparation of the budget, all the officer reports, all the options to be considered, and all the benefits and disbenefits, were only presented and explained to, and were only considered and debated by, a Working Group composed entirely of Conservative Councillors.

Again, as with the Corporate Plan. The Conservative group had deliberately chosen to do this.

Readers might wonder why they might want to be so politically insular on these issues.

Well, apart from satisfying the Conservative self-preening arrogance gene that was ably demonstrated by Cllr Tim Ashton during the meeting, the only reason we can see for the Conservatives doing it in this way is to deny councillors outside the Conservatives group the knowledge and understanding of issues that need to be considered.

This is information that absolutely should be shared with them as councillors who are elected with an equal mandate.

Some believe these processes and arrangements have been adopted SPECIFICALLY IN ORDER TO deny non-Conservative councillors knowledge of the issues and options that are considered SIMPLY BECAUSE it would deny them the opportunity to engage in informed debate when the Conservative 'Blue Peter' (here's one I made earlier) 'Working Party' decisions were 'announced' in a politically balanced committee as the law requires.

What we've said here is what everyone knows is happening in practice. But in order to stay within the law, the output of a Working Group that is not politically balanced cannot properly be called a 'decision' as we have just done in the sentence above.

So it is officially described as a 'recommendation' of the Working Group.

That 'recommendation' is then laundered to legality by being voted through the politically balanced committee by the Conservative majority on each of those committees.

But everyone knows it is a 'recommendation' that has already been decided behind closed doors in the Conservative-only meetings.

With the apparent acceptance of Fylde's officers - and hidden within a mithral cloak of legality called 'recommendations' this is what now passes for probity.

Everyone knows these are actually decisions that have been unlawfully taken by a group that does not reflect the political balance of the council as the law requires, but no one is prepared to change it.

We think Fylde's Conservatives are playing with fire using this process, and in the medium term, we would not be surprised to see it engender a reaction that will be in no-one's interest.

But at the present time and introducing her budget for 2017, (before handing over to Princess Karen to deal with the details), the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Sue said

"As leader of the Council I would like to say how pleased I am that this council continues to go from strength to strength, in probably the most challenging time in Local Government."

She (quite rightly) credited Finance Officer Paul O'Donoghue with excellent management of the finance available to the Council.

We also are happy to support that view. He is doing an excellent job in keeping a grip on budgeting and spending.

The Dear Leader also credited Princess Karen's financial ability and - much as we may disagree with the Princess in some respects - we are grateful she has a brain that is able to grasp quite a bit of the arcane meanderings of local authority finance, and she is doing a good job of keeping the budgeting and accounting in order.

That's not to say it's a good job on the broader financial policy front though.

For example, the Conservative Working Group has decided to abandon their former Leader (David Eaves') promise to fund the refurbishment and extension of the Town Hall from the sale of assets in the Council's ownership, (and not to use taxpayers money for it).

The actual wording of that decision comes from one of the Finance and Democracy meetings chaired by Princess Karen. It decided to  "recognise that the previously agreed cost-limited approach to providing satisfactory accommodation would not be met from within the funding being realised from the sale of the surplus Council assets of the former depot site at St Davidís Road North, St Annes, the former offices at Derby Road, Wesham and the Public Offices site in St Annes;"

That promise has been abandoned because they have been unable to sell enough property - or at least to raise enough from what they have sold - to cover the cost.

So this year's budget sees half a million pounds (actually £504,000) being slid out of the 2015/16 accounts and into an 'Accommodation Project Reserve'

This represents money that was budgeted for work during the year just ending, but which has not been spent.

There will be varied reasons for its not being spent, one of which will undoubtedly be that some of the work which should have been done, has not been done.

And this *is* taxpayers money (at least until it gets hidden in a 'Reserve Account' when no-one will remember where it came from).

The half a million could equally have been used to reduce the amount of Council Tax required in Fylde by about £6 per resident   (ie £540,000 divided by a rounded up 80,000 population - and there would be even more savings per head in practice if we had counted only taxpayers rather than gross population).

As it is, Fylde's Council Tax is going up in cash terms by £4.98 (and in each subsequent year) per band D property.

So there are grounds to argue that Fylde's taxpayers are a tenner  worse off this year (£6 not returned to them AND paying another £4 odd extra), because of this policy decision on the Town Hall.

This year's £4.98 increase represents an increase of about 2.49% - which is just under the 2.5% threshold that would have required a Council Tax Referendum to be held.

But even more worrying to us in policy terms, is the massive £3 million reserve which as been created this year as a 'Volatility Reserve."

The purpose of this is said to be to offset a projected deficit from 2019/2020 onward when, on present trajectory Fylde is projecting to overspend its income by £1.5 million a year.

(But given that 2019 is likely to be an election year it could also represent a war chest to be spent on sweeteners just before an election)

The Conservatives go as far as to say  they 'hope' to not need the £3million, and they plan to achieve more cost savings and, (probably more likely), to increase - or introduce new - charges for services that will offset this projected overspend from 2020 onward.

So we will probably all be paying more in the medium term, but it won't be paid as council tax as such, it will be as charges for, say, some refuse collections (maybe green waste) or higher charges for the Crematorium,  or for various licences and permits the Council issues - or whatever.

There are a number of reasons for this looming shortfall - including some very significant reductions in Government support funding.

But there is a huge one-off impact (expected to be a loss of around £760,000 a year) kicking in from April 2017 when the recycling sweetener that was paid by Lancashire County Council to encourage Fylde to adopt the 'three-bin-recycling-scheme' comes to an end, and FBC will have to find this shortfall from elsewhere.

Co-incidentally, £700,000 is about the scale of the loss that Cllr Tim Ashton's 'Streetscene Department' brought to Fylde (which we reported back in 'Incompetence or Fraud?' in 2008) and that disaster eventually forced Fylde into a 'State of Financial Emergency' and ultimately led to the closure of both our swimming pools. So this loss will be very significant and difficult to adjust to.

It is a loss on the scale that could easily see the garden waste (green bin) collection scheme abandoned or become a subscription service as other councils in the area are doing.

But a subscription service for green waste will have an unknown take-up, and the current green bin collection cost is predicated on low unit costs (because most houses take part and collection/transport planning - and thus costing - is pretty straightforward and known).

However, changing to a scheme where one house here and one house there subscribes to a service would likely have very different unit costs and that will make it difficult to set a price in advance of seeing how many people want to subscribe.

There are also some high level financial risks for Fylde in other areas. Notably the 'New Homes Bonus.' This is effectively a government bribe introduced as a new concept a couple of years ago to persuade councils to commit to enormous growth in housing by promising them untold riches of 'double council tax' from all the new houses they gave planning permission for.

Well, now that the foolish virgins who were suckered into this illusory 'growth scheme' have granted oodles of planning permissions, the Government is backtracking wildly, saying it wants to save £800million from it.

It was introduced with a promise of being paid to local councils for 6 years on every property built, but under current proposals being considered that term could shrink to just 2 years worth of bonus payment. Other reductions (including no payments at all in some circumstances) are also in the mix of changes being considered.

Some believe that Fylde Conservative's 'dash for growth' policy - (adopting grossly inflated housing numbers and the unnecessary allocation of employment land to help justify them) - a policy which resulted in them assuming almost 20% of their total future income would arise from the promised land of the New Homes Bonus - was actually driven by the assumption of getting this money.

This was not the case from the minority parties. Readers will remember that, led by Cllr Mrs Oades, they produced a Minority Report setting out their disagreement, and then produced an unprecedented second Minority Report on the Proposed Local Plan - exposing the fault lines at the heart of the Conservative dash for growth, and they refused to be associated with it.

Those chickens are now coming home to roost.

It now looks increasingly likely that Fylde's Conservative majority, having agreed to cover the countryside with concrete, can't count on the cash that they did count on, because its going to be cut by the Conservative Government.

So whilst Princess Karen's accounting is well in order, we're less convinced about the competence of her Conservative group's decisions on financial policy.

In another example, readers will recall we have already drawn attention to the foolish commitment in Conservative Corporate Plan to earmark business rate income to new economic development schemes.

When troubles, such as we can see, are on the horizon, the last thing to do is to start to expand services. (Anything with the word 'development' in it should be cut from the spending plans). It's also foolish to hypothecate money for 'development' that you might well need just to cover shortfalls elsewhere.

Likewise, we think Fylde's plan to create a new post of Arts Officer this year - (A plan which in another financial climate we would be happy to support) - is equally foolish at the present time.

Princess Karen thought otherwise though, and proposed the budget and future financial forecast be adopted.

There was then a bit of an altercation in the Council meeting

This was because Fylde has implemented a special and different arrangement for conducting its budget meeting.

Quite why this should be the case is beyond us. The budget meeting is exactly the same as any other decision-taking meeting and in our view it should operate in exactly the same way. Furthermore it seems that the minutia of who may speak, when, and for how long, are adjusted annually to confound the unwary.

We regard this variation of procedure as being plain stupid, and to those who see it through the prism of political support for the majority group, it becomes yet another example of lack of officer neutrality .

Even Cllr Mrs Oades was caught out by the latest version of it when, responding to Cllr Buckley's proposition she began to speak, only to be interrupted by the Chief Executive who told her at this point she should only say whether or not she was proposing an alternative budget or whether or not she would be proposing an amendment to the proposition, and she should not actually make such a proposition at this time.

His argument was that the latest version of these procedural rules say they should debate the original proposition first, before any amendments to it are put.

That is exactly the reverse of normal, accepted procedure for debate.

Waiving the normal rules like this is a fundamental hallmark of most one-party states of course. When something causes difficulty for those in power, you simply change the rules to stop it happening again. North Korea is probably the world leader in this skill, but Fylde's Chief Executive seems happy to see FBC moving quickly up the rails behind them.

A 'Patsy' speech then followed from Conservative Cllr Roger Small supporting the Budget. Another pointed out a mistake on the name of 'Bryning with Warton' parish (which officers undertook to correct), and Conservative Cllr Richard Taylor also spoke about the budget.

We thought his tone was a bit more measured. In amongst the points he wanted to make, he said "I was naive as to how complex the funding streams for the Borough are. And I'm delighted to say that the officers and my fellow councillors have explained it in a manner to me that's made it understandable, and I'm confident that those funding streams are in place and will be delivered."

That's really nice, and we're pleased for him.

Readers might like to imagine how the non-Conservative councillors - (who were also elected just as he was), and who have been specifically denied the information and explanations he has so valued - might feel about it.

Then Cllr Mrs Oades spoke. She began by also thanking the finance staff. She worried about cuts in the Government Support Grant and the New Homes Bonus - about which she said "there is huge uncertainty about the future of this grant too which will have an adverse impact on council finances, indeed the MTFS has many warnings about our future finances and the need to continuously reduce costs and seek efficiencies."

Turning the those matters we have alluded to earlier, she went on to ask some questions, saying "So what's Plan B for when the Reserves run down in 2019? Has the Budget Working Group discussed this, if so what are they proposing? Are they talking about cutting services if so, which ones. Are they looking at increasing charges or are we going to charge residents for services which presently don't carry an additional charge, effectively charging twice for the same service?

One thing is for sure, these things will probably be discussed behind closed doors as the Budget Working Group is a one party state, so it may be that the future of Council services, which affect all residents throughout the Borough, will not be determined by all the legally elected representatives of this Borough."

She went on to note that changes to the New Homes Bonus will have further adverse effects on the Council's financial position.

Turning to the £31,000 proposal to fund an Arts Officer post she said "Whilst it would be a nice thing to have, it's not an essential service and is not a statutory one, nor will it be sustainable. What message will this send to our employees who have been working to reduce posts and overheads whilst maintaining services?"

Cllr Sandra Pitman was then at the root of what subsequently blew up and became a full blown row.

She spoke about the cuts to the County Museums service which would, she said, affect us all. Then, seemingly linking the LCC Museums Service to the proposed Arts Officer at Fylde, she said she was surprised that Cllr Oades did not support something which is progressive and not retrograde. "As a County Councillor, she obviously voted for cuts"

After she finished, and with no other speakers on the original proposition, the Mayor invited Cllr Oades to move her amendment - which she did.

It was: "That other means of funding the proposed Arts Officer post be sought, and that the £31,000 shown in the Revenue budget for this purpose be removed"

She went on to say that external funding has been used by Fylde Council in the past as a way of putting posts in place which are not essential but desirable; (eg the Cycling officer, Dunes officer and so on), and she thought that route should be followed in the very difficult times ahead.

But then - having been goaded by Cllr Pitman - Cllr Mrs Oades said she really had to finish by picking up on what Cllr Pitman said. She had spoken of cuts by the County Council and Cllr Oades said they were necessary because of the Government cuts, the Conservative cuts. They were absolutely savage and were unfair to Lancashire.

To be honest, the think the Mayor could have stopped Cllr Pitman wandering away from Fylde into LCC's budget, and likewise he could have pulled Cllr Oades up to bring her back to the agenda item. But it did not happen and the problem 'escalated' as they say these days.

We thought things had taken a turn for the better when Cllr Little sought to return to Fylde's agenda and began a defence of the Arts Officer proposal, saying part of it was to secure external funding, and it was intended to be Fylde wide.

At first,  Cllr Silverwood seemed happy to stay with Fylde, and spoke to say her business experience of arts funding suggested there was little if any available for places like Fylde. Then - perhaps unfortunately - she set off on the County Council budget again, saying a post at Fylde would not protect the libraries and museums in the county because LCC is re-organising its delivery areas, and the present provision of something like 74 libraries will potentially will become just 32.

Then, re-opening the wound, she said this was due to the governments "massive vicious cuts"

Oh Dear. You can see how these Bosnian jobs start, can't you dear reader?

Right on cue came Cllr Tim Ashton. He said "You know, if the opposition were in control of this council we would be facing a much larger council tax for the people of our Borough. It's quite clear that's not the right thing to do. It's so easy to spend other people's money isn't it...."

At this point we were (unusually) ready to agree with him.

He's the one who - as a Fylde Cabinet member ran the Streetscene department who reported a £600,000 overspend, and a £100,000 under delivery on income at the same time. At a stroke he spent £700,000 of our money that he didn't have. When criticised for this in a Scrutiny Committee his response was "It was unfortunate it happened, I regret it...... that it happened..... but I don't think anybody acted in a way, deliberately, to act wrongly in what happened, and at the end of the day nobody died"

Yes really.

Then when he became a County Councillor, he managed to spend another reported £9.2 Million (yes we do mean £9,200,000) of our money "so easily" on the ridiculous waste of money that his pet project 20 mph signs were.

So on that matter at least, we can agree that with him, it really is "so easy to spend other people's money"

He went on to say that's what Cllr Oades and her colleagues would have them do (which we thought was a bit rich given his past form).

Returning to the Fylde budget, he continued "Cllr Oades says she's not been involved in budgeting and won't be in the future. The Council sets the Council Tax. The Council sets the budget. I think you'll find we're elected to do that. The Opposition is quite within their rights to propose an alternative budget, and all 51 members can vote upon it, which is what we are doing tonight. Quite appropriate."

He then moved on to other topics before saying "Let me go on to Cllr Oades and Lancashire County Council and the savage cuts that had to be made. Let me tell you members that Cllr Oades, without fail, votes with the Labour Group at County Hall. She is an Independent Socialist. That's what we tried to name her because her hand goes up every time Labour vote for something. Indeed, the Conservatives on the County Council proposed an amendment to the budget which would have kept the Libraries and Museums open for a further 12 months. Councillor Oades voted against that. She voted against keeping our libraries and museums open for a further 12 months. Now for her to sit there and complain about the Government and what we've done is just wholly irresponsible. She seems to forget that the finances of this country were in a total mess when the last Labour Government were in, and we've had to pick up the pieces as a Conservative Government. And yes we had to make tough choices, but we're Conservatives and we will make those tough choices, and we'll make sure this country is back on the straight and narrow again."

We think he deludes himself in the belief that he is a national politician rather than a local councillor, but we'd be very happy to see him in that wider role - perhaps representing Lands End - or John O Groats - if they would have him.

Finally, he returned to the matter he ought to have been addressing, saying "Now let me go on to the post of the arts development officer...." and he went on to defend the proposal to keep it in the budget and said they should dismiss the amendment.

Both Cllr Small and Cllr Mrs Oades had indicated a wish to speak, and the Mayor said "Before I bring you in Cllr Small, I'm allowing Cllr Oades on a point of personal explanation."

She began to speak, but proceedings were interrupted by Cllr Harvey raising a 'Point of Order'.

This is a call which, once made, stops all debate, and the person raising it must then explain which of the Constitution's provisions they believe has been contravened by what was going on, but which needed to be stopped so urgently by their intervention.

Cllr Harvey said according to rule 3.5 of the procedure note it said that the mover of an amendment had no right of reply.

Bless. He's trying his best isn't he?

Sadly though, he's not been here long enough to know the ins and outs of the Constitution, and he didn't realise that a Point of Personal Explanation is not a right of reply in terms of an amendment. It is a provision which is in the Mayor's gift to allow, and he had done so.

With Cllr Harvey corrected, the Mayor told Cllr Mrs Oades to continue. An (understandably) angry Cllr Mrs Oades said Cllr Ashton has made several personal comments which she felt she had to speak on. And she began to try to explain why she had supported the Labour Group's budget at the County Council.

But she was not allowed to make progress in this endeavour because Cllr Ashton interrupted and shouted over what she was saying. Other members chimed in, and a general melee ensued.

Cllr Mrs Oades - always one to stand up to bullying - raised her voice several decibels in order to be heard, and the Mayor (quite properly) stood up.

That should have been a signal for others to be silent, but matters were so heated it did not work.

At this point the Chief Executive said "The Mayor had stood up. You are all overruled, and the Mayor has stood up"

Order was restored and the Mayor then said to Cllr Mrs Oades. "I am allowing you to carry on"

In full flood, and angry now, Cllr Mrs Oades went on to explain what she was trying to say, but Cllr Ashton kept interrupting her with jibes and comments. His volume increased, as did hers, and the melee resumed with others joining in to support those on either side of the disagreement.

At this Point Cllr Ashton shouted "I'm not listening to this any more. It's unacceptable"

And in complete disrespect of the Mayor, he got up, and appeared to storm out of the room, only to divert to the coffee machine and bring a drink with him into the meeting. We have never before seen such disrespect shown to the authority of the Mayor.

The Mayor had to stand again.

And the Chief Executive again had to call for silence because the Mayor was standing.

The Chief Executive then quite properly said "The Mayor has the final say on these proceedings. Councillor Oades really isn't making what is a technical point of personal clarification. If the Mayor allows it, that's at the Mayor's discretion. A point of Personal Explanation is where something has been previously said, is misinterpreted subsequently, then clarified. The Mayor has the final say. At this moment in time the Mayor is allowing Cllr Oades to speak. Every other councillor in this room needs to follow the orders of the Mayor unfortunately."

And he was doing SO well up to then.

He really should not have said the "unfortunately" word.

We suspect he meant that it was unfortunate for Cllr Ashton that he had to follow the Mayor's ruling, but it sounded as though he did not support what the Mayor was saying.

He corrected himself and then said, "I will ask the Mayor to continue, but other Members cannot keep butting in or standing up."

The Mayor then said "Thank you" and, turning to Cllr Mrs Oades he said "If you'd like to carry on"

Cllr Oades said she was trying to clarify what Cllr Ashton had said. She said in answer to his claim that she was an "Independent Socialist" she was trying to explain why she had voted with the Labour Group budget, and also that in December she had voted with the Conservatives at Lancashire County Council against the Labour Group's Corporate Plan.

Having completed her explanation and emphasised her independence of any political party, she sat down.

Thankfully, order resumed.

The last time we recall such unseemly behaviour in a meeting (and that was also a budget meeting) was at the meeting that closed the swimming pools where there was complete uproar, adjournments, and the Police were called.

We were close on to that again here and, if memory serves, Cllr Ashton was at the forefront of that previous episode as well, along with former Cllr John Coombes and former Cllr Simon Renwick back in 2008.

Happily, Cllrs Small and Speak brought some sense of order back into the present debate as the next two speakers, and they both calmed the tone down.

Cllr Speak, who is the deputy Mayor explained her perspective on the amendment then, in her best soft and gentle school governess manner said "I see some people nodding and you might agree with my sentiments, but what I don't like is all this backbiting and nastiness. I have to support Cllr Oades. Alright, she might go on a bit, but Councillor Ashton, you are very rude. You were very rude and you make it personal. And [she said, pointedly looking at those involved on the Conservative seats] I also don't like sniggering. I don't like it. I don't like to sit here watching you. Thank you"

There was complete silence as she spoke, probably because she rarely does so and people were surprised by her still, quiet voice.

We thought her intervention was excellent.

The amendment regarding looking for alternative funding for the new post of Arts Officer was lost at the vote of course.

It was always going to be.

It was a Conservative prepared budget and they have a clear overall majority on the Council.

That just left there to be a vote on the un-amended (Conservative Party) prepared budget proposition.

This was a recorded vote, and readers can look up the who voted which way in the minutes of the meeting on Fylde's website. However, in general, all the Conservatives present voted for the budget, and they would have been enough to carry the majority anyway.

But interestingly, almost all the non-conservative group, (that's Independent, Liberal Democrat, Ratepayer and Labour councillors) abstained from voting.

We suspect that was for two reasons.

Firstly, having been allowed no part in its preparation, the non-conservative councillors probably felt that because they had not had the briefings and heard the arguments for and against various aspects of the budget, they were not equipped to make proper judgements about individual items within it.

And secondly, we imagine they were making a statement that they were not willing to share the responsibility for a budget and decisions in which they had had no serious input.

As readers will see, a side-effect of the present modus-operandi of the Conservative group is driving those outside their command and control mechanism into ever closer union and co-operation.

We suspect that's not going to be the only change we will see at Fylde in the coming months.

Dated:  11 March 2016


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