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Lytham: St John's Ward By-Election Due

Lytham: St Johns Ward By-election DueAs promised in our last article, this is our follow up story about Mark Bamforth who, until recently, was a popular and hard working Fylde Borough Councillor and member of the Fylde Ratepayer's group, who represented residents of St John's Ward in Lytham.

Because of a disability he is struggling to overcome, and the fact that FBC had not made the necessary adaptions to accommodate his disability, he was unable to attend a council meeting within a specified six month period, and when that happens the letter of the law provides for his removal as a councillor - unless his failure to attend was due to some reason approved by the authority before the expiry of that six month period.

Sure enough, FBC has applied the letter of the law and, on 5th December, the Full Council meeting debated whether to declare his seat in St John's Ward vacant.

Despite this being the 'season of goodwill' to all men they did so; and this has forced a by-election to be held to elect a new Councillor.

In what will no doubt seem a surprising turn of events for some of our readers, despite his having been shamefully and involuntarily removed from the Council, Mark Bamforth is eligible to stand for election in this new contest, and he intends to do so.

This article is the story of the Council meeting that forced this - in our view wholly unnecessary - by-election, and a look forward to what happens next

SYNOPSIS

As usual, we begin with an Introduction, before moving to The Debate at Council, then Cllr Susan Fazackerley's Proposition

The first (and very impressive) speaker was Cllr Paul Hayhurst. Then Cllr Roger Small gave a brief comment. This was followed by a passionate speech by Cllr Roger Lloyd, about which we provide Or Own Comments

Next to speak was Cllr Karen Buckley who refuted some of what had been said, before first, Cllr Liz Oades, and then Cllr Elaine Silverwood added mostly specific single issues comments.

After this, Cllr Neil Harvey spoke and ended up calling for a Recorded Vote which would show up those who disagreed with the Conservative recommendation to declare the seat vacant. He was followed by Cllr Jan Barker, and then Conservative Cllr Richard Fradley who made what to us was an unusual speech compared with his colleagues that had gone before.

He was followed by Cllr Richard Redcliffe - who gave us cause for disappointment on this occasion, and a brief comment from Cllr Linda Nulty, before the Summing up by Cllr Susan Fazackerley (because she had proposed the motion) We've then reproduced The Vote,  and looked at Where that Leaves Us, before looking at the practicalities and timetabling of The Forthcoming By-election.

 INTRODUCTION

In our last article 'Lytham: St John's Ward By-Election?' we set out - (and readers can follow the link to read) - the background to this appallingly hard-hearted situation, so we're not going to rehearse that background again now.

But since then, we have become more clear about who might be behind the move calling for Cllr Bamforth's piece of flesh; who it is that has most probably driven this matter along, but who claims the 'Nuremberg Defence' that she was in effect 'Just Following Orders'

This is an often claimed justification for morally questionable action.

It is none other then the grossly overpaid and totally pointless 'Leader of the Council' - counterbalance's own autocratic 'Kim Jong Sue' - Cllr Susan Fazackerley.

And to save us getting a snotty letter, we'll take a moment to justify our use of the 'grossly overpaid' and 'totally pointless' claims.

We showed in 'The New Committees - Full Council' in July 2015, in the table published in that report - which dated back to a comparable (pre-Cabinet) era in 2001 - the Special Responsibility Payment made to the Councillor designated as the Council Leader at that time was just £1,500 a year.

Applying the 48% inflation increase that had taken place over the 14 years since then, (ie the same criteria that Cllr Mrs Buckley had used in justifying other payment increases at that same meeting), meant that the Special Responsibility Allowance for the Leader in the present Committee system should have increased from £1,500 to £2,220 in 2015.

But the majority Conservative group that Cllr Fazackerley leads voted for Princess Karen Buckley's proposition to increase the Leader's Special Responsibility Allowance to an eye-watering  £10,000 a year.

Yes really.

That's why we say it is grossly overpaid - (by at least £7,780 a year to be exact).

And our claim that her role of Council Leader is 'totally pointless' is because the Committee System that Fylde now operates does not need a leader at all, let alone a paid one.

In what was the first visible example of what is turning out to be a worldwide public vote that revolts against the status quo whenever the public is given the opportunity, (eg Brexit, the vote for Donald Trump, and the Italian Referendum and Prime Minister so far, with probably more to come), Fylde's residents voted against the status quo Cabinet system imposed by Fylde's Conservatives, and they voted for structural change at Fylde in the May 2014 local referendum.

The public vote, (supported by Independent, Liberal Democrat, Ratepayer, and non-aligned councillors at the time) required Fylde's Conservative majority to abandon its Cabinet System of governance and return to the Committee system.

In the discredited Cabinet system, all decision-taking power vests in the Council Leader. Even a meeting of the Full Council may not override the Leader's decision.

But when Fylde returned to the Committee system, that process reversed. The Full Council is now, once again, as it should be, the supreme decision taking body, and the Council Leader has almost no formal powers at all.

Even more specifically, in a Committee system, the Leader is prohibited by law from taking decisions on her own (as she used to do) as 'Council Leader', and may only do so if the Full Council has debated and given her a mandate of delegation.

Ergo the role of Council Leader in a Committee system of operation is entirely pointless. It is a titular role. It serves no practical purpose. It is has no purpose.

The few duties currently ascribed to it by FBC could just as easily be done by Princess Karen Buckley - who is Chairman of the present 'Finance and Democracy Committee', (just as they were done by former Cllr John Tavernor when he chaired Fylde's Policy and Resources Committee in pre-Cabinet days).

But losing the exercise of absolute power as Leader of a Cabinet must be a hard pill to swallow, especially when you remain Leader of the majority political party on the Council.

We can see how the loss of absolute power could engender anyone toward a bitter and twisted view of life.

But at Council on 5th December 2016, it was Conservative Councillor Fazackerley who proposed that the declaration of a vacancy in St John's Ward should be made.

Her proposal was seconded by Conservative Councillor Karen Buckley (The same lady that had proposed Cllr Fazackerley's Special Responsibility payment as a (pointless) Council Leader in a Committee system should go up to £10,000 a year).

 THE DEBATE AT COUNCIL

The Mayor introduced the item saying

"The item is on tonight's agenda as a matter of required procedure, and will be presented by Cllr Fazackerley"

That's a slightly unusual form of words for an agenda item, but we've digressed enough already, so we won't do it again at this point.

 COUNCILLOR SUSAN FAZACKERLEY

Cllr Fazackerley said

"Thank you Mr Mayor, colleagues, a vacancy has to be notified to the Council, and as Leader I have responsibility this evening to report the vacancy in St John's Ward. I would like to move the recommendation on this item that, as required by section 86 of the Local Government Act, the office of Councillor in St Johns Ward previously held by Councillor Mark Bamforth be declared to be vacant. Mr Mayor, the Deputy Leader, Cllr Buckley will second it."

 COUNCILLOR PAUL HAYHURST

The first speaker in the ensuing debate was counterbalance's own 'Saint' Paul Hayhurst.

He gave a terrific oration that we reproduce as a transcription in full here - because as well as highlighting what had been wrong with this process to unseat Mark Bamforth, he drew on personal experience to show what happened to him in the same circumstances, and how this matter *should* have been handled.

It also showed in stark relief how the party-politically driven, and awfully hard-hearted Conservative majority of today was so different from the more common-sense driven, civilised, consensual and considerate Conservative majority Fylde Council he had joined earlier in his civic life.

He said:

"Well Mr Mayor, I was appalled to read about this in the Evening Gazette, and I can only hope that this has not been a political decision, but possibly has been an over-zealous officer that has dealt with this.

The reason why I say that is because 30 years ago, to this very day, I was paralysed from the waist and in Royal Preston Hospital. I had what was called Guillain-Barré syndrome, and I contracted it in July 1986. It started with a tingling in my fingers, and within a week I was totally paralysed, and I was on a ventilator in Intensive Care.

If anybody knows about Guillain-Barré syndrome - basically what it is your body's antibodies eat away at the myelin sheath around your nerves stopping the messages from your brain, and then what happens is you've got to hope and pray that the myelin sheath grows back. In 10% of cases people die, and of the other 90% some people make a full recovery, and some make a (part?) recovery, and generally, you're in hospital for 6 to 18 months.

I was therefore in the same position as Mark Bamforth found himself in, and I was grateful for the fact that back in those days Fylde Borough Council was a much larger authority, and we could perhaps afford the staff to do the jobs [.... indistinct word?] properly.

I got a visit out of the blue in December 1986 from Barrie Smith, and those people who've been here for some time will know that Barrie Smith is possibly the best Chief Exec that we've ever had, and probably ever will have.

Barrie came to me and said 'Paul' he said, and I'm paralysed in hospital as I was, he said 'The thing is Paul, I've got to notify the Council that you're not going to be able to attend the meetings for 6 months.' He said 'I've got a duty to do that unless there's a dispensation granted then you would no longer be a councillor, but don't worry, don't worry, because I've spoken to the Chairman of Policy and Resources - which was, in those days, the Leader of the Council - and he said we've put together a recommendation that we grant you a dispensation, even though you may never be able to come back on Fylde Borough Council.'

And lo and behold, the vote was taken, and it was unanimous. And I was kept on Fylde Borough Council.

Now that decision meant that I was able to give another 30 years of public service, not only to Fylde Borough Council, but also at Parish Council level, and for the last eight years at the County Council. I also served for nine years as Leader of this authority, and as Mayor.

And that was because of the vision of one man, which was Barrie Smith. And I feel that we should have done exactly the same thing here.

In fact, I'm appalled that this has even come to the Council for the Council to consider.

One thing about the way it handled me was the fact that it didn't make my condition worse by having to worry about the fact that I was no longer going to be a Borough Councillor. I feel therefore that we basically as an authority, kicked this person when he was down, when he's been trying to recover from agoraphobia. And I feel as though there is a lot that could have been done to try to help him along the lines. But if nothing else, we should have granted a dispensation.

I have to say also that Mark Bamforth, from what I know of Mark, and I've not had a lot to do with him, but I do know that he's probably one of the hardest working Councillors at this authority, and I know that he constantly takes problems to the authority for people who he represents, and I feel really that we've dealt him a terrible blow by doing this, hindering his recovery, and also being in a situation where we've kicked somebody when they've been down.

There, but for the grace of God, go all of us. Any one of us tomorrow could be in that same sort of situation, as I was 30 years ago, and as I was, Mark is, today. And I feel really, that in those 30 years we have shown that society looks after disabled people more than what it did previously, and I'm absolutely amazed therefore that we've done this to him.

I know he's going to stand again, because I know this can't be changed, the [papers?] have been prepared, and what I would hope is that every party decides not to contest this election, and to give him a walk-on back onto the Authority. A mistake has been made and I feel as though it is a disgrace at Fylde Borough Council for this to happen.

Again, my position was a position where I could possibly have never come back to Fylde Borough and it was only because of Barrie Smith that I still stand here today as a Borough Councillor. So I hope that we treat Mark better in the future than what we have done now."

In a very rare happening, members of the Council and some in the public gallery broke into spontaneous applause as he sat down.

 COUNCILLOR ROGER SMALL

The next speaker was Cllr Roger Small who said

"Thank you Mr Mayor. I'm actually just going to be very brief because I don't want to have a debate, but I would like to say to Cllr Hayhurst really, in defence of the Leader, and I think I'm talking on behalf of every single member of this Party to say this was *not* a political decision. It wasn't even a decision that we took because I would like that to be made very clear. Obviously, members and the Leader take quite a few brickbats and it was not the case at all. So I'm standing to correct what was said. "

Cllr Hayhurst was back on his feet to say he had not said that. He had hoped it had not been a political decision - before the Mayor resumed control of the meeting.

 COUNCILLOR ROGER LLOYD

She called Mark Bamforth's Ratepayer colleague Cllr Roger Lloyd to speak.

Cllr Lloyd has grown in stature and ability since his first term on the Council several years ago, and although he sometimes comes from an unusual angle which means it takes a while to work out where he is coming from, that was not the case this evening. Holding in check his fury at what had happened to his colleague, he managed to get the following out....

"Thank you Mr Mayor. This situation should never have happened. One of the most bright and popular councillors on Fylde Borough. A councillor with known health problems has fallen foul of a set of rules and a lack of care that belongs in the stone age.

Nobody asked Mark *directly* how they could help him since he was elected. There appears to have been a total lack of understanding of Mark's problems.

Mark did suggest last year that a video link would help, but nobody from this council followed it up.

The members here tonight are well aware of his medical problems, and the six month rule, and over a apparently several conversations about his lack of attendance amongst the officers. But nobody rang him to tell him there was any concern. The truth was, he wasn't able to attend because of his disability, and this Council knew this. His condition often fluctuated in this period as he went through a very difficult time in his life.

This is very sad indictment of Fylde Borough Council, as a non-caring organisation, and one that puts procedure and politics first and people second. Everyone in this room knew Mark's problems and yet most people markedly chose to ignore them.

If Mark Bamforth was in any other sphere of life, there would be a series of measures and legislation in place to ensure that he could play a full and active part in civic life. No such measures have been put in place. No-one from Fylde has contacted him since he was elected, and put suggestions forward as to how they could help mark with his attendance or participation in meetings.

There was no warning, just an uncaring letter. As we all know, non-attendance at meetings has not affected Mark's ability to be one of the most effective councillors on Fylde Borough. And it's a fact that, as a councillor, Mark made hundreds of phone calls to officers last year alone. Just doing his job. A job he gets immense pleasure from. Mark cares. And I feel that there are some in this room that don't.

This whole fiasco does not reflect well on Fylde Borough.

'How can this council help', has been replaced by an air of indifference and intolerance toward members with health issues.

I would hope that in the future, a situation such as this will never arise again, and the lines of care and communication, and understanding will reach out to Councillors instead of punishing them.

That's all I have to say."

 OUR TAKE ON WHAT HE SAID

We thought his points were well made, and we especially picked up on the phrase "This is very sad indictment of Fylde Borough Council, as a non-caring organisation, and one that puts procedure and politics first and people second....."

This is the antithesis of the Cllr Lloyd and Bamforth's 'Rate Payer' party, whose logo is a handshake and the words 'Putting people first'.

It is also a sad reflection of the trajectory on which the Council is embarked.

Fylde used to be a lovely and exceptional council where common-sense, civility, a caring nature, and consensus ruled the day. It was populated by councillors who saw their electoral mandate as a requirement to work together for the good of the people.

It was most definitely not driven by policy or procedure and, for the most part, party politics were rarely evident.

We're quite certain this is why - exceptionally amongst local authorities - it used to be so well regarded.

But with the present majority party setting the culture - as has been so ably illustrated by Cllr Tim Ashton, who more than once in our hearing at public meetings has said that he absolutely does not even want to work consensually. He holds that the Conservatives were elected as the majority party, and they will govern as they see fit - and being driven by that culture, Fylde is become, as Cllr Lloyd described, an uncaring one, that puts procedure and politics first and people second.

Sadly - and picking up on what Cllr Hayhurst had said earlier, we think much of the fault for the present trajectory stems from the style of leadership given by the current Chief Executive - especially when compared with the style adopted by better previous CE's.

But that isn't going to change anytime soon, because the present management style appears to prize a Council where - like so many others today - decision-taking authority is increasingly delegated to technocrats, and the role of elected councillors is reduced to approving broad policies - when (in our view) councillors ought to be much more in the mould of Mark Bamforth, who sees his primary role as being to articulate the concerns of his electorate and help to solve as many of the problems they bring to him as he can.

We have digressed again, (it must be Christmas or something) - back to the meeting......

 COUNCILLOR KAREN BUCKLEY

The Mayor asked if there were any more speakers, and called Cllr Mrs Buckley. She said:

"Mr Mayor, I really take exception to it being suggested that this is a political decision and I've just heard it yet again from Cllr Lloyd. The suggestion that it may be or have been a political decision because this is *not* a political decision at all, it is a statutory decision which if a Councillor fails to attend meetings for six months, they are no longer a Councillor, and Cllr Lloyd had the opportunity to present to Council exactly what Cllr Hayhurst mentioned which was a dispensation. Cllr Lloyd withdrew that [unclear words?], so when he asked who amongst officers and councillors were here to help former Cllr Mark Bamforth may he also look to himself, and when he suggests that officers [unclear word] had sought to help Mark Bamforth with his disability, again that is inaccurate, and is *not* right or not fair to make such assertions of this Council, and the Chief Executive has put out a letter to suggest all the offers of help that have been made, and I'm aware of many of those offers of help that have been made, and I feel that it is not right to mislead on this item as [we've heard from?] Cllr Hayhurst and Cllr Lloyd. Thank You."

Cllr Buckley is a skilful orator, but she was unusually angry in this exchange.

That said, the actual words that were spoken by others (as we have reported verbatim above) were not as she heard - or at least not as she repeated them. Cllr Hayhurst did not say it had been a political decision, said he *hoped it had not been a political decision*. Cllr Lloyd did not say it had been a political decision, he said it indicted Fylde as "a non-caring organisation, and one that puts procedure and politics first and people second." And Cllr Lloyd said no one "had asked Mark *directly*" about his needs or about the six month situation that was developing - we think this was a careful choice of words on his part, and indeed on Cllr Buckley's part as well.

It's true - as Cllr Buckley said - that Fylde's officers *had* made several suggestions to Cllr Bamforth, (we understand these included sitting in the public gallery or standing at the back of the meeting room) but none of them had been sufficient to overcome his disability, (and from what we have learned about the illness since this blew up, we can see why they would not have worked - because those suggestions, however well meaning, serve only to illustrate the extent of the ignorance that seems to exist about the agoraphobic condition within members of Fylde Council).

The one adaption that might have worked - the video or Skype link - was not even attempted as far as we can tell.

So whilst Cllr Buckley was clearly angry when she spoke, we're not sure she has as much cause to be indignant as she appears to believe she had.

 COUNCILLOR ELIZABETH OADES

Cllr Mrs Oades spoke next. Her concern was that the matter had been badly handled, and in future she wanted to see a warning given to any councillor who was approaching the six months period to alert them to the fact that they were getting close to the six months. She recalled a couple of occasions over her long time as a councillor where Fylde members had, through illness, been unable to attend for six months and the Council itself had discussed the matter and awarded a dispensation even before, like Cllr Hayhurst, it had been sought by the individual.

 COUNCILLOR ELAINE SILVERWOOD

Cllr Silverwood agreed that the issue had been handled badly and she was sad that Mark Bamforth had had to endure the suffering to which the process had subjected him. She said the process had been "insensitive" and she was incredibly sad that someone could be put in that position because of their health or disability.

 COUNCILLOR NEIL HARVEY

Conservative Cllr Neil Harvey rose to speak. He said

"I'll keep this very brief. I don't know Cllr Bamforth, so I'm not going to make any comments about him as a person or individual, I can't comment on that, except to say simply that we were in this position earlier this year, and Cllr Bamforth did manage to turn up and attend a meeting, albeit just appearing at the back of the room briefly, but that was enough to fulfil the brief. I believe he is an experienced councillor and I can't believe he wouldn't have known that this was coming off. We've also heard that he didn't want a dispensation, so he must have been aware that he could have applied for one if indeed he did wish to do so.

But what I think is important here is that this is a statutory or mandatory requirement. Section 85 as is referenced here of the Local Government Act 1972 does say that unless a reason for non-attendance has been approved by the Council before the expiry of the period, then the seat has to be declared vacant, and all this talk is, in that context, neither here nor there, and I'm not sure whether there's going to be a vote on this or not? Is there going to be a vote on it, or is it presented as an information item only?"

We've yet to come to a conclusive view on this chap. To his credit, he is one of the few that seems able to read and understand an agenda, and we've seen him find flaws in officer reports before now, so we suspect he has some sort of government or local government experience in his background. We thought he had found one here.

We suspect the phrasing of the officers report had been designed to make it appear that there was no choice other than to approve the recommendation, but he had spotted that they seemed to be being asked to make a decision as well.

We think the decision was needed to declare the seat vacant in order to hold a by-election ('someone' has to 'notify' the authority that a vacancy has occurred in order to trigger it). We suspect - for obvious political reasons - that none of the Conservatives or their supporters wanted to be seen to have set this by-election in motion, and none of the other councillors would have been prepared to do so, so - it looks to us as though - officers have contrived this report to persuade the whole council to do so, and Cllr Harvey had spotted the elephant in the room about which he quite properly wanted clarity.

Someone said there needed to be a decision, and Cllr Harvey then said:

"There is a vote, there is a vote. Well, in that sense, and I don't wish to raise hackles, but as it says at the bottom there, the Council will be acting 'Ultra Vires' which means without authority or beyond its powers if it failed to either receive the report, or declare the vacancy.....

The elephant in the room suddenly got bigger.

But he rather spoilt it for us when he continued:

"....and for that reason I would like to ask for a recorded vote on this matter because I think we need to see which councillors want us to act without authority or beyond our powers.

Thank you.

We had to smile.

For all the protestations about it not being a 'political' matter, here was a Conservative Councillor using a recorded vote mechanism in the hope of highlighting anyone who might have dissented from what was being done, and voted against what the Conservative Council Leader had proposed.

 COUNCILLOR JAN BARKER

Next to speak was Cllr Jan Barker who said it was no-one's fault and it was everybody's fault that they were going to have a contested election along with the cost of holding it. She also wanted to ensure they did not find themselves in that situation again.

She then picked up a technical point where the report said a by-election would have to be held within 35 days, but to her understanding that only applied where there had been a petition [from electors] to hold a by-election, and she was not sure if it applied here.

A FBC officer replied to say that Cllr Barker was correct. The vacancy would be declared that week, and then there would need to be a petition to trigger the by-election, and ordinarily, if that was received, the by-election would be held within 35 days of that petition being received.

Cllr Hardy echoed the call for this situation not to happen again.

 COUNCILLOR RICHARD FRADLEY

Cllr Richard Fradley then spoke, saying:

"I'd like to take a slightly different tack here as a new councillor, a new member of Council, I had quite a few meetings with Mr Bamforth along with the rest of the Lytham Councillors, and I'd like to say he has helped me tremendously with coming along, learning local issues. He is an honest man and everybody says he is hardworking, there is no doubt about that, so I'd like to formally thank Mr Bamforth for helping me along with being on the Council and I'd like to follow in his footsteps and work just as hard as he has done..." Thank you.

We were not at all sure what to make of this.

Cllr Fradley is a member of the Conservative group, but the tone and content of his speech was at odds with the more strident tone adopted by some in the leadership of that group. We would like to think that, in his own way, he was slightly distancing himself from the unity of his group and providing a human and common-sense perspective. It that was the case, we are happy to salute him for doing so.

 COUNCILLOR RICHARD REDCLIFFE

Cllr Richard Redcliffe stood to speak. Like Cllr Buckley, he is able to muster arguments well (although he often does take a little longer to get them out). He wanted to address the harsh words of being 'uncaring' and 'political' that he said had been felt on 'his side' and he wanted to clarify things. He said he did not know Cllr Bamforth well but he took on board everything that had been said about him.

He said he thought the barbs aimed at his group, and at the Council as a whole, were unfair and unwarranted. He went on to juggle and quote selective phrases which he claimed showed that there was no other option than what had been done.

Patently he was wrong.

Cllr Hayhurst's practical experience and example of a former council and a former Chief Executive proves Cllr Redcliffe was not correct in his assertions on this matter, and we know of (and we referenced in our previous article) an alternative measure that could have overcome Mark Bamforth's medical inability to attend meetings in the flesh, but still attend via a video link. That method even happens between police cells and the court these days.

So no matter how he juggled the words, we remained unpersuaded by them. (And to be honest we were more than disappointed with the level of ignorance Cllr Redcliffe seemed ready to show, and be ready to pontificate about, regarding what Mr Tamworth's ability and disability ought to permit him to do, especially when we have seen copies of letters from Mr Tamworth's GP, and a recent confirmation of the nature of the treatment he is receiving from a NHS High Intensity Therapist who is currently treating him). Readers who want to listen to Cllr Redcliffe can follow this link to hear him in full via FBC's webcast of the meeting.

He was followed by Cllr Linda Nulty who said she believed there *was* a vacancy at the council, but it was for an officer who would help and enable those with a disability to fulfil their potential.

 COUNCILLOR SUSAN FAZACKERLEY

With no more speakers, Cllr Fazackerley was asked to sum up on her proposition to declare the seat vacant. She said

"Thank you Mr Mayor. Colleagues, I'm really very disturbed by comments made this evening, and I speak with some authority because I think more than any other member in this chamber, I know as much, if not more about what has gone on in former Cllr Bamforth's case. I'm disturbed it's being looked upon as political, within five minutes of the news being out, social media was full of wicked Tories engineering the fall of the only councillor who does any work on Fylde Borough Council.

People do not realise, and I am not in a position to speak on tonight, the amount of work that our officers have spent in supporting Cllr Bamforth over the last 18 months.

The day after, or it might even have been the day, that he received the notification of what had happened, he was on the phone to the Chief Legal Officer, full of praise for how much Fylde had done to help him. And I would just like to mention at this point that I have checked whether I am able to [indistinct words] (do as I am?) when he signed the papers in May 2015 he said he was not disabled.

We have no choice in the matter, and it is *not* the responsibility of our officers to check up on the attendance of members. I have 31 members and sometimes I go to Tracy - a member has missed a few meetings - and I go to check up on one of my 31 members. There are two Ratepayer councillors, and I would have thought that Cllr Lloyd had some responsibility for the other Ratepayer councillor in fact, checking up on whether he was in danger. He brought a notice of motion for a dispensation last time and ended up withdrawing it. The Conservatives on that occasion were going to support that.

Nobody is saying Councillor Bamforth is a bad man. The implication is that on this side of the chamber we think he's a bad man and we'll try to get rid of him. That is absolute nonsense and I don't know where this has come from.

A letter went out to Cllr Bamforth, and was copied to group Leaders, about a fortnight ago, and the letter was a breakdown of what had happened, the extra mile that our officers went with Cllr Bamforth - running out into the car park of the Lowther Gardens with a Council meeting going on, with papers for him to sign because he couldn't come into the building, so many examples of that sort of thing that people just don't know about, for which I have seen documented evidence of. That letter was shared with all the Group leaders [... several indistinct words....] and certainly will have a copy of that.

I think that's about it Mr Mayor. I regret what has happened, we can think about whether members should be given a warning as they're coming up to their due date as it were. I have to say that former Cllr Bamforth, it had been suggested that he didn't know about the six month rule because he wasn't able to attend the induction in May 2015. But mention is never made that two officers spent three hours at his home with all the information on a one to one basis.

There's so many examples of that sort of thing Mr Mayor, and I just want to clear the air a bit on that, on any suggestion that we colluded in the downfall of ex Cllr Bamforth. Thank You.

 THE VOTE

The Mayor noted the call from Cllr Harvey for a recorded vote and asked if five members would support that. They did and a recorded vote was taken.

(This involves an individually written recorded vote of how each councillor voted - as opposed to the more usual resultant numbers from a show of hands - either for, against or abstain).

Councillor Fazackerley had moved, and Cllr Buckley seconded the proposal that the declaration of vacancy be made. The result was:

Votes for the declaration (33) – Councillors Aiken, Andrews, Anthony, Barker, Beckett, Buckley, Collins, Cornah, Donaldson, Eaves, Fazackerley, Fiddler, Ford, Fradley, Goodman, Green, Hardy, Harvey, Henshaw, Hodgson, Little, B Nash, E Nash, Pitman, Pounder, Redcliffe, Settle, Singleton, Small, Thomas, Willder, Akeroyd and Jacques.

Votes against the declaration (0)

Abstentions (9) Chew, Clayton, Hayhurst, Lloyd, Nulty, Oades, Rigby, Silverwood and Threlfall.

Cllr Ben Aitken For   Cllr Paul Hayhurst Abstain
Cllr Christine Akeroyd For   Cllr Karen Henshaw For
Cllr Frank Andrews For   Cllr Paul Hodgson For
Cllr Peter Anthony For   Cllr Angela Jacques For
Cllr Jan Barker For   Cllr Roger Lloyd Abstain
Cllr Keith Beckett For   Cllr Cheryl Little For
Cllr Karen Buckley For   Cllr Barbara Nash For
Cllr Peter Collins For   Cllr Edward Nash For
Cllr Michael Cornah For   Cllr Linda Nulty Abstain
Cllr Maxine Chew Abstain   Cllr Elizabeth Oades Abstain
Cllr Alan Clayton Abstain   Cllr Sandra Pitman For
Cllr David Donaldson For   Cllr Albert Pounder For
Cllr David Eaves For   Cllr Richard Redcliffe For
Cllr Susan Fazackerley For   Cllr  Louis Rigby Abstain
Cllr Fiddler, Trevor For   Cllr Vince Settle For
Cllr Tony Ford For   Cllr Elaine Silverwood Abstain
Cllr Richard Fradley For   Cllr John Singleton For
Cllr Gail Goodman For   Cllr Roger Small For
Cllr Shirley Green For   Cllr Raymond Thomas For
Cllr Peter Hardy For   Cllr Vivien Willder For
Cllr Neil Harvey For   Cllr Thomas Threlfall Abstain

It was RESOLVED, as required by section 86 of the Local Government Act 1972, that the office of Councillor in St Johns Ward previously held by Councillor Mark Bamforth be declared vacant.

 SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?

Well, we could take much of what Cllr Fazackerley said in her summing up apart, and show our disagreement with it, but most of the arguments have been made above, and our astute readers will have worked out what she said - and interpreted what it meant - already.

So we will content ourselves with saying we found it surprising that almost all the summing up, and much of the debate, had been an ill informed and prejudiced discourse about what Cllr Bamforth should or should not, and might or might not, be able to do as a result of his current disability.

It certainly wasn't an easy meeting, the Chief Executive sat with his head propped on his hand for most of the time, glum faced - as anyone in his position might be after hearing that a former Chief Executive was the best that Fylde had ever had and was ever likely to have.

Cllr Buckley allowed the smile to slip just a little as she displayed a quiet but seething anger we have not previously seen.

Councillor Fazackerley seemed hurt - as though she could not understand why her 'Nuremberg Defence' was not self-evidently enough to demonstrate that *she* was the victim in this matter.

And Cllr Lloyd was clearly more angry than we have ever seen him before. He is often passionate, but up to this meeting we've seen evidence he possesses a competent quota of ironic detachment that keeps the stress level to manageable proportions.

And although not mentioned in the report above because we didn't see it, but the record shows that Cllr Threlfall (a Conservative) did not support what seemed to be the 'party line' and who abstained in the vote. We imagine that will already have been noted for future reference.

We may be wrong with our next statement, but we don't *think* any of Fylde's Councillors are mental health professionals, and that being the case, like Cllr Redcliffe, the willingness we encountered to pontificate on matters medical, using nothing more than ignorance and prejudice as a basis for opinion, was really saddening.

The real issue was not about Cllr Bamforth at all. It was about whether to declare the vacancy or not.

To us, the fact that so much time was devoted to debating his actions, his inactions and his circumstances, speaks volumes. Furthermore we find the saying that 'The lady doth protest too much' has a familiar ring. So we leave it to our readers to come to their own judgements about motives and merits.

Our own view is one of sadness that a council that used to be so well admired and respected could have come to such a dreadful state of affairs as a result of the pursuit of party political power rather than the pursuit of cross party consensus and common-sense.

 THE FORTHCOMING BY-ELECTION

In practical terms - and despite having told Cllr Jan Barker that a petition from local residents would be required to trigger the by-election - we're told that the officers have now had a re-think, and in what they consider to be the unusual circumstances of this case, (where the council itself has declared the vacancy), the normal requirement for the vacancy to be notified by two or more electors before the date for the by-election is set does not apply.

So Cllr Fazackerley's proposition, supported by Cllr Karen Buckley has, in fact, triggered the by-election.

We understand the date for the by-election has been set for 9th February 2017, which is the earliest practical date that the election could be held because of the Christmas holiday period (when printers are not working etc).

The Notice of Election will be on FBC's website from Thursday 5 January after which nomination packs will be available from the Elections Office at the Town Hall

The timetable after that will be:

  • Friday 13 January. Nominations close, final date for withdrawal if nomination submitted earlier.
  • Before Monday 16 January 2017. The list of candidates will be published
  • 24 January 2017. Deadline to register to be able to vote if not already registered.
  • 25 January 2017. Deadline to apply for a postal vote in this by-election.
  • 1 February 2017. Notice of Poll will be Published
  • 9 February 2017. Polling day

At present we have no indication of when the postal votes will be distributed to those having registered.

Readers will recognise that interesting people in a by-election at this time of year is likely to give the greatest advantage to those who can get significant numbers of canvassers out, and their regular voters to participate. That usually means the Conservative party of course.

Any readers wanting to know more about standing can follow this link for the candidates guide and nomination packs from the Electoral Commission website.

We'd like to think that Cllr Hayhurst's call for no-one to stand against Mark Bamforth would be heeded, but national party instructions nearly always trump local decisions and both Labour and Lib Dems (and possibly UKIP these days) are likely to field candidates we think.

That said, it is our sincere hope that Mark Bamforth stands for re-election, and that he becomes elected as a councillor again.

It would be a fitting tribute to the hard work he has done on behalf of his constituents, and it would most probably force FBC to apply more effort to accommodating his situation.

It would be even better if those electors in St John's Ward in Lytham - those who normally vote for one of the main parties - decide to lend their vote to Mark Bamforth just for this one by-election, and to make a special effort to turn out and vote for him in February.

We would be delighted if he could increase the majority he was given last time.

We're not sure it will happen like that, but doing so could also give a 'bloody nose' to those at FBC who have been so insensitive, and handled this matter so badly.

It might even remind them not to do it like that again.

Dated:  24 December 2016

 


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