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A Sorry Story at LCC

A Sorry Story at LCC

Superficially, this long article is about Lancashire County Council's Conservative majority's destruction of two attempts to ask the Council to support a quite innocuous proposal about fracking regulation by one of its councillors.

A lot of our readers simply couldn't understand what they saw as the counter-intuitive outcome of the meeting, so we're trying to explain.

We've ended up covering two County Council meetings and had to go back six years to properly explain some of the tensions that exist within LCC at the moment.

Apart from the subject of fracking regulation being considered by the Council, the article is also about the influence that a Chief Executive can bring to bear over a Council's decisions, and it's even more about the tensions and pressures that leading councillors can bring to bear on officers such as the Chief Executive.

To be honest, it's not a pleasant story.

It illustrates the growing, self evident chasm that is developing between people and their councillors in local government.

Sadly, this is a reflection of modern politics, where the exercise of political power now seems to have become an end in itself.


SYNOPSIS
We begin with an Introduction explaining some problems with modern politics, before Considering the article in outline and our aim with this article.

Then we have a long Backstory that includes LCC's 2013 Change of its Chief Exec ; the start of a Police Inquiry into fraud and intimidation; the Repercussions of the 2014 Election when the Conservatives took power and Cllr Driver was arrested, shortly before The New Chief Executive was dismissed.

We then report (verbatim) the Debate in Council where the CE was dismissed and the controversial appointment of  a new one was made.  Cllr Ali led an explosive attack on the plans; he was supported by Cllr Collinge, who questioned the new CE's CV, then Cllr Lewis, who said the process was very unusual, then a Cllr From South Ribble who said it was incredible, and raised several questions. They were followed by A Lady who felt for the staff and accused Cllr Driver of being a dictator.

She was followed by Cllr Liz Oades who demanded to know the costs, and Cllr Gina Dowding who was embarrassed to be part of the decision. An alternate view came from Cllr Green who attacked Cllr Ali's comments. Then Cllr Potter said the proposition didn't feel right to him, He was followed by A Lady who wanted to move on. Next Cllr Paul Rigby criticised Labour's term of office, before Cllr Greenall and Cllr Motala, who both wanted to know the costs of the restructure but were denied that information.

Then Cllr Geoff Driver spoke in favour of the motion but was Interrupted by Cllr Ali who accused him of telling lies. Next, Cllr Driver answered some of the criticisms that had been made in the debate. and then the Vote was taken in which the Conservative majority approved the report to restructure the senior management.

The issue featured in the BBC Sunday Politics Show (which we've transcribed) where it was explosively revealed that the dismissed Chief Executive and other officers had previously given witness statements to the Police Inquiry into fraud, and there were allegations that Cllr Driver had ousted Chief Executive Ms Turton to get rid of her.

Then Cllr Driver was Re-questioned by the Police and later there was a Civil case where the BBC said a judge has found "ample evidence" that Cllr Driver and three others tried to pervert a fraud investigation.

Then, a year ago, the Police sent their file to the Crown Prosecution Service. The Lancashire Telegraph carried a similar report.

That event Ends the Backstory part of the article and takes us to the First Motion from Cllr Dowding to ask the Government to retain the Traffic Light System.

We Report that meeting, which the Chairman opened by seeking Advice from the Monitoring Officer about the legitimacy of Cllr Dowding's motion. The Monitoring Officer said there was no problem so close to an election, but She was concerned about some of the wording of Cllr Dowding's motion. which caused the Chairman to ask a further question, Cllr Dowding tried to say this was unnecessary but the Chairman shut her up.

Somewhat uncomfortably, the Monitoring Officer gave an answer, before Cllr Dowding gave her revised motion - but as soon as she sat down Cllr Diver used a procedural motion to call an adjournment. The Chief Executive advised the Chairman to vote on the adjournment, then Explained further.

There was then an exchange between Cllr Dowding who wanted to know Why she had been ruled out of order, and the Chairman trying to sidestep her before Cllr Jennifer Mein asked a crucial question. and the Chairman said she believed all 84 councillors could be accused of pre-determination. Then  a Labour Councillor called for further clarification from the Monitoring Officer. Next, Cllr Dowding supported the call, but the Chairman would have none of it, causing Cllr Liz Oades to complain. The Chairman called the vote which immediately  adjourned the debate.

After this debacle of a meeting, we saw a fairly strong Email exchange between One of our readers and Cllr Driver who both expressed firm views. Eventually Cllr Driver ended the exchange saying they would have to agree to differ.

But all was not lost because Cllr Dowding had a second bite of the cherry. We cover The Debate, which The Chairman Introduced, and still Tried to suggest the risk of pre-determination. She then invited Cllr Dowding to Speak.

At this point we digress from the meeting to note Recent events at the Preston New Road site, where after the highest fracking-related earthquake in the UK to date, the fracking operation has been suspended by the Oil and Gas authority. More especially we have the Statement from our MP Mark Menzies who has called for the full cessation of the Fylde's shale gas industry.

Then we return to Cllr Dowding's concluding statement, and Cllr Hayhurst's seconding of her motion, before Cllr Green proposed an amendment to her motion that removed the reference to the Traffic Light system.

The Chairman asked Cllr Dowding if she would consider this a 'friendly' amendment, Cllr Dowding said she couldn't because..., but she was shut up by the Chairman.

Next came a Point of Order from Cllr Lewis, who was almost heckled by the Chairman but Continued to make her point of order, which The Chairman refused to accept, and we explain why we think the Chairman was wrong.

The Chairman then opened debate on Cllr Green's amendment which we report, including Cllr Potter who spoke of democracy being trampled, before the amendment was voted through to become the (new) Substantive Motion.

Cllr Dowding then tried to amend it to re-include reference to the Traffic Light System, but The Chief Executive advised this was out or order and should not be accepted. Cllr Whipp tried to intervene but Was Rebuked by the Chairman.

Cllr Lewis then raised another Point of Order showing why this refusal was wrong, and after a short adjournment, the Chief Executive explained why she disagreed with Cllr Lewis, and we explain why we disagree with the Chief Executive. But predictably, the amendment was voted through with the Conservative majority.

Finally in our report, We examine the matter of 'pre-determination' before offering our not very encouraging Conclusions about the sad state of local democracy.


 INTRODUCTION

Politics can be a nasty business. It can bring out unpleasant behaviour in otherwise pleasant people.

The lust for, and the overt exercise of, power are all too often the hallmarks of modern civic life overburdened by party politics.

counterbalance often berates the leading group on Fylde Council for its unwillingness to work consensually.

And compared with previous incarnations, the present Council IS a pale and awful imitation of the well respected consensually working Council that existed before Ken Lee became the Chief Executive.

It was a Council where party politics was rarely visible in the Council's deliberations, and the opinions of all elected members representing their constituents were treated with equal respect and seriousness.

Ken Lee's tenure as Chief Executive - which was intent on 'modernising' Fylde's processes and culture - ruined what was a really good little council. And none of the succession of Chief Executives that has followed him has done anything much to make it better.

In Lee's time, Fylde's councillors tasted the seductive power of running a Cabinet system and became hooked on it. He turned local councillors into aspirant politicians.

The Ken Lee period did untold harm to consensus working in Fylde. And that's a price we are still paying, almost a generation later.

Chief Executives since his time have introduced and supported policy-based (rather than people-based) decision-taking, and this has expanded - rather than narrowed - the distance between the electorate and their councillors.

They have also not sought to discourage the growth of overtly party political based decisions to any significant extent.

But Fylde is as nothing compared with the displays of power-driven party political muscle emanating from Lancashire County Council in recent years - and that seems to have been irrespective of whichever political party held the majority.

So what's gone wrong?

Well, the role of a Chief Executive and chief officers is (or should be) to help the whole council frame the policies that the elected councillors want to adopt; to advise the councillors on matters of legislative and constitutional propriety, and to administer and execute the decisions that the Council takes.

As we know from seeing Fylde at close quarters, a Council's Chief Executive has an important role, and can have considerable influence in setting the culture of the organisation.

So who a Council chooses as their Chief Executive: what strength of character they have, what qualities they possess, and what culture they bring to their organisation (and instil within their officer class), is really important.

But just as we are seeing with the present Brexit debacle in Westminster - where without a clear outright majority, the Government (the majority party) and the Parliament (all elected MP's) are locked in conflict, so too are local councils (and especially so since the introduction of the Cabinet governance system) .

They too are wrestling with the increasing influence of political parties in council matters that were once decided by the consensus view of individual councillors rather than party politics.

They too are trying to resolve the conflict that exists between the rights of an organised political party holding an ideologically driven overall majority, and the rights of councillors from other and no political parties - who have been elected with equal status, and who have a right to equal influence in a council's decisions

A rabidly 'party political' group of councillors in a council with a strong overall majority (irrespective of its political persuasion) can easily outvote the remainder of the Council.

They can also override the culture set by a Chief Executive - whom they can support, or destroy.

 THE ARTICLE IN OUTLINE

Although it has much deeper undertones, this story is principally about a well intentioned County Councillor who tried to persuade the County Council to adopt what most electors would see as an inoffensive and eminently sensible resolution

This motion asked the Government to retain its present, cautious position with regard to the 'Traffic Light System' devised by Cuadrilla and other professionals, as a safeguard to minimise the chance of more serious earthquakes arising during the hydraulic fracturing of deep geological formations.

Sadly, her mission did not succeed.

Mostly, her lack of success wasn't because it was a bad proposal.

To us it was more to do with the way the County Council's current majority party felt the need to refuse to allow anything but its own proposals to be adopted - irrespective of the value of proposals made by others.

It was simply about displaying the exercise of their power.

We think it was also about how the Chief Executive (and other senior officers) advised the Council on what was procedurally correct during meetings - (some of which we did not, and do not, agree as being correct).

We know many of our readers who attended the meetings were shocked and confused by the County Council's behaviour.

Several told us they simply couldn't understand why, when a Council had a highly paid Chief Executive, a Monitoring Officer and Lawyers who ought to keep councillors on the straight and narrow, what seemed to them to be such gross unfairness and unreasonable decisions could be allowed to happen.

So we set out to provide our take on it. To show what we think are the circumstances and unusual procedures that came into play

Our aim is to give readers a better understanding of what probably happened - and more especially, why it happened.

To be fair, whilst the issue is important (and it is especially important to those closely involved) - and, whilst it can be truthfully be described as an earth shattering issue - persuading the Government to maintain the system they agreed with Cuadrilla should not have created the furore and unpleasantness that it did within the County Council.

To fully understand the circumstances and the tensions that allowed this situation to prevail at the County Council, we need to go back to something apparently unrelated that began a long time ago.

Our backstory is mostly about the difficult role a Chief Executive has, and about the pressures they can find themselves under.

We need to go back six years or so - to 2013,

 THE BACKSTORY

 Change of Chief Executive

On 1st November 2013, BBC news carried a story headlined "Police to probe Lancashire County Council's Finances"

The BBC report noted that a former Lancashire County Council Chief Executive Phil Halsall (who'd been suspended on full pay in August pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation into the tendering of the fleet vehicle contract) left the County Council on 24 October.

Mr Halsall was said to left the authority quite unexpectedly by 'mutual consent'. But he denied any wrongdoing, and his supporters believed the complaints against him were politically motivated.

However, a County Council spokesman told the BBC

"In the light of external legal advice, a number of issues arising from the recent disciplinary investigation into the conduct of a senior officer have now been referred to Lancashire Constabulary."

The BBC's report went on to say that the deal to run the council's fleet services had been agreed in April by the (what was then) Conservative administration led by County Councillor Geoff Driver.

That contract had been awarded to a new joint venture between BT an the Council (which became known as One Connect Ltd).

But the contract's award during April had come very shortly before the County Council Elections on 2 May 2013, and the decision to award the contract was quickly 'called in' (put on hold) by the newly elected Labour county councillors, before being completely revoked on 15 August by County Councillor Jennifer Mein (who had by then become the LCC leader).

The BBC's Arif Ansari said at the time:

"The allegations appear to stem from the decision to create One Connect Ltd (OCL), a joint venture between the council and BT to run some services.

In particular, concern has focused around the decision to award a contract to OCL to run the county council's fleet of vehicles, a contract cancelled by the incoming Labour administration.

Another issue is the payment of more than £500,000 in bonuses to the former chief executive of OCL, David McElhinney, who remains in charge of a similar venture between BT and Liverpool City Council."

The vacancy created by the departure of former Chief Executive Phil Halsall was temporarily filled by a lady called Jo Turton.

She came to Lancashire from being Assistant Chief Executive at Shropshire County Council and had begun working at LCC in 2009 as Executive Director for the Environment, but she stood in as Chief Executive - initially on an interim basis - from August 2013, before being confirmed as the permanent postholder in February 2014.

We didn't know her well, but what we saw of her work suggested she was a good public servant doing an entirely competent job.

 The Police Inquiry

Three years after the Council had referred the matter to the Police, their inquiry into possible corruption at Lancashire County Council was still growing in scale. And in June 2016, Lancashire Constabulary advertised for an 'Investigation Manager' for 'Operation Sheridan'. The job was:

"To provide leadership and investigative expertise to what is the largest and most complex corporate corruption investigation Lancashire Constabulary have ever single-handedly investigated."

'Operation Sheridan' was the name the Police had given to the investigation of corruption at Lancashire County Council following the report they received from LCC three years earlier.

 Another Election - and its Repercussions

County Council elections are held every four years, and on 4th May 2017, the electorate removed the sitting Labour-controlled administration and gave the Conservatives an overall majority The combined votes of non-conservative Councillors could not now outvote the Conservative group.

This resulted in Cllr Geoff Driver becoming Leader of the Conservative Group and Leader of the Council once again.

But a fortnight or so later, on 22 May, the Lancashire Evening Post reported:

'Four leading council figures have been arrested in swoops by police as part of Lancashire’s long-running One Connect investigation.

One is believed to be top Tory councillor Geoff Driver, who is due to be installed as leader of Lancashire County Council on Thursday.

The other three are understood to be former County Hall chief executive Phil Halsall, David McElhinney – who was chief executive of the now defunct One Connect and its sister organisation Liverpool Connect – and Ged Fitzgerald the current Liverpool City Council chief executive and former Lancashire County Council chief executive.

The four are currently being questioned at Skelmersdale Police Station.

A police spokesman said they had been arrested "on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation. .... The arrests are part of a wider long-running investigation into allegations of fraud, although none of these men have been arrested on suspicion of fraud."

Then, about two months later, on 13 July, under the heading 'Five Banned in Council Rumpus' the Blackpool Gazette reported

'The Government has been asked to intervene “as a matter of urgency” after County Hall Tory boss Geoff Driver banned five senior officers, including the authority’s chief executive, from attending briefings with him.

Opposition leader Coun Azhar Ali had written to Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid urging him to sort out what he called 'a crisis'

The Gazette report continued

'Coun Driver is currently on bail facing allegations of perverting the course of justice and intimidating witnesses following a lengthy police investigation into the workings of the now defunct One Connect partnership between LCC and telecoms giant BT.

Chief executive Jo Turton emailed all members of the authority saying she and four other senior colleagues – the Director of Governance, Finance and Public services Ian Young, the Director of Development and Corporate Services Eddie Sutton, the Head of Internal Audit Ruth Lowry and the Director of Corporate Services Lisa Kitto - had been told they could not attend briefings with Coun Driver.

All five are witnesses in the ongoing investigation Operation Sheridan...."

This was bad.

But things were about to get worse. Much worse.

 The 'New' Chief Executive Is Dismissed

Then, two months or so later, on Thursday 14th September, 2017 LCC's Cabinet passed a resolution to exclude the press and public.

The exempted information included notice of a report from Cllr Driver (the report itself was marked to follow) but the item was headed 'Senior Management Restructure'

No further details were provided, but the minutes of that meeting show that:

"Cabinet considered a report setting out the responses to the consultation on the proposed new senior management structure. Cabinet considered all the responses, including a late submission received on the day of the meeting.

Cabinet supported the additional recommendations in relation to the implementation of the new structure proposed by the Head of Service, Human Resources. [and] Resolved: That

  1. the recommendations as set out in the report be approved.
  2. the decision be designated as urgent in accordance with Standing Order 35 as any delay could adversely affect the execution of the County Council's responsibilities and in particular to enable the Council's operating structure to be aligned with the administration policy priorities and deliver savings as a matter of urgency."

The essence of what was going on here was a plan to 'restructure' the County Council's senior management which, in all probability, would involve some of the existing postholders losing their jobs without being able to realistically challenge the decision as being an unfair dismissal. (which probably would have been the case in a straightforward dismissal without a 'restructure')

To those that understand these things, late reports, scant information, and fabricated urgency are the hallmarks of a 'steamrollered' decision

However, the dismissal of a Chief Executive, a Monitoring Officer or a Chief Finance Officer must also be approved by the Full Council, and LCC's met on Thursday, 26th October, 2017.

Readers can follow this link to download the agenda for this meeting which makes interesting - if unpalatable - reading.

But in essence the plan was

  • to brutally dismiss of the Chief Executive, Jo Turton, on the basis of compulsory redundancy with three months' notice;
  • to agree the dismissal of the Director of Governance, Finance and Public Services, on the basis of voluntary redundancy with three months' notice; together with other changes;
  • and to appoint Angie Ridgewell as a new interim Chief Executive and Director of Resources and Head of the Paid Service and Section151 officer with effect from 3 January 2018.

This proposed new post combined the role of Chief Executive and Chief Finance officer in a single person.

This was a really bad idea, because - irrespective of who was appointed - it risks compromising the impartiality and independence of operation that needs to attach to each of these roles.

It also makes it easier for influence to be brought to bear when only a single person is involved.

In the middle of a police investigation for fraud and intimidation, we'd have thought this was the last thing that the County Council should have done.

 The Debate In Council

We're now going to reproduce the whole of the debate on this matter. That's because we believe recording it for posterity is important; partly because it gives insights into the way people were thinking at the time, and partly because we found it completely explosive in its content.

It exposed more than we would usually know about what had gone on behind the scenes.

Anyone who doesn't believe what we've reported could usually see the LCC webcast themselves, but sadly, it is now listed as being 'expired'.

Fortunately, we have a copy of it - so if anyone wants to see it, please get in touch.

 
Cllr Geoff Driver and Chief Exec Jo Turton

Chief Executive Jo Turton - who had clerked the meeting up to this point, had to suffer the ignominy of having to vacate her place in the meeting whilst her dismissal was effected and her replacement was appointed.

We really felt for her.

The proposition on the agenda was moved by (Conservative) Cllr Geoff Driver and seconded by Cllr Albert Atkinson.

 Cllr Ali Opens The Debate

First to speak was (Labour) Cllr Ali who called for a recorded vote (which would show how everyone voted).

Recorded votes almost always mean an argument, and this one was no different. Cllr Ali said:

"Clearly, right from the beginning, my group has said that there was no need for this restructure, and that this restructure wouldn't save money, but actually would cost money.

Councillor Driver made it very clear from the offset that this would be cost neutral and there would be savings to be had.

The figures in all the reports which have been put into Employment Committee and Urgency clearly show, and the experience of going through this process clearly shows, that this is going to cost us millions.

It's already costing us money, and I don't want to go through individual officers who are being made redundant or being forced out of their jobs. I'm pleased that some of the officers who are affected are not in this room at this moment in time.

Without naming any officers, because that's not fair, I have to say, having gone through this whole process, I've been absolutely shocked and disgusted at parts of the way this process has been dealt with.

We started off by having a meeting of Employment Committee to look at candidates for shortlisting for the interim chief Exec.

We shorlisted four candidates, two of which walked out of the process - for other reasons - which I don't know.

We were left with two candidates.

I wrote to Cllr Driver and members of the Employment Committee, saying to them this was a major decision for this County Council and we needed to try and ensure the best person was appointed for the people of Lancashire, to deliver services for the people of Lancashire.

I didn't... I was told basically to ask for a pause on the process for a week while other candidates could be searched through interim agencies, so that we had a better field of candidates with the relevant experience.

I was told 'No, the interim is to go ahead on time.

We then were left with two candidates, and a threshold was put in place to say that if the candidates needed to meet a particular threshold - in terms of marks from the different members of the panel - and if that threshold was met,  that would mean that those candidates were appointable.

No disrespect to either of the two candidates or to the individual who is being recommended for appointment, but clearly, I have to say this, that none of the candidates met the threshold. And I said at the time that we shouldn't appoint, and we should go back out.

But that wasn't listened to at all. So therefore we're appointing somebody.... - if the Council appoints today - we'll be appointing someone who didn't meet the requirement to be appointed during the course of the interviews.

I also have to put on record - public record - that some of the appointments or lack of appointments we made, I feel, weren't made on merit.

I actually think there were people on the same [unclear word 'wake'?] of one executive director post when no appointment was made and now will be advertised both internally and externally, where a candidate who came top of that particular marking was not appointed.

And I believe... he didn't meet the threshold, but neither did the interim Chief Exec, but that individual was appointable and wasn't appointed for - ulterior motives.

And there was nothing in terms of competency in my mind around that particular appointment.

This process has been a painful process for officers who've been involved; for our workforce, whose morale is rock bottom; and I believe it's been a witch hunt which has been engineered ...orchestrated in such a way that actually, if you listen to what was being said after the May elections - which officers would remain and which ones would go - you only have to look at the lists to get your answers to those decisions that have been made.

Therefore, that is the reason why, and in terms of costs, it's going to cost an absolute arm and a leg, and we were promised it would be cost neutral.

Therefore Madam Chair, my group will be voting against this... this proposal. It is nothing against the interim Chief Exec, who will be taking the post, but on principle and the way this has been done, and later, if anyone's solicitor does challenge some of this, I will give evidence against some members of that appointment committee, because I believe part of the system was rigged.

And I use the word 'rigged' deliberately.

Madam Chair, these are serious accusations. Serious accusations, which I am making, and I make with evidence.

And I will - if an appropriate time comes - put them forward.

But I believe the whole measure of appointments... on certain appointments, was not undertaken properly, and that was pointed out at the Employment Committee.

We will be voting against."

And with that he sat down to a stunned meeting.

 Next to speak was Cllr Collinge who said:

"I support what Cllr Ali has said, and there is just one point I wish to emphasize before I sit down.

If you vote to appoint the interim Chief Exec - and no disrespect to the person in question - you'll be voting for someone who did not meet the criteria in the threshold. I do not see how that is a responsible decision for this council, and you must take responsibility for that. A person who did not meet the basic criteria in the threshold that was put forward beforehand. That's, frankly, unbelievable to me."

 Next was Cllr Lewis who said:

"Thank you Madam Chair. I just wanted to ask about the candidate's CV.

It seems very unusual that this body is being asked to vote on the appointment for someone of whom I only know their name.

I've certainly been involved in other recruitment processes for Chief Executives of bodies with corporate responsibilities, and certainly the practice I have always seen has been one that has included circulating the CV to the full Board before asking them to make a decision on an appointment, and I just think it sounds like an unfortunate oversight not to have given, ....presented the candidate in the best light possible, given the other things that have been said."

What she seemed to be saying here is that although the Council was being asked to vote on the appointment, they had not been provided with the Candidate's CV on which to base their decision.

 Next to speak was a Cllr from South Ribble Council

(we missed his name because the chairman called him without the microphone being switched on), he said

".... I've already had a great deal of experience in interims, and the cost of them, and the way we go about paying them.

I think I've alluded before in the previous debate in the meeting earlier today that I sat on the Employment Committee for four years up until May, and I can concur with Cllr Ali, and I've said this previously, the appointments.... the appointment process *was* manipulated, and there *was* an agenda that certain people would not get positions in this council.

I just find it incredible that this whole process was - well it isn't a process because it's been foisted on us - has taken place. I would question some of the figures as well.

We're told that the interim Chief Executive will be paid the same as the existing Chief Executive, so that begs the question who are they actually working for?

Are they going to be a salaried member of this council - I don't believe so - or are they going to be paid into a service company that then gives them the attendant financial advantages? And why?

Why do we need an interim Chief Executive anyway?

If this position isn't going to start - as has been said earlier today - until January, why did we not just go for a permanent Chief Executive who would become a salaried employee of this council?

I think the way that the decisions are going to be taken if this goes through today is going to leave this council in severe financial difficulty. It is going to cost us millions of pounds and it is just crass stupidity.

As I say, I've already had experience of this in South Ribble where the Conservatives took us to a basket-case council state where we were nearly in special measures, and I fear that they're now trying to do exactly the same here."

 The next speaker was a lady

whose name we didn't get (no microphone again). She said

"Thank you Madam Chair. My Heart goes out to the staff of Lancashire County Council today. They will be watching as Cllr Driver inflicts his malice against the senior management team without rhyme or reason because Geoffrey Driver doesn't need any rhyme or reason.

These people have served the people of Lancashire because they care about Lancashire. They care about the life-chances of us Lancastrians. They care about the young, the elderly and the disabled. Some, I know, have given their heart and soul to this council over many years.

That just one man, malicious man, can start a personal vendetta against our senior management team, under the guise that they are somehow responsible for the vicious cuts inflicted against the people of Lancashire by this conservative government is unbelievable.

Every one of us in this room knows where the blame lies, and it doesn't lay with our officers.

The people who sit on the left in this chamber - my conservative colleagues - should be ashamed of themselves.

Many of you have privately told me and my colleagues that 'Driver has to go' but not one of you. Not one of you is strong enough to challenge him.

Weak and wobbly. Weak and wobbly comes to mind. You're all too frightened of the dictator - yes the dictator - who is Geoffrey Driver.

To stand shoulder to shoulder with this man, who is hell-bent on destroying the very people who have served Lancashire so loyally - is shameful. Shameful. I suggest you hold your heads in shame. You are all culpable in this. How you can look the staff of this Council in the eye without shame is inconceivable to me."

 Next was Cllr Liz Oades,

(Yes, our own 'Queen Elizabeth' is a county councillor too!) who said:

We were told earlier that the decision on the halal meat was so important it could have been made by the Cabinet but it was decided to bring it to full council. And yet the decision on the management restructure would appear not to be important enough to come to full council. I do find that rather odd.

I have tried to get costs for the restructure and I haven't been given any information whatsoever, which I think is appalling. I'm an elected member of this authority, in just the same was as every single one of you sat here tonight, and if some people have it, I think we should all have the information. I think it's quite disgraceful that we haven't been given that information.

I've been told that the redundancy costs could go up to virtually two million pounds. I don't know how true that is, but I would like to know that, and I would like to know whether that has the pension strain included.

I'd also like to know how much the interim Chief Exec is likely to cost this authority, but I can't find that out. And if my constituents ask me how much this is costing I'm going to have to tell than I'm afraid I'm not important enough to know that information. I'm sure they will be very pleased to see that there are two-tier councillors at this council; those in the know and those who are kept in the dark - rather like mushrooms. It's disgraceful. And that is the type of democracy that we are suffering at the hands of this Conservative administration. It's appalling.

 Next was Cllr Gina Dowding who said

"I haven't got a lot to add really to what Cllr Oades has said, but it's absolutely clear that what we're seeing today in this council chamber is the absolute worst part of local democracy, and it's almost embarrassing to be part of it - and I think that actually that's felt by people from across all sides of the chamber. I'm not quite sure why we are allowing this to happen.

And it seems to me there must be a reason that people are unable to speak openly and outwardly in this chamber, because I've spoken to people outside the room who are embarrassed about what's going on here.

This... Coming back to this specific report - it's just making a mockery of this chamber. There's no detail here. There's no financial information, and clearly it's just being led by one person who has an agenda of his own, and I am really embarrassed to be part of local government if this is what it has come to."

 Next came an opposing view from Cllr Michael Green who said

"I didn't intend to speak in this debate, but there have been some comments which have been said which are totally inappropriate.

Members have talked about we should be ashamed of ourselves. Yes, there are members in this chamber who should be ashamed of themselves. This debate is being held under Part 1. It's a public meeting, and yet you have seen fit to attack... you've attacked County Councillor Driver once again.

Clearly you don't understand what leadership is. You've not seen leadership in the Labour group for many years.

You've attacked officers who haven't yet started working for this authority. And you've publicly attacked them, and done your best to discredit them.

County Councillor Ali, the leader of the Labour opposition quite rightly said he was making serious allegations. He has made them, and other members of the opposition over on that side of the chamber have made serious allegations as well.

This time, they're televised, and this time there is a record of them.

Yet again, a breach of confidentiality by County Councillor Ali, of what happened at an Employment Committee - which I assume was under Part 2 - and the confidentiality has been breached in the public arena. But this time it's on public record. But why are we not surprised.

And finally madam Chairman, I'm rather concerned that this debate has even been allowed to continue. We've officers in this room that I would have thought would have offered advice to say that some of the comments were inappropriate and should not have been allowed to continue. I'm disappointed that that hasn't happened. And I've got to place that on record.

If he says that about officers in public, we can't help but wonder what sort of pressure he might apply to officers in private.

 Next was Cllr Potter who said

"'Something smells rotten in the state of Denmark' is a very famous phrase, and you guys were calling for names I believe, when the colleague in front was saying that some of the Tory party members do not have faith in Cllr Driver.

It is interesting to note that the Radio Lancashire reporter that was here has actually put on, just today, as part of the meeting, so this is not a party political person - said "Some of those Conservative councillors who vote in favour of Geoff Driver have just told me privately they don't have confidence in him.

So that's... that's ... that is Radio Lancashire, I'm reading it straight from his thing, so clearly....

{At this point he paused, to apparently re-quote a sotto voche comment]

....Fake news. Thank you Trumpettes ...

I'm going to be very very brief because this doesn't feel, sit, right with me - how officers have been treated. I don't know these officers as well as some of you. I won't profess to have worked with them as much as you have. But everything about this process seems just slightly off.

And going back to the previous conversation regarding the libraries and the budgets, I'd be very wary of the members opposite of hubris.

It's a very dangerous thing to have such exalted pride in oneself that you will save money when this decision could cost this authority a great deal of money, and you may eat those words.

I would say there is nothing good about this restructure. The idea that the Chief Finance Officer and the Chief Exec could be the same person - to me - seems a ridiculous thing. And anyone else who has been in any Council will probably think the same thing.

So by all means you can gloat, you can be happy, you can cheer, you can say 'name names' and feel like it's all a good laugh. But hubris is a very dangerous thing, and it may come to bite you in the backside."

 Next to speak was a lady

(microphone absence again) who said

"I'm sorry this is just getting ridiculous. Bleeding hearts and crocodile tears. Can we move to the vote please."

The Chairman said there were two more speakers then she would ask the Leader to reply.

 She called Cllr Paul Rigby who said:

"Four and a half years ago the Conservatives lost control. The Chief Executive didn't last one meeting. For whatever reason, and there's been a lot of speculation, but nothing has been proven.

And the group that controlled, they put a management structure in place that worked.... that inherited a working council that was doing quite well.

Look at the record of that management structure. Be sat here. Place yourself here. Education: education was highly rated in this county when labour took over. Where is it now?

Highways: twenty working days to respond to an email, and you think that's good?

We sat here and that Chief Executive didn't advise you any different than to close all the libraries that you shut. It's absolutely gobsmacking that you pride yourselves for it. You complained about monies all the time. Talk about cups half full and half empty, this council is on an absolute downward spiral, and it's nobody's fault but your own.

And we have to put things right.

Let us get on and do it."

 Next was Cllr Greenall who said:

"I made it my business to come here this afternoon with an open mind. And to not make any judgements.

Like my colleague to my left here, I too have been involved in similar things to this in the past, where the chief officers of a council have been, erm, well, changes have been made, let's put it that way.

On those occasions, what we have had, in quite a lot of detail in the reports that had been presented to us, be they in Part 1 or Part 2, but I'm being asked here to judge or to vote based on what's in this report. What we have had is costings, which have given us some indication of how much this proposed exercise would cost, and you've been able to take that into consideration in making your vote.

That doesn't appear to be the case here. So frankly whether this is a great idea, a bad idea, or an indifferent idea is of no consequence to me because I have no idea what it's going to cost.

How much is it going to cost?

Without that piece of information which I don't appear to have, I can't support it.

The Chairman then said there had been a misunderstanding about the speaker list and

 She called Cllr Motala, to speak. He said

"A situation as serious as this. There's nothing here, in living memory, that I can see. We're dismissing the Chief Executive.... agree to dismiss the Director of Governance... If you're looking at the three pages paper, there's nothing about the costing, there's nothing about the effect on the Council, and the reason why.

So how on earth can anybody in their right mind, say we'll go along with this? Without any background? In other words I would have thought that in a County Council this size, people would have the opportunity to scrutinise the reason why this has been put forward. Because, I mean to say, even in a small district council you will never get away with this three pages paper on here. That's my belief. And I've been in politics since 1991. Therefore, I've been on the Employment Committee of Preston Council for many years. I sit of different committees here when I came along, but I don't believe that this is the right way to go about it, in asking people today, to dismiss the top officers, and no reason given.

Only a few people - according to this - the Employment Committee, who are they? What about the rest of us like has been said here. What's happened to the rest of the people? So you come in here, put your hand up, but we don't know the reason why.

Well I believe, as I say Madam Chairman, this is totally wrong. It's insufficient information, and I will say if anything goes at all this should be the [indistinct word affair? fair?] with a view to bring all the information forward to every single councillor, so they can make then the appropriate decision, and not just say to us today to agree 1, 2 and so forth on the three pages paper. I think it's bloomin' scandalous. democracy is gone through the window, and that's the way you want to? But remember this, the wheels turn round, believe you me, the wheels will turn around, and faster than what you think."

 The Chairman then called County Councillor Driver to speak. He said

"Here we go again, not understanding what's going on and what the process is.

I could respond to a lot of the points, but I think several will be covered. First of all I'll say I'm not going to respond to Cllr Beavers, she's beyond parody. It's simply not worthy of a response.

County Councillor Oades and Cllr Dowding: we don't discuss the details of the individual councils in the council chamber, so it's none of your resident's business the payments of individual councillors

[We think he probably meant to say 'payment of officers' at his point].

County Councillor Potter: The decision to combine the Section 151 Officer and the Chief Executive was made some time ago, and it's not before us today.

And Councillor Howarth: I understand it's getting late in the day and, as ever, County Councillor Howarth struggles to understand what's going on around him, but the decision to have an interim has already been taken, and that's not before us today either.

County Councillor Ali: Councillor Green has already made comments, and I want, here and now, in front of the officers to make a formal complaint that you have just breached the Members Code of Conduct. You have divulged information that was in a Part 2 Committee, and that is a breach of the Members Code of Conduct and I hope the officers will take note of it.

You've already been leaking information, and you're not even leaking..."

 At this point, Cllr Ali stood and said

"Madam Chair, point of order, can Cllr Driver please apologise because he's telling lies again"

 The Chairman said

"County Councillor Ali, that is not suitable language in this chamber, and I would rather you refrained and sat down and just listened carefully.

 Cllr Ali responded saying

"I can revise the wording, he's not telling the truth"

 The Chairman said

"I think there are certain words that should not be said in this chamber, openly, in the way that it is done from different methodologies that you can use. So may I suggest that we keep quiet and listen to what is being said properly. You've had quite a good do at this today, and let us just hear the remainder"

 Cllr Driver continued:

"Thank you Madam Chairman. In case Cllr Ali didn't hear me, he's already been leaking information, and he's done it again today. It's a perfect illustration of the way he behaves, and he doesn't even leak the information correctly.

When he's been talking to the Labour Evening Post, he's actually been giving the wrong information, quite deliberately, to make, to sensationalise what's going on.

I'm not going to get involved in his game of breaching information, but I'll simply say this about the cost. Let us remember colleagues, that the Labour Administration, in the budget February 2016, agreed to take a million pounds out of the management structure.

That was seven.... Seven officers that would come out of the structure, but they didn't actually implement that, so for the last two years, they've been charging it to reserves. So that's cost the people of Lancashire two million pounds.

Obviously we wouldn't know exactly what the redundancy payments of those seven officers would be, but you can bet your bottom dollar it would be more than the redundancy costs that we've incurred.

And let us also not forget that in the four years they were in control, they spent something like eighty million pounds on redundancy and settlements, so please don't try and kid the journalists and the people of Lancashire that this proposal is actually going to cost money.

The restructuring is needed - it's already been referred to by Cllr Rigby that you made a mess of children's services when you were in control, and the reason for that, or one of the reasons, was the structure you had. And we're changing that. We're bringing a proper sensible structure in, whereby the people of Lancashire will get the services that they need.

Please just remember what is actually before you today. It's not all the red herrings that have been floated again today, it's very clear what's before you, it's the matters that must come to the County Council because statute requires it. And that's all that is here.

I urge members to accept the report."

 The Chairman then called the Recorded Vote.

The result was predictable in it's outcome given the overall majority that the Conservative group had: 43 for the restructure proposals and 30 against.

Readers wanting more details can follow this link to download the minutes of the meeting.

 BBC Sunday Politics Show

The issue featured on the BBC Sunday Politics show three days later (on 29 October 2017).

Nina Warhurst introduced the item saying

"The Chief Executive of Lancashire County Council was told to pack her bags this week. Councillors rubber stamped a controversial management restructure that also put several more senior officers out of a job. Mike Stephens has been following the story closely, and joins us now."

Mr Stephens said:

"Well, this is all about the relationship between these two people, between the Leader of Lancashire County Council, Geoff Driver, and the Chief Executive Jo Turton.

Now the proposals were first presented back in July, to a behind-closed-doors Cabinet meeting by Councillor Driver. And he showed them a single sheet of A4 paper, I've got it here, and it basically outlines plans to oust the Chief Executive by changing her job description to include a requirement for formal financial qualifications - something which she actually doesn't have.

Now, opponents of County Councillor Driver have said this is connected to something called Operation Sheridan which is an ongoing fraud investigation in which Councillor Driver and three other men are currently on police bail on suspicion of witness intimidation and perverting the course of justice."

Nina Warhurst asked what was the exact link to Operation Sheridan? Mr Stephens replied:

"Well it's believed that Jo Turton and some of her fellow senior officers have given witness statements to Operation Sheridan, so some senior political figures in Lancashire, including the Leader of the Opposition Azar Ali have said that this is Geoff Driver's way of ousting Jo Turton, it's his way of getting rid of her

But of course Geoff Driver denies this. He says that's absolute rubbish. He says this will save the County Council millions and millions of pounds in the long term.

However, in the short term, his opponents have said this could leave the County Council open to serious legal challenges"

 Cllr Driver Is Re-Questioned

A fortnight later, on 9th November 2017, under the headline 'Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver questioned again by police' the Lancashire Telegraph's politics correspondent Bill Jacobs reported that:

"LANCASHIRE County Council leader has revealed he has been questioned by police again as part of their long-running investigation into the authority’s contracts.

County Cllr Geoff Driver voluntarily attended Skelmersdale Police Station yesterday at the request of detectives working on 'Operation Sheridan'.

The Burnley-born 72-year-old is one of four men currently on bail until November 22 while the inquires proceed....."

"... Cllr Driver, who vigorously denies the allegations against him, told the Lancashire Telegraph: "I was asked in by the police for further questions.

I voluntarily attend Skelmersdale Police Station yesterday and answered those further question.

They were in connection with Operation Sheridan but I cannot discuss them further.

I was the only person who attended and I remain on police bail until November 22."

The Telegraph also said:

"The investigation into Lancashire County Council’s One Connect contract with BT has been running for more than three years and cost £2million. A total of 22 officers and staff have been involved into the probe which also covers a similar deal involving Liverpool City Council."

 Civil Case Judgement

One of the four men who had been arrested was involved in a civil application against Preston Crown Court and the Chief Constable of Lancashire Police.

The case had challenged the legality of search warrants in the investigation that an earlier court hearing had authorised.

Under the headline 'Council leader Geoff Driver 'intimidated' witnesses during probe, BBC News reported that

"A judge has found "ample evidence" a council leader and three others tried to pervert a fraud investigation.

High Court documents reveal officers claimed Geoff Driver of Lancashire County Council sent emails deliberately designed to "intimidate, belittle and undermine" witnesses.

The investigation is centred on a £5m contract with One Connect Ltd, a joint venture between the council and BT.

Mr Driver said he has done nothing wrong."

The BBC report went on to say of the court documents

"They reveal that Lancashire Police said they had gathered evidence to show before his arrest Conservative councillor Mr Driver sent emails to a witness in a concerted campaign to undermine him.

It is also alleged that Mr Driver attempted to intimidate other principal witnesses.

In their warrant application, the constabulary claimed that seven laptops, six iPads and iPhones and a desktop computer belonging to one of the four suspects were either wiped or destroyed just days after he had been formally interviewed by police.

Another of the arrested men, former Lancashire County Council CEO Phil Halsall had allegedly advised Mr Driver to change the file format of computer documents to disguise their origins.

'Cover tracks'

Lancashire Police said the warrants, which authorised officers to search for any electronic storage devices, were issued "to prevent the deliberate deletion of data by suspects".

The documents also state that private email accounts relating to Mr Driver and three men were held offshore, outside UK jurisdiction, making it more difficult for detectives to access them.

In granting the warrant in May 2017, Judge Altham said these amounted to examples of "attempts to cover tracks".

In the latest hearing, which took place on 18 April at the High Court in London, one of the four who was the subject of the warrant application applied for a review into the granting of those warrants but the court found the application had been correctly decided.

However, Lord Justice Gross and Mr Justice Nichol, said they expressed no view as to the ultimate outcome of the investigation or as to any prosecution which might result.

The police investigation is continuing with the men remaining on bail.

Mr Driver said he has done nothing wrong but would be inappropriate to comment any further."

 Police Send File To CPS

About one year ago, on 23 August 2018, the Lancashire Post's reporter Steph Hall reported:

"Prosecutors are today considering evidence compiled by police in a long running council fraud probe.

The leader of Lancashire County Council, Geoff Driver, has again been re-bailed by police as part of the long-running Operation Sheridan investigation into activities surrounding One Connect, the now defunct partnership between LCC and telecom giants BT.

Coun Driver and three other men have been on bail since they were arrested in May last year on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation.

The other three are former County Hall chief executive Phil Halsall, the former chief executive of Liverpool City Council Ged Fitzgerald and David McElhinney who was employed as chief executive of One Connect.

All four reported to police yesterday and had their bail extended.

Today a Lancashire Police spokesman said: "In September 2013 Lancashire County Council referred to Lancashire Constabulary some allegations of financial irregularity.

An investigation was launched and following a complex and lengthy enquiry a file of evidence has now been submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration.

The investigative bail period has now been suspended as a result of the file being submitted."

 The Lancashire Telegraph carried a similar report but noted

"...The file sent to the CPS today covers the whole scope of the inquiry and the police revealed today that it related to eight men between 56 and 73, not just the four arrested last year.

It is understood that any decision on charging and prosecution is likely to take a considerable period of time."

 THE BACKSTORY ENDS

So, to take stock of where we are at present, the CPS are considering what the Police sent to them after approximately 6 years of investigation.

Lancashire's Chief Executive Jo Turton - (who was appointed in the wake of the sudden departure of its former Chief Executive) was brutally dismissed by the incoming Conservative administration soon after they came to power.

And a new combined Chief Executive and Head of Finance was appointed and is now in place.

Readers with stamina will have picked up why we have gone into such detail with the backstory - it sets the tone, and it illustrates the culture in which the senior officers of the County Council are working.

 LCC NOTICE OF MOTION 1

At this point we come more or less up to date - well at least to May 2019.

After the linking of small earthquakes to the hydraulic fracturing being undertaken by Cuadrilla at its Preston New Road site, the Government was under increasing pressure to review the 'Traffic Light System' of precautionary delays that Cuadrilla and others had devised and incorporated into their plans, in order to properly assess what happened following an earthquake that was caused by the fracking process.

There was immense pressure from the fracking industry for Government to raise the limits at which the precautionary cessation applied.

Equally there was pressure from residents and environmental groups for the limit to remain as it had been set.

Although (at least as yet), the limit has not been changed by the agencies of Government (being busy with Brexit might have something to do with that of course), Lancashire County Councillor's Cllr Gina Dowding wanted the County Council to support the case for retaining the present system and thresholds.

She devised a motion to be debated which called on Lancashire County Council

"to write to the Energy Minister and the Prime Minister welcoming the Government's resolve not to change the thresholds to date and asking them not to bow to pressure from the fracking industry at any stage in the future, and to continue to prioritise public health and safety; and to write to Lancashire's MPs about the Council's position."

Readers wanting to see the original full text can follow this link to download the motion as a .pdf file (it is Motion No 3).

So it was that on 24 May 2019 Cllr Dowding's motion came before Lancashire County Council

 Report Of The Meeting

The debate on Notice of Motion No 3 began with Cllr Paul Rigby declaring a prejudicial interest and vacating the chair. (He comes from a large family with interests in farming, and we imagine he or a close relative has some form of benefit that would exclude him from participating in the debate. Quite properly, he vacated the chair and left the room).

 County Councillor Susie Charles the Vice Chairman took the chair

and said, (before Cllr Dowding spoke)...

"A number of members have raised concerns about this item, and that the Monitoring Officer has issued some advice to Development Control members. Can I therefore please ask the Monitoring Officer to clarify this advice before we start the debate."

 The Monitoring Officer said

"Firstly, I've been asked whether Councillor Dowding is allowed to move this motion at this time given that an election is taking place. I can confirm that this does not breach any rules relating to publicity or promotion around this election period, and there is no other reason to prevent Cllr Dowding moving the motion"

So far so good, although we did find it a bit unusual. The primary role of a monitoring officer is to advise a Council if, in their opinion, the council is about to do something which contravenes a law or their constitution. The idea of this is not to prevent councillors from doing something, but to ensure they know they shouldn't be doing it (if that's the case of course!)

We found it odd she was saying what Cllr Dowding was proposing did *not* fall foul of the law of the Constitution.

It felt to us as though she might have been under pressure to do this, but then, the Chairman had asked for clarification so she gave it.

 The Monitoring officer went on to say....

"In relation to the motion itself, I have already advised members of the Development Control Committee that there may be some concerns as to predetermination in relation to the motion itself.

In addition, some other members have expressed concerns about their position.

It is not the role of officers - including the Monitoring Officer - to step into the debate, however the language used in the notice of motion strongly suggests a particular view, and I consider that the role of the Development Control Committee members would be compromised were they to vote either for or against this motion.

In addition, it is a matter for all members to consider carefully any potential role that they may have in future in determining matters such as a shale gas application which is quasi judicial by nature, and all members will be aware the degree of scrutiny to which such applications are subject.

As a body, full council may wish to consider how best it can facilitate all members being able to engage in the debate freely, especially as it is not clear at this stage whether there will be any possible changes to the Development Control Committee itself."

We've some comments of our own on this.

Her first sentence ".... there *may* be some concerns as to predetermination in relation to the motion itself." is far too woolly in our view. It is a written text, and its wording either does or does not give rise to concerns about predetermination.

If it does not risk claims of predetermination there was no point in referring to it.

If it does, then the Monitoring Officer should have advised the Council that passing the motion did damage the council's ability hold a position in the event of an appeal against a planning decision it had made.

Secondly we're not as sure in our view as she was about DC members being compromised.

We don't think they would have been, and if this is the case then what we were seeing here was something close to intimidation of councillors.

We'll return to this issue of 'pre-determination' later, but for the moment we ask readers to bear with us as we follow the course of this meeting.

 When the Monitoring Officer had finished, the Chairman said to her

"Can I please ask you a question Monitoring officer?

So in effect that, talking about members of Development Control, and potential members of development Control, that could mean 84 members?"

 Before the Monitoring Officer could answer, Cllr Dowding interrupted

to say she had an amendment to the motion, so the debate about pre-determination was unnecessary.

 Correctly, the Chairman interrupted her

and said (somewhat heavy handedly we thought):

"Excuse me I'm the Chairman, I'm standing up. Sit down whilst I ask the Monitoring Officer a question."

This gave us something of a sense of the sort of pressure that the Monitoring Officer might have had to endure from those opposed to Cllr Dowding's motion - even before it got as far as the meeting.

 Having said what she did before, the Monitoring Officer replied:

"In answer to your question, the answer is obviously yes, it's a matter for groups to put forward members for Development Control Committee. So at this stage, in theory, all members could be a member of the Development Control Committee."

To us, she looked distinctly uncomfortable.

The Chairman asked Cllr Dowding, in the light of that advice, whether she still wished to move her motion.

Cllr Dowding said she did wish to go ahead, but with one portion of a sentence deleted.

She said if those words were removed, she had been advised that the motion would not compromise anyone, and she gave the revised wording and asked for confirmation of its acceptability.

The Chairman appeared to confirm this was the case, and Cllr Dowding was invited to present her arguments to support her motion.

 As soon as she completed and sat down, Cllr Driver stood and said

"I'd like to move procedural standing order 44.1 (c) that the debate be adjourned, and my reasons for that are paragraph 44.4 the item has not been sufficiently discussed, and in view of the advice given by the Monitoring Officer, it cannot be reasonably so discussed on this occasion. I so move."

He was immediately seconded by an adjacent colleague.

 The Chief Executive spoke briefly with the Chairman, then said

"Madam Chairman, just to explain, given that we have a vote that has been seconded we must vote on the procedural motion which is that the debate be adjourned under standing Order 44.1"

We'll now give readers our own take on this before moving on.

LCC's Constitution includes its 'Standing Orders.'

These are essentially the rules that govern debate in the Council Chamber - who can speak, when, and for how long, and so on.

As is common with all council constitutions it contains some provisions to curtail debate.

At LCC these are in section 44 of the Constitution, and there are 4 measures.

44.1 (a) is 'That the question be now put'.
In essence, this means we're fed up of this debate going on and on, going round in circles and we should immediately - without hearing any more argument - move to the vote. If agreed by a majority that's what happens.

44.1 (b) is 'That the Full Council proceed to the next business'
If agreed by a majority vote this means that the item about to be discussed or, more usually, the item under discussion, is terminated without a vote having been taken, and the Council moves to consider the next item of business as though the previous item had never existed on the agenda.

44.1 (c) is 'That the debate be adjourned'
This is slightly different to the earlier ones in that like (a) there is no vote taken and like (b) it brings the debate on that item to an end, but it (probably) does not preclude the item being reconsidered. It simply ends debate on that item.

44.1 (d) is “That the Full Council adjourn”
This temporarily closes the whole meeting - irrespective of what else is on the agenda. It would probably be intended for use in the event of unruly behaviour by the public until those causing the trouble have been removed.

LCC's Constitution provides some helpful notes about each of them, and the one invoked by Cllr Driver says

"If a motion to adjourn the debate or to adjourn the meeting is seconded and the Chairman thinks the item has not been sufficiently discussed and cannot reasonably be so discussed on that occasion, he/she will put the procedural motion to the vote without giving the mover of the original motion the right of reply."

Typically this would be used when the debate would take longer than the time that is available to the Council to debate it. But, as sometimes happens, it is open to what we would call mis-use.

So for this procedure to apply four conditions have to be met.

  • The motion must be proposed (Cllr Driver did)
  • It must be seconded (it was)
  • The Chairman must believe that the item has not been sufficiently discussed AND
  • The Chairman must believe it cannot be discussed on this occasion.

So, as far as we can see there were two things wrong with this decision.

Firstly, Cllr Driver's expressed logic for his proposition was wrong. He said it could not be discussed because

"... in view of the advice given by the Monitoring Officer, it cannot be reasonably so discussed on this occasion."

This was incorrect.

Cllr Dowding had changed the wording of her motion, and the concerns that the Monitoring Officer held apparently no longer existed.

This appeared to have been confirmed by the Chairman, so the re-worded motion that Cllr Dowding had proposed could have been discussed provided there was time to do so, which clearly, there was.

There's a small fly in our argument here in that Cllr Dowding's re-worded motion had not been seconded, so technically some 'protocol droids' like us might argue that Cllr Driver was referencing her original motion which the Monitoring Officer *had* expressed concern about.

Personally we don't support that argument, because that original motion hadn't yet been seconded either, so we believe both were of equal stature in that regard.

Secondly, although the Chairman did not express her belief that there had been insufficient discussion, it would probably be taken that her subsequent actions constituted her belief that there had not been enough discussion.

But that insufficiency of discussion thus far, was only due to the existence of Cllr Driver's curtailment motion!

So in our view, the Chairman should not have allowed Cllr Driver's procedural motion to stand.

What actually happened was that the Chairman called the vote on Cllr Driver's procedural motion, with the Chief Executive (in our view wrongly) nodding her assent to the process.

She was interrupted by Cllr Ali who said the procedural motion had been moved and seconded so surely there should be a debate on that motion.

Sadly he was wrong. Procedural motions like this are not open for debate. Provided they are validly made, once they are moved and seconded the vote must be immediate without any further debate.

Apparently a little flustered and perhaps misunderstanding, the Chairman said Cllr Dowding's motion had been moved but not seconded, but Cllr drivers was both moved and seconded.

Confusion reigned.

 The Chief Executive said

"Chairman, just to explain, so Cllr Dowding has presented her motion. Councillor Driver has made a procedural order under Standing Order 44.1 which is moving that the debate be adjourned, for the reasons in 44.4, which is that - I can't see that far - is that the....."

And at this point (she was standing) her eyesight wasn't able to read documents on the desk, and she apparently picked up Cllr Driver's papers and prepared to read from them.

We don't think it was intentional, but her action created the impression for us - and some of those watching - that she and Cllr Driver were working as one to prevent Cllr Dowding's motion from being debated.

Her action resulted in a shouted comment (inaudible in the recording) from the floor, followed by a cacophony of protest, but the microphone was quickly switched off, and what was said remains inaudible.

From the video, it looked to us as though Cllr David Whipp was on his feet in the aisle speaking loudly and waving his arm in wild gesticulations before picking up his papers and walking out of the meeting in protest.

With the microphone switched back on, the Chief Executive tried to continue saying

"....under, is suggesting that debate can't be had on this occasion, and is asking for an adjournment, a vote that the Chairman is calling because that has been moved and seconded, is to vote for the adjournment, and depending on the outcome of the debate we will either proceed with the debate or not."

This was as clear as mud, and we believe the Chief Executive was wrong in what she said.

The only reason that the procedural motion to adjourn could be actioned is if the Chairman (not the mover or seconder) believed that there had been insufficient discussion, and it could not reasonably be discussed at this time.

The Chief Executive ought to have known that, and we think she should have advised the Council better than she did.

However, for whatever reason - perhaps based on experience from the previous Chief Executive's relationship with Cllr Driver - she chose to say what she did.

 An interjection came from Cllr Dowding who said:

"Can I ask for a clarification? The motion was accepted by you Madam Chairman, so why is it able to be ruled out of order procedurally when you've actually accepted my amendment to the motion by deleting a few words, addressing the points that had been raised by the Monitoring Officer?"

 The Chairman responded

"I said that you could present it"

 In a loud voice, (a now angry) Cllr Dowding said

"No, I asked for clarification as to whether it was acceptable, and you said yes it was acceptable Madam Chairman, so I think you're re-inventing history now."

There must have been some off-camera discussion between the Chairman and (probably) the Chief Executive, before....

 The Chairman said

"OK, I said you could present it, but it is..... any member of the Council can put forward a procedural order, and that was totally in order I was advised. That was totally in order.

If this had been a real pantomime, then at this point, someone from the floor would have shouted "Oh No it wasn't".

 At least former Labour Leader Cllr Jennifer Mein was awake. She said:

"44.4 states 'If a motion to adjourn the debate or to adjourn the meeting is seconded and the Chairman thinks the item has not been sufficiently discussed and cannot reasonably be so discussed on that occasion, he/she will put the procedural motion to the vote' Has the Chairman decided the item has not and cannot be sufficiently discussed? Because That's your decision."

 The Chairman said:

"I don't think it can be discussed because all 84 members could be held to have pre-determined, if any of us wanted to sit on Development Control...."

 She was interrupted by a Councillor from the labour benches who said

"Madam Chair, that has been deleted from the motion so that can't be taken into account. We need further advice from the Monitoring Officer"

He was right of course.

 A still angry Cllr Dowding said

"Can we have some advice from the Monitoring Officer and an adjournment of this meeting right now ten minutes so that we can have some clarification please?"

There was a pause - probably whilst the Chairman consulted the Chief Executive off microphone -

 Then she said

"I have decided that we are going to a vote for the adjournment, so we will go ahead with that vote right now.

 Cllr Liz Oades can be heard to shout

"This is disgraceful, you are disgraceful"

And she started to collect her papers to walk out of the meeting as well. Tumult rose from many councillors,

And of course, Cllr Oades was correct, it was disgraceful.

Our impression of what had happened here was that the Conservative group had decided not even to allow Cllr Dowding's motion to be discussed, and they had sought and deployed a series of ways to prevent the debate taking place.

It felt to us as though they had persuaded or coerced the Monitoring Officer to say that the original wording risked a judgement of pre-determination (which we do not believe is the case - more later), and they had expected that to be sufficient.

However Cllr Dowding must have got wind of this, and we imagine she will have privately spoken with the Monitoring Officer to clarify which words she needed to change or remove to make it acceptable.

She had done this at the meeting, and the Chairman had had to agree to the changed wording being considered.

But then, Cllr Driver, resorting to the methods of a scoundrel who is unable to win the argument by convincement, tried to curtail the debate using (in our view improperly applied) procedural trickery.

It was clear to us that neither he, nor the Chairman, was going to allow the motion to be debated and voted upon.

Calls for the Monitoring Officer to rule on whether the revised wording had removed the concern she had previously expressed were simply disregarded by the Chairman (and, to our sadness, by the Chief Executive)

To our mind they simply did not dare risk that question being answered, because it would have shown Cllr Driver's procedural motion to be invalid.

The Chairman - having difficulty to be heard above the tumult - pressed on saying "All those in favour of the procedural order. All those in favour of the procedural order."

Followed by a request for all the votes against, and the officers began to count the votes (which were never in any doubt).

There were 42 votes for the procedural motion to adjourn the debate and 33 against, and one abstention. And with that the meeting was closed.

Democracy had not been well served.

 AN EMAIL EXCHANGE

One of our readers corresponded with Cllr Driver after the decision from which we now provide the opening paragraphs:

 cb Reader

"As a confirmed Conservative voter for 46 years and a resident of Roseacre for the past 19, I require both you and Ms. Charles to explain to me why you felt it inappropriate to allow today's council meeting to discuss the regulations surrounding the government's TLS threshold limits.

You cannot be insensitive to the feelings of Lancashire residents affected by any variation of the current regime, nor the huge and negative impacts that this pernicious industry has had on the lives of those you purport to represent.

To maintain that "The item has not been sufficiently discussed and it cannot be reasonably so discussed on this occasion" is yet another example of your quite shameless dereliction of duty as Councillors to represent the people of Lancashire, rather than furthering the agenda of this Tory government.

To maintain that you can't discuss an agenda item because it hasn't been discussed suggests that your debates should more properly be heard in the local Students' Union than in County Hall.

If this means of stifling open discussion can be brought about by Standing Order 44/1, I am astonished that the Council should ever reach a decision on anything......."

 Cllr Driver replied

Thank you for your letter.

I shall resist the temptation to respond in kind!

I am afraid you have misunderstood what happened at Council this afternoon.

The Monitoring Officer made it perfectly clear that any member of the Development Control Committee would risk being accused of ‘predetermination’ in any future consideration of a ‘fracking’ application if they voted for or against County Councillor Dowding’s motion. The same risk would apply to any comments made during the debate. And because any one of the 84 county councillors might serve on the Development Control Committee in the future, that advice applied to us all.

That is why I moved the Procedural Standing Order because in those circumstances it was impossible to debate the motion.

My intervention this afternoon had absolutely nothing to do with the pros and cons of ‘fracking’ which I am simply not prepared to debate with you. I intervened to protect the Council from possible future legal proceedings from either side in this argument.

It is a pity that some County Councillors will not accept that the Council Chamber is not the place to pursue their personal crusades on matters that are the province of the Development Control Committee who’s members have to be and be seen to be acting entirely impartially and in accordance with planning law and guidance, not being influenced by previous Council resolutions. "

Our reader replied with a something very much in the spirit of what we have already said above (we wondered if maybe we should try to recruit them as a reporter :-),

Cllr Driver replied again, arguing that the Council resolving to support the government’s intention to maintain the current limits on tremors would be seen by some as passing an opinion on fracking which could be argued to have influenced members of the Development Control Committee.

He also said he received similar correspondence with people who have equally sincerely held views which are directly opposite to those of our reader.

After another email exchange Cllr Driver closed the correspondence saying they would have to agree to disagree.

We still think he was not correct in his interpretation, and will deal with the matter of pre-determination later in the article.

 ANOTHER BITE AT THE CHERRY

Undaunted, the intrepid heroine of this article, Cllr Gina Dowding  tried again at the Council meeting on 18 July 2019.

Using the adjournment decision to her advantage this time (usually, Councils are not allowed to re-consider something they've decided within 12 months of that decision, but an adjourned debate can't fall foul of that), Cllr Dowding once again sought to have a motion agreed by the County Council.

This time her agenda item said

"Lancashire County Council welcomes the fact that to date, the Government has confirmed it has no plans to change the Traffic Light System of seismic thresholds for the fracking industry.

Lancashire County Council resolves to write to the Energy Minister and the Prime Minister welcoming the Government's resolve not to change the thresholds and asks them to continue to prioritise public health and safety; and to write to Lancashire MP's about the Council's decision."

Readers can be pretty sure that this time, she will have made certain the wording did not fall foul of the concerns the Monitoring Officer was persuaded to express at the previous meeting.

So what would happen this time? Would the County Council now agree with what she proposed?

Not a chance!

It all started out well enough

She was seconded by counterbalance's own St. Paul Hayhurst of Elswick, one of the most able and articulate councillors we have had the pleasure of knowing. So she was in good company.

But the majority party wasn't ever going to let it pass.

 THE SECOND DEBATE BEGINS

Before declaring an interest and once again vacating his chair to Cllr Susie Charles, Cllr Paul Rigby reminded councillors they had allocated 30 minutes for each of the three notices of motion on their agenda (including Cllr Dowding's).

Cllr Charles said councillors would have noticed from the agenda papers that an adjusted version of the motion was being put before the full Council saying:

"...this adjustment has been requested by Councillor Dowding, and the Monitoring Officer is satisfied that this should be treated as the same motion."

She also waived Standing Order 37.2 to allow Cllr Dowding to speak again to present her revised version of the motion. (In a full council meeting, councillors may usually only speak once).

She also reminded councillors that the motion would need to be seconded, debated, and voted on.

 The Chairman went on to say

"As this is your second bite of the cherry Councillor Dowding, do you think you think you could make your introduction slightly less. I am being generous because it is an adjournment. I don't, technically, have to allow you to introduce it again"

We thought that was a bit unnecessarily harsh, and it felt to us as though the whole of this debate was being held against the better judgement of the majority party.

Not content with having had the Monitoring Officer declare that the revised wording would not risk the Council falling foul of a charge of 'pre-determination' She wasn't going to let it go if she could help it.

 Cllr Charles said

"Advice has been circulated separately to members of the Development Control Committee, reminding members of the need to exercise care to ensure they do not say anything which would lead them to be subject to accusations of pre-determination.

The Monitoring Officer does not consider that this version of the motion caused the same level of potential difficulty for members wishing to speak or vote on the motion.

Cllr Dowding, please put forward your adjusted motion"

 And Cllr Dowding did, saying

"Thank you Madam Chairman and I have to say I'm very pleased that the motion, the adjusted version, is back on the agenda today. Just to remind councillors that last time, I actually didn't get chance to speak to it at all, because I was proposing at that meeting, that I adjusted the original version....."

And she went on to argue her case, which she said was about the regulation of a new industry coming into Lancashire for which there were was no industry specific regulation.

Amongst the key points she made was that the Industry had sought to minimise importance of the earthquakes by relating them to what could be felt at the surface, but that wasn't the case at all.

The issue was what the impact was in the heavily faulted geology of Fylde and what it was doing to the integrity of the well a kilometre or more underground where it could not be seen or inspected.

As recent events have shown very clearly....

 RECENT EVENTS AT PRESTON NEW ROAD

(At this point in the article, we had planned a short diversion from the debate, to pick up Cuadrilla's resumption of work at Preston New Road, and the early minor tremors from fracking Well No 2. But as readers will see, events rather overtook us!.....)

As an aside, our readers will know that in mid August, Cuadrilla resumed work on the Preston New Road site where they appear to have abandoned Well No.1 after fracking equipment suffered a mechanical failure, and the well had to be cemented and milled, before the milling equipment became detached and got stuck in the well.

Readers can follow this link to 'Wellbore Malfunction' for more detail.

According to Professor Smythe, Cuadrilla seems to have tried more than once, but they couldn't retrieve it, so they pushed it as far as they could to the end of the wellbore and have abandoned it there.

Soon after this, the 'above ground' equipment was almost all removed from site, and the whole place resembled the 'Marie Celeste'

But then, on or around 15th August 2019 Cuadrilla began fracking Well No.2

Almost immediately, what is called a 'swarm' of very small seismic activity events were recorded by the British Geological Society's monitoring equipment.

In the first week or so, 17 of these very small tremors were recorded by the geological monitoring equipment.

And on 22 August 2019, an earthquake of magnitude of 1.55 on the Richter Scale (or 1.6 according to the British Geological Society) was detected at the Preston New Road site.

This was the biggest fracking-induced earthquake there had been at that site since fracking began there, and it was getting closer to the 2.3 magnitude earthquake that ended operations at the Preese Hall site and halted fracking for seven years as the Traffic Light System and other arrangements were put in place.

Cuadrilla told the BBC that this earthquake

"... would not have been felt by most locals and likened it to "a large bag of shopping dropping to the floor".

But local expert Mike Hill said

"Cuadrilla are quite right! It is indeed no more than a bag of shopping at the surface.

At the wellbore, where there is the potential for leakage of millions of litres of highly toxic fracking waste, it is more like being hit by an articulated truck."

Only 3 days later, on Sat 24th August 2901, an earthquake measuring 2.1 on the Richter scale was recorded.

This was a new 'personal best' for the fracking site.

It lasted for around 1 second and, perhaps worryingly, it happened whilst fracking was suspended and no fracking was taking place.

We think it likely that this earthquake was caused by the release of subterranean tensions following recent changes in the existing faulted geology that had themselves been brought about by the fracking processes on wells No1 and the start of No2.

Cuadrilla (by now having dropped their 'bag of shopping' analogy), said in a statement

“Minor ground movements of this level are to be expected. Whilst this event has been felt by people on our site and some local households, it is well below anything that can cause harm or damage to anyone or their property.”

As we can all now see from these recent events,

  • when they are taken together with the lesser earthquakes that halted work on Preston New Road's Well No.1 - (when equipment malfunctioned), and
  • when we consider the instance at Preese Hall where the earthquake deformed Cuadrilla's wellbore casing underground and caused them to abandon that site and to introduce the Traffic Light System in the first place -

this is a perfect example of why the Traffic Light System (which requires a mandatory pause of fracking for 18 hours after a 'red' alert earthquake to enable geologists to assess the follow on events without fracking taking place) is so important.

It's also why Cllr Dowding was asking the County Council to remind the Government how important it was to retain that Traffic Light System.

But there was more to come.

On Bank Holiday Monday, 26 August 2019, there was a 2.9 magnitude earthquake at the Preston New Road site.

This made it the biggest fracking-induced earthquake ever seen anywhere in the UK, and we're told it registered on seismographs in Wales and Scotland.

Because the Richter Scale uses a logarithmic basis for its results, the energy released from this event is not just 0.8 times bigger than the recent 2.1 event, (ie it's not simply 2.9 minus 2.1).

No, it's actually more then SIX TIMES bigger.

Professor Peter Styles, who helped established the Traffic Light System said that these are events which occur as the fluid hydraulic changes, and stress changes propagate away from the immediately fracked region and are, and always have been seen as, an integral part of the seismicity response of the subsurface, adding

"The earth's response to the fracking event is not instantaneous and to somehow pretend that they are not a consequence of the fracking process is derisory."

There were some significant and immediate consequences though.

The Oil and Gas Authority issued an immediate suspension notice for hydraulic fracturing operations at the Preston New Road site.

They said operations there will remain suspended while the OGA gathers data from this and other recent seismic events and considers whether the details in Cuadrilla's fracking plan are still appropriate.

Readers can follow this link for the official OGA Notice as a pdf file

This news might seem like good news for those who want fracking stopped, but perhaps not if it results in the OGA considering lifting the Traffic Light Limit to make the plan more appropriate.

What undoubtedly IS good news is the statement put out by Mark Menzies MP who said

 "My statement on the recent seismicity in Fylde;

Throughout my time as the Member of Parliament for Fylde I have called for stringent and robust regulation of the shale gas industry to ensure the safety of local residents.

This has led to a number of regulations being implemented, including the Traffic Light System for monitoring seismicity.

The TLS limit, which was decided with input from the shale gas industry, is set at 0.5Ml - a level which ensures the safety of local residents and their properties.

Since hydraulic fracturing activities begun at Preston New Road we have seen these regulations in action several times. Forcing the operators, Cuadrilla, to pause activities for 18 hours and check all seismicity is in line with their hydraulic fracture plan before they can resume. But also and crucially, releasing this information to the public and keeping the local community informed.

It was for the industry to show that they could operate within these parameters, which they have been unable to do.

It is now clear that hydraulic fracturing is not suitable for Fylde or the people of Fylde and I will be writing to Ministers and the Oil and Gas Authority to call for full cessation of the shale gas industry operating on the Fylde Coast."

So it looks as though he's ahead of his Conservative colleagues at Lancashire County Council in his thinking.

Some of our more mischievous readers might draw a parallel with what he said here and statements made by speakers in the debate at Lancashire County Council, and wonder for a moment, whether his call to cease all fracking on the Fylde Coast might be construed as pre-determination that will risk Parliament suffering legal action if he votes on a future motion concerning fracking........

Which takes us neatly back to the LCC Meeting, where Cllr Dowding was saying on 18 July 2019...

 Cllr Dowding

"That's the really important issue that you have to bear in mind, that it's not about what we feel when we describe earth tremors as earthquakes or seismic activity, it's about the fact that fracking, every time it's happened, HAS caused seismic activity, and we don't know what effect that is having on the safety of the procedure underground."

She summed up saying it was about health, safety and the Government standing by the people of Lancashire.

The Chairman called for a seconder, and Cllr Paul Hayhurst rose to do so.

 Cllr Hayhust said

"First of all, can I say that I've obviously received the advice from Laura Sales and as a member of the Development Control Committee I will adhere to that advice.

I just want to speak to you about the fact that..., the regulations, and the need to retain those regulations.

As you probably know I represent Fylde West Division, and Fylde West Division has had numerous problems over the last few years, with regard to exceeding levels which obviously has been provided..., has been agreed with the Government.

I wanted to tell you what those levels mean to my area. My area, like most of the Fylde is full of geological faults. That is something which is common knowledge.

Only about three weeks ago there was a sort of earthquake or type of earth tremors in the Irish Sea. which was eight miles into the Irish Sea, and that was 2.4 on the Richter scale. And yet, that was felt in Blackpool 8 miles away.

What's happening at the moment is these earth tremors are happening under the feet of people in Fylde and it is absolutely crucial therefore that we maintain these regulations"

Just to, again, put you in the picture, the last one which was in November December was 1;5 on the Richter scale.

Now, we're told by the industry that this was the equivalent of dropping a melon on the floor.

Can I say that the British Geological Society received complaints about that 1.5 event actually BEFORE the British Geological Society actually registered there'd been a problem, and one complainant stated that it was the equivalent of driving a car at fast speed into their offices in Whitehills near Blackpool.

And again, just to let you think about what 1.5 actually means. The 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster happened in the same week as we had 1.5 in the Fylde.

The Lockerbie disaster was obviously a terrorist atrocity, was where the Pan Am plane blew up five miles above Lockerbie. It came down in five pieces and hit Lockerbie. One of those pieces obliterated one of the streets in Lockerbie, wiping out the people that lived there.

The British Geological Society recorded that event as 1.6 on the Richter scale. So imagine what 1.5 is doing to the people of Fylde that I represent.

I feel that before anything further goes ahead we should at least defend the survey of what's happening under our feet, because we can't see what's happening, but if you talk to the people I represent they'll tell you what's happening to them.

So for Gods sake, let's impress upon the Government the need to keep these regulations to protect the environment, and the way of life of people in my Division."

 Next to speak was Cllr Michael Green who said

"Thank you Madam Chairman. This administration will always prioritise the health and wellbeing of the residents of Lancashire, and I'm sure all the county councillors will welcome the Government's resolve to continue to prioritise public health, and as such I wish to propose an amendment which is before you on the screens.

The amendment on the screen said

"Lancashire County Council resolves to write to the Energy Minister and the Prime Minister welcoming the Government's resolve to continue to prioritise public health and safety in monitoring the 'fracking' industry and to write to Lancashire's MPs setting out the Council's position."

This amendment emasculated Cllr Dowding's motion by removing all references to the Traffic Light System being retained.

Deploying what we thought was a triumph of arrogance over good chairmanship,......

 The Chairman  asked Cllr Dowding

"Will you regard that as a friendly amendment?"

 Cllr Dowding said

"Madam Chairman I can't accept this as a friendly amendment because it isn't friendly. It actually just overturns the sense, the whole motion is about keeping the regulations in place....."

 At this point she was interrupted by the Chairman who shut her up, saying:

"You've said 'No'.   That's enough thank you."

She asked if Cllr Greene has a seconder but was interrupted - we think by Cllr Lewis - who said she wanted to raise a Point of Order.

There was pause (presumably whilst the Chairman consulted the Chief Executive)

 The Chairman then said

"OK. Point of Order, and can you tell me what the point of order is?"

 Cllr Lewis said

"Yes..."

 and before she could explain the Chairman again interjected

"What is it"

To periodic interruption by the Chairman who appeared to want the Standing Order reference number from the Constitution,

 Cllr Lewis continued

"....it is widely accepted that you're not allowed to negate a motion through the amendment. We have this conversation every time. It is simply poor practice."

 The Chairman said

"I'm sorry, you didn't quote anything, so I can't accept that....."

At this point we will interject ourselves, and help the Chairman and the Chief Executive to understand the Constitution they are working from in case this happens again.

In relation to the raising of a point of order during a debate, LCC's Standing Order 17 says:

"The Councillor must specify the Standing Order or law and the way in which he or she considers it has been broken."

Whilst this wording could be seen as encouraging councillors to quote the relevant reference number, it does not *require* the reference number to be given (or it would actually say it required the reference number to be given).

In relation to the Point of Order itself, we think Cllr Lewis was referring to LCC's SO 39.(3) (c) which says

"(3) An Amendment must be relevant to the Motion and shall either be:

  1. to refer the matter to an appropriate body or individual for consideration or reconsideration;
  2. to leave out a word or words;
  3. to leave out a word or words and insert or add others, or to insert a word or words

as long as the effect of leaving out and/or inserting a word or words does not amount to a direct contradiction of, or have the same effect as voting against, the motion"

At first sight, Cllr Green's amendment met the requirements for both (b) and (c), but both of these are then are subject to two further tests for compliance with the Constitution

  • Does the change in wording amount to a direct contradiction of the Motion, OR
  • Does the change in wording have the same effect as voting against the motion.

If either of these is met, then the motion is not valid within the Constitution.

We can see doubts as to whether Cllr Green's amendment might or might not pass the "is it the same as voting against" test, and we can see that decision could need the Chairman's interpretation.

But as Cllr Dowding herself said, (or tried to say), it was a direct contradiction the main point of her motion (supporting the Traffic Light System) and to our mind there was a strong case for the Chairman or the Chief Executive, or the Monitoring Officer to rule Cllr Green's amendment out of order.

Cllr Lewis could also have also pressed the Chairman with LCC's SO 39.(4) which says

"(4) The following amendments will not be accepted – those that

  1. propose such a substantial alteration of the motion as to make it a new motion
  2. are vague, vexatious or obstructive so as to impede the proper transaction of council business
  3. are irrelevant, bearing no relation to the original motion
  4. introduce a new topic"

We're pretty sure a Chairman could have chosen to decide that (a) and perhaps even (b) would have meant that Cllr Green's amendment should not have been accepted.

But when the Chairman, and the proposer of an amendment are batting for the same team, it takes a Chairman with more than average independence and strength of character to do this

And plainly, that did not happen on this occasion.

It's also sad that the Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer did not intervene to clarify matters either.

Their failure to do so made it appear the Umpire was also a member of the biggest team.

Having quickly and conveniently slid over all these considerations, the Chairman continued by temporarily 'parking' Cllr Dowding's motion, and opening debate on the amendment proposed by Cllr Green.

That's quite proper if you accept her judgement (which we don't), but by now we could see where this was going. Cllr Dowding's proposition was about to be frozen out of the debate.

 The Chairman said

"Ok, What I will do now is ask those that have indicated to speak on the notice of Motion will need to indicate again if they wish to speak on the amendment"

This began to look like yet another stitch-up.  She could simply have called for speakers to the amendment.

 She then opened the debate on the amendment.

Cllr David Whipp said it was a wrecking amendment that negated the original proposition, and it ought to be ruled out of order. But like the shenanigans last time where an undemocratic adjournment had prevented discussion altogether, this was now par for the course from the Conservative administration. The effect of the amendment was to take out any reference to the current thresholds, and that was the crucial part of the proposition.

Cllr Collinge also said it was a wrecking amendment and, unlike the original motion, it did not set out any key points in how the health and safety of residents should be secured. She said what was happening was beyond belief.

Cllr John Fillis said it was clear the Conservative Government was in the pocket of the fracking industry, and when we crash out of Europe, public regulation and protection would go with it. He said it was clear that Conservatives stood for fracking and the Fracking industry supported the Conservatives.

All shades of opinion are welcome of course, but we don't think his contribution did a lot to help (even if it did make him feel better for saying it).

 Cllr Potter said it was disgusting they were here again.   He said ...

"We've talked about the trampling of democracy in this chamber. Time and time again, a motion brought to this chamber by any of the opposition groups is absolutely trampled on and completely reversed. It is unacceptable.

We had a very frank conversation, me and Cllr Lewis, with the Chief Exec, saying this cannot be allowed to continue because we are destroying confidence in this chamber.

If I have to go outside this chamber to get some sort of resolution if this council is acting inappropriately, then we will. Because it is not acceptable that the democratic voice of this chamber can be absolutely destroyed by the majority party. This is how bad decisions get made.

And last time I spoke about this sort of incident you all took offence when I said you won't be in power very much. Well since then, you've had your worst election results since 1836. Maybe you should smell the roses. You're not the guardians of all power in this land and it is an outrage that this amendment has happened."

We thought he encapsulated most of the problem that afflicts not just Lancashire, but most likely the greater part of the councils all across the UK, and (although we don't think he set out to do so), he did generate applause from the non-conservative benches.

Cllr Howarth said the Chairman needed to recognise what was a wrecking amendment, and what wasn't and that she should rule it out. He questioned the value of the amendment asking if LCC was satisfied with everything the Government was doing, why had they removed the Government's declared intent to retain the threshold.

Cllr Gardiner said it was the same when other parties were in power, when the opposition put forward a proposal it was changed, so they should grow up and get in the real world. He also wanted it noted what each of the Councillors has said during the debate because (he said) there had been a couple of comments already of pre-determination.

Cllr Dowding was invited to respond to the amendment before it was voted on.

She said it was simply a wrecking motion and it undermined the whole sense of the fact that this was meant to be an expression of support from the whole council chamber to insist that LCC supported the actual regulations known as the Traffic Light System that are in place now.

She said the amendment did nothing to do that, and it was just weasel words and she didn't understand why the Chairman hadn't ruled it out of order, and she gave notice that she would amend the amendment.

The Chairman then took the vote on Cllr Green's amendment. Predictably it won, with 42 votes for the amendment; 34 against, and 1 abstention.

This means that the amendment was carried and became what's called the Substantive Motion (ie the latest version of what will become the final decision) and that now needed to be opened for debate and voting like any other motion.

 Cllr Dowding then proposed

an amendment to what had become Cllr Green's Substantive Motion. It was:

"Lancashire County Council resolves to write to the Energy Minister and the Prime Minister welcoming the Government's resolve to continue to prioritise public health and safety, and to keep the current Traffic Light System of seismic thresholds in monitoring the 'fracking' industry and to write to Lancashire's MPs setting out the Council's position."

Cllr Liz Oades seconded it.

Cunningly, Cllr Dowding had sought to slide the mention of the Traffic Light System back into it.

There was now a long pause whilst the Chief Executive and another officer consulted with each other off microphone.

 Eventually, the Chief Executive rose to speak and said

"I have advised the Chairman, and the Chairman has taken my advice, and my advice is that under 33 (a) that effectively brings back the original motion, and therefore rescinds the decision that has just been taken with the amendment, so my advice to the Chairman is to rule that out of order."

Oh dear, with the CE (rather than the Chairman) pronouncing on this matter, it looked even more like a put up job than it did already.

Believe it or not, we've not looked at 33.(a) so far. It says

"33. The following motions shall not be accepted by the Chief Executive:

(a) Any Motion which seeks to rescind any resolution or decision which has been passed at a meeting of the Full Council held within the preceding 12 months......"

So the Chief Executive was saying that because the decision they had just taken on Cllr Green's amendment was within the last 12 months (by only a few seconds), it could not be rescinded, so she was ruling Cllr Dowding's amendment as unacceptable.

The Chairman tried to move on, but was met with many protests, the loudest of which was a Point of Order call from Cllr David Whipp who tried to say if this was out of order, then the first amendment by Cllr Green was also out of order.

In fact the Chief Executive had cited a different Standing order to refuse to accept Cllr Dowding's amendment, and

 Cllr Whipp was rebuked by the Chairman who said

"I think you need to wash your ears out Cllr Whipp that was not what was said. It was said that it was a re-presentation of the original Notice of Motion and therefore it could not be discussed."

 Cllr Lewis was on her feet again with another Point of Order.

The Chairman again demanded the reference number which, this time, Cllr Lewis provided in a 'got you this time' tone saying  33(a)

And, quoting the start of 33(a) she began

"Any Motion which seeks to rescind any resolution or decision which has been passed....."

and then said

"We have not passed a resolution. Or made a decision. This is still the same debate. We are still considering the same motion.

You cannot have it both ways.

It is only just that Councillor Dowding has just been able to move this amendment.

And the advice that this issue has already been resolved is ridiculous because, if you were to make that ruling, you could not, in fact, continue with the original - with what is now the substantive motion - because it would already have been decided.

So you go one way, or you go the other.

But actually, Councillor Dowding's amendment is valid.

The wrecking amendment should never have been taken."

She sat down to significant applause from her colleagues, and we have to say we like this lady. It's not often you find a councillor with such a good grasp of constitutional procedures.

What she was saying is that for a decision to have been made, a Substantive Motion must have been voted on, and at that time, whilst they had just voted to make Cllr Green's amendment into a Substantive Motion, it was still a motion, and had not yet been voted on to become a Resolution.

Ergo they had not taken the decision on it as a Substantive Motion - and it remained open for debate until they did.

That being the case, it was impossible to rule Cllr Dowding's amendment out of order on the basis that they had already taken a decision on it when they had not.

Irrefutable logic - or so we thought.

The Chief Executive spoke off microphone to the Chairman again and the Chairman said she was calling a five minute adjournment whilst the points were considered.

The webcast appears to have been edited to cut the 'interval' time out, so we couldn't see who was speaking to whom on the dais, but eventually, the Chairman said the Chief Executive would explain everything.

 The Chief Executive said

"Thank you Madam Chairman. I will explain the rationale for my advice to the Chairman on both the decision to accept the original amendment, and in respect of the subsequent amendment, and that the Chairman has accepted my advice.

So the original amendment, which is now the substantive motion, it retained the proposition to write to ministers and MPs, it retained the proposition about prioritising public health and safety, but what it did do was to remove the welcoming of the thresholds.

That is an acceptable amendment because a lot of the principle stays, and it removed words as was suggested, but still kept two of the three principles there."

That's technically correct in terms of raw procedure, but in terms of common sense and logic it's entirely false.

It's about as logical as saying "Since 1950, atmospheric carbon dioxide and obesity levels have increased sharply. Hence, atmospheric carbon dioxide causes obesity."

Turning to the amendment from Cllr Dowding that she had just refused to accept, the Chief Executive said

"In terms of the revised amendment, that seeks to reinstate the reference to removing thresholds, and that effectively was the decision that was taken to remove those, in agreeing the initial amendment which is now the substantive motion.

And therefore the amendment to add that back in, does, I feel, fail the test under 33 (a) which is that any motion or amendment that feeds a decision, and we have just taken a decision to remove the reference to thresholds, by accepting the amendment, and that is why I have just advised the Chairman it's out of order and she has agreed my advice."

We believe the Chief Executive was incorrect in her advice here.

Standing Order 33 (a) says nothing at all about "any motion or amendment that feeds a decision"

Its says

"Any Motion which seeks to rescind any resolution or decision which has been passed at a meeting of the Full Council"

It makes no reference to an amendment. Nor should it do.

It makes no reference to 'feeding a decision' (whatever that is). Nor should it do.

The purpose of 33(a) is to prevent councillors from using the Notice of Motion procedure to re-open a RESOLUTION that the Council has determined within the last 12 months.

And in Council, a Resolution only becomes a resolution (or decision) when it has been voted on as a Substantive Motion. That's precisely why the substantive motion process exists.

And very clearly, this remained a substantive motion at the time the Chief Executive advised the Chairman to refuse to accept it.

However, having been beaten into submission by the combined resources of the Conservative majority and the Chief Executive, (and by now probably like some of our readers) councillors were losing the will to live in the face of a steamroller Conservative administration that was prepared to simply outvote anything they didn't like irrespective of whether it was a good or bad idea. And they mostly gave up the fight.

We can't tell if this Chief Executive simply made a mistake, and was trying to cover her tracks without being seen to back down on the incorrect advice she had given. (We have seen that happen before with an officer at Fylde), or whether the whole thing was - to use a popular word in this debate 'pre-determined' to achieve this result.

But we remain convinced it was an incorrect decision by the Chief Executive.

We also think the arguments about the risks regarding pre-determination by Development Control Committee were also wrong in this and the earlier debates and we'll explain why in a minute for those that might be interested.

But first, just to conclude the report of this meeting, the Chairman called the vote on the Substantive Motion which (predictably) was: for the Conservative Motion 38 votes; against 34, and 1 abstention.

Cllr Dowding's valiant attempt had failed; not through want of trying, not through lack of courage or persistence, but the intransigence of the majority party.

 THE MATTER OF PRE-DETERMINATION

A great play was made in the early meeting about members of LCC's Development Control Committee putting the Council at risk of legal claims if it could be held that they held pre-determined views a planning application.

Some at LCC said that if the wording of Cllr Dowding's first proposal urging maintenance of the present standards that had been agreed between Government, their regulators, and the industry, then  LCC might risk legal action when determining a fracking planning application.

What utter tosh.

Threats like this are now routinely rolled out by Chairmen and officers who want to silence dissenting voices from their preferred outcome in committee meetings.

So we're going to have a closer look.....

It is possible that there might have been changes that we don't know about since St. Eric Pickles - the greatest champion of proper democracy in Local Government - re-made many of the rules when he introduced the Localism Act.

So with that proviso (about possible subsequent legislative changes that we've not heard about) we're happy to help any councillors who feel threatened into not speaking out at meetings.

The relevant information can be found in the Localism Act 2011, Part 1 Chapter 6 Section 25

Very helpfully, this set into law what would NOT amount to pre-determination.

We give our own easy-to-read take in it below, but readers can follow this link to download the actual legislation

Basically the Act says that if an issue arises about the validity of a decision made by a local authority, and the question arises as to whether one or more members taking that decision had (or appear to have had) a closed mind (to any extent) when making the decision...

...The decision-taking member is NOT to be taken to have had a closed mind when making the decision just because they had previously done something that directly or indirectly indicated what view they took, (or would, or might take), in relation to a matter, and the matter was relevant to the decision.

Any members in doubt would need to check the current status of this Act (which we believe would override any 'Guidance' from Government) with their legal advisers of course, but we think that's a pretty good antidote to threats such as we saw here.

And apart from provisions in the Localism Act, there are a few other matters that are relevant to the issue of pre-determination at LCC.

The Traffic Light System is something agreed between Cuadrilla (and probably other fracking companies) and the Government. They implement it through advice they give to their various one-step-removed regulators who approve Hydraulic Fracturing Plans that detail how fracking will take place.

Once it is in the plan, and the plan is accepted, it becomes mandatory for the fracking company, and it must be applied.

The County Council is the Mineral Planning Authority. It has no locus in regulating fracking companies except in respect of selected aspects of the development control function.

In fact the Government has said specifically that Mineral Planning Authorities must assume that other regulators will do their work properly and they must leave those regulators to get on with it.

We will draw a brief parallel with a planning application for, say, a hotel.

When considering such an application, a Council will have to consult and consider the comments of the fire authority, the highway authority, the water and drainage authority, possibly the (alcohol, music singing and dancing) licensing authority, and a whole host of other statutory agencies.

We have never heard any suggestion that if a local authority wrote to the Government supporting regulations the Government or its regulatory agencies had made which - for example -

  • restrict the flow of drainage water to that of Greenfield run off rates, or
  •  that protected local residents from noise late at night, or
  • that required a certain type of fire doors or fire or smoke alarms to be fitted,

and that a Council writing in support of such regulations could place the council at risk of pre-determination claims.

It's utter nonsense.

But Councils like LCC are using threats of legal action (as we've seen above) as 'civic terrorism' to keep what they see as recalcitrant councillors in line.

 CONCLUSIONS

There have been several threads running through this story.

There is the simple one of an elected member trying to persuade their council to support a proposal, but being defeated because a political party chose to, (and was allowed to) use procedural tactics to prevent a vote being taken on the matter at all.

There's another about how party politics is preventing elected councillors from acting according with their conscience, and how that is destroying public faith in local councils.

There's another about Councils who now work from party political policies - not people. This is creating a yawning chasm between an electorate who still thinks of their councillor as an individual in the same way they used to think of their family doctor - i.e. before most councillors became like 'career politicians' in hock to a political party

There's another about the character and presence that senior council officers need to be able to withstand the pressure applied to them by senior politicians.

And another about political parties who think they have a right to act without seeking consensus, who think they need take no serious account of the views of others, who require tribal loyalty that is destroying consensual democracy, who impose Stalinist-style purges and exert pressure on their officers in order to suppress their perceived opponents.

As we said at the outset, it's not a pleasant story.

We wish we could be more positive about the future but we're really struggling to do so.

Local Government is slowly turning from representing local people to becoming their oppressor.

It began with the Blairite agenda  for Councils to 'lead' (rather than represent) their community - and once out of the bottle, that genie is really hard to get back in.

So can it be put back in?

Well, although we have a profound dislike of many aspects of social media, there is evidence of it's ability to reach out quickly and organise (as we are seeing in Hong Kong), and  when a tipping point is reached, people will react. So social media might well hold the seeds of change one way or another.

Something certainly needs to make a change.

Dated:  29 August 2019


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