Combined Authority II
This article is an update about earlier plans to have Fylde become
part of a new 'Lancashire Combined Authority'
The idea was to have been to emulate Manchester and Liverpool and have a Directly Elected Mayor running some of Lancashire's services.
The details were to have been set out in a 'Devolution Deal' to be agreed with the Government, but the headline topics usually include the Mayor taking control of
services like: strategic planning; transport; employment; economic development; health, and policing.
But it's all gone pear shaped
How this story unfolded constitutes yet another expose of Fylde's failure to work within its constitutional requirements and the law.
First we Introduce the topic and remind readers what a Combined Authority is all about. Then we have a Quick Recap of
what happened since Fylde first considered joining.
Next, we look at What has happened since our last report on this matter 12 months ago, before looking at What happened at
Council last Monday when Fylde formally withdrew.
This looks first at The Agenda Report, then What Fylde Council's Leader said about it, then at Cllr Liz Oades'
amendment before Fylde's Leader, stung by the criticism of how she had conducted the matter, Responded with the real story of what had gone on, and
how the Conservative group had 'decided' the Council should withdraw and proceeded with that decision without even asking the Council whether it agreed or not.
Finally, as usual, we offer our own Conclusions on what is yet another sorry episode in Fylde's progress.
About a year ago, we published 'Fylde and the Combined Authority'
It was the story of waxing and waning support for the idea of a Lancashire Combined Authority and the part Fylde had played in that process.
It was to be a new high-level tier of local government for Lancashire,
The concept followed similar logic to the former 'City of the Fylde' idea - arguing that by joining into a bigger local government unit, you get more powers and
responsibilities over the wider area, you have bigger budgets to manage, and you become much more 'important'.
Our readers will immediately see the attraction this sort of idea would hold for any power-hungry civic leaders.
And for aspirant civic leaders, part of the attraction of having a Combined Authority might have been that - at least so far - all have been run by a single 'Directly
Elected Mayor' who had supercharged powers and authority.
Our own take is that enlargement of a Local Government unit size damages proper democratic representation, making it more remote, and it usually imposes greater party-voting
discipline on individuals who are elected.
(Hardly any Parish Councillors stand on behalf of a political party, they are elected as individuals on their personal reputation and
But that personal independence of action becomes more and more subsumed into party politics as the unit size increases.
Supporters of Directly Elected Mayors argue (technically correctly) that Mayors are also elected as individuals rather than as representatives of national political parties.
They say that unlike local authority leaders (who are selected - and can be de-selected - by their local party group), a directly elected mayor is not dependent on a
political party for their appointment.
They say that, having been elected as an individual by the residents of their city region, they are accountable to them, rather than councillors or party members.
This is a cleverly spun argument, and is true as far as it goes. But what it fails to say is that the cost of mounting an election campaign for a Directly Elected Mayor is
so great, that only a well-funded political party stands any chance of getting its chosen candidate elected.
For example, the former John Lewis boss who became the (Conservative) West Midlands Mayor for 2.8 million electors told 'The Guardian' of his campaign....
".....I haven’t spent quite a million, but I have spent a substantial amount more than my opponents and actually I think that’s OK...."
This *is* an exceptionally large amount, and was only possible because most of his promotional literature was produced and distributed before the spending limit rules
We looked for, couldn't find, the election expenses returns for Liverpool or Manchester Mayors yet, but our own (much smaller) Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner
elected in November 2012 had a similar sort of funding issue - albeit on a smaller scale.
But even here. individuals find it very expensive to fund a campaign that will give them any chance of being elected.
The most that any Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner candidate was allowed to spend on their 2012 campaign was £201,729.
In fact, total spending (by any candidate) was nowhere near the £200k maximum. But it was still more than most individuals would be willing or able to risk:
|Labour's Clive Grunshaw
(20mph) Tim Ashton
|Liberal Afzal Anwar
|UKIP's Rob Drobny
*(This probably means he was a 'paper candidate' i.e. almost no campaigning, just an option to choose them on the ballot paper)
The level of campaign spending required is why Directly Elected Mayors, Police Commissioners, (and similar American imports) are chosen and campaign funded by, (and thus in
our view are primarily beholden to), a Political Party, even where that party is unable to remove them from office during their term.
However political parties can effectively 'de-select' a Mayor - not by voting to formally de-select them, but by choosing not to fund their election campaign next time
What this 'funding de-selection process' does, is hide the party political control out of plain sight.
It becomes a covert (rather than a transparent) pressure for Directly Elected Mayors to encourage them to comply with the party line.
So, as regular readers will know, we're not in favour of concentrating power in one person's hands at any time, and especially not when those hands are bound by campaign
costs that require the funding from a Political Party.
So at least partly because a Combined Authority generally brings with it a Directly Elected Mayor, we were critical of Fylde who, at their meeting of April 2016, decided to
become a member of a proposed new 'Lancashire Combined Authority'
Fylde's Cabinet in agreed with a report from Fylde's Chief Executive and resolved
"to approve the Council participating in a review of governance arrangements, and discussions towards the establishment of a Combined Authority for Lancashire."
A year later Fylde Council voted to support Cllr Susan Fazackerley's request to continue with the idea, and resolved (inter alia) to agree to take part in the public
consultation on the formation of a Combined Authority for Lancashire, and to agree in principle to becoming a constituent member of the combined authority for Lancashire.
Readers can follow this link for Fylde Council's Agenda report
The public consultation claimed just short of 2,000 responses (out of a population of 1,191,691). That means 0.16% responded. A quarter of those responses (518) were
actually local authority employees. (Think job prospects and salary increases in a bigger authority).
Resident responses (as opposed to council staff, businesses, and organisations) totalled 1,317 (That's just a response of just 0.11% from Lancashire residents), and is
hardly a ringing endorsement.
But the consultation report set out to convince, and omitted or disregarded the negative views it received (we sent some pretty negative comments ourselves). Readers can
follow this link to download the full report and see for themselves.
At Council on 11 April 2016 the Leader of Fylde's Conservative group, Cllr Susan Fazackerley, proposed that Fylde should become a member of the New Combined Authority. She said
Fylde being a member of the Combined Authority was the only game in town, and concluded....
"I will advocate that members support the recommendations in the report this evening to ensure that Fylde has a voice in Lancashire and is able to influence the shape or
regional policy and governance over the coming years."
Cllr Mrs Oades spoke against joining and, although we spotted two Conservatives who (unusually) abstained from supporting Cllr Fazackerley's recommendation (Cllr Cornah and
the very promising but sadly lost Cllr Richard Taylor who went to work abroad), Fylde's overall Conservative majority carried the vote and, after noting the report and
consultation result, Fylde Council's Resolution included the following:
3. Fylde Council agreed to become a constituent member of a Lancashire Combined Authority and submit proposals to do so to the Secretary of State;
4. In the interim period, Fylde Council agreed to form a shadow Lancashire Combined Authority; and
5. Any proposals for a Devolution Deal with the Government be brought back to Council for agreement.
At this point, these three decisions became the policy of Fylde Council on the matter of the Combined Authority.
Officers issued a glowing press release about this decision, saying that all of Lancashire’s 12 district councils – apart from Wyre, Lancashire County Council,
Blackburn-with-Darwen Council, and Blackpool Council, had already backed the Combined Authority plan. Six more were to give final approval at meetings in the next two weeks.
Readers will see here that (at least at this time) the was clear enthusiasm from both Fylde's Conservative Majority and from the Dear Leader - Cllr Fazackerley herself.
But as it turned out, it wasn't going to be plain sailing.
In July 2016, Blackpool's Cabinet Leader (Cllr Simon Blackburn) was elected chairman of the new Shadow Authority. He said
"Lancashire must now move toward a combined authority and an elected mayor or it will miss out on vital Government support...."
Oh Dear! That put the cat amongst the pigeons.
He later went on to say:
"There is a huge amount of work to be done before we get a decision on an elected Mayor, but there should be one, because we don't want to get left behind. Whether I am the
right person for that job we will have to wait and see"
That didn't much improve things.
If that's his stated public view, we leave our readers to imagine what he thought in private.
And later still
"What happens now is that I (as Chair of the Shadow Combined Authority) and others will enter into detailed talks with the Government to see what agreement we can reach on
the devolution of money and power over five key policy areas - housing, connectivity (so that's transport and digital connectivity), prosperity, health and skills."
But by now, Wyre's Cllr Peter Gibson had publicly spoken out against the idea. And Wyre (and we think also Ribble Valley) had decided not to participate. In January 2017
Wyre's Cllr Gibson said
'Wyre will continue to stand up against a Lancashire combined authority."
Foolishly (in our view), Fylde was still bound by its (Conservative led) policy to become a member of the Combined Authority.
But then something of a civic furore broke out.
In a Parliamentary Committee debate about new transport regulations, Fylde's Mark Menzies MP asked a complicated question about transport spending commitments made by
constituent authorities within a Combined Authority, explaining....
"....I ask that because in Lancashire, where we have a shadow combined authority, Wyre has not taken part, my own council Fylde has decided to withdraw and at least another
three local authorities are now at various stages of deciding that a combined authority is really not for them...."
This was at least, tricky for him.
Fylde's adopted policy was to become a member of the Combined Authority, and here he was saying the Council had decided to withdraw from it.
It subsequently became apparent that he was reflecting - not the views of Fylde Council - but the majority view of Fylde's Conservative group who appeared to have changed
their mind on whether to be members of the Combined Authority or not.
Fylde's Dear Leader provided some much needed clarification the next day, saying:
"....Our MP and other Lancashire Conservatives have shared their views with the Conservative Group and, as further details emerge, the leading group is unconvinced regarding
the benefits for Fylde of progressing with membership of the Lancashire Combined Authority....”
But the procedural difficulty remained unresolved.
In a Committee system (which both Fylde and Ribble Valley operate), a Council Leader, (or a political group, or an MP) has no power to take any decision on behalf of the
Council. (Unless the power to take that decision has been formally delegated to them by the Full Council).
But in the Cabinet Systems operated by councils throughout the rest of Lancashire, this situation is reversed. The Leader takes all the decisions alone (unless they delegate
them to other individuals).
In a Cabinet system, the Leader *IS* 'the Council' - and the Full Council meeting may not overrule the Leader's decisions. It is a truly awful system.
Unfortunately, Fylde's Conservatives (many of whom cut their teeth as Councillors under a Cabinet System) seem to be struggling to adapt to the Committee System they were
required to implement by public referendum, and they seem to keep forgetting that whilst they have a majority, it is only the Full Council meeting can take decisions.
Cllr Fazackerley must have been warned about the dangers in what Mr Menzies had said, because the following day she tried to explain it away and added
"The final decision, of course, will be made by full council."
Only two matters of significance followed this debacle.
Wyre's Cllr Peter Gibson welcomed Fylde's decision (which of course was, in fact, not yet a decision because it had not been passed in a Council meeting). He said that as he
had expected, more and more Councils were deciding not to join into a Combined Authority, adding:
“I understand the devolution part of a combined authority has been shelved, so that effectively means a CA is dead.”
If this was accurate, then we had a situation where it was Conservative Government policy to create Combined Authorities and Directly Elected Mayors, but this was being
rejected by the two Conservative Councils in Lancashire (possibly three including Ribble Valley), a view that was seemingly supported by our Conservative MP.
We thought that was quite a confusing state of affairs
Readers shouldn't get us wrong on this. We were delighted that Fylde might not be joining in a Combined Authority, but we are something of a stickler for proper procedure,
and proper procedure certainly wasn't being followed here.
The next main event was that Cllr Blackburn (whose potential new job as Leader of the new Combined Authority was evaporating as he watched) took a leaf out of the 'George
Osborne and Mark Carney Encyclopaedia of Project Fear' and threatened that if the Coastal Authorities didn't join, there would have to be another look at re-incarnating the
disastrous 'City of the Fylde' idea.
As we said at the time "Frankly, the idea of a Conservative Government forcing what are almost the only blue constituencies in Lancashire into an unwanted Unitary Council
with Blackpool is wholly preposterous."
We concluded our previous (March 2017) article saying "We expect that in the fairly near future, Fylde's Dear Leader will bring an item to a meeting of the Full Council to
withdraw Fylde from the Combined Authority, or to effect some sort of affiliate status."
And that indeed, albeit a year later, is what has just happened.
But before we report that, we need to bring readers up to date with what's happened on this matter in the last 12 months.
WHAT'S HAPPENED SINCE?
Well, like Fylde's own Dear Leader, Mr Menzies was quick to tidy up his previous comment, saying
"I would like to congratulate Fylde's Conservative group on the decision to play no further part in the Lancashire Combined Authority. The final decision will have to go
before Full Council"
Then in September 2017, Blackpool's Cllr Simon Blackburn said there was a new offer on the cards, and the Combined Authority could yet arise - Phoenix-like - from the ashes of
the old one.
He told Blackpool Council that he'd had a letter from the Northern Powerhouse Minister (DON'T get us started on that one!), Jake Berry saying that the offer of a
'non-Directly-Elected-Mayor Combined Authority' was now on the table.
So Cllr Blackburn was organising another meeting of Lancashire Leaders to re-consider the idea in October.
One thing our readers can be sure of, is that when Government makes concessions like this, you needs to read the small print very carefully. If Government are this keen, it
must be something to save them cash and cost locals more.
Then there was one more small pinprick to the idea of the Combined Authority when on the Sunday Politics North West on 5th November it was reported that Mayors from Manchester
and Liverpool joined other Mayors from across the country, together with the current London Mayor, at a meeting in London. (We're sure our readers will see where this sort of
thing could lead!)
But it emerged at this meeting that, far from holding the budget and being responsible for transport in their Northern fiefdoms, 'Whitehall Mandarins' has let it be known
that the Parliamentary Bill covering what was going to be the new transport authority (Oh where's 'Brenda from Bristol' when you need her) called 'Transport for the North' said
that 'Transport for the North' would only have "advisory powers."
The implication being that the North wasn't getting the big wodge of cash everyone had expected (probably with some justification, because Transport for London oversees a
budget of £10 billion).
We saw this as an early crack starting to show in the concept of Combined Authorities being a benefit to their areas.
Back in Fylde, Cllr Blackburn's October meeting came and went with no further public news until....
In November it became public knowledge that the plan for the Combined Authority had been dealt a mortal blow when, at the October meeting, Fylde, Wyre, Ribble Valley and Lancashire County Council
all said they were out of the running for being part of it.
And although Blackpool's Cllr Simon Blackburn put a brave face on it and said he would see if the Government would go ahead with only 11 of the 15 Councils signing up, it
was widely believed they would not do so, and all 15 were required to participate for it to go ahead.
At the end of November, the Gazette did a double page spread on the matter.
They set out the history of the bid, and reported the Chamber of Commerce calling for Councils to put
aside their differences, and focus on creating opportunities for Lancashire.
They also reported the creation of an "Economic Prosperity Board" (We'll have more to say about that in a future article), but it was being touted as the Fylde Coast
authorities' version of a Combined Authority.
It's nothing of the sort.
It's the latest incarnation of what began life as 'Re:Blackpool' - a regeneration company set up to deliver the so-called Blackpool Masterplan.
Basically Re:Blackpool was a partnership between the former North West Development Agency, which, in 2006, was a ten year old regionally-based conglomerate of all the
previous Government regeneration agencies (which had lots of money), and Blackpool Council, (which claimed not to have any money).
Blackpool's big idea for using the Government's money at that time, was a three pronged programme involving a Casino and Conference and Leisure facilities on
the old Central Station site; the redevelopment of the North Station area for civic facilities, courts and new retail outlets; and the 'People's Playground' which included
re-vamped open spaces on the promenade and in other areas.
As we all know, Blackpool's casino scheme bet on red, but it came up black.
So Re:Blackpool morphed into a 'vehicle' (as they called it) for a 'new company' to be formed.
But as far as we can tell, Re:Blackpool simply changed its name to "Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Economic Development Company Limited" before the North West Development Agency
(who had the money) left the partnership, and Wyre, Fylde and Lancashire County Councils (none of whom had very much in the way of money) joined.
We covered all this in 'Company Formation' on 1 April 2010 (yes, really) and in 'Decisive Company'
on 8th April
That organisation lasted from February 2010 to June 2010 before it briefly became 'LCC Nameholdco Ltd' - until in 2011 when it was 're-branded' as 'The Blackpool Bay
This incarnation lased longer than any of the others (actually until 2015) but it has now changed yet again.
It has ceased to be a private limited company, and has now become a local government 'Joint Committee' which will call itself 'The Economic Prosperity Board'
Having had more name changes than a marriage-minded gold-digger, we wouldn't have been surprised if all the money they held had already been spent on new letterheads,
vehicle liveries and door nameplates.
But, more seriously, what it does make us remember, is that when you want to hide something with a dodgy reputation, you simply change its name and hope no-one will remember
the previous one. (Just like Winscale became Sellafield after the big radiation problem, and Fylde's Streetscene Department became the 'Waste and Fleet Services' Department after Dim
Tim's Sreetscene reported an unprecedented loss of £700,000 for Fylde taxpayers).
But now, those behind this latest incarnation have called it the Economic Prosperity Board, and Blackpool's Cllr Simon Blackburn was seeking to show that this second-best
alternative is at least somewhere. He told the Gazette:
"The EPB will not be fund holding authority and it cannot draw down powers and resources like a Combined Authority, nevertheless, I believe this is a positive step forward
for the Fylde Coast and its economic prospects"
As one of our former local readers (now reading in Scotland) would have said "Yeah, right!"
But since the last election, we have a more boisterous (Conservative controlled) Lancashire County Council set on doing the same sort of thing.
As the new Conservative administration at County Hall drove the final nail into the coffin of the Combined Authority when it too withdrew, LCC's current Leader (Cllr Geoff Driver) told
the same Gazette reporter:
"Frankly, Lancashire County Council is going to be a major player in the Northern Powerhouse whether we have the Combined Authority or not.
I am Chairman of 'Transport for Lancashire' and I'm on the 'Transport for the North' Board. The other authorities have got to decide whether they want to be a big player..."
He stopped short of saying he was a Very Stable Genius as well, but, well, readers will get the drift.
The last sentence in the double page spread was a lovely little one liner:
"Fylde Council declined to comment"
That's probably because (unknown to almost anyone else at that time) Fylde was up to its neck in yet another governance cock-up regarding its part in the Combined Authority
We know this now, because the full story was prodded and poked out of Fylde's Dear Leader Cllr Susan Fazackerley at Council last Monday by a question and amendment from
Queen Elizabeth Oades.
SO WHAT HAPPENED AT COUNCIL?
THE AGENDA REPORT
Fylde's 5th February 2018 agenda report for the Combined Authority item gave the background and history of previous decisions (much as we have done above).
The actual report (which was prepared and delivered by the Leader of Fylde Council) said progress had been slow and there had been a lot of concern about the prospect of a
directly elected mayor and the Combined Authority being seen as an additional layer of local government.
It also suggested there had been disagreements between constituent parties to the Shadow Combined Authority regarding transport infrastructure and regional planning.
This sounds like there was quite a bit of stuff they couldn't agree on anyway.
Noting there had been no successful application to the Secretary of State, and no proposal for a devolution deal, the report went on to say that
".... at least one local
authority has not been engaged in the process and several, whilst remaining nominally members of the Shadow Combined Authority, have adopted a watching brief including Fylde."
This of course is inaccurate. Fylde's 2016 resolution:
"Fylde Council agreed to become a constituent member of a Lancashire Combined Authority and submit proposals to do so to the Secretary of State;"
Is clearly more than a watching brief. It is a commitment to join.
The agenda report added
" It is also not possible to report to this Council any tangible benefits that have emerged for Fylde as a result of being a member of the Shadow Combined Authority."
And after expressing disappointment, it concluded
"Fylde should withdraw as a member of the Shadow Combined Authority in order to focus resources on working with Lancashire colleagues to consider alternative arrangements
for working together on strategic regional issues."
The formal recommendations to Council were therfore:
1. Fylde Council no longer agrees to be a constituent member of the Lancashire Combined Authority in its current form or be part of the Shadow Combined Authority.
2. That after over two years of planning the Combined Authority model has failed to gain the necessary unanimous support amongst all Lancashire Authorities and is unlikely
to do so
3. That Fylde Council continues to work with all Lancashire authorities to establish alternative options for working together on strategic regional initiatives.
So that was the printed, formal position. (Readers can follow this link to see the whole agenda item)
THE DEAR LEADER INTRODUCES THE ITEM
In introducing the report, the Dear Leader put a bit more flesh on the bones of what had happened, and we've selected and reproduced some of her oration. (Readers should be
able to see the whole of it on Fylde Council's YouTube channel once the technical chaps have uploaded it)
She said Wyre had not attended any of the meetings, but she had done.
She said it had not been plain sailing and a number of issues had been very controversial, with constituent parties having differing - and sometimes competing - priorities.
She said this would likely be determined by a vote on party political lines. (And of course, areas of deprivation such as Blackpool and East Lancs are very likely to elect
those espousing Labour values and policies, and the minority of less deprived Conservative councils (like Fylde and Ribble Valley, and sometimes Wyre) that would exist within a
Combined Authority would be out-voted all the time.)
"About a year ago, the Conservative Group on this Council felt they could no longer support membership of Lancashire Combined Authority given the issues to which I have
I made no secret of this fact at the Shadow CA meetings, and always made it plain that although officially still on board, Fylde withdrawing from the CA was a strong
possibility. I said that I would be happy to continue to attend these meetings if the other Leaders on the Shadow Combined Authority were happy with that......"
".....However, there is now a loss of confidence in the benefits to Fylde in supporting the creation of a Lancashire CA amongst the leading group, and so I am proposing the
recommendation on page 41 of the order papers to rescind this."
She then read out the resolutions one by one and for the first she stressed the words 'in its current from' within recommendation 1, noting that this form of words would not
preclude Fylde being involved in any future discussions if the situation were to change. She suggested in such circumstances Fylde might want to change its mind again.
She also said recommendation 3 was most important as it stressed Fylde's commitment to continue to be involved in finding an alternative option for Lancashire to work
together on strategic regional initiatives.
She then proposed the recommendations, and they were seconded by Cllr Karen Buckley.
QUEEN ELIZABETH OADES SPEAKS
Cllr Liz Oades had something to say about Recommendation 3.
She said it needed more information so the Council could see what alternatives there might be, adding...
"The Constitution is quite clear that under the Committee System, the Leader has no powers, and cannot act without the express permission of full Council.
I therefore request, and move, that another recommendation be added as No 4, and it is that:
A mechanism be put in place to ensure that in future, any decisions which need to be made in conjunction with Lancashire colleagues, and relating to alternative arrangements
for strategic regional issues be reported to full council, before decisions are made."
She was seconded by Cllr Linda Nulty.
There was something akin to panic on the faces of some of the less experienced Conservative councillors.
Nervous glances were shot toward the Leader and Cllr Buckley to try
to establish which way they were supposed to vote on this amendment.
No-one wanted to speak to or debate the amendment, so the Mayor went to the vote.
It was - as expected - along party lines: 14 in favour of the amendment and 26 against. Queen Elizabeth's amendment was therefore declared to be lost, and the meeting moved
toward a vote on the Dear Leader's previous motion as set out on the agenda.
That motion once again became open for debate or further amendment.
Queen Elizabeth was on her feet again, saying
"Can I therefore ask the Leader how she intends to report back to this Council - not to the Conservative Group - but to this Council to make sure that we are all aware of
what's going on in any discussions, because what's happened in the past has been disgraceful.
I realise that the Conservatives have a majority in here and they can outvote us every time. However, we are all equally elected, and we should be kept informed what's going
on. So again, I would like the Leader to answer how she's going to keep us informed of what's going on."
Cllr Nulty supported what Cllr Mrs Odes had said, adding that she had been told by several people that Fylde were pulling out of the Combined Authority and had had to reply
'Well that's news to me'
What you see here dear reader is the untrammelled arrogance of party political power in action.
Cllr Oades is perfectly right to complain that the Council is being abused and disrespected by the tactics the Conservative group are adopting.
The Conservative leadership (at least), clearly regard anyone outside their own group as irrelevant. They know they can out vote all other elected councillors - and do so, sometimes
apparently ignoring constitutional propriety - and even decent civic manners - to demonstrate their 'power'.
If you think about the reality of what has just happened, the Conservative group had just banded together and voted to refuse to comply with the Council's own Constitution
and the law - which requires all decisions to be taken (or delegated to others) by the full Council.
And Fylde's officers sat dumb in the meeting and simply watched this happen.
We are being very badly served by their unwillingness to maintain proper democratic and constitutional accountability in Fylde.
And this is not the first time by any manner of means.
We can only conclude they must believe in only one law, the law of pragmatism: there is no law; no standard or protocol they should maintain; there is only what can be got away
And with possession of an overwhelming majority vote, unless someone is prepared to mount a costly legal challenge, the Conservative group routinely demonstrated they can,
and are, getting away with whatever they want.
THE DEAR LEADER'S RESPONSE
In response to Cllr Oades' question, Cllr Fazackerley responded, saying
"Having jotted down Cllr Oades' comments, I'll just go through them in the order.
First of all, I have no more information on alternative options. There is no ... as far as I know, and I attend all meetings, no alternatives have been suggested as yet.
I do intend to continue attending these meetings, so that we know what is happening and Fylde is represented there, and no decision.... my fellow Leaders on the Shadow
Combined Authority are fully aware that when I've expressed.... we've talked about what the groups, not just what the Councils have decided, we've talked about what the groups
have decided and as Mrs Oades has said, the Fylde Conservative Group have a clear majority on this Council, and if we come to a conclusion about the possible way forward, erm,
it then would be discussed at Full Council, and no decisions are made and I have made that clear on several occasions at the Combined Authority."
Then, the real core of the problem became clear. This has not - to date - been public knowledge. She said:
"There was a difficult situation at the October meeting.
When we went into the meeting, and Simon Blackburn, without any preamble or explanation, or giving anybody a chance
to speak more than one word, asked if each of the Leaders was going to support the erm, Shadow Combined Authority going forward, Yes or No.
Now, knowing as I do, the mind and feelings of the Conservative group, when I was asked that question, what did I say, Yes or No?
I had to say No.
Particularly as the rest of the members were fully aware of what I had said in the past, that officially we're In, but the Conservative Group is agin it (sic), so more than
likely that we will be withdrawing. But they knew full well that officially we were still In.
Because I was placed in that difficult position, I did write to Cllr Oades and Cllr Ford the day after that meeting, to explain why I had to take that position of saying
what I had said, and I did get responses from both of them. (a few inaudible words at this point).
I can't really say any more about that. I do understand that as Leader of a committee system authority that my wings are well and truly clipped, and I would be disappointed
if people thought that I did (unclear word: use?) my position of Leader in an inappropriate way.
I suppose the answer to the forum where people hear what's going on, what people are talking about, as Cllr Buckley has said, is Full Council and that's why it's on tonight's
And whether it's acceptable or not, we shall see.
I think that probably it will be because, for better or for worse, you're stuck with a Conservative majority at the moment and that's politics I suppose.
So that is all I have to say."
Our readers will no doubt from their own conclusions from this.
The vote was as per the order paper, and was (not unexpectedly) carried with 29 votes for, 5 against, and 5 abstentions for Cllr Fazackerley's proposition.
And with that the agenda item at Council ended.
OUR OWN CONCLUSIONS
We're very happy that Fylde is not going to be part of either the Shadow, or the proposed Combined Authority.
It was always going to be a bad idea. Joining Fylde in with areas of deprivation that necessarily have, and require, a wholly different culture is a really bad idea.
(Readers wanting more info why we argue this, should look at and around the table we prepared in the right hand column of our article
City Sickers in March 2007 - where we
compared a lot of statistical data illustrating the competing and conflicting status and needs of Fylde and Blackpool residents).
That said, we are still a bit worried if the Dear Leader is going to carry on going to the Shadow Combined Authority meetings.
Given that her own proposition to Council said "Fylde Council no longer agrees to be a constituent member of the Lancashire Combined Authority in its current form or be part
of the Shadow Combined Authority." and the Council vote resolved this wording as its new policy, we struggle to see what authority she would have to attend such meetings when
Fylde has explicitly resolved NOT to be part of it.
And on a lesser note, we also wonder how, given that same decision, attendance at these meetings could still be classed as an 'Approved Duty' for which expenses could be
claimed by councillors from Fylde who did attend.
But we are even more unhappy about the *way* decisions are now being taken at Fylde.
Examples of this failing are catalogued throughout these pages.
They illustrate the contempt and disdain that Fylde's Conservative Group has for those outside it's own fold.
Cllr Fazackerley said she wrote to explain the position to Cllr Mrs Oades and Cllr Ford, but she appears not to have considered it worth contacting to the Labour councillor, or
the two Individually Non-Aligned Councillors, or two ratepayer Councillors, and her presumption that Cllr Oades leads a political party is also incorrect. Cllr Oades may be a
pre-eminent voice amongst them, but the Independent Councillors are all just that, Independent. If she wrote to anyone she should have emailed all the non conservative councillors to
But even that would have been wrong, because it disrespects the authority of the Full Council which must, by law, take decisions such as this. So at the very least, she should
have reported the incident to the next available meeting of Full Council and sought retrospective authority for what she said.
Her overall majority would undoubtedly have carried the vote in any case, but doing so would have accorded proper respect and authority to the full Council meeting.
But she chose to do otherwise.
The Conservative Group still appear comfortable in taking the real decisions out of the public gaze behind closed doors.
They have been allowed to re-define what ought to be Sub-committees as Conservative-only 'Working Groups' for the explicit purpose of circumventing the legal requirement
that decision-taking bodies such as Sub-Committees must mirror the overall political balance of the Council.
They appear to hold that taking a decision within a political group is OK, so long as you don't call it a decision at the time, and you eventually launder it through Council or a
committee, even if that does also involve using your party majority to push it through and it's a year after you actually took the decision.
Well it is not 'OK'.
And what it really demonstrates is contempt for proper democracy.
It is an approach well illustrated by the likes of Cllr Tim Ashton who is usually very quiet in Council these days, but based on his previous form is likely to be
one of the prime architects of the hard line we now see his party implement.
We recall hearing him in debate a year or two ago where he argued vigorously AGAINST seeking a consensus view in Council.
In effect he was saying 'We're in power, we've got the majority, and we will say what happens. We don't need to consider anyone else's view'
The arrogance of this way of behaving takes our breath away. It's as though those espousing it believe they have a monopoly on knowledge as well as votes.
Furthermore, we believe Cllr Fazackerley is entirely wrong to say "...and that's politics I suppose."
She is wrong because politics does not necessitate arrogance, bullying, selfishness, and lack of respect for the views of others who are elected with equal stature. But most
especially, she is wrong because it does not necessitate disrespect of the institution of the Council itself.
At the Council meeting, she was speaking as the Leader of the Council, not the Leader of the Conservative Group, but she seems wholly unable to separate these roles - as
evidenced by her own admission.
She straddled two horses at the same time. The Council one said they were members of the CA and the Party Political one said they were not. She either could not, or did not,
separate these roles.
And when push came to shove, she decided to use the party-political answer - which she had not even had the manners to put before the full Council
The right response for her to make to Cllr Blackburn at the October meeting would - of course - have been to challenge his assumption that she was required to give him a yes/no answer at all.
And she should have refused to do so.
Or better still, 12 months previous, when it became clear that a majority of the Conservative Group had changed its mind (around mid February 2017) she should have reported
that position to the Full Council meeting of either 2 March or 3 April and asked the Council whether it wanted to withdraw from the Shadow CA or not.
However, as dissatisfied as we are with the way the Conservative group is behaving, we have even greater concern that those charged with ensuring proper governance at Fylde
are failing to do so.
Fylde's officers - who should be ensuring compliance with the law and Fylde's Constitution - appear ready to abandoned their responsibility to deliver even-handed treatment
for all Councillors of whatever (or no) political persuasion.
They failed to intervene with constitutional advice in this Council meeting when the Conservative majority voted against Cllr Mrs Oades' amendment that simply sought to apply the
requirements of their own Constitution that the Council should be informed of policy decisions before such decisions are taken, and that the full council must take those
By this default, they have failed to uphold Fylde's constitution.
They also failed to act back in 2017, when the decision not to participate was taken and stated by the Conservative Group without the authority of the Council.
So in this matter, we believe they still have three questions to answer.
1. Did what Cllr Fazackerley say to the Shadow Combined Authority constitute a decision that she, or her group, had taken? and
2. If so, did she, or her group, have authority to take it on behalf of the Council? and
3. If not, how can the decision she, or the group, took, be in compliance with the law that requires such decisions to be taken by the Full Council?
And 12 months after the event, we hope they don't try to wriggle out yet again by saying, 'well it has just been to full council, so it has just been approved by the council
so that's OK'.
Such weasel words would only further exacerbate the perception of their failings.
Dated: 9 February 2018