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Obituary: David Eaves

David EavesWe're sorry to report the untimely death of former Council Leader David Eaves who died recently following a short illness.

He entered local politics in the 2007 Borough elections after successfully standing as a candidate for Ansdell ward.

The intake of new Conservative councillors of which he was part came about after a 'clearing out' of some of the old guard within the local Conservative party where de-selections and other causes had hit long serving and independent-minded councillors like Bill Thompson, Alfred Jealous, and others.

Even as a new councillor, Cllr Eaves' capability was quickly recognised by his Conservative colleagues when he was asked to chair one of the 'lesser committees' (Licensing and Public Protection) and his role there earned him significant regard amongst several of the non-conservative councillors.

By 2009 he had been invited to join the former Commissar's Cabinet, along with Cllr Susan Fazackerley and Cllr Cheryl Little.

We expressed the view at the time that this Cabinet would be short lived because the Commissar had become associated with so many bad decisions - not least the disastrous Streetscene fiasco, the botched new accounting computer, the closure of St Anne's Swimming Pool, and his white elephant scheme to provide a new Town Hall, the cost of which was spiralling out of control. These and other failings were documented in John Coombes Steps Down.

As we had predicted, this Cabinet *was* short lived.

By mid-April the following year 'Commissar' John Coombes had announced he would be standing down as Leader on 10th May 2010.

The Council's Annual Meeting shortly after that heard that David Eaves had been elected as Leader of the Conservative Group, and he was duly installed as Leader of the Council.

In local authority terms, his rise had been meteoric.

We thought at the time this was due to his apparent (and for us very welcome) willingness to work in a consensual manner, and to use common sense to guide decisions. He undoubtedly said all the right things, but we worried a bit about his lack of council experience to take the role of Council Leader so soon.

At his May 2010 inauguration, Cllr Eaves said he would like to thank all members of the Council who had elected him as leader. He said he saw it as a great challenge and he saw it as a great honour, and he thanked his colleagues for all the support he had received. He told everybody that he was passionate about Fylde and he wanted to work with every member of the council, in order to take it forward, and provide the residents of the Borough with the quality services that it deserved.

After the disastrous period with the Commissar in charge, this sounded like a breath of fresh air.

Privately, he had told us that he hoped we would see a different approach to the way the Council was run.

And true to his word, his early pronouncements were much more bridge-building and inclusive.

He signalled a willingness to work with councillors from other persuasions rather than attempting to beat them into submission. We were happy to say at the time that we looked forward to such a new direction at Fylde.

By September 2010 he had reshuffled his Cabinet. Out had gone Cllr Roger Small, replaced as Deputy Leader by Susan Fazackerley. And in what we think was Cllr Eaves' best decision, he gave Karen Buckley the Finance Portfolio. He also brought Tommy Threlfall into the Cabinet to hold the Environment portfolio.

But even then, there were early signs that he might be struggling to stamp his mark on the Conservative group - as we reported in 'Enter the Puppet-Master?'  where we said we thought others were trying to direct his agenda

Probably his greatest achievement as Leader was his decision to abandon the 7million scheme for a new Town Hall, and instead institute a more modest plan to refurbish the existing building with a maximum cash limit of 3m - all of which was to be raised by asset sales rather than borrowing. This was his own plan and self-evidently based much more on common-sense than hot air.

As one of the officers would later say

"....The schemes that we've worked-up to date, have looked at what is required, and not what we can afford - and what we're coming round to Chairman, is an option whereby we look at this building with a completely fresh pair of eyes and we look in a more pragmatic, cost-limited way, at what we absolutely have to do to stay here to make this building more fit for us in the future....." 

Privately, we formed the view that Cllr Eaves had genuinely good intentions about the way Fylde should operate, but as the weeks went by, we felt the direction he wanted to follow was being constrained by others, and he was having to adopt positions and implement group decisions with which we suspect he did not altogether agree.

These matters reached a head in 2011 when what would become the Scandal of Melton Grove entered the public domain. It was Cllr Eaves who, as Cabinet Leader, formally proposed what was probably the most shameful decision Fylde had ever taken, to sell Melton Grove housing in order to provide 300,000 as a grant to the Lytham Hall restoration project. This eventually resulted in an Ombudsman's award against the Council. We were very critical of him and his involvement in the Melton Grove scandal at this time.

Toward the end of that period there developed much dissatisfaction within the Conservative group. There was talk of a leadership challenge, and in our article 'Jumping Ship' of May 2012 we reported that one of the brightest intake of new councillors, Peter Wood was leaving the council, citing pressure of work in his business life - but we always suspected dissatisfaction with internal party wrangling played its part in someone who had shown such an optimistic and can-do outlook.

Our occasional correspondent - the Blue Mole - also gave us the inside track on the acrimony within the Conservative Group at this time. He had spoken of Cllr Eaves apparently 'being bullied into submission' at the Conservative AGM on the issue of a change of Governance for Fylde (a change which, we were told, was widely opposed by Cllrs Fazackerley, Ashton, Pounder and Buckley who pushed for no change to the then Cabinet system), despite strong arguments in support of his position having been advanced by Cllrs Redcliffe, Aitken, Goodrich, and David Eaves himself).

All of this and more, added to our sense that Cllr Eaves was intrinsically a sound man, but was unable to overcome the influence of some of the more political or ideologically driven members of his party.

We clashed with some of his decisions - or at least on the stance he publicly adopted - on several matters. Most notable amongst these were: Melton Grove; the stated unwillingness to change from the cabinet governance system back to the committee system; and, more recently as Chairman of the Operational Management Committee, on the matter of green waste subscriptions. But in all of these, we had the nagging doubt he was being obliged to advocate the voice of the Conservative group majority as though it were his own - even if he disagreed personally with it.

Such is the corrosive effect of party politics at a local level.

In October 2014, Cllr Eaves announced his resignation as Leader of the Council and was succeeded by Cllr Susan Fazackerley.

The electors of Ansdell ward rewarded his hard work for them by re-electing him their Councillor in 2015, and he retained his position on the Council until his sudden retirement in Mid April this year when - as Cllr Fazackerley told the Council - he had not picked up as well as he had hoped from some recent medical treatment.

Sadly, his decade of public service came to an untimely end

We think his time as a Leader in public office will probably be considered to have been mixed, with much of what might be called the downside having been driven by what we see as a lack of support from his party colleagues for the way he wanted to do things at Fylde. If we're correct in that view, then it's a great shame.

As a person, we found David Eaves to be a real gentleman. Unfailingly polite, courteous and considerate.

As a Chairman he conducted meetings with an apparent sense of openness and a willingness to listen to others that was rare amongst his party colleagues, and we must all be grateful to him for saving us the 7m that his predecessor had planned to spend building a new Town Hall, and for his good judgement in his appointment of the very capable Cllr Karen Buckley to the Finance portfolio which, during his tenure as Leader, saw the Council's finances restored to health after his predecessor almost ruined them.

His funeral will be on Monday 18th June at 10:30am at the White Church, Fairhaven followed by a cremation service at Lytham Park at 11.30am, and we send our condolences to his family.

Dated:  15 June 2018

 

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