Fylde Waives the Rules
Unlike Britannia (who ruled the waves),
this article is about Fylde Council waiving its own rules to produce what we regard as a very serious governance failure.
In our opinion, the officer responsible for ensuring the lawfulness and probity of the Council’s decision making - (that's lawfulness as in 'conforming to, permitted by,
or recognized by law or rules' - and its probity, as in 'honesty and decency') - acted delinquently when they failed to uphold the purpose of the office to which they had
This was a failure so fundamental, it eventually caused the Conservative Majority group to approve a set of Council minutes recording a decision on a vote that was not the
the Mayor had declared at the meeting. And even more importantly, Fylde's Constitution - which exists as a set of procedural rules to govern and protect everyone - was simply
disregarded when an officer misled the Council about the implications of a decision they were about to take. Despite subsequent stonewalling and denials from Fylde's officers -
and some Councillors - we think the Council has either set an unlawful budget, or it has failed to set a budget at all - as we shall show.
We begin with a brief Introduction, before moving to the First Governance Failure where the Mayor declared a decision carried but the minutes say it was not carried. This was a significant governance failure, but it would not have been difficult to resolve.
However, the Second and More Serious Failure was of a much greater magnitude. Cllr Mrs Oades Had Proposed an Amendment
that sought to save £13,000 a year by deleting the posts of Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council.
Confusion reigned as to whether these two Councillors needed to Declare a Prejudicial Interest and Leave the Debate, and The
Monitoring Officer's Advice is ambivalent in the matter.
Then, in his anger at what had been proposed by Cllr Mrs Oades, Cllr Roger
Small Began the Cock-up that this meeting became, by calling for the debate to cease on Cllr Oades' amendment. But it was not clear exactly what he was proposing, and the Monitoring Officer had to Ask Him To Clarify
which of two such motions he wanted to propose.
We then explain What Each of the Closure Motions Are For, before seeing Cllr Small Get it Wrong Again.
Compounding the cock-up we watch as
Fylde's Monitoring Officer Gets it Wrong and confusion reigns
We then reproduce the Wording of Fylde's Constitution on this matter to justify our claim that the wrong advice had been provided by Fylde's Monitoring Officer and the
Council had been misled by it.
Then the Mayor took the Vote on the Closure Motion. This was successful and should thus have ended all debate on this item. But the earlier advice from
Fylde's Monitoring Officer was
followed and The Mayor Continued to debate Agenda Item 8.
We next record who voted which way in The Published Minutes, before explaining why we believe the Published Minutes and the Underlying
Decision are Wrong.
We then move to the Next Meeting of the Council - at which the minutes of the previous meeting had been proposed by the Mayor as being a true and correct record.
Cllr Peter Collins said they were not
correct and Exploded a Bombshell Amendment that sought to change the minutes.
We were puzzled by some of what he said, so we ask What is Going on Here? before we reproduce detailed Extracts from Fylde's Constitution.
Confusion reigned at the top table
once again, as Cllr Collins sat down and Stunned Councillors Began to Debate his Amendment amongst a great deal of confusion, and it was clear some had
missed the point of his amendment altogether. Three times,
Cllr Collins was asked to read out his amendment to the minutes before a vote was taken on it.
His amendment was defeated, but the number voting for, against or abstaining as declared at the meeting does not tally with the number published minutes, and a vote on the
original resolution (to approve the minutes of the previous meeting) produces what to us were some strange voting patterns between the two votes.
We then ask Where Does This Leave Us? and conclude that we're probably not going to see anything change because in today's overtly pragmatic world, the reputational damage and financial cost of doing so would
be seen as being too great. So the result is probably going to be yet further erosion of public confidence in an institution that ought to be setting the gold standard for
In 'Green Bins: The Finale?' we introduced this topic and said we were preparing a further article about it.
In fact there were two serious procedural failures at Fylde's budget council meeting, but in our view, one is so great that it almost completely overshadows the other.
THE FIRST GOVERNANCE FAILURE
The first error was as we reported in 'Green Bins: The Finale?' Cllr Liz Oades had proposed an amendment to the budget which said
“Accounting for income and expenditure on
the Green Bin Service should be shown as a separate item in the budget book and published in the accounts to ensure that only the true cost of the service are charged to our
We think the Conservative group has a plan to raise more money from the Green Bin Subscriptions than it actually costs to deliver the service, and they plan to use the
surplus to cross subsidise other services the council delivers. But the last thing they want is to be seen to be doing this. So they all voted against Cllr Mrs Oades'
amendment. None of them. Not one Conservative councillor. Not even the Chairman of the Finance Committee was willing to speak against what Cllr Mrs Oades had proposed.
We think that's because it was self evidently right to account separately for this new subscription service, but the Conservatives didn't want that to happen. They couldn't
publicly justify what the planned to do, so they stayed shtum in the meeting, and just voted against the amendment.
With no-one wanting to speak about Cllr Oades' amendment for separate accounting, the Mayor moved to take the vote.
It was taken a 'show of hands' vote, and the vote on the amendment proposed by Cllr Oades was overwhelmingly defeated by the Conservative majority who rejected her
BUT, the Mayor in charge of the meeting (who is also a Conservative councillor) declared the amendment to have been CARRIED, and no-one corrected her.
We suspect she did this because, subconsciously, she agreed with her political compatriots who wanted to reject Cllr Oades' amendment - and seeing their sea of hands in
support of voting against it, she wanted to indicate that the Conservatives had won the vote and, mistakenly, she said the vote (of her side) had been 'carried'
But what she said actually meant Cllr Oades' amendment had been successful.
This mistake went unnoticed at the meeting, and officers failed to pick up the inaccurate declaration of the result. They minuted the decision to say
"A vote was taken by way of a show of hands. The amendment was lost."
However, when the minutes of this meeting were presented to the next full council meeting - to approve them as a correct record - Cllr Peter Collins said they were not a
correct record and proposed a change to the minutes in order to correct them - as we will explain shortly.
THE SECOND AND MORE SERIOUS FAILURE
Cllr Liz Oades' 'Leader' Amendment
The second (and in our view much more serious) error occurred on a completely different topic. Not green bins at all, but about saving money by deleting the position of
Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council. Councillor Mrs Oades proposed this amendment saying:
"I'd like to move That the position of Leader of the Council and Deputy Leader of the Council be removed, thereby making an annual saving of £13,000."
This brought some laughter from the Conservative members who seemed to think it was a stunt or joke. But it wasn't. Cllr Mrs Oades continued.....
"I agonised about whether or not to bring this amendment, as I am at pains not to personalise this topic. I'm merely looking at the role of Leader and Deputy Leader, not the
personalities. And I'd ask you all to consider this very carefully.
The position of Leader of the Council has been recently commented upon by the Peer Review and the Governance review as not having a significant enough role within the
I've recently looked to see if there is a 'Job Description' for the post and I can't find one. But I have looked at the Constitution, and the arrangements approved by the
In the documentation it states that the Leader of the Council has no formal powers, but that he or she should:
act as principal spokesman of the Council;
take political responsibility for proposing and directing corporate strategy, the budget and policy;
facilitate effective communication with all those engaged in the decision making process;
and provide feedback to all members, with suggestions for effective communication and information sharing, such as via a weekly email update, or a statement at each Council;
and promote the democratic working of the Council.
There doesn't appear to be any mechanism in place at the present time to fulfil this, and as a result, there's a deficit in the democratic process.
As we are all aware, the Leader of the Council is usually the leader of the largest political group on the Council which forms the administration. It is not a political
appointment. The Leader should always act on behalf of the whole Council. In the past, when there was previously a Committee System in place, the Leader of the Council was
always the Chairman of the Finance and Democracy Committee. This allowed the Leader to fulfil the duties of the post, and there was regular communication between all groups in
relation to the Corporate Plan, the Budget, and strategic issues.
As there is no formal mechanism in place for the Leader to share information, non-administration members are unaware of what's being done strategically from the member
perspective. They are therefore unable to access information, which leaves them at a huge disadvantage, and can be embarrassing when issues regarding Fylde are discussed in the
I therefore move that, if there is no intention of putting in place mechanisms for the Leader to feed back to all members, and there is no intention of the post being given
greater responsibility in relation to committees, the present position of leader has no power and is, therefore, pointless, and should be removed."
Cllr Mrs Buckley's Prejudicial Interest
At this point Cllr Mrs Buckley spoke and said
"Mr Mayor, I'm very sorry to interrupt, but I believe I need to declare an interest, and maybe I need to leave the room. So if that could be clarified, but I believe I
should do that, and therefore leave the room."
She quite properly said this because, as the Deputy Leader (and along with the Council leader) she is a recipient of the allowance that Cllr Mrs Oades' amendment sought to
remove, and it could be seen that she had an interest that could prejudice the way she might speak or vote in the debate. We commend her for what she said. It was exactly the
proper thing to have done.
Is it a Prejudicial Interest?
Fylde's monitoring Officer impressed us less. She began properly by saying it was a matter for Cllr Mrs Buckley to decide herself, but went on to say that when the annual
debate about member allowances came before Council for approval, everyone could take part, but she noted that Cllr Buckley and Cllr Fazackerley's positions were being
considered at this point
"...., If you wished to declare an interest and leave, you could, but I don't believe you necessarily need to"
We rather disagree with that last bit. We thought both should declare prejudicial interests and leave.
They must have agreed with us, because that's what they did.
Cllr Oades was on her feet again saying that she had sought not to personalise the matter and she thought they could have stayed. The Chief Executive reminded her it was a
matter for the individual members to decide.
The Mayor asked for a seconder to Cllr Mrs Oades' amendment about abolishing the posts of Leader and Deputy Leader. Cllr Elaine Silverwood obliged.
Cllr Roger Small Cocks Things Up
Cllr Roger Small had indicated to speak and the Mayor called him.
This is where things started to get really interesting. He said:
"I'm sorry about this Mr Mayor, [his next words were unclear but they sounded to us like] I move we put the covers on this amendment straight away."
We don't think that's what he did actually say, but it transpired that his intention was to stop discussion on it.
Under his breath, the microphone picks up him saying
The Mayor then asked Cllr Small:
"Have you got a seconder for that proposal?"
Several hands went up and Cllr Small again said it was ridiculous. Silence prevailed whilst the Chief Executive and the Monitoring Officer consulted with each other on the
constitutional position. Eventually the Monitoring Officer said:
Clarifying Which Closure Motion
"This is a procedural matter, so could I just clarify Councillor Small, there are two 'closure motions.'
One is a motion to proceed to next item of business, which is a matter for the Mayor to consider - whether she wishes to put this to the vote and move forward without
And the other motion is 'That the question now be put', and that's for the Mayor to inform the meeting whether she feels that the matter has been sufficiently debated,
So there are two separate ones. Could we clarify whether it's the first of the second?"
(This advice from the Monitoring Officer was not correct. The proposition to 'move next business' is not a matter at the discretion of the Mayor. If a duly seconded
proposition using these words is delivered, the Mayor MUST immediately take a vote on it without any further discussion).
What Each Of The Closure Motions Are For
It's pretty clear. The 'next Item' motion simply abandons further discussion on this agenda item. No vote would be taken and no decision made.
The 'question now be put' is a different type of closure motion, and is used typically when everyone has got fed up of councillors making the same or very similar points
during a debate. In essence it says 'we've had enough debate on this. Let's go straight to a vote now and not hear what anyone else had to say. This simply curtails debate and
takes the decision there and then if the Mayor agrees that there has been enough debate.
Cllr Small Gets it Wrong Again
Cllr Small was on his feet again and said
"Thank you Mr Mayor, I would hope that we'd be able to move to the next item on this one"
We think he made the wrong choice here.
We've said before we don't regard Cllr Small as a deep thinker. He's not into details. We illustrated this in 'Green Bins: The Finale?' where we said
"he favours using
'broad' calculations that are 'roundabout' right."
What we think he really wanted to do was to cut short the debate on this item and move swiftly to the vote which would allow the Conservative majority to show they didn't
want to debate it any longer, and would reject Cllr Mrs Oades' amendment.
In a "question now be put" closure motion (which is what we think he really wanted), it would be up to the Mayor to decide whether she accepted there had been sufficient
debate or not, and whilst there would have been (justifiable) howls of protest from non-conservative Councillors if, without any debate at all she decided there had already
been enough debate. But as with the previous amendment, she could have decided that and her Conservative colleagues could simply have stayed shtum and voted it down.
But in his anger that Cllr Mrs Oades had had the temerity to challenge the existence of his Dear Leader, Cllr Small's judgement was, once again, found to be wanting.
The Monitoring Officer Gets it Wrong.
The Monitoring Officer - now sounding very uncomfortable - and reading from the Constitution, said:
"So if I can run through that, a motion to proceed to the next item of business.
I'll run through that procedure rule.
The Mayor must immediately put the procedural motion to the vote without discussion. If the motion is approved, then the meeting must proceed, and if the proposal is
defeated, the debate then continues. So are members clear on that?"
We think she was wrong in that she gave a woolly and an incomplete explanation of the process. Crucially, she omitted some very important words that are in the
Constitution. This is a well experienced officer and we find it difficult to understand - especially when she was reading from Fylde's Constitution - how and why she did
not simply read what the Constitution said. But she did not, and she put her own interpretation of what should happen in its place.
The Mayor echoed her question asking if members were clear.
Cllr Silverwood asked:
"Mr Mayor, can I just ask for some clarification because I'd seconded it and asked to...., reserved my right to speak. Is that cancelled out if....."
The Monitoring Officer said
"It is. It's a closure motion Cllr Silverwood, which can be moved at any point, and the Mayor would now put it to the vote."
Confusion reigned at the top table, as the Mayor and Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer puzzled and consulted with each other over what to do next.
Foolishly - in our view - the Monitoring Officer then gave another personal interpretation of what was happening - rather than staying with the wording of the Constitution.
"In effect you're voting to move to the next item of business, so in my view, the next item of business would either be if Cllr Oades then has another amendment to move, or
then to take a vote on the motion before you this evening which was the substantive motion about the budget"
We think she was wrong to say this.
We also think her personal interpretation and advice in this matter misled the Council in coming to its decision.
The Wording of Fylde's Constitution
The verbatim rules of procedure from the Council's Constitution, (which the Council must follow) are:
"13.11 Closure motions
(a) A member may propose, without comment, at the end of a speech of another member:
to proceed to the next business;
that the question be now put;
to adjourn a debate; or
to adjourn a meeting.
If the proposal is seconded, the relevant following procedure will apply.
(b) On a motion to proceed to next business:
The Mayor must immediately put the procedural motion to the vote, without discussion.
If the motion is approved then the meeting must proceed to the next business on the agenda and any motion or amendment then being debated is deemed to be lost.
(If the proposal is defeated the debate on the business under discussion immediately before the motion was proposed will continue........"
Readers will see the difference here.
The Monitoring Officer had said that in her opinion, the next item would either be another amendment - or if there were none - a vote on the budget.
But the constitutional rules could not be more clear in showing that interpretation to be wrong.
Referring to the 'move next business' closure motion, they say:
"If the motion is approved then the meeting must proceed to the next business on the agenda and any motion or amendment then being debated is deemed to be lost."
This says very clearly that if the closure motion is proposed and approved, the meeting must move to the NEXT ITEM OF BUSINESS ON THE AGENDA. That rule offers no scope for
any further amendments to be made to the item that was being discussed (ie the budget), and it offers no scope for a vote to be taken ON THAT ITEM OF BUSINESS. (ie the budget
The Constitution goes even further to make things even more clear.
It says explicitly that under a successful closure motion, ANY MOTION (ie the substantive motion to approve the budget) and any amendment (ie Cllr Oades' amendment to make a
change to that budget by removing the Leader's allowance) IS DEEMED TO BE LOST.
The outcome is that a vote for a successful 'move next business' closure motion would do what it was intended to do. It would abandon debate on Agenda Item 8 (the budget.
(Which is more properly termed the 'Medium Term Financial Strategy Update, including General Fund, Capital Programme and Treasury Management for 2016/17 to 2020/21'), and go
straight to Item 9 on the agenda which was about the 'Saint Annes on the Sea Neighbourhood Development Plan'
We have no doubt at all that the correct interpretation of the Councils own rules of procedure - by which it must abide to be within the law - were not as the Monitoring
Officer had explained to the Council meeting.
But at the time, no-one else saw this was happening.
The Vote is Taken
Making progress, the Mayor said:
"We'll now go to the vote please"
and prompted by the Chief Executive she added
"To move to the next item of business. All those in favour of moving to the next item of business will you please show"
The Monitoring officer said there were 22 votes in favour, and in response to the Mayor's request for votes against to be showed, the Monitoring Officer did not declare a
number against, but said:
"That's clearly carried"
And the Mayor said
"The vote is clearly carried and we go to the next....."
At this point the Chief Executive interrupted her to say they could ask Cllr Buckley and Cllr Fazackerley to return to the meeting.
There was silence for a moment whilst a minion was dispatched to invite them to rejoin the meeting.
The Mayor Incorrectly Continues Debate On Item 8
As they resume their seats, (and following the [incorrect] advice she received from the Council's Monitoring Officer), the Mayor asked:
"Cllr Oades, have you any more amendments?"
Cllr Oades said she did not have any, and the Mayor said:
"We now move to the recorded vote on the substantive motion"
The Monitoring officer said:
"So this is the substantive motion, the motion moved originally by Cllr Buckley and seconded by Cllr Fazackerley, the resolution of which has been already before you this
evening. It is a recorded vote. It has to be when we're voting on the budget, so again if I could call out the names, if you could indicate whether you are for, against,
She then read out the names and took the vote.
The Minutes Are Published
The published minutes of the meeting say
"....Councillor Small, in accordance with the Council’s Constitution, proposed a closure motion that the council proceed to the next business. It was seconded by Councillor
The closure motion was put to the vote and approved and the amendment was therefore deemed to have been lost.
(Councillors Fazackerley and Buckley returned to the room).
There were no further amendments and therefore a vote was taken on the substantive motion and, as required by law, a recorded vote was held;
Votes for the proposal (26) – Councillors Aiken, Akeroyd, Andrews, Beckett, Blackshaw, Buckley, D Collins, Donaldson, Fazackerley, Fiddler, Fradley, Goodman, Green, Harvey,
Hodgson, Jacques, Little, B Nash, E Nash, Pitman, Pounder, Redcliffe, Settle, Singleton, Small, Thomas and Willder.
Votes against the proposal (6) Councillors - Barker, P Collins, Nulty, Oades, Rigby and Silverwood
Abstentions (5) Councillor Chew, Clayton, Ford, Henshaw, Lloyd.
The proposal was carried and it was thereby RESOLVED:...."
(The minute then goes on to give all the technical resolutions of the budget).
The Minute And Its Underlying Decision are Wrong.
We believe the minute is procedurally wrong - because it only says the amendment was lost.
It fails to say - as the Constitution requires - that the original motion was also
lost (as a result of this form of closure motion having been used).
It is also our view that the decision this minute records,( the decision the Council actually took), was, itself, 'ultra vires.' That is, it was outside the competence of the
Council to take such a decision by virtue of it having previously decided to abandon debate on the budget and move to the next item of business on the agenda.
If our view is correct, the outcome is that the Council has either set an unlawful budget (ie one that it had no authority to set) or it has failed to set a budget
altogether. (And if that's the case, all the council tax bills it has just sent out may have no legal justification).
Potentially, this is a very serious state of affairs.
We thought no-one had spotted this. But we were wrong.
Cllr Peter Collins (who, like us, is something of a stickler for proper protocol and procedure) had looked at the minutes and the webcast of the previous meeting, and raised
it at the start of the next Council meeting when the Mayor proposed the minutes as a true an correct record of the meeting.
THE NEXT COUNCIL MEETING - IN APRIL
This was held on 3 April 2017, and it exploded into controversy more or less straight away.
Item 2 was
"Confirmation of Minutes: To confirm the minutes, as previously circulated, of the Council Budget meeting held on 2 March 2017 as a correct record."
Usually, confirming the minutes is a nod-through because generally the officers do a good job of recording what the decisions were.
But today was to be very different.
At item 2, the Mayor said:
".... I will propose from the Chair that the minutes of the previous, meeting held on 2 March 2017 be confirmed as a correct record"
The Deputy Mayor (Cllr Angela Jacques) seconded confirmation of the minutes.
Cllr Peter Collins hand went up to indicate to speak.
The Mayor, apparently having not seen him, continued:
"Will all those in favour of that proposal please show."
At this point the Chief Executive leans across to her and says that Cllr Collins wishes to speak. The Mayor says sorry and calls Cllr Collins to speak.
THE BOMBSHELL EXPLODES
At first, Cllr Collins voice cannot be heard of FBC's webcast because (it may be his microphone was not switched on) but we have our own audio recording.
To an increasingly shocked and incredulous Council meeting - where eventually you could hear a pin drop, He said:
"Thank you Mr Mayor, I would like to propose an amendment to the minutes, but first I'd like to stress my concerns as to whether or not correct procedure was followed at the
At that meeting Cllr Oades proposed some amendments. Cllr Roger Small put forward a closure motion on one of these amendments that was to proceed to the next business.
Now, I've always taken this to mean that, if the closure motion is successful, then the meeting should have proceeded - as is stated in the constitution - to the next
business on the agenda, which would have been Item 9, the St Annes Neighbourhood Plan.
But the Monitoring Officer said that her understanding was that, if a closure motion was successful, then the amendment under discussion would be deemed to have been lost,
and the next item of business would be any further amendments, or if not, a vote on the substantive motion would be taken.
What the Monitoring Officer stated would have been correct if Cllr Small had proposed 'That the question be now put'
But he did not.
I believe that what Cllr Small proposed, which was seconded and carried, should have meant that the budget proposals were deemed to have been lost, but the Mayor and the
meeting followed the advice of the Monitoring Officer and a vote on the budget proposals was eventually taken.
However, if incorrect procedures were followed at the budget meeting, then there's a sort of 'escape clause' in the Constitution that states that the decision of the
Chairman, the ruling of the Chairman at any meeting of the Council, concerning the interpretation of the Constitution or application of these rules, the constitution, or
questions of order and procedure shall be final and shall not be challenged or disputed at any meeting of the Council.
So in other words, the decision of the Mayor is final and shall not be challenged.
The Constitution also states that the minutes of the meeting must be signed at the next meeting of the Council. The only matter which may be discussed is the accuracy of
At the budget meeting Cllr Oades proposed that 'Accounting for income and expenditure on the green bin service should be shown as a separate item in the budget book and
published in the accounts, to ensure that only the true costs of the service are charged to our residents.
In the draft minutes it states that ' a vote was taken by way of a show of hands. The amendment was lost. That is incorrect. When the vote was taken, the Mayor clearly
stated 'That is carried thank you.'
The Mayor stated that the amendment was successful, and this can be checked by watching the webcast at approximately 1 hour 5 and 1 hour 6 minutes.
I've already reiterated what it states in the constitution, and that is that the decision of the Mayor is final and shall not be challenged. And indeed no-one, not one person
from the leading group or the Chief Exec, or the Monitoring Officer sought to correct or challenge the decision of the Mayor. Nor did the Mayor make any further comment on the
outcome of the vote.
Therefore, in order to ensure that the minutes of the budget meeting are accurate, they are a correct record for signature by the Mayor, as required by the Constitution, I
propose an amendment to the draft minutes of the Council meeting held on 2nd March 2017, by replacing the words 'the amendment was lost' to 'the amendment was carried with
respect to the second amendment as proposed by Cllr Oades. Thank you Mr Mayor."
SO WHAT WAS GOING ON HERE?
Well, we have a slight disagreement with Cllr Collins about the Mayor's decision being final.
At the end of the day, the final arbiter is Statute Law, and within that the articles of Fylde's Constitution.
The Articles of the Constitution may not be disregarded, but the Part 4 Procedure rules (also known as Standing Orders) may, in exceptional circumstances, be suspended and
disregarded if the Council votes to do so. It did not do so, and we believe the Standing Orders were applicable at the time.
The relevant paragraphs from Fylde's Constitution are:
EXTRACTS FROM FYLDE'S CONSTITUTION
1.01 Powers of the Council
The Council will exercise all its powers and duties in accordance with the law and this Constitution.
Article 4: the Full Council
4.02 Meetings of the Council
There are three types of Council meeting:
(a) the Annual Meeting;
(b) Ordinary Meetings (incorporating budget meetings); and
(c) special meetings
The Council Procedure Rules in Part 4 of the Constitution apply to all meetings of the council.
Article 14 – Suspension and Interpretation of the Constitution
14.01 Suspension of the Constitution
(a) Limit to suspension. The Articles of this Constitution may not be suspended.
The ruling of the Mayor as to the construction or application of this Constitution or as to any proceedings of the Council shall not be challenged at any meeting of the
Council. Such interpretation will have regard to the purposes of the Constitution contained in Article 1.
We do not believe the Mayor (or anyone) may interpret the Articles of Fylde's constitution to mean something other than what they actually say.
The Mayor does have latitude and a final say in interpreting the Council Procedure Rules (Standing Orders), but we do not believe the Mayor (or anyone) may interpret the
meaning of a constitutional provision to say something other than what it says.
And in any event Cllr Small's 'move next business' as his chosen closure motion allowed the Mayor no discretion to interpret the meaning of Standing Order 13 (which
addresses closure motions, which had not been suspended, and was thus in operation during the meeting)
Standing Order 13.11 (b) says
On a motion to proceed to next business:
The Mayor must immediately put the procedural motion to the vote, without discussion.
If the motion is approved then the meeting must proceed to the next business on the agenda and any motion or amendment then being debated is deemed to be lost.
If the proposal is defeated the debate on the business under discussion immediately before the motion was proposed will continue.
This could not be more clear.
But Cllr Peter Collins didn't follow this line, and at first we were a bit puzzled why not.
Having thought about it we suppose he may not have wanted to follow this route for fear of weakening his argument by being accused of challenging the decision of the Mayor at
any meeting, and secondly - and perhaps more likely - he was seeking to get Mrs Oades' amendment about separate accounting for green bins written into the minutes as the
decision of the Council, and thought he had found a better way to achieve that end.
Back in the Council meeting - the Chief Executive said:
"Thank you Cllr Collins. In respect of the first issue that you raised, which was about the closure motion, the Monitoring Officer did make it quite clear that it would move
on to any further amendments, and not close the actual motion, and the Mayor is more than happy to have accepted that. So you're quite right, the Mayor's decision was final on
that. In terms of the incorrect language that was used on behalf of the Mayor - carried or lost - you're correct it wasn't picked up by anybody. I think, [turning to Monitoring
Officer, he added] do we take that as a proposed amendment and vote on it?"
We fundamentally disagree with him here.
Firstly, it was not up to the Monitoring Officer to advise the Mayor and Council to disregard what the Council's constitution required to be done. Quite the reverse. As we
said at the beginning, the Monitoring Officer's post exists so as to have a senior officer responsible for ensuring the lawfulness and probity of the Council’s decision making
at the Council meetings.
That's why it's called 'Monitoring'. The role is to monitor what the Council is about to do and to advise them if they are about to contravene the law or their own
It is absolutely not to propose that the Council itself disregards the requirements of its own Constitution - which is what happened on this occasion.
Secondly, she usurped the position of the Mayor by proffering advice that conflicted with the Constitution - as the CE said - the Mayor was 'more than happy to have accepted
Thirdly, it was not 'incorrect language that was used on behalf of the Mayor' The Mayor gave the wrong result of the vote. Plain and simple. But, as Fylde's Chief Exec had
already said, the Mayor's decision on the other matter was final, he couldn't now backtrack from that position.
Cllr Collins' strategy had worked - and at first it looked as though they would have to change the minutes.
Compounding and increasing the scope of what we believe was her incompetence thus far, the Monitoring Officer said:
"The minutes of the meeting I think are reflective of the decision of the vote that was taken on the evening. My interpretation was that everybody was clear about what they
were voting on, and if the terminology of the Mayor was slightly different, I do think there was clarity from everybody on what the vote was. I would suggest that there doesn't
need to be another vote this evening."
There was a stunned silence for a short time, then the Chief Exec said:
"We're proposing no further vote and just a vote on the minutes"
What on earth do these officers think they are doing here? It is not up to the CE to make any sort of proposition. That is the role of Councillors, and one had just made
such a proposition.
Once duly seconded, that proposition had to be debated and disposed of.
STUNNED COUNCILLORS DEBATE THE AMENDMENT
Quite rightly, Cllr Collins was on his feet again. He said:
"I really must protest. There's been occasions in this Council where people have voted the wrong way. Remember Cllr Ackers - when we had a recorded vote, she was always the
first alphabetically, and she regularly got it wrong, much to the amusement of people on this side of the Chamber. But she couldn't change her vote.
I remember Cllr Duffy, one evening he was preoccupied with things going on at work, he was on his phone, his name was called out and he voted the wrong way. He couldn't
change his vote.
Now, the decision of the Mayor is final. That's what it says in the Constitution. The Mayor said 'that was carried. thank you' We all knew what the vote was. The vote was an
amendment by Cllr Oades. There wasn't a recorded vote. The Mayor said it was carried. If the Mayor says it's carried, then the minute should reflect... should be an accurate
reflection of what happened at the last meeting. And to do otherwise is not a true record"
He sat down.
The Chief Executive said:
"I'm going to ask for a point of clarification from Mr Curtis, our legal officer, if he's able to help."
Mr Curtis approached the top table. With microphones switched off and the voices too low for us to record, a short discussion took place. The Chief Executive put his
microphone back on and said
"Thank you. What we'll do is take Cllr Collins' proposed amendment to the minutes and vote on them.
Does anybody wish to make a comment before...."
He stopped at this point. Perhaps because - as we thought - what he had said sounded to be a strange invitation for him to have made. It sounded as though he was seeking the
agreement of the councillors as to the procedure they wanted to follow (as though constitutional procedure is sort of pick-n-mix of options), when it's actually his job to tell them the correct
Several hands went up at this point.
We think the Legal officer had given absolutely the correct advice so far as Cllr Collins amendment was concerned (though we still believed the decision on the budget overall
was Ultra Vires).
The Mayor called Cllr Buckley to speak. She said:
"Mr Mayor I'm rather confused, and not ready to take a vote until I'm clear on what we are voting on. I understand that there's been a challenge to the minutes. My
understanding is that the minutes accurately record what went on in the meeting, how the vote, happened. It seems to me that by suggesting that the Mayor used the wrong
language we're trying to completely overturn a vote? a 180 degree U turn which seems completely wrong but that's because maybe I am confused so I'd like to know what it is
exactly that we're being asked to vote on."
The Mayor called Cllr Harvey to speak. He said:
"Thank you Mr Mayor. I will keep my comments brief here. But I seriously, I cannot believe that Cllr Collins is seriously suggesting that a slip of language from the Mayor
meant that at that meeting, at the budget meeting, we were actually voting in favour of Cllr Oades' amendment. I mean it cannot be serious. He cannot...., I cannot believe what
he...., I mean he's gone back and looked at a piece of the video tape, and seen a little slip from the Mayor, and he's trying to overturn the Council's decision on that basis.
This is a joke.
I understand Cllr Collins is a man of procedure, but this is just taking the... the..., I won't finish the sentence.
So really, I don't believe anyone present at that meeting didn't realise that they were voting against Cllr Oades' amendment, and in favour of the substantive motion. So I
really think it's a complete and utter dance that Cllr Collins is leading us on."
He still has a bit to learn.
The point that was being made by Cllr Collins that Cllr Harvey and Cllr Buckley missed was that if the Mayor's decision is not final on the matter of the accounting for green
waste amendment, then it must also be the case that the Mayor's decision was also not final in the matter of the closure motion on the item that followed it.
That in turn would mean Fylde's Constitution should have prevailed, and the overall budget decision (which had contravened the requirements of Fylde's Constitution) was thus either unlawful, or not made at all.
What a mess!
The Chief Executive spoke again. He said:
"Cllr Collins would you like to clarify....."
But he was cut short by the Mayor who called Cllr Nulty to speak.
We're not sure what was going on here. The contributions from members seemed to be debating Cllr Collins's amendment, but actually they were (or at least should have been)
responding to the CE's invitation for people to 'comment' (as opposed to speak to the amendment that was before them). This is a very messy, informal way of proceeding.
Cllr Nulty didn't help much. She said:
"Yes, I do think it's unbelievable that everybody voted for Cllr Oades' amendment. I would welcome the day. But I do think, procedurally, we have to take this seriously. We
may not of all picked it up but I think the Monitoring Officer - and I'm sorry and I'm not criticising deliberately - should have picked that up and corrected that at the time.
And I think that's what is important with this, that we get things procedurally right. And with the first part of Cllr Collins' little speech, the fact that the question....,
moved 'the question was put' was actually asked by the Monitoring Officer and then we proceeded to a vote, which is not the procedure. I do think that needs picking up and
tightening up on. So do what you will because we will lose it anyway."
The Chief Executive tried again. He said:
"Cllr Collins would you like to clarify the amendment you are proposing"
Cllr Collins said he would reiterate what he said earlier. He did, saying
"I propose an amendment to the draft minutes of the Council meeting held on 2nd March 2017, by replacing the words 'the amendment was lost' to 'the amendment was carried
with respect to the second amendment as proposed by Cllr Oades.
I do look at the Constitution and I do take it seriously because we've got to follow the rules. And I remember bringing up another matter at one time and I spoke to the
Leader about it at a committee meeting. So I'm not being pedantic in ensuring the Constitution is followed. If members on this side of the Council didn't make sure that members
on that side of the Council follow the rules, then who would?
Now, the rules are quite clear. The decision of the Mayor is final. The Mayor announced her decision. It's not my fault that everybody on that side of the Chamber was fast
asleep. I'm sorry, it's your fault. You cam aim that at me, but try looking at yourselves. I mean we're going to a vote on this, and we can be pretty sure which way that vote
is going to go, but, the rule book is there for a reason, and if you vote against this, well, I think you should be hanging your heads in shame."
The Mayor said
"Can I just ask, are all present clear on Cllr Collins' amendment"
Thankfully, Mr Curtis the Legal officer was awake at the side of the room, and he reminded the CE that a seconder for Cllr Collins' amendment had not been declared. The CE
called for one and Cllr Mrs Oades obliged saying she had nothing further to add to what Cllr Nulty had said.
At this point, the Monitoring Officer spoke to say:
"Can I just make one point before we take the recorded vote. Any member is able to make a point of order, at any time during the meeting if any member is concerned that the
rules are not being adhered to. And if any member wishes to make such a point of order in the debate we would welcome that to aid in the smooth running of meetings.
We were not sure who called for a recorded vote, we didn't hear this ourselves, but it was a good idea because potentially there are repercussions for individuals voting in a
certain way if it is later held that the vote was ultra vires.
Also, we're not exactly sure what the Monitoring Officer meant here. To us, she sounded as though she was criticising Cllr Collins for raising this matter at this meeting
and not at the previous one. (But he could not have checked exactly what was said about the closure motion at the previous meeting without seeing the webcast video, and the
published minutes, so that would not have been possible). Either that or perhaps she was seeking to get all the councillors to become mini-Monitoring Officers to help her do
the job she should have been doing.
The Mayor asked again if everyone was clear about the amendment. Cllr Aitken said:
"Excuse me, as I'm first in the pecking order, could I have the words exactly please as to what we're going to vote for."
The Monitoring Officer replied:
"I think those exact words were clarified by Cllr Collins, but the essence of the amendment is that the minutes are not accepted in the way that they are phrased and before
members, and that one of the decisions that's recorded on the evening in respect to an amendment with respect to green waste would be referred to in a different way, and Cllr
Collins might want to reiterate that."
The CE said they did not have the benefit of a written from of words before them from Cllr Collins, so he would ask him to clarify it yet again. Cllr Collins did so.
In announcing the result of the ensuing vote on Cllr Collins' amendment, the Monitoring Officer declared
"The amendment is lost. There were ten for the amendment, twenty-four against it and eight abstentions.
But (perhaps unsurprisingly to our readers given the trail of disaster this matter had become) the minutes of this meeting record some slightly different numbers. i.e.
"Following discussion and advice from the Head of Governance, a request for a recorded vote was received and supported by five members, therefore a recorded vote was taken
and the amendment was LOST.
Votes for the proposal (10) – Councillors Barker, Beckett, Chew, Clayton, P Collins, Hodgson, Lloyd, Nulty, Oades and Silverwood.
Votes against the proposal (23) – Councillors Aitken, Akeroyd, Anthony, Blackshaw, Buckley, D Collins, Donaldson, Fazackerley, Fiddler, Fradley, Goodman, Green, Harvey,
Jacques, Little, Mulholland, B Nash, E Nash, Pitman, Redcliffe, Singleton, Small and Willder.
Abstentions (9) Councillors Cornah, Eaves, Ford, Hardy, Hayhurst, Henshaw, Neale, Rigby and Speak"
That's an interesting and unusually long list of abstentions. Some may be because they were not at the previous meeting and could not properly decide what had happened,
but some may have abstained from nervousness about potential outcomes.
But we have yet another change from a decision announced in the meeting to the one published in the minutes of this meeting.
The number voting against was given as 24 at the meeting, but it shows as 23 in the minutes.
The number abstaining was given as 8 in the meeting, but the minutes show it to have been 9.
So it looks as though someone was misrecorded on the night, or they changed their mind about what they had voted after the meeting. Or perhaps it is explained by a note at
the end of the printed minutes which says '(Councillor Threlfall was absent from the room during the vote)'
As Tony Blair used to say: "Things can only get better."
So, having had Cllr Collins' amendment defeated, the (original) minutes the of the previous meeting were then put to a second recorded vote in their original form.
The outcome of that vote states:
There were no further amendments and, following a request for a recorded vote, supported by five members, a recorded vote was taken on the confirmation of the minutes;
Votes for the proposal (23) – Councillors Aitken, Akeroyd, Blackshaw, Buckley, D Collins, Cornah, Fazackerley, Fiddler, Fradley, Goodman, Green, Harvey, Hodgson, Jacques,
Little, Mulholland, B Nash, E Nash, Pitman, Redcliffe, Singleton, Small, and Willder.
Votes against the proposal (12) Councillors Barker, Beckett, Chew, Clayton, P Collins, Donaldson, Henshaw, Hodgson, Lloyd, Nulty, Oades and Silverwood
Abstentions (8) Councillor Anthony, Eaves, Ford, Hardy, Hayhurst, Neale Rigby, Speak (Councillor Threlfall was absent from the room during the vote)
The proposal was carried and it was thereby RESOLVED to approve the minutes of the Council meeting held on 2 March 2017 as a correct record for signature by the Mayor.
We thought there seemed to be some slightly unusual voting voting on in these votes.
- Cllr Cornah abstained on the amendment but voted to approve the minutes.
- Cllr Henshaw abstained on the amendment and voted against the original minutes
- Cllr Anthony voted against the amendment but abstained on the original minutes
- Cllr Donaldson voted against the amendment, and against the original minutes
- Cllr Hodgson voted for the amendment and for the original minutes
None of these slight oddities affect the result of the overall vote though.
SO WHERE DOES ALL THIS LEAVE US?
Well, it's difficult to say.
For ourselves, we have no doubts. We regard the closure motion decision as being ultra vires - and in our view the Council has failed to set a budget for 2017/18.
In a lesser transgression, we believe it has also knowingly allowed a set of minutes to record a decision about accounting for green waste that was not the decision declared
by the Mayor at the meeting.
But our view will probably not prevail - not least because of the mayhem and furore that agreeing with it would cause.
So like a number of scandals before it, the matter will most likely be toughed out and stonewalled by FBC unless someone much higher up their food chain takes the matter
Correcting it would, at the very least, require the embarrassment of a new decision on the budget having to be taken, and possibly an expensive re-billing of council tax once
that is duly authorised. We think it would lead to several officers leaving Fylde, and probably mean at least some 'retraining' for certain councillors, if not more severe
sanctions against them.
But all that said, we remain unhappy Fylde has told us it does not intend to publish income and expenditure on the Green waste subscription service separately from its
income and expenditure on other waste, and this is a matter we expect to take up - initially with Fylde's external auditors and subsequently with others if Fylde's external
Auditors do not require Fylde to publish separate accounts.
It may be that this process to have Fylde change its accounting policies will re-open the governance wounds that these two decisions caused, and which are currently scabbing
over before the healing process can take place out of sight. But then again, it may not reopen the old wounds, in which case the only casualty will be public confidence in the
democratic process that requires decisions to be taken according to a fixed set of rules that protect everyone, because public confidence will have eroded further.
We'll keep readers in the picture as best we can if there are any further developments.
Dated: 19 May 2017