Fylde Rule Changes: 1
This story is about plans to change Fylde's
Constitution - the rules that govern the way Fylde conducts itself.
The proposed changes fall into thee categories.
The first is about restricting or limiting some what councillors may do to amend or change propositions that have been made. This proposal will restrict the
freedom of speech for Councillors during Council meetings.
The second chiefly set out to restrict how many members of the public may speak in the 'Public Platform' of the Planning Committee.
And the third offered councillors some options to change the arrangements for members of the public to speak in the 'Public Platform' at committees other than Planning
Both of these last two offer the option of restricting the current freedom to speak at meetings that members of the public enjoy.
We begin by explaining what the Public Platform is for readers who are unfamiliar with the term. We then look at the changes that are proposed to the way Councillors can
Amend The Decisions they are asked to take.
We then look at the change that is being proposed to limit Councillors' ability to Challenge the Minutes of Meetings if they believe them to be an incorrect recording of a
decision that was taken at the previous meeting.
That's followed by a quick look at what was planned to restrict the number of people, and the arrangements for the public to have a say at the Planning Committee - although
due to a growing storm of protest this has been temporarily put on hold for a re-think. As indeed was the next item which was to change the arrangements for
Public Speaking at
Committees other than Planning Committee.
We then report what happened when each of these measures was considered in the Audit and Standards Committee. First the changes to
Amendments and Minutes, then Public
Speaking at Planning Committee followed by Public Speaking at Other Committees, before giving our own Conclusions on these matters.
WHAT IS THE 'PUBLIC PLATFORM'?
The 'Public Platform' allows members of the public to address a Committee meeting.
It is a relatively new feature in Local Government. We don't exactly remember when it was introduced, but it was not a feature of meetings say, 20 years ago, (unless by the
specific invitation of the Chairman or, more usually, by the Committee).
It can be a very worthwhile feature - especially when someone such as a previously unknown local technical expert appears to speak, and delivers a robustly contra view to
that which the Committee has been recommended to approve.
We recall seeing a former senior traffic policeman who told the committee he had acted as an expert witness on road traffic matters at Crown, Magistrate's, Civil, and
He was opposing a planning application at Dowbridge on road safety grounds and we heard him deliver what we think most people would regard as compelling
account of accident statistics there, together with the reasons they happened, and how the proposed development would make things worse. Sadly, as impressive as his three
minute presentation was, it did not cause the development to be refused. But the Committee did get a valuable insight they would otherwise not have had.
Public Speaking can also act as a useful gauge of public opinion on some particular topic - perhaps where the politicians have misjudged the public mood. The recent issue of
the Dogs PSPO was a good example of this.
There was a big turnout of dog owners who produced cogent and well argued cases. The numbers involved, the strength of feelings
expressed, and the technical and professional manner in which contra-arguments were presented to the committee did cause a pause for a separate meeting of councillors and
interested parties. This resulted in a modification of the proposals and a better decision for the dog owners. (See PSPO 1: Dog Controls)
The Public Platform also helps to keep the members of the Committee in contact with public opinion, especially when Fylde is planning to do something that is unpopular. So
on balance, we think the Public Platform is a 'good thing' and we're nervous when Fylde says it wants to change things.
We'll look first at the officer's report on all these matters, then we'll report what happened at the Audit and Standards Committee meeting, and what that Committee has
recommended to the next Full Council meeting (Full Council has to approve all non-minor amendments to the Constitution).
These proposed changes come hard on the heels of what we assert was a serious governance failure at Fylde (See Fylde Waives the Rules). They aim to change things so the
failure doesn't happen again.
Two alterations are being proposed, both of which will make it more difficult for Councillors to hold both the executive and the majority party to
What's at issue with this first change to the Constitution is the way a councillor may put forward an amendment.
At present they can simply put up their hand to speak; be called to do so by the Mayor; and then say something like I wish to propose an amendment - followed by the change
they wish to make to what has been proposed.
As an example, the proposition might say "That the Carnival should start at 1pm" - and an amendment might be made to change the starting time from 1pm to 2pm.
We would not be surprised to find that the change now being considered came about as a result of Cllr Mrs Oades' amendments to Fylde's draft budget which was the source of
lot of trouble.
Fylde's 2017/18 budget (proposed by Cllr Mrs Buckley) included a total of £13,000 to be paid as allowances for being Leader and Deputy Leader to Cllr Fazackerley and Cllr Buckley. (They
currently get this on top of their allowance as ordinary Councillors. Readers might think of it as an allowance for having some extra responsibility)
Cllr Mrs Oades proposed that the Leader and Deputy Leader posts should be abolished from the budget to make a saving.
This, of course, caused something of a stir when Cllr Mrs Oades proposed it, and it caused even more of a stir when, at the next Council meeting, Cllr Peter Collins
challenged the accuracy of the minutes on another (green waste) item, and raised a procedural aspect about a Conservative amendment that had stopped the Council debating the Leader's allowance issue.
The officer report setting out the change says it is now being suggested because someone (unknown and unidentified) 'requested it' - so we can't tell whether it came
from an officer or a councillor. We are not told who (or even how many) people made the request.
So what is the request? Well, the relevant section of the report to change the procedure for dealing with amendments was considered by Audit Committee on 15 June 2017. It
'All amendments should be submitted in writing and given to officers prior to the [Council] meeting. If this is not possible, a written copy will be accepted during the
meeting so that officers can read it aloud, thus providing clarity for all members'.
This is not a good move.
Whilst we agree it is procedurally polite for Councillors to provide amendments in writing if they can (and even after they have proposed them, if necessary), it cannot - and
should not - be a *requirement* to do so, for a whole variety of reasons - some of which we explain shortly.
We can also see that the Conservative group - who have an overall majority on the Council and can therefore dictate the outcome all decisions (because their internal party
rules impose sanctions on party members who vote against something the Conservative group has decided before the actual Council meeting takes place) - will be quite happy with
this change, because they almost never propose amendments themselves (having already resolved their disagreements by internal votes taken in private).
So when it gets to Committee or Full Council, the result is more or less a foregone conclusion. Any Conservative who votes against the agreed party line stands to be disciplined, and
would likely be suspended from (or in extremis thrown out of) the party. So it would take a very brave Conservative to propose an amendment to what's already been agreed.
So this matter of how amendments may be proposed can be viewed as being irrelevant to them.
However it does impact on the elected councillors who are not members of the Conservative party - because it makes it more difficult for them to expose shortcomings, and to
hold the Conservatives to account for the decisions they have taken behind closed doors.
So why don't we like it?
Well, firstly we have to ask about the brackets around the word 'Council' in the recommendation.
(Note: at the time of writing, the Minutes for this meeting have not been published on the website so we don't know the actual wording used there).
It's not at all clear what those brackets around the word 'Council' mean.
They might mean this rule about amendments only applies at meetings of the Full Council. But the brackets could also indicate that officers will insert the relevant committee (or sub-committee?) name as required
if this change is intended to apply at Committee meetings as well. (But if that were so, you'd think it would just say 'Council or
Committee' and leave out the brackets altogether).
Something seems odd about the typography at least, if not about the underlying issue.
Secondly, we believe that asking for advance notice of amendments will create all sorts of administrative complexities that no-one has properly thought through.
For example, if this rule is to apply to committees as well as the Full Council meetings, it is normal practice for the Chairman of a Committee to be briefed and taken
through the agenda by officers a day or two prior to the actual meeting, (to fill them in on the background to items and to explain *why* the officers have recommended some
particular course of action in the agenda papers that have been sent to all councillors).
It is not unknown for a Committee Chairman to question one or more of the officer recommendations at a briefing meeting, and to change it (or them) when the item arises at the
So the proposition put to the Committee meeting may not actually be the same as the one published in the Agenda they have all read.
In such circumstances, it would not be possible for other councillors to submit advance written amendments to what will be the (new) proposition - because they would not
know about the proposed change until it is announced by the Chairman at the committee meeting.
So how equitable can it be that councillors are being asked to submit amendments in advance and in writing, when the Chairman of a committee can amend (add, delete or change)
the wording of the recommendation without prior notice to the Committee members
The same sort of problem arises if the intention is only to apply this new rule to meetings of the Full Council, and we give a hypothetical example of this below.
It's clear to us that some sort of workaround is going to be needed.
The most obvious to us would be to circulate ALL the written amendments to ALL Councillors as they come in. (Otherwise, how will anyone know whether they need to amend the
amendment that has been proposed - and be able to send their amendment in writing as well).
And that's going to cause its own problems.
Stay with us as we put forward a (not unusual) hypothetical example.
We could easily end up with "amendment ping-pong" taking place for days before the (Council? Committee? Sub-Committee) meeting.
Suppose Cllr Karen Buckley thinks a committee has had its decision wrongly recorded, and she submits a written amendment that would alter the wording of the recommendation
which that Committee has
made to the Full Council - not necessarily her own committee (although she has been known to do that in the past) - but for the sake of argument, lets say it's about the
wording of a
recommendation from the Tourism and Leisure Committee.
And say Cllr Buckley's amendment is circulated to all Councillors for their information, and one of the Independent Councillors spots what they think is a flaw in Cllr Buckley's amendment and
wants to have it changed, so they submit their own written amendment to amend Cllr Buckley's amendment.
That too is circulated
And then a Lib Dem Councillor sends another, slightly different amendment to what Cllr Buckley proposed as her amendment.
That too is circulated.
Then a Labour Councillor sends a written amendment to the Lib Dem one, and a Ratepayer Councillor sends another (different one) to amend the Lib Dem one to give a different
result, all of which have to be circulated.
See what we mean???
Now - at a meeting, all of this happens in chronological order and in a very short time - (which is why it is done at a meeting in the first place!) - it doesn't take a
week or more to see all the amendments, it's done on the night.
But if it's done in writing first, who on earth is going to say in what order the written amendments will be considered when it gets to Council?
Will the order of consideration be as is it done at present in the meeting - i.e. chronological order of amendments being received - and will that have to accommodate both
email and the post? And will it be the date it was sent by the Cllr or the date it was received at the Town Hall?
It's quite possible (because all the amendments will be expected to arrive before the meeting) that chronological order won't even work - because some written amendments
might be about earlier amendments that could have been voted on and lost during the meeting. If the earlier one(s) have ceased to exist, you can't amend something that no
Perhaps an officer will have to decide in what order the advance notice amendments will be taken for debate - and thus change the order and flow of what the debate
might have been. That could advantage some, and disadvantage other councillors - according to what priority their amendment is taken in the debate.
Frankly the idea is a mess, and its implications have not been properly thought through.
If you multiply this stupidity up by 10 or so committees, and work out how much extra clerical staff time will be needed to keep track of and manage the amendments as they
come in, the folly becomes even more apparent.
It's all too much, and we sincerely hope that the more constitutionally literate councillors will wake up and see this move is foolish and dangerous for democracy.
Thirdly, it weakens the ability of councillors to respond to events that happen during the meeting.
If, whilst debating an amendment, officers provide further and better particulars of the matter than they had set out in the report, and that new information triggers a
desire on the part of a councillor to make an amendment after hearing it, they will have to stop listening to the debate and handwrite an amendment there and then whilst the
meeting is going on, in order to have it ruled as valid to be put to the meeting. Having to write it out means they are not able to be focused on the debate that is taking
place around them as they are drafting their written amendment.
Fourthly, it may be that, on reading an agenda, a Councillor may have a concern about something, but would only wish to propose an amendment if the debate flows in a
particular direction. It may be that they don't want to set hares up and running by drawing attention to something that may or may not happen during the meeting (especially if
it's something they don't want to happen).
But by delivering an amendment in advance (and especially if it is published to all the other councillors before the meeting)
could draw attention to something (and cause others to propose amendments to it) when they are happy with as it is.
And this is nowhere near an exhaustive list of what could go wrong.
It's quite right to say that some of the situations we have listed above are to some extent addressed in the second part of the sentence - i.e. that a written copy of the
amendment be provided *during* the meeting. So what's the problem?
Well, if (as stated) the reason for this is "so that officers can read it aloud, thus providing clarity for all members" - we have to ask: what on earth is the difference
between an amendment that has been worded by an elected Councillor being read out by an officer, and its being spoken by the Councillor who knows what they wanted to say, and
has framed and proposed the wording of their own amendment?
Why should it need someone else to read it out on their behalf?
What special gift or right do officers have than that sets them above those who are elected?
We elect councillors to take decisions on our behalf. That is one of their key functions. It is the elected members - not the officers - who know what they want to say, how
and when they want to say it, and which parts to stress or emphasise.
We wonder if this move has an underlying aim to empower officers to re-frame or re-phrase amendments to make them 'better' (or perhaps more palatable to a particular section
of councillors), and if so, we ask what right do officers have to usurp the will of an elected councillor?
If a councillor puts forward an amendment that would be unconstitutional or illegal, the Monitoring Officer is already under a statutory duty to interrupt the meeting and
advise the Council of the consequences of doing (or not doing) some particular thing it is considering, so there's no excuse for officers to take control of amendments like
Fylde's officers appear to be trying to do what most council officers do. By inserting themselves into the process here, they are trying to remove the human element that
elected Councillors deliver, and to bureaucratise, standardise and de-personalise the process of decision taking in the name of efficiency.
It one way that's a good thing because we all want the Council to run efficiently. But more than efficiency that we want it to run democratically - and democracy is not an
'efficient' system; exactly because it requires the human condition to be imposed into what would otherwise be cold, hard-hearted, inhuman, efficient actions.
And the point of having meetings that include a broad spectrum of opinion being input into the debate, and into the propositions and amendments is *specifically to allow* human reaction to
what is said during the meeting.
That's what councillors are at the meeting for!
So we can't see this idea of giving written notice of amendments is a good idea at all and we hope it doesn't happen - (but sadly, we also recognise that unless some of the
more able Conservatives stage an internal rebellion once they understand the significance of what's being proposed - then this change probably will go through, because if
favours the majority party and makes it more difficult for them to be held to account by other councillors).
CHALLENGING THE MINUTES
The second change is more obviously connected to the debacle of the budget meeting, the minutes of which were challenged at the next meeting.
They were presented to that next meeting as a true
and correct record of the decision (which, technically, they were not).
This was also the meeting where, in our view, the Monitoring Officer misled the Council by re-interpreting the Constitution to
say something other than what it actually said, and she failed to implement what it required her to enforce.
So we think Cllr Collins was absolutely right to challenge the accuracy of the minutes of that meeting. (Even though the Conservative group stuck their hands up to defeat
his amendment and approve the minutes that were not a true and correct record of the decision that the Mayor announced at the meeting).
The present - traditional, and widely accepted - arrangement throughout the UK is that the meeting of any committee considers and approves (or alters) the record of the
decision(s) it took at its previous meeting.
And the process by which this is usually done is that at the first (or at least one of the first) items at the next meeting of the same group, someone (usually the Chairman
and Vice Chairman) proposes acceptance of the minutes of their last meeting to the rest of the Committee.
(It's usually the Chairman and Vice because - in theory at least - they should have received an advance copy prior to publication of the minutes, and would have said
something to the author if they were not happy with what the minutes said).
The members of the Committee then vote to confirm or approve the minutes and, if approved, the Chairman signs each page, at which point they become the official record of
what was decided.
But the change to Fylde's Constitution that is now being proposed says:
'Any challenge to the previous Council Minutes must be submitted to the Monitoring Officer within five working days of the formal publication of the Minutes. Verbal
challenges during the meeting will not be accepted'.
If you read our article 'Fylde Waives the Rules', you can see exactly why this piece of tomfoolery is being proposed now.
The aim is to stop anyone challenging the minutes of a meeting at the following meeting. (Which is exactly what Cllr Collins did!).
It aims to stop the process that is the de-facto standard for committees up and down this country.
The sad part is that it is almost certain to be approved.
Because, again, it makes it easier for the Conservative majority party councillors to reduce the prospect of their decisions being
So why shouldn't it be done this way?
Well, firstly the recommended requirement is not at all clear
It doesn't say which medium constitutes 'formal publication' of the minutes.
So it's not clear whether the date of 'formal publication' is when they were:
- sent to councillors by the Town Hall?
- received by councillors?
- published on Fylde's intranet?
- published on Fylde's website?
- posted on a Council notice board?
And it's also not clear whether 'formal' means when the minutes are published in the first medium, or when all the places where the minutes have to be published have been
(This is very relevant, because there are sometimes delays in publishing the minutes of meetings - as we will show shortly)
Secondly, it also doesn't say whether you can simply write and say "I intend to challenge the minutes of the Council meeting held on [suchadate]"
(I.e. without actually setting
out what the challenge is) !
And, of course, if someone did that, it would offer no advancement to what happens now when you hear the challenge someone makes to minutes for the first time at the meeting
To achieve what it appears to want to achieve, the new requirement should also probably say is that you have to make the challenge by specifying the detail of the challenge
to the factual accuracy of the minutes that you intend to make.
So even now, we have less than competent drafting of the changed wording being put forward as the legally binding Constitutional revision that the Audit and Standards Committee was being recommended to approve, and to
recommend to Full Council for adoption.
And if it is not to be sufficient to say "I intend to challenge the minutes" - and if you have to say why or how you will challenge them - then does that imply there is to be some
form of censorship or some control of what the duly elected Councillors might want to say as their challenge?
Is a hired hand of an officer, or a 'senior member' going to try to prevent another elected member from making a challenge to what they believe to be inaccurate minutes on
behalf of their residents?
Is that what democracy now means at Fylde ?
Having submitted the challenge the councillor intends to make, will the Mayor or the Council Leader be consulted to approve (or reject) the challenge, and if so what basis and criteria
will be used to determine the acceptability of a challenge being made?
Are councillors now to be prevented from exposing the incompetence of those who produce the minutes - as
happened when the Mayor declared an amendment to have been carried and the officers published minutes saying it was not?
And if that happens, how can the political independence of the office of the Mayor remain wholly independent and untarnished?
But if the underlying aim of this move really is to enable someone to censor or refuse to accept an amendment to the minutes, we will be interested to see this item go through full Council - to
see which Councillors at Fylde are prepared to set about restricting the right of elected members to challenge decisions they believe to be wrongly recorded in the minutes.
To see which Councillor does not support freedom of speech in the Council Chamber?
If anyone does support such an idea, then Robert Mugabe's Governance System will truly have arrived at Fylde - as we previously alluded to in our article
'Banana Republic of
Fylde' when the Commissar was in charge and they still had the awful Cabinet system.
But even if councillors *were* required to specify a reason for amending the minutes, there is always a workaround.
For example you could have someone put forward some sort of 'bland' or 'stalking horse' challenge of an amendment to the minutes, and when the debate on that amendment begins, another councillor could quickly propose a variation to that amendment, (i.e. another amendment, and the *real* challenge that they wanted to make) at the
meeting itself (albeit that you might have to have it written down to give to the officers as well).
The only way around that would be to ban the practice of amending an amendment altogether.
And unless the Banana Republic really does arrive, or if Fylde moves fully into
the Third World Dictatorship that Kim Jong Sue seems to think would be a good way to do things, there will always be more than one way of skinning a cat.
This measure seems to us to be an ill thought out nonsense dreamed up either by officers who have been stung by their own earlier incompetence, or by Conservative members
who were shown to have been less than competent in choosing the guillotine motion they used to stop all debate on What Cllr Collins had drawn attention to.
But apart from the principles involved, there are also good practical reasons why it is a stupid proposal.
For example, 5 days notice is far too short.
In the example that we think has given rise to this proposed change, if Cllr Collins (who made the challenge to the previous minutes at the recent Council meeting) had been
going on holiday or been away on business when the minutes were published, it's quite possible he would not have seen the minutes within 5 days.
Furthermore, it's not unknown for Fylde's minutes to be delayed in being published.
We had a letter last year from one of our eagle-eyed readers who spotted that the minutes of the Development Management Committee held on 30th November 2016, were not
actually published on Fylde's website 8 weeks after the meeting to which they related.
We checked the FBC website for that meeting in February 2017, and it said the minutes for that meeting would be "available soon"
Those minutes were actually approved by a Committee that met on 11th January (5 weeks or so after the meeting that considered the items) but they had not appeared on Fylde's
website on 2 February 2017 - because we checked.
So whether they had been 'published' or not is a moot point depending on what 'formally published' really means.
We think that putting them to a committee for approval FIVE WEEKS after the meeting, (and having 8 weeks without their being published on the website) makes a complete
nonsense of the idea of giving councillors FIVE DAYS to respond to them after they are 'formally published' (whatever that phrase might mean).
Most of the councillors will have forgotten all about what went on 5 or 8 weeks ago anyway.
Then of course, there's also the situation where, having received the 'formally published minutes' you spot something in them that you think is wrong, but you need to do some
investigations or make further inquiries and contact other people.
That process could easily take longer than an arbitrary five day deadline.
And that will apply to majority group members as well as other councillors of course.
So if, Cllr Mrs Buckley (NB Readers should note that we don't mean to pick on her in
this article, but she is someone who reads the minutes for all the Committees and isn't afraid to speak out if she thinks something is wrong), spots a committee decision that
does not accurately reflect what she thought had happened at that meeting, she will have only 5 days to contact the Chairman of the relevant committee and investigate whether the
wording of the minute is an accurate reflection of what was actually decided, and she may also have to ask other committee members for their recollections as well.
only take a very simple holiday break, illness, or business absence to slip over the date by which the investigations had to be done, various people been contacted, and an
amendment to the minutes submitted.
And in probably the best example of all - because it was a real example - when the Mayor of the day at this year's budget meeting declared at the meeting that an amendment
made by Cllr Mrs Oades had been carried, and the minutes of the meeting said it was not, we've no doubt it will have taken more than 5 days for a busy working and locally
active borough and parish councillor like Peter Collins to research the constitution and its powers in order to prepare his case to challenge the minute.
(This is not least because he
would have had to have waited until Fylde published its video of the meeting to review and confirm what was actually said, and if the video is not published within 5 days, then
under the proposed alteration, he would not be able to propose an amendment to minutes which were patently at odds with the declared decision of the Mayor at the meeting!)
In another example, Fylde Council's most recent meeting was its Annual Meeting on 10 May 2017. The minutes of that meeting were last modified on 15 May, and very likely published shortly
But the video of that meeting was not published until 21 June 2017 - which is six weeks after the meeting and probably five weeks after the minutes were published.
How could anyone possibly respond within five days to minutes produced on 15 May if they needed to see the video that was not going to be published for another 5 weeks!
It is a complete nonsense.
So we regard this change as yet another piece of foolishness, and other than to avoid officers being shown to have egg on their faces if they are not sufficiently competent or alert at
the meetings, we can see no good reason for this change being proposed.
PUBLIC SPEAKING AT PLANNING COMMITTEE
The proposals here really put the cat amongst the pigeons. We saw emails flying about the place in horror at what was being proposed in this report which, after the opening
"2. Present arrangements for public speaking at Planning Committee are not contained in the constitution. Instead, they are set out in a leaflet available via the council’s
website and at council offices.
3. In summary, any member of the public is allowed to speak on any planning application on the agenda of Planning Committee. The applicant (or their agent) is also allowed
to speak on an application, but only if there are also public speakers who oppose the application, or if the application has been recommended for refusal by planning officers.
Each individual member of the public is limited to speaking for three minutes. The same time limit applies to an applicant or agent. There is no limit on the number of speakers
who can speak on an application, provided they have registered in time before the meeting.
4. If, after public speakers have spoken, an application is deferred to another committee meeting, public speakers are not normally allowed to speak again.
5. Ward councillors are not public speakers, but can conveniently be dealt with in this report. Councillors who are not members of the committee, but who represent the ward
where a proposed development would be located, can speak on an application without a time limit (Unless the member has an interest in the application: See the information note
on the Code of Conduct presented to the Planning Committee on 8 February 2017).
Drivers For Change
6. Public speaking allows local communities to be directly involved in the decision-making process. It assists committee members by giving them insight into the views of
those most directly involved by the applications they are considering.
7. Meetings of the Planning Committee at Fylde Council last for up to seven hours, including a break for lunch. No other local planning authority in Lancashire has planning
committee meetings that approach this length. The excessive length of Planning Committee meetings imposes unreasonable demands on members and officers and runs the risk that
decisions made at the end of meetings might be less well considered and of lower quality.
8. Unlimited public speaking can add considerably to the length of committee meetings. Allowing time for speakers to be seated and introduced, each public speaker adds about
five minutes to the duration of a meeting. An application that attracts ten public speakers, together with the applicant or agent, will add nearly an hour to the length of the
9. It is very rare that more than a handful of public speakers have unique insights on an application. More often, a number of public speakers will share the same concerns
and objections. Members of the Planning Committee can understand and weigh points made by public speakers and the strength of local feeling without needing to hear from each
10. Limiting the numbers of public speakers on any application would contribute to the shortening of meetings without materially affecting the information available to
members on which to base their decisions.
11. Occasionally, an application which would otherwise be delegated to officers appears on the committee agenda at the request of a town or parish council, but no town or
parish council representative attends committee. It would save committee time to have a protocol to deal swiftly with applications when this situation arises.
Proposals For Change
12. The chairman and vice-chairmen of the Planning Committee have met with planning and governance officers to discuss ways of shortening Planning Committee meetings. The
following proposals for change were agreed to be put forward for consideration by the Audit and Standards Committee.
Include the rules for public speaking in the constitution
Limit public speakers to five for each application (not including the applicant or agent, but including any parish or town council representative). If more than five
people want to speak, the first five to register will be invited to speak. Speakers are to be encouraged to appoint a spokesperson or ask their ward councillor(s) to represent
Where an application which has been deferred returns to the committee, public speakers who have previously spoken on the application will be allowed to speak again.
Town and parish councils
Where a Town or Parish Council has requested that an application that would otherwise have been decided under delegated authority be referred to the committee instead, the
town or parish council should send a representative as a public speaker. If the Town/Parish Council is not represented, the Chairman will normally move the item, without
debate, for the vote to be taken in line with the officers’ recommendation."
We were shocked to read this report. It is awful.
Firstly, only the Planning Committee can take decisions. The Chairman and Vice Chairman have no business deciding what to propose as changes. That is
the role of the Committee now we have abandoned the Cabinet system of operation. If they wanted to effect changes, the Chairman and Vice should have taken a report that asked the members of the
Planning committee to consider the matter and make a recommendation to Audit and Standards.
Secondly, the Chairman and Vice Chairman of this Committee (Cllrs Fiddler and Redcliffe) must think that hearing the views of the people who elected them is of less importance than
shortening the time that the Planning meetings take.
And the disrespect they showed to Parish and Town Councils with their 'royal command' to attend meetings if they wanted the
Committee (who are elected) to take decisions on an application - rather than the officers (who are not elected and therefore not accountable), is simply
It's also quite ridiculous to limit the speakers to 4 or 5.
It would only take a developer to line up 4 or 5 subcontractors to take all the speaking places for the
Planning Committee meeting for the Committee to believe there was no concern from the public.
Other people and organisations clearly had concerns as well, because on the morning of the meeting to consider it, we heard that the item was to be withdrawn from the agenda
for wider consultation, so we'll not go into more details at this stage except to say we're amazed that Fylde's officers could have ever thought something like this would be
acceptable. They seem to be forgetting that the Council is the servant of the people, not the other way round.
PUBLIC SPEAKING AT OTHER COMMITTEES
There have been two external reviews of Fylde's change to the Committee Governance system. Fylde would no doubt deny it, but we believe the reason for the second review was
that the Leading group didn't like what the first one said.
We heard that an oral report delivered by the first external review (to senior FBC members) was so unacceptable to Leading Group members that it has never been spoken of in
public, and a highly sanitised written report that didn't really address the change in governance, but focused more on what the council might do in the future, was delivered
instead, but even that was kept under wraps for almost two years. (And even when it was published, it was just sneaked out on the website, not reported to a Committee).
But one paragraph from it was selected to justify appointing another (second) external review.
This second review was done bye John Cade who is an honorary lecturer with the University of Birmingham's INLOGOV unit. His report went to the Audit and Standards Committee
a while ago.
Like the previous review, most of *his* recommendations were not adopted.
But his published report did not refer to public speaking at all.
In January 2017 the Audit and Standards Committee asked Fylde's Monitoring Officer to produce a report about public speaking - with some recommendations.
She has just done so, and that's what the Committee was considering (though we doubt they understood the origins of her report - which we set out in some detail later).
One of her suggestions was the awful proposals for Planning Committee (which we reported above and we were told had been withdrawn).
Her other report went to the recent Audit and Standards Committee (15 June 2017), and basically offered the Committee five possibilities
These options proposed changes in the Public Platform sessions (held before most of the Committees formally begin), where currently, the public is allowed to address the Committee on any
matter within the remit of the Committee,
One change was to restrict all public comments at any committee meeting to an item on that Committee's agenda (rather than something within the Committee's remit).
The second, was whether the public would have to pre-register to speak, or whether they could just turn up and do so.
Finally, consideration was to be given to extending the public platform to matters within the Audit and Standards Committee's remit.
Specifically, the officer report said:
"Option 1 – Status Quo
5. Option 1 would be to make no alterations to the present public speaking arrangements and simply collect all public speaking arrangements into one place in the
6. With no changes there would be public platform only at programme committees; and no more than 5 questions to be asked at Council.
7. There would also be no requirement for Public Platform speakers to pre-register and they would be able to speak on anything within the remit of the committee.
Option 2 – Pre-registration
8. Option 2 would be the same as Option 1 above but with the requirement for all Public Platform speakers to pre-register in advance of the meeting.
Option 3 – Remarks confined to Agenda items
9. Option 3 would be the same as Option 1 but with the requirement for pre-registration for public platform speakers and their remarks confined to matters under
consideration on the agenda for that meeting.
Option 4 – Other Committees
10. Option 4 would be the same as either Option 1 or Option 3 above, except that the Public Platform would be extended to Audit and Standards Committee on the same basis as it
applies to the programme committees.
11. Licensing Committee would not be included in the public speaking arrangements, as it has separate requirements under the Licensing Act 2003. As the Public Protection
Committee considers quasi-judicial matters public speaking would not be appropriate for that particular committee together with matters concerning standards on the Standards
and Audit Committee."
The changes to the procedure for making amendments and challenging the accuracy of minutes, and changes to public speaking at Planning and other committees, suggested the stage was set for some interesting debate so we went along.
WHAT HAPPENED AT COMMITTEE?
We will say at the outset, and whilst we intend no criticism of Cllr Singleton, we were surprised to see him chairing this meeting. He has been elected to the
role of Mayor of Fylde. That job has two roles. One is ceremonial and promotional. The other is to chair and control meetings of the Full Council.
We're used to Fylde operating a system where if someone is the Mayor, they stand down from their role in chairing Committee meetings so as not to conflict with what should
be their non-party-political role of chairing Full Council meetings.
It may be that Fylde no longer has this requirement in its Constitution, but we always thought it was a good idea because it helped to make the chairmanship of Council
meetings more self-evidently impartial and independent.
However, it was not to be the case with this Mayor.
1. AMENDMENTS AND MINUTES
The reporting officer noted that this item involved changes to the Constitution and was thus not delegated to the Committee, so they were being asked
consider the matter and make a recommendation as to what should happen to the Full Council meeting (which would take the actual decision).
First to speak was Cllr Peter Collins whose (perfectly proper) challenge to the previous Council minutes had caused a lot of fuss (See 'Fylde Waives the Rules' for details).
Cllr Collins asked about challenging the minutes of a meeting and how the new provisions would work in practice.
The officer said if the requisite notice had been given (i.e.
if the contact was made within 5 working days of the minutes being published, then the Councillor who wanted to challenge the minutes would be able to raise it at the Council
meeting in the normal way, but if the 5 working days notice had not been given, then such a challenge would be ruled out of order and not be allowed to be made at the Council
Cllr Collins then went on to raise a number of matters with which he was dissatisfied. All were to do with the Constitution, but not all to do exactly with the agenda item.
He seemed to be trying to broaden it out into a debate on various shortcomings of the Constitution and said this item on their agenda was only a knee jerk reaction to what had
happened at the last council meeting. He was (properly) brought to order by the Chairman to focus on the item on the agenda.
Cllr Roger Small said if there was a question about the minutes, that question would have to be given to the Monitoring Officer within 5 days of the Minutes being published.
Cllr Mrs Oades said she agreed this change was a knee-jerk reaction, and it was taking a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. She said she was happy to put her amendments in
writing and she always did. But on the item of challenging the minutes, she said confirmation of the minutes was the first item on every agenda of every meeting you ever go to,
and that provided the opportunity to challenge should there be anything wrong.
She said she could not vote for anything that restricted the time to challenge a set of minutes to five days. She said if it was to be time limited, it should within so many
days of the meeting being held, but she really thought any member should be able to challenge the minutes as of right at the next meeting, and this was an attempt to further
sanitise the role of members - and that was not healthy for democracy and not healthy for debate.
She went on to say she understood the proposal would be approved, because the Conservatives have a majority, but she appealed to them to apply the same rule as for notices
of motions, where they have to be submitted so many days before the date of the meeting.
Cllr Collins noted that if this new rule was followed, and the 5 days notice was given, then the challenge would be proposed as an amendment to the minutes of the previous
meeting and, because the normal rules of debate would then apply, anyone could propose a further amendment at the meeting. (So in practice, the mover of the second amendment -
who would not have given 5 days notice because the rules of debate allow amendments to be moved during the meeting - would, in effect 'by-pass' the new 5 day rule by moving the
amendment after the first challenge)
This is exactly what we picked up from reading the agenda. If anyone wished to do so, it would be quite easy to create a 'stalking horse' challenge to allow in the real
amendments that someone wanted to propose.
It is self-evidently, an utterly ridiculous proposal.
Cllr Edward Nash said:
"Just to say, I've no problem with what Cllr Oades is proposing. I don't see any difference really. It seems to make common sense.... Instead of being five days after a
minute, its seven days before the next meeting... I don't see any problem with it either way"
The Chairman now disclosed the hand that he had - up to now - been holding, and which had previously been covered with a cloak of consensus.
Like Cllr Eaves, for the most part Cllr John Singleton (who chairs the Audit and Standards Committee) is able to project the epitome of consensuality and professionalism in
his Chairing, but this facade now began to slip as he said:
"I don't think that would give officers enough time in all fairness, and I've listened to Cllr Oades and Cllr Collins. I've checked their details and their information on
board. However, I'm going to put it to the vote. It's a contentious vote this, and I think we need to record what the results are"
Our opinion of his chairmanship sank like a stone with what he just said.
What he was doing here was trying to whip the conservative councillors - and in particular Cllr Nash - into line behind him to vote against what Cllr Mrs Oades had suggested
(not even proposed as yet). And to do so he said it was a contentious vote, when it was not contentious at all, except for the fact that he wanted it to go a particular way and
was choosing to make it contentious.
If he had stopped and thought for a moment he would have realised that what they were debating was actually a plan to restrict the ability of Councillors to ensure that the
record of the decisions they had taken was correct.
We wondered what sort of people would NOT want to have their decisions correctly recorded, and we could only come up with the sort of people who want to take
no-one knows about. The sort of decisions that are not democratic. The sort of decisions that either North Korea or Fylde's own Conservative Leader Kim Jong Sue might prize. The
sort of people you simply should not trust.
The Chairman then also said he wanted the result of the vote recorded.
He has no right or mandate to do that alone as he did. If someone wants a recorded vote, whether it is the Chairman or an ordinary member, they have to call for it and be
supported by four other councillors.
We've no doubt he wanted the recorded vote to be able to prove which Conservative members of his committee might have voted 'the wrong way' to the Dear Leader Kim
Jong Sue - so she could discipline any who did not vote to pass the recommendations set out on the agenda report.
We were very disappointed with his show of force on this matter.
Even worse, he had moved to take a vote on the item when no-one (not even him!) had made a proposition. Because of that, it could not have been (and was not) seconded
In his panic to get the result to go the way he wanted (or perhaps to get the result he had been ordered to achieve), he was forgetting all his usual polite consenusuality, and
disregarding the constitutional requirements about propositions being made and seconded before you ask people to vote on them.
Cllr Mrs Oades was unhappy. She said
"Before you put the vote, what exactly are you putting to the vote"?
Cllr Singleton said
"We're putting to the vote the actual recommendations as outlined by Mr Curtis"
Cllr Oades said
"Right, can I just ask a question then, you said it doesn't give officers enough time, what do officers need enough time for? If there's going to be a challenge to the
minutes, surely we're just telling officers we're going to be challenging them.
Why do officers need time? If you're saying that that's the case, then this is being put forward by officers to make life easier for them, and I'm not here to make life
easier for officers, I'm here to make sure that democracy goes through in the right way and that all our processes are fair and transparent. We are not here to make life easier
We had to smile.
Cllr Singleton replied and, in desperation, clutched at the straw of an earlier item on the agenda, saying
"I take your point Cllr Oades, I'm not suggesting that we try and make life easier for officers, but you yourself have made the comment looking at the internal audit agenda
item that we don't seem to have enough officer time to complete the internal audit, so I think you're more or less confirming that officers are hard pressed at the moment"
Cllr Oades saw the straw he was clutching at, as did we, but her comment had been about failings in the audit department of Fylde's Finance Division, whilst the point she
was making was about there being no need to make life easier for officers in the Governance Division, and she said so, and she repeated her question asking why officers needed
time to know there would be a challenge to the minutes of a previous meeting.
She said there was no work involved for the officers, other than knowing that one or two or three
councillors were going to speak at the meeting and challenge those minutes. Again she said there was no work involved for officers.
But of course what you have here dear reader are two different perceptions of how this will work. Cllr Mrs Oades is heading along the route of 'Dear Officer, I intend to
challenge the minutes of the pervious Council meeting' whilst Cllr Singleton seem to be expecting her to send in a written rehearsal of all the details and arguments of the
challenge that is going to be made. Cllr Oades' approach involves no work for officers (unless they choose to do something) whilst Cllr Singleton seems to envisage the
officers researching and perhaps moderating or changing or refusing to accept the challenge that has been submitted.
By now the Chairman was looking for Conservative Knights to ride to his rescue, and he called Cllr Small, who said:
"I strongly disagree with this because sometimes, it's about the accuracy of the challenge. We have seen frequently at Council where challenges are made that are totally
inaccurate, that have wasted a lot of time, and have subsequently been found to be inaccurate and they've lost. Now I don't see the problem with this, I can agree with giving
you more time but I don't see the problem because, obviously, if somebody comes up and says look, I have a problem with this, then the important person to go to is the
Monitoring Officer to talk that through. Nobody's actually stopping them speaking. Nobody's actually saying at Council meeting that you can't actually speak on this item, but I
do think, you know, that there have been cases where, frankly, the challenge has been totally and utterly inaccurate, and found to be inaccurate, and from that point of view it
has wasted a lot of valuable time, but it's actually got off the debate at totally the wrong end of the stick..."
He does talk a lot of rubbish. The proposal is EXACTLY intended to stop people speaking about the minutes at the next meeting if they have not given notice of an intention
to do so within 5 days of the minutes being published.
We'd have asked him to enumerate the occasions when minutes have been challenged at Council - because we can only think of two in the last five years. To us, he seemed to
be confusing the approval of minutes with ordinary amendments to propositions - which are not the same thing at all because the change that is being proposed will only apply to
the minutes of the previous meeting, not to all amendments in committee. (But as our readers know, we've never rated Cllr Small as a deep thinker)
He talked about getting hold of the wrong end of the stick!
He's just provided a really good example of how to do it.
Having had a minute to recover his thoughts, the Chairman said:
"I have to say I do think it's sufficient time, personally to let the Monitoring Officer know. I'm going to put it to the vote. I'd like a recorded vote because it is a
contentious item and we're voting on the actual recommendation of the report in tonight's papers"
Our own view is that, quite frankly, this is appalling governance.
Here we have the Chairman of Fylde's Audit and Standards Committee - the committee charged with maintaining the highest standards of conduct and adherence to Fylde's
Constitution and procedures, taking a recorded vote (which was implemented without being properly requested, and had not in any case been voted for by the five members that the
constitution requires), on a matter that has neither been proposed nor seconded during the whole of the debate!
That behaviour flies in the face of the requirements of the Constitution he is supposed to be upholding. And it demonstrates - as if proof were needed that at Fylde, party
political expediency trumps conformity to the rules of governance or the seeking of consensus.
The vote was entirely predictable. All the Conservatives voted for the recommendation - even Cllr Nash who had earlier said he had no problem what Cllr Oades had suggested
and it was only common sense.
Those Councillors for the recommendation were Cllrs: Delma Collins; Graeme Neal; Roger Small; Edward Nash, David Donaldson.
Those against the recommendation were Cllrs: Peter Collins; Liz Oades; Roger Lloyd.
Cllr Mrs Oades then said
"Can I just say Chairman that vote actually demonstrates there are a lot of people who don't really understand the Constitution"
The Chairman, having said that it was a contentious vote in order to bring his conservative flock of sheep into line behind him replied:
"I'd like the minutes to record that I'm abstaining in this vote. That has been carried 6 - 3 so thank you for all your inputs on that one"
He was then corrected by the officer who reminded him that he had abstained, so it was carried by 5 votes to 3.
It took us a while to work out why he's done this. But eventually it dawned. He's done that so he can take the item as Mayor at the Council meeting and say he can be
impartial at Council because he abstained in the vote at committee.
Now dear reader you see this for what it really is. Conservative duplicity and treachery.
The whole thing looks to have been a calculated and pre-arranged duplicity to bring about a specific result that they will probably force through at Council as well.
But back at this meeting, it is now clear that Cllr Singleton needed all the Conservatives to vote for it so he could abstain.
If just Cllr Nash has followed his own conscience and voted against the restriction on ensuring accurate minutes are adopted, the vote would have been 4 - 4 and it would have
fallen to the casing vote of the Chairman to carry it. And that would probably have meant he would not have been able to preside over this item as Mayor when it is considered
by the Full Council.
It makes us wonder - as one of our readers recently wrote to suggest - whether Fylde is actually the worst run council in the country.
We do believe what happened here brings shame and disgrace on those involved, and we're especially saddened to see Cllr Singleton - a councillor we have formerly had some
regard for - behaving in this way.
And on the broader question, you have to ask yourself whether prohibiting discussion on a mistake in the minutes (because it had not been notified within 5 days of them
being published) could ever be justified if the result is that Fylde goes on to implement a decision that was not what was agreed.
The idea is plainly preposterous.
We'll bring readers the story of what happens when this item gets to Full Council, but we fully expect the majority Conservative group to outvote all the other councillors
in spite of it being a really stupid proposal that will constrain them as much as it does everyone else.
2. PUBLIC SPEAKING AT PLANNING
As we had been advised by a reader on the morning of the meeting, when it came to this item, the Chairman said:
"Before I open this to the committee, what I would like to do is to defer this item for further, wider consultation"
This item (unlike the previous one) was properly proposed, seconded, and voted on.
We thought the reason given was a bit rich, given that as far as we could tell from the flurry of angry emails that reached us, there had been no consultation so far, but
perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies like this deferral in order to undertake a consultation.
It's also our view that this is a matter that should have been considered by 'District Parish Liaison Group' which exists to address matters of common interest exactly like
this between the Borough and Town/Parish Councils, but from what we have been able to establish, no-one thought to take it there.
3. PUBLIC SPEAKING REVIEW GENERALLY
We've given the details about this aspect earlier in the article so we'll go straight in to the debate.
The Chairman asked for questions first, but there were none. So he went on to explain what the committee was being asked to decide.
Cllr Nash was the first to speak. He said it was a piece of work done and recommended by a university.
This is not correct. Mr Cade has worked within local government and the public sector for over 40 years. As far as we can tell he is not a permanent employee of a
University, but an honorary Lecturer at the in public sector governance at INLOGOV which is part of the University. But whatever his credentials, it is a fact that John Cade from
INLOGOV made no reference whatsoever to Public Speaking in his published report to Fylde.
Cllr Nash's confusion on this probably arises because in preparing her earlier report, Fylde's Monitoring Officer had included matters that other Fylde Councillors and officers had raised with her in January 2016, (one of which was public speaking).
But she reported them in the same table, and in the same tabular format, as the comments from Mr Cade.
So it appears that they *are* his comments unless you read the preamble to the table very carefully. Whether there was simply a desire to use a common reporting format, or
whether it was done this way with an intent to deceive the casual observer we cannot tell.
In that report to the January 2017 Audit Committee the table noted:
The 'Comments / Suggestions' Column said
'There were a number of respondents who offered comments regarding public speaking seeking review of public speaking, commenting on confusion regarding pre-registering, the
need to tighten the scope for public platform, and the need to draw all public speaking together in the constitution.'
The 'Breakdown of the Comments' column said
'To draw all public speaking rules together in one place in the Constitution. To make the rules/guidelines clearer for the public. To tighten the scope of public platform to
just items on the agenda.'
The 'Comment from Monitoring Officer' Column said
'The public speaking rules would benefit from a redraft and consistency across all committees. The issues of whether or not pre-registration should be applied; the number of
speakers; the time allowed per speaker; and whether speakers can only address items on the current agenda, should be considered.'
And her 'Recommendation Column' said
'The Audit and Standards Committee should review public speaking arrangements at meetings of the council and the committees making recommendations to Full Council on any
changes they feel would benefit the democratic process and reduce confusion.'
So from this, readers will see the *potentially* incestuous nature of an item such as this - where unattributed proposals are assessed in-house before being
reported in the same table and in the same format as the responses
from the independent Governance reviewer (who had made no reference at all to public speaking arrangements in his report).
We say this simply to explain how people who do not research the agenda items in sufficient depth can easily be misled into believing as fact something that is not.
The Audit Committee Chairman went on to explain that the change proposed would limit speakers to something on the agenda of the meeting, rather than anything within the
relevant committee's remit.
We think this was a sort of nudge nudge, wink wink, attempt by the Chairman to direct Cllr Nash to support the change.
The officer in attendance (who was standing in for the Monitoring Officer) was called upon to clarify the matter, and he too got it wrong when he said the comments from
INLOGOV were on public speaking 'in the round'.
There is actually no mention of them in Mr Cade's published report.
But the officer also said he did not think they made any particular recommendations. That at least was correct. (We've re-checked the published report and Mr Cade from
INLOGOV made no reference at all to public speaking).
The Chairman asked if there were any other views, and Cllr Roger Small said:
"Personally I don't have any problems with Option 1, leaving it as it is, because my experience has been that most times, members of the public who come do try and address
an item that's on the agenda"
He went on to say he could only think of one example where someone came and talked about something that was not. So he didn't have a problem, but he thought it was tied in
with the plans for the Planning Committee and maybe they should be linked together. He said:
"As it stands at the moment, I don't have a problem with Option 1. I can see pre-registering, yes, I can see confining comments to items on the agenda, but I think members
of the public, particularly if they have an item that they're really concerned about, would feel slightly cheated if they were not given an opportunity to speak. So if I was to
vote on this tonight, I'd probably say go with option 1, but I do think this is tied in with the previous item."
At this point Cllr Mrs Oades said she would propose they retain Option 1 to leave things as they are now. Cllr Roger Small seconded her.
Cllr Collins then rather spoilt the flow of unanimity by saying that Option 1 was no change from the present, so why did they not simply defer the item until they had
considered public speaking at Planning Committee.
He seemed to be arguing that the policy should be consistent for all committees, including Planning.
The Chairman said he thought the requirements of the Planning Committee (who get a lot more speakers) were different.
But Cllr Collins was pressing for the deferral of a decision.
Cllr Edward Nash spoke in support of pre-registering as a result of the recent experience with the Public Space Protection Order debate on dog controls, and he wondered
about giving the Chairman of a committee the ability to invoke pre-registration if the item looked to be contentious. The Chairman said was not in favour of that idea
The Chairman said Option 1 had been proposed by Cllr Mrs Oades, and he asked if Cllr Collins wanted to make an amendment to it. Cllr Collins hesitated for a moment. He
appeared to want to do so, but it would put him in conflict with Cllr Mrs Oades. She spoke up and withdrew her proposition and said she would support the deferment.
Showing a more generous spirit than we would have done in these circumstances, Cllr Mrs Oades seconded Cllr Collins' proposition to defer the item.
The Chairman said there were three votes for deferment, two against, and the rest of the Committee abstained. But he did say the proposal to defer the item was carried.
And that was the end of it for the moment.
This means that the whole issue of reviewing public speaking at all Committees has been deferred.
What was not clear to us, was whether the matter of public speaking at committees other than Planning Committee would now be the subject of the same consultation that it
would seem FBC is about to undertake for Planning Committee.
Nor is it clear what the scope and extent of that consultation at Planning will be (whether it will only involve other 'government related' bodies such as Parish Councils,
or whether it will be open to the public and local groups to comment).
But for the moment, things are staying as they are, and the restrictions on being able to speak at Committee meetings have been put on hold. We don't expect that to change much at
the next Council meeting when the recommendation to defer these items might considered
there. (Although it may not even be necessary for the deferment to be reported to Council at this time).
But the decisions that were taken and which definitely will go to Council for a final vote - the matter of having to submit all amendments in writing, ideally before the
meeting; and the prohibition on challenging the minutes of a meeting without having given notice of an intention to do so within five days of the minutes being published - will
almost certainly have another airing in debate at Full Council.
We really hope the Council changes it's mind on these proposals for reasons such as the ones we set out in the early part of this article. But frankly, given the Chairman's
demeanour and conduct at the Audit and Standards Meeting, we suspect the Conservative Group will vote down whatever anyone else says.
We'll try to bring our readers the conclusion to this matter after the next Council meeting.
Dated: 23 Jun 2017