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Corporate??  Plan??

Corporate?? Plan??

Those of a certain age will remember the 1967 sit-com "Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width" - a show about two tailors of differing races and religions.

In essence it was a story about their efforts to carve out a living as partners struggling to cope with different ideas about culture and moral probity.

It's believed the 'Never mind....'  phrase was originally used as a device to con the unwary into believing that quantity is more important than quality, and it originated from unscrupulous London backstreet tailors palming you off with cheap material instead of the good cloth for your suit.

We were reminded of this saying when we saw one of the changes made by the Fylde Conservative Group to its 'Corporate Plan' - (or as we expect it to become known, the 'Fylde Conservative Group Manifesto'

One of the changes they made was to remove the former vision strapline which said: ‘To Achieve Excellence’ - and to replace it with 'Let Fylde Prosper'

Old strapline  New strapline
Old New

We see that fundamental shift in Fylde Council's direction as a modern twist on 'Never mind the quality - feel the width" and we worry about the implication of unscrupulous people palming us off with lesser quality.

One of our more astute readers also noted that the strapline change involved a shift from the positive, active tense of  "To"  to a more  laid back, reactive tense of "Let"

More seriously........ (And actually, very seriously).....

One of the items on Fylde's last Council meeting was what Fylde is calling its 'Corporate Plan'....

We regard it an being neither corporate, nor a plan, as we will explain.

It sparked a very significant debate at Council, and we think this matter will have far reaching implications for Fylde.

The debate was not so much about what was in the plan (because it is so vaguely worded that unless you compare the wording of the three drafts and the 'feedback' on them) it's difficult to see what it actually means, and even then some of the concepts are so broad that most folk won't see what's behind the words anyway.

No, the big issue was not the content, it was the process - how the plan had been prepared.

 THE STORM GATHERS

The underlying fundamentals of the hiatus have their roots in an increasingly informal administrative style, and the change from Cabinet governance to a Committee system following the public vote in the referendum of 2014

Regular readers will recall from our reporting at the time (and from the letters page of the local paper) that the Conservative group (which holds an overall majority) declared their opposition to this change.

But following a petition and referendum (under powers introduced by the Conservative government's Localism Act), they were required to implement the change, despite having declared their opposition to it.

There is now a growing realisation amongst councillors outside the Conservative group (that's about a third of the council), that whilst the arrangements put in place for new committee system gave the impression of being what was called-for during the campaign for change, there has, in fact, been a stitch-up that uses 'smoke and mirror' doublespeak-wording to create a series of processes which actually exclude the committees from having proper responsibility for the services they are apparently responsible for.

The dawning of this realisation amongst the non-Conservative members began with the process to prepare the budget (as we reported in The New Committees: Finance and Democracy ).

It solidified to become a concern with this corporate plan that we now report.

And it exploded into wrath after a mistaken decision by Conservative councillors about a playground at Warton - a process which exposed the fact that under the present governance arrangements, none of the programme committees actually decide their own budgets.

This explosive cocktail of realisation has come together in the last few weeks, and it is no fiction to say those feeling scorned by the arrogant exercise of untrammelled power by the majority party are furious.

Perhaps even worse though, is another impression this episode has generated. Whether this impression is correct or not is not at all clear - but we are hearing concern expressed that some officers within the council appear have connived with the majority party to bring this situation about.

There is a growing view outside the majority party that the governance arrangements put in place after the referendum - arrangements that the majority party had previously opposed in principle, and arrangements which were mostly drafted by officers, and voted through by the majority on a Working Group operating without transparency or public accountability - have been badly designed and implemented.

The question taxing brains at the moment is whether this unsatisfactory situation has come about through design or incompetence on the part of the officers.

Whatever that may be, we think it likely that Fylde is entering a turbulent phase as a result of these changes having now entered plain sight.

As one non-Conservative councillor told us "I'm shocked, but not."

We thought  that described the situation perfectly.

The unnecessary conflict that is now in prospect saddens us.

There are undoubtedly some excellent, able, and consensual-working individuals within the Conservative group, but those presently holding sway over their internal policy decisions clearly have no wish to work consensually, and this is doing incredible damage to the ideal that most people wanted to see from the governance change - that of our councillors working together.

We recall Councillor Tim Ashton arrogantly dismissing consensual working very explicitly during a heated council meeting a while back.

He argued that there was no need for consensus. His party had won the election and they would do just what they wanted. He clearly felt we had elected a political party to dominate the Council's decision taking, not that we had elected councillors who would work together for the good of Fylde.

It is as almost as though those holding this view do not understand that the role of a politician is - or at least should be - very different to that of a councillor.

They appear to think that Fylde elects a political party, when in fact (excepting for the European elections) we elect individual councillors.

If we elected a party there would be no names to vote for individually on the ballot paper and, like the dreadful European system, the party would select which of its apparatchiks it placed in the role, (and when to change them).

This sort of 'party rule' attitude is at the root of Fylde's present difficulties, and we can't see it improving whilst those with such views hold sway in the group.

In fact we could envisage things getting a whole lot worse if the Conservative group retain their present intransigent approach to the proper operation of the committee system - if they continue along a path that seeks to freeze the committees into - in effect - advisory bodies to be consulted for an opinion, and only permitted to take inconsequential decisions, rather than committees with proper responsibility for service delivery, preparing their own priorities, forming their own budgets, and monitoring their own spending.

So, what are the three strands that are causing this present turbulence?

Well, the matter of forming the budget is slowly building a head of steam as it is prepared behind the scenes by a Working Party set up using the Conservative majority specifically to exclude independent members or councillors from other party groups.

The issue of the mistaken Warton Playground decision is something that will go to a future Finance and Democracy Committee and we expect to report that when it does.

So that returns us to the Corporate Plan issue in this article.

We'll get to the debate at Council shortly, but first some factual information.

 SOME FACTS ABOUT THE 'CORPORATE PLAN'

The unassuming, and - deceptively - simple one page plan is possibly the most important document the Council produces.

It drives everything Fylde does.

It is the foundation of the local plan's 'Vision Statement', and of the contentious proposals about employment land and the housing numbers that Fylde believes are required.

It casts the mould for the creation of internal 'Directorate Service Plans' that are actioned without further authority by officers using their (in our view grossly overblown) delegated powers.

It is a distillation of the 'essence of Fylde'  that external organisations (Police, Fire, County Council, Blackpool, Wyre and Preston councils etc), ranging in size from the massive NHS, to the small Fylde Citizen's Advice Bureau, will use to guide their work in relation to Fylde.

It shows them what's important to Fylde Council.

The Chief Executive's reports to the November Committee cycle and Monday's council meeting have said

"The Corporate Plan is a high level strategic document that forms part of the Council's budget and policy framework." and "....the Council produces a Corporate Plan that is the primary customer facing document which outlines the key strategic objectives and outcomes the Council intends to deliver over the period of the plan'.

So it's important.

 WHAT THE PROCESS SHOULD BE

We think most people would expect that if you operate a committee system - with each committee responsible for some specific aspects of the Council's work - and you are going to devise a broad overarching plan for the next four years, then the way to go about that would be:

  • for each committee to take the various topic areas they are responsible for, and first look what happened with them in the previous plan,
  • then hear from officials about the present state of play,
  • and finally hear about the issues coming down the track to meet them in the future,
  • then having a good debate about all of this and come to a view about what the committee's priorities should be for the period under consideration.
  • Then they would need to consider some sort of prioritising of these matters over time - which ones to do now which to do next year and so on.
  • And there would need to be some sort of broad estimate of the resource / financial impact of what they entailed.

After that, each committee would be in a position to recommend what they had agreed to the full council meeting - where the combined brains of all councillors could add to or modify what individual committees had proposed (if the full council thought there were better ideas, for example).

We'd quite like to see a public consultation built into this process as well - either (and preferably) before the committees consider it or afterwards, before the final decision at Council

We think that process ought to deliver a plan that more or less everyone felt able to sign up to, and had ownership of.

It would have been prepared corporately and, with timescales and (at least some approximate) resource identification, it would be plan.

But that's not what has happened.

 WHAT THE PROCESS HAS BEEN

Around last July, someone at Fylde arranged for an organisation called the 'Local Government Association' whose headquarters are in Smith Square, London, to lead, or at least to 'facilitate' a meeting in St Annes, with the objective of considering the potential content for Fylde's Corporate Plan.

Readers can quite reasonably think of the LGA as being the 'Trade Body' for all Councils.

But only the members of the Fylde's Conservative Group were invited to this meeting.

No other Councillors even knew about it; let alone were invited to it.

The meeting facilitated "a session with the leading group members on strategic priorities for the current term of office", and we are advised this meeting provided the content for the first draft version of the plan in September.

The meeting took place at the Masonic Hall's rooms on Garden Street, reportedly because there was no suitable venue available in the Town Hall.

The room hire and some refreshments provided for the meeting brought a bill of £330 which Fylde's officers have paid. We have a copy of the invoice from a Freedom of Information request we submitted.

But we were amazed to be told that "The Council does not have a list of the leading group members that attended"

Nor did the LGA facilitator, because he did not retain any records because "the content was administration only"

But that's what our Freedom of Information request revealed.

Furthermore, it said that the email records regarding arrangements for the event between Fylde and the LGA "are not required to be retained because the content does not fall within any of the categories in the [Fylde] document retention policy."

(We asked for clarification as to whether this response meant they actually have been destroyed, and have since been told that none of these emails now exist, either with the officers concerned  or on the backup mailservers).

Fylde's officers only attended the last two hours of the meeting, after lunch.

The first draft of the plan resulting from this meeting appeared on the agenda of each committee in November.

It was not in the 'Decisions' section of their agenda, it was in the "Information" section,  and the Chief Executive's covering introductory report said.....

"WHY IS THIS INFORMATION BEING GIVEN TO THE COMMITTEE?
The information is being included on the agenda of every committee in the November cycle of meetings to ensure that all elected members are aware of the opportunity to provide comment, suggestion and seek clarification on the proposed Corporate Plan."


Readers will note there is no suggestion here that it should be debated and decisions taken on the content - (which is what committees are actually for) - nor does it invite or recommend councillors to propose and vote on changes.

Some of our readers might think, well, if the committee was given the chance to make changes, where's the problem?  They could take a democratic vote to make a change of their own couldn't they?

Taking each of those issues - having the opportunity to make changes to a plan statement that says, for example (as one does), "Create a digital council" - (which could mean anything from the creation of electronic avatars of councillors who would no longer need to physically attend meetings, through to not using any or as many paper documents as now) when you haven't heard the debate that went into forming those words, don't know what's behind them, you haven't been told how far it developed in the previous plan, nor what the present situation is, nor what is known to be coming in the future - we think most people would agree it's pretty difficult to propose a meaningful change.

As we've said before, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

And as for 'they could propose changes', well, we went to most of the committees in the November cycle to listen and record what happened with this item at each one.

We found (even with those Chairmen who we thought generally did a good job) that either they had been fed duff information about this item, or they had been prevailed upon to limit the committee's debate on it by indicating the Committee was not the place for changes, or that it was only on the agenda for information, and members should only ask questions or make comments.

We won't embarrass any of them by attributing these comments to individuals in case it was unintentional on their part, but we heard the following quotes from each different Chairmen as they introduced the Corporate Plan Item to their Committee.

  • "Right, Corporate Plan. Anybody got any [pause to correct]. Don't forget, there's no voting on this, this is just to look at it....."
  • "Any other questions or comments on the corporate plan?"
  • "Item x is the Corporate plan, and it's simply for information only. OK? "
  • "We'll go on to the next item, and its just an information item and that's the new Corporate Plan. That's just for information basically, and that will be submitted at the Council meeting in December. This is just for your information."

One or two committees did see councillors make some suggestions for change, but one way or another they were persuaded pass them to the officer co-ordinating the 'feedback' after the committee meeting.

At no point did any chairman invite anyone to make a proposition for a change to the wording as a committee decision. Quite the opposite in fact. But, to be fair, from the other angle, we didn't see anyone push that issue properly and say 'I wish to move an amendment.' either.

So yes, the opportunity for change did exist, but with an introduction from the Chairman such as we quote above, and without having heard the briefings that led to the wording in the plan, or having some inside knowledge about the underlying aims of what it really means, or where it was expected to lead, we ask whether any of our readers would feel comfortable as a committee member sticking their necks out to formally propose a change?

There was no formal resolution from any of the committees, but there was some 'feedback' outside of the committees.

That resulted in

  • 3 different Councillors making a total of 9 suggestions for changes
  • 1 'Committee Feedback' of 2 matters. (Actually these were plan omissions and raised by a member of the public in the 'Public Platform' part. However, there is no mechanism for such concerns to be included as part of the meeting so it has been classified as 'Committee Feedback' because councillors and officers referred to it during their meeting and it became 'committee feedback').
  • 9 different members of staff suggested a total of 18 changes

So, something like 29 changes were suggested.

Once these had been collated, we think Fylde's officers commented on what they thought should happen to the suggestions that had been made, and published the list (including the officer's recommendations about each of the suggestions) to all councillors.

Once again this was sent "For Information".

But then these changes were discussed privately between (just) the Conservative councillors and officers.

As a result, some of the changes that officers had previously said would happen were not actually changed in the final version of the 'Corporate Plan'

So we think it was the private meeting with the Conservatives which actually took the decision on which of the changes would be accepted into the plan.

Of the 29 changes proposed, we found 9 that had been accepted, 12 that were rejected, and 9 that were either disregarded or partially agreed.

We also noted another 7 or so changes to the final draft of the plan - some of which were significant, some less so - that must have been made separately by officers, or at the meeting with the Conservative councillors outside of the committee process.

And this was the process by which Fylde produced the final draft list that appeared on the Council agenda.

Frankly we were appalled at how this so-called plan had been produced

The law requires the composition of committees to reflect the overall composition of the Council. So if a Council was half Conservative and half Labour, each committee would have to have 50% of its members from each of those parties.

Part of the reason for this is to ensure that information about matters being discussed by committees is received and understood by a representative spectrum of parties and groups.

This was also one of the key aims of those seeking the change back to Committees.

The Cabinet system had excluded most elected councillors from information and proper participation. The referendum required this to change, but here was history repeating itself.

The way the corporate plan has been implemented means that only one political party has had the benefit of the briefings by the LGA and officers, and only one political party decided what to recommend to the council as its 'corporate plan'

Readers will see from this, how easily suspicions about officer connivance with a single political party could arise.

And having read the story, they will understand when we say this document cannot properly be called corporate - because it was only prepared by, and it represents only the views that were input or agreed by the Conservative members of Council.

And it cannot be a plan because it does not set out how the aspirations it contains are to be timetabled over the plan period, nor how they will be resourced.

So to us, it is neither corporate, nor a plan.

We regard it as the Fylde Conservative Group Manifesto

 WHAT HAPPENED AT COUNCIL?

The meeting had heard debates about a number of issues before the Corporate Plan item.

One of these was a proposition from Cllr Peter Collins to change an assumption Fylde is making in its Local Plan about the method it uses to calculate the five year housing supply figure.

We emailed those of our readers who are registered for notifications to tell them about this item, because it was potentially significant for some.

If agreed at the meeting that night, the change might have affected decisions due to be taken on planning applications the following Wednesday, that we know some of our readers were involved with.

In short, we understand that if adopted, the change could have had a big impact on the number of houses Fylde is required to provide, potentially reducing the number of new developments that must be given permission where Fylde cannot currently demonstrate it has a five year supply of housing land with 'appropriate' permissions.

Most of the independent councillors supported the change to be made that night, but speaker after speaker from the Conservative group called for it to be referred to the Development Management Committee for a longer debate and recommendation to Council.

We're not suggesting this was wrong, it was a perfectly legitimate amendment to make, and Cllr Collins, (albeit reluctantly) agreed with it and the amendment was carried, so it will be considered by the Development Management Committee and we hope to bring the story from that.

We mention it here simply because of the strong pressure for it to be considered by the DM Committee. It was repeatedly said by the Conservative members - that the Committee was the place for matters to  be debated in detail.

The procedural contrast between this item, and the procedure used for the Corporate Plan, could not have been more stark.

 THE CORPORATE PLAN AT COUNCIL

 Cllr Susan Fazackerley

introduced the item and said it was the first Corporate Plan to be produced under the new Committee system, and she outlined how it had been produced in the recent past under the Cabinet system.

Then she said under the new Committee system the initial draft had been "developed by the leading group with professional advice from officers" and she related the rest of the process to date

She went on to say, "...despite some criticism of this system, I think it fair to say it has been far more inclusive than the previous process. Although the initial document was created by the leading group, the group who the electorate chose to spearhead the council for the next four years, every elected member has had several opportunities for input. I found it very disappointing that only two non-conservative members provided any feedback at consultation stage.

One of the facilitators from the Local Government Association, the local government support team advisor at the workshop held for members of the leading group last autumn has commented 'The leading group in any local authority, regardless of political persuasion has the right / mandate to initiate policy development and direction of the Council. They have a mandate to lead.

Provided there are mechanisms for engagement, scrutiny and checks, this is the normal process in the everyday operation of every Local Authority the LGA has worked with.

The proposals for the corporate plan were included for consultation on every committee agenda and sent direct to every elected member and several partners. This represents the opportunity to engage, as well as the opportunity for scrutiny on at least 6 occasions.

He also said 'I find it hard to understand exactly what the challenge is in respect to the process in developing the Corporate Plan' having the view that in his opinion, it is as inclusive as anywhere he has worked on behalf of the LGA."


Given that this was the first actual opportunity to debate (as opposed to provide 'feedback' on) the plan, and that Cllr Fazackerley spoke of a 'challenge' to it (which, when she spoke, had not materialised), we thought there could be no more fitting description of her words on the matter than 'The lady doth protest too much, methinks' which, equally fittingly, is a quotation emanating from another tragedy.

It sounded to us as though she knew there was going to be trouble and was trying to take the wind out of its sails.

She then went on to say why it was in a one page format, and that it would be reviewed annually. And with that, she proposed it's adoption.

Princess Karen said she was happy to second the proposition.

 Queen Elizabeth Oades

was the next person to speak. And she was angry. She said:

"Thank you Mr Mayor. I'd like to move an amendment please, and it is that :

"This incarnation of the Corporate Plan is received but not accepted by the full council as its Corporate Plan for the years 2016 to 2020"

She continued: "This document is not a corporate plan, it's a Conservative Party plan prepared by a single political party, and its contents do not, and cannot be said to, represent the spectrum of opinion that is the Full Council, because the evidence on which it's based and the options available to be considered, were presented to, and debated by only one political party within the Council.

And indeed it wasn't even placed on Committee agendas as an item for debate. Only for information.

No information was provided, no cross party debate took place on whatever issues and options might have been in earlier drafts of the plan, and it's not been offered for amendment to those outside the majority party.

Whilst we accept that governance is the right of the majority, over a third - actually 37% - of Fylde's democratically elected councillors, each of whom hold an equal mandate from the electorate, have been denied their natural right to sharing and contributing to the preparation of this high level document.

You have therefore denied all the many thousands of people who voted for us, a right to be represented.

This cannot be said to be a process that has delivered a corporate plan.

Councillors who are not members of the majority party were denied all knowledge of the issues and options proposed and considered, and have been unable to either support or disagree with what the majority party has set out to be the plan for Fylde.

We're told that the Conservatives held an 'awayday' to discuss the plan. No such opportunity was afforded to those of us on the other side of the Chamber.

What was this away day? What was its status? Who authorised it?

If it was training then why was it not offered to members of all groups.

It wasn't a steering group or joint committee or a partnership body. It wasn't a sub-committee or working party, because no committee had nominated members onto it.

And it wasn't a Chairman's Briefing because there were no reports submitted.

Surely it can't have been a Political Group meeting, because the Council paid for the room hire and refreshment, and officers were in attendance.

This behaviour is appalling. It's what we have come to expect from this administration. It's arrogant in the extreme. It's not only contemptible and offensive, it's beneath even you. You now have a comfortable majority on the Council, so there's no need for this type of behaviour, and I can only believe that you find it enjoyable.

I think that the public would be appalled if they could see these 'bully-boy' tactics.

I'm sure they expect us to work together with their best interests at the forefront of our minds, not scoring 'pathetic' points. It's time you grew up and remembered why you are here.

I believe that the process used to produce this plan was wrong. It represents a failure of both natural justice and good governance, an it fails to produce a plan that the whole of the Council can support, or even accept.

I move this amendment, and I ask for a recorded vote.


Cllr Linda Nulty seconded the amendment.

Whilst Cllr Oades was speaking, we were saddened to see looks of incredulity and smirks of humour on the faces of several of the Conservative Councillors. (The former appearing not to understand what they had done, and the latter seeming to revel in it).

We thought that to her credit, Cllr Fazackerley looked shell-shocked and bemused. She is one of very few councillors who remember how things should be done properly, and we suspect Cllr Oades' comments had hit home with her.

Chief amongst the smirkers that we could see was Conservative newcomer Cllr Neil Harvey. We've heard him speak in Committee and he has a brain. But he appeared very short on the idea of working to a consensus. He raised his hand to speak, and we've reproduced his speech in full, so readers can judge for themselves.

 Cllr Neil Harvey

said: "Thank you Mr Mayor. I have to confess, I mean, I won't be voting in favour of the amendment. I have to say I think there is a manifest absurdity in the amendment that's been put forward, and a fundamental misunderstanding of how democratic processes work in this country. [Audible laughter in disbelief from the public gallery].

Please allow me just to expand for a moment what happens at different tiers of government.

You imagine the national government. The electorate votes a particular Government in. Now, that government, the elected government, then sets the priorities for legislation for the next however many years they're going to be in, and their vision for the country going forward. Imagine if David Cameron, before he wanted to introduce a piece of legislation or the Conservatives, before they wanted to introduce a piece of legislation, if they had to first consult with Jeremy Corbyn and say 'We're thinking of doing this, can we have your input into our legislation first, before we decide what we're going to do in the country in the next five years.

It would be absolutely absurd and ridiculous.

The way parliament operates it has -"
[interruption by the Mayor - "If you would stick to the point please"] "I believe I am doing, Mr Mayor, that - committees scrutinise,   or put forward their....."

[At this point, it seemed to us that he was about to say "or put forward their own ideas" but realised that in doing so he would defeat his own argument, so he stopped mid-sentence: then changed tack before continuing.]

"It works in the same way but we're a further tier down."

"Now I believe that Councillor, the Leader, Councillor Fazackerley, listed exhaustively the opportunities that had been given for all members to have some input into the plan. It think it's right, how democratic processes work, that the leading group would look to set the
[figures ?]. They have consulted. We have consulted, and it is a shame that only two non-Conservative elected members did submit their comments, so I really do think this amendment is an absurdity and I certainly can't support it."

Then he sat down.

We have to beg to differ with his perception, and with his apparent inexperience and understanding of the process of governance.

Thankfully, we do not elect a political party.

We elect Members of a Parliament. That's their official title.

A Parliament.

Coming from the old French root of 'parlee' meaning 'spoken' - through the old English verb 'parley" (as in 'to hold a parley'), which was originally associated with a discussion between two sides during a truce in war, but  in modern use it now means a conference between opposing sides in a dispute.

Parliament is exactly that.

A place where those holding opposing points of view hear the evidence, confer, debate, and come to an accepted majority view.

It is absolutely not a debate amongst the members of single political party as Cllr Harvey believes.

The debate of opposing views is EXACTLY the basis of our Parliamentary Democracy.

And although Members of Parliament group themselves into (supposedly) like-minded membership groups, it is the Parliament, (and then the Sovereign) that determines which legislative proposals will be implemented for the country, not a single political party.

To do otherwise would, in effect, deliver us into a one-party state.

Perhaps that would suit Cllr Harvey better.

Perhaps he would feel more at home with Fylde as a one party state, and addressing Cllr Fazackerley as 'Our Dear Leader Kim Jong-Sue'

For that seems to be the direction of travel if you follow his logic. Perhaps it is the aim of some members of Fylde's Conservative group on the Council.

We have digressed again. We think it was an important digression - but it is one from which we now return to the Council meeting.

Cllr Hayhurst said that half an hour ago, they had discussed a proposition from Cllr Collins, an it was unanimously agreed "that it would be an idea, an good idea, for the matter to be properly addressed by being discussed in committee."

"But here", he said, "we seem to be going in the opposite direction. On the basis that whilst we have a committee structure which lends itself to providing a corporate plan, and the word is corporate, then the fact is that all members should be involved. It obviously doesn't seem right that we work one way in one direction and the other way in another direction. It does seem that we're doing things wrongly."

 Cllr Roger Lloyd

said he supported Cllr Oades' statement [we think he meant her amendment] and drew attention to what he thought was improper wording in a paragraph of the Chief Executive's report which he quoted as saying ".... 'providing every elected member': Adding "I think it should be 'providing only Conservative Members' the opportunity to [indistinct prepare?] the corporate plan."

He went on "I feel its a sordid and quite sad business this. And one that doesn't reflect well on the democratic processes involved in Local Government in the Fylde. The fact is, the whole future direction of Fylde Borough Council and its corporate plan is verging on the dictatorial, a future that is eroding the democratic processes and a future that's dimming the transparency in Fylde Borough Council.

The people of this Borough expect and deserve an open democracy, not a closed shop.

That is why I'm supporting this statement
[amendment?]. Mr Mayor that is all I have to say."

 Cllr Elaine Silverwood

said "Thank you Mr Mayor. A number of times this evening, members have referred to the 'new' committee system, and they've used that to say, OK, we've not got the Cabinet now, we've got the committee that's where we make decisions. I think it's absolutely vital that Cllr Oades has put this amendment forward this evening, because we see the opportunity to have a look at this again and debate it.

I remember speaking at the Finance and Democracy meeting, and I was aggrieved, as other members were, that we were only allowed to note the item on the agenda. It *was* challenged, and it still didn't make any difference.

I remember that night we had an item on the agenda that, if we're honest, we all thought was rather minor, but we gave it probably forty minutes of debate. Yet something a serious as the corporate plan, something that will affect every single person, every resident who votes for us in this borough we were only given the opportunity to note it.

We're being criticised this evening that only two members of the non-conservative side put suggestions forward. None of those suggestions put forward by the two non-conservatives have been accepted in the Corporate Plan .

Again, this should be one of these things that, as Cllr Fiddler asked to take the Notice of Motion back to the committee and debate it because it's so serious, this again should be something like that, and not hurried through just on political balance.

I am appalled to hear about this 'awayday'. We should have answers to those questions that Cllr Oades asked. We should have answers as to 'have our residents paid for this jolly that the Conservatives have attended?' ..... I think we all deserve answers to those questions. We're always talking about us being a transparent Council, and I think it's absolutely crucial to hear those answers, and jolly or not, its something we should all be aware of."

 Cllr Fazackerley

summed up the amendment, saying "I'm in a state of shock really because, I think I must have been asleep [indistinct 'or something?'] because people have misunderstood what I've been saying. Six occasions for non-leading group members to contribute. How can I ....[break to complain about other councillors distracting her by speaking behind her, and the Mayor chided them, calling for one meeting.] ...... the words of the lead advisor of the Local Government Association - which isn't a Conservative organisation - it's a Local Government Association

"As inclusive as anywhere he has worked with on behalf of the LGA. It is normal practice for the leading group of any local authority to take the lead. They have a mandate to lead."

Those aren't the words of the Conservative Group. Those aren't my words, they're the words of an independent government body. We have a mandate to lead, and somebody had to kick off the process and the leading group all, apparently, all over the country, that is what happens. That the Leading group kicks off the process and then invites comment and input from other members of Council.

Now, I'm sorry, I'm not going to be an apologist for what has happened, I think we did the right thing. I think we tried to be inclusive. I genuinely think tried to be inclusive. But obviously we failed, or our intentions were mis-interpreted, the opposition are unhappy with what's happened. I have no more to say except in the words of Luther (?) "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise".


We have to disagree with her as well.

She just doesn't get it, does she?

Firstly we disagree about accuracy. She claims to be quoting the words of the lead advisor of an independent government body.

As yet, we do not know the identity of this person. She implied it was someone from within the LGA. We can't say for certain, but we think that is unlikely. The greater probability is that they used a Councillor from another Council - the so-called 'peer' system which the LGA operate, which is nothing more than a view from outside Fylde.

And in a poor parody of Donald Rumsfeld - at present we know that his credentials to proffer advice to Fylde are unknown, we therefore know the value and validity of that advice are also unknown. And we know that we don't yet know his political affiliation. It is quite possible that Fylde's Leader asked the LGA for, and was sent, a Conservative councillor from elsewhere as their peer facilitator. How 'independent' would that be, our readers might well ask?

What we do know is that the LGA is not an arm of Government, nor is it a government body as Cllr Fazackerley claimed.

It is business limited by guarantee and has four sub-companies. It is not independent in the sense that most people would understand that term, but its Leadership board (The chair, vice and deputy chairs of the Association) are nominated annually by the four main political groups. Independent of politics it is not, but politically balanced it may be.

Secondly, we question the statement this facilitator made. It is likely that when s/he refers to it being like this 'all over the country' that simply reflects the situation that, as yet, the vast majority of councils 'all over the country' still operate under the Cabinet system and - as we are blue in the face for the telling of it - that awful system places the whole of the power and authority of the Council into the hands of one person - the Council Leader - who distributes some of it (usually) to his nominees in the same political party as Cabinet members.

That leader is elected by a political majority on the council. Ergo, there is no other way to 'kick start' a plan in the Cabinet system other than by the leading political group drafting it. There is no other process available because all authority is vested in the Leader.

But because the Cabinet was such an awful way of doing things, Fylde's electorate voted to throw it out in a referendum.

That discredited Cabinet system is now a ten year mistake in an otherwise sensible hundred and twenty-odd years of operating the Committee system which Fylde's referendum caused to be re-adopted here last year.

Under the Committee system, power and authority vests not in a single Council Leader, but it is retained by the full council and the *politically balanced* committees it chooses to empower with limited scope to take decisions. THEY are the ones who should 'kickstart the process.' THEY are the ones that should hear the options and other information, and THEY are the ones that should take decisions as to which aspects of their responsibility they should include in a draft plan to be debated by the (politically balanced) full council.

And frankly, it should be Fylde's officers who are advising those (politically balanced) committees about what they might want to include in the plan. That's what they are paid for

An officer has two roles. To help members of the Council to frame the policies and decisions the Council wants to adopt, and to execute the decisions of a Committee or of the Council.

Nothing more, nothing less.

It is officers that should be giving advice and information to members, not someone who has been parachuted in from elsewhere without local knowledge of the area, its culture, and its needs.

But the real stupidity and disgrace in all of this is that because all committees are politically balanced to reflect the overall political makeup of the Council, there is a Conservative majority on each of them. So unless enough of their Conservative number see the wisdom of accepting a 'non-Conservative' proposition when the Committee votes to decide something, there is a guaranteed inbuilt majority for the Conservatives to carry every vote a committee takes.

So we can see only three reasons for doing it the way it has been done.

  • Either the civic testosterone is so rampant amongst the Conservatives that it is being done this way as a gratuitous demonstration of the arrogant use of power; or,
  • The Conservative hierarchy are so insecure and anxious that their members on a committee cannot be relied upon to toe the party line that they dare not let them loose to vote; or,
  • The intention is to exclude information from elected councillors in other groups to reduce their capacity for proper, legitimate, and healthy challenge during a rigorous debate of what anyone has proposed.

When the vote on Cllr Oades' amendment was taken it was (as expected) lost. The actual voting was

For the amendment
Cllrs Barker, Beckett, Brickles, Chew, Clayton, P Collins, Ford, Hayhurst, Henshaw, Hodgson, Lloyd, Nulty, Oades, Rigby, Silverwood, Hardy (16)

Against the amendment
Aitken, Akeroyd, Andrews, Anthony, Ashton, Blackshaw, Buckley, D Collins, Cornah, Donaldson, Eaves, Fazackerley, Fiddler, Fradley, Green, Harvey, Jacques, Little, Mulholland, B Nash, E Nash, Pitman, Pounder, Redcliffe, Settle, Singleton, Small, Taylor, Threlfall, Willder (30)

To be honest, we did think it had been a slightly unusual wording of amendment - to receive the report, rather than to accept it. But those with grey hairs and more experience might have wondered if something else was behind it.

We were put in mind of an earlier proposition by former Cllr Charlie Duffy - who proposed a change to rename the Development Management Committee to Large Planning Application Rubber-stamping Committee"

That proposition had produced similar ire from the Conservative seats, but Cllr Duffy soon turned the tables when he would up the debate and said "You'll see by how people vote tonight who's happy with Central Government policy, and who's not."

He had cast the Conservative members in the mould of having to defend the indefensible.

We wonder if Cllr Oades' amendment to have the Corporate Plan received but not accepted might also have had an ulterior motive - into which the Conservative group - flushed and smirking with the self-righteous arrogance of what they believe to be unassailable power, may have blindly stumbled.

Time will tell.

After her amendment was lost, the rules of debate required a further opportunity to debate the original proposition from our Dear Leader, (because the loss of an amendment does not mean that the original proposition has been lost (or won). The original proposition was simply 'parked' whilst the amendment was debated and voted upon.)

Cllr Hayhurst was on his feet.  He was concerned about one of the items in the corporate plan which said "Channel business rates funding opportunities to economic development" and he worried that with the huge budget reductions Fylde is facing in the next few years, and the loss of a £700,000 LCC grant toward recycling, the Council was going to need every penny it could muster. And if they agreed that statement should remain in the plan, as it was worded, it left no option to use income from business rates to offset the Council's spending except on economic development, and he thought that wording should be removed.

(We expect to do an article on Fylde's impending financial problems shortly).

Cllr Oades

rose to speak again about the Corporate Plan process. She said:

"Cllr Harvey actually exactly illustrated the point I made, because what he referred to is a Manifesto. It's what the government puts forward as a Manifesto.

This is supposed to be a Corporate Plan and it means the body corporate, the Council.

The plan appears not to have allocated or apportioned resources to any of the actions proposed. It has no measurable targets, no financial implications, and no pre-defined success criteria.

It's not a plan. It's an aspiration, which is not to be welcomed in relation to the highest level strategic document that the Council produces.

A corporate plan can have no credibility if it's prepared by only one part of the Council. It's therefore not corporate, and it's not a plan because the process to implement it, the resources it will require, and the outcomes that will be measured to assess its performance all unknown."


Q.E.D. 

Cllr Harvey

spoke again saying of Cllr Mrs Oades and how it was a shame that she didn't mobilise her troops more effectively to respond to the consultation. "The opportunity was there to comment, and in terms of saying that this only represents a certain portion of the borough, the portion that's Conservative, then I would have to say that you've not represented your portion very well. The opportunity was there to effectively represent your wards and by not responding, and taking advantage of the opportunities to have more input into it, I have to say has been a neglection of your duties and responsibilities the electorate."

Cllr Elaine Silverwood

said she would just remind them that his comment about Cllr Oades mobilising her the troops was irrelevant as they are all independent councillors, and they did not follow a whip. Adding that they had tried at every committee to engage in debate, but it had not been allowed.

SUMMING UP ON THE MAIN PROPOSITION

With no other speakers of significance, Cllr Fazackerley then summed up on the her main proposition, saying "I'm not an apologist for this corporate plan. It had no secret agenda. I think the opposition are trying to make us feel as if we've been involved in something furtive and undercover and something only benefiting the Tories, which is absolute and complete nonsense.

We felt, or we feel, that what we have produced is a good high level plan for the next four years. Those of you that have been on the Council for a while will remember that previous corporate plans for the last few years have been very similar, and there's never been such a song and dance about a corporate plan before. In fact it's kind of gone past 'on the nod' almost. That remark has been made to me by a number of people. They cannot understand the fuss about this corporate plan, which is in essence and in format, so similar to our previous corporate plans.

I stand by this corporate plan Mr Mayor, I am proud of it, I feel the group has done a good job. I'm sorry that the opposition didn't contribute more to this. Six opportunities, six occasions to contribute. Total contributions two. I have no more to say, and I move the proposition.


No recorded vote this time but with one exception (as in the previous vote) it was supported by the Conservatives and opposed by all the others.

One of our readers summed up the situation quite amusingly with an analogy. They said:

"Imagine it's Christmas and the whole family is gathering for Christmas Dinner. However, this year, the vegetarians have been put in charge of the catering. They got together with a vegetarian nutritionist and produced and circulated a draft menu. It was difficult for the non-vegetarians to understand because the dishes were unfamiliar and you couldn't tell what was in them, or what they would taste like.

To be inclusive, the vegetarians did allow everyone to have a say about the menu, but no-one could actually make any changes, One or two people did suggest changes to the menu, but the vegetarians simply disregarded them and went ahead anyway - after making a few more changes of their own."


We thought that analogy was quite a good parallel to the process used to produce this corporate plan.  And it has just about as much sense.

Our own take on it is close to that of Cllr Oades:  Operating under the Committee system, if propositions for any corporate document are not prepared and formulated by a representative spectrum of the Council's members, if they are not tested in debate by councillors - of all and no political persuasions, after having had equal access to the officers' advice and other information necessary to inform the debate - then it cannot be said to be the Council's policy.

In this case, a document that should be corporate is not. A document that sets out to be a plan, is not. And the one masquerading as Fylde's 'Corporate Plan' is nothing more than an aspirational and unquantified political party manifesto.

That's not only incompetent administration, it is also dangerous - for a whole variety of reasons

For the moment at least, there the matter rests.

But we don't yet hear the Fat Lady singing

Dated:    14  February 2016


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