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FBC and Lytham Institute

FBC and Lytham Library and InstituteThis time, we're looking at a turbulent and pretty awful Fylde Council meeting at the end of March, where a unwelcome debate on Lytham Institute and Library had been forced onto the agenda.

Emulating Theresa May's 'Brexit' stance, Fylde's Cllr Susan Fazackerley stonewalled every attempt to discover information about what's happening with the Institute and the move of the Library to the Assembly Rooms.

SYNOPSIS
We begin with an Introduction that reprises our last article and notes two significant events since we published it.

Next we introduce some aspects of the Institute and Library that had been pushed onto the Agenda of Fylde's Council Meeting of 25th March, before looking at  a Question from Cllr Elaine Silverwood - which was stonewalled by Fylde's Conservative Group leader Susan Fazackerley.

Next was the time for Public Questions and we report a Question about the Institute from Mr Brian Turner, which was also stonewalled.

Next came a 'Notice of Motion' from Cllr Tim Ashton. In effect this is a form of proposition made by an individual councillor. He started speaking as a Councillor, shifted gear to be come a ranting politician, then presented a sales pitch for Lytham Town Trust to take over the Institute.

He was followed by Cllr Roger Lloyd who proposed an amendment that the matter should be debated by the Tourism and Leisure Committee after Fylde's officers had reported to it. Ridiculously, that was voted down.

Next, Conservative Group Leader Cllr Susan Fazackerley proposed an amendment of her own (which in effect was to do nothing for a while) and which Cllr Liz Oades managed to include a future report to the Council.

Having completed the debates on the subject, we Take Stock and try to interpret what it all means, before, under the heading 'And There's More', we look at another aspect that has been missed by Fylde an aspect of the Council's failure that is fundamental to all this turmoil.

We conclude with a brief note of a Meeting of the Friends of Lytham Library and Institute which we will address in more detail in a future article.

 

 INTRODUCTION

In the 'Lytham Institute / Library Building' section of our February 'Snippets' article, we broke news of the legal opinion given to Fylde Council and the Charity Commission by eminent charity law barrister Francesca Quint.

She had said that Fylde Council did not own the Lytham Institute and Library building as an asset it could dispose of, but rather, they it held it on Charitable Trusts, and that would prevent the Council from selling it.

The essence of this argument is that Fylde have always held the building in trust for local people.

It is not 'theirs' to sell.

Toward the end of our last article we gave a summary of the experience and credibility of Mrs Quint with regard to charity law.

We said that in our view, she is certainly one of - if not the very top of - the, charity law barristers in the UK, and she is well known to both the Charity Commission and the Attorney General (who, in the name of the public, conducts legal action (if necessary) against those who fail to register a charitable trust with the Charity Commission).

Fylde have the right to contest the claim that it is a Charitable Trust, and we know they did so.

Having had one barrister's opinion some years ago which said (or at least which Fylde chose to interpret as having said) that Fylde owned Lytham Institute as a disposable asset, they have now sought another barrister's opinion in the hope of being able to contest Mrs Quint's recent opinion.

Fat Chance - in our view.

In fact, we've recently heard that Fylde's 'second opinion' arrived with them on 5th April.

But so far, we've heard nothing about it from them, and they're refusing to release the new opinion they have just obtained.

That's not altogether unusual - because often, there are two or more commercial interests to a dispute, and both use barrister's opinions to selectively bolster their cases in court or somewhere, and you wouldn't want the weaknesses in your case being exposed to the 'opposition'.

If that happened, it could end up costing lots of cash, and if one of the parties was a Council, it's taxpayers cash that gets spent.

But this is not a case involving commercial transactions.

Here - if you think about it - the 'opposition' - that Fylde don't want to disclose its new opinion to, is actually us - the public, who pay their salaries and allowances.

So their secrecy is really nothing more than an attempt to prevent the people that elected them, the people to whom they are accountable, (and the people whose votes they are currently soliciting), from knowing what the real facts of the matter are as has been told to Fylde.

Readers can be forgiven for thinking that the mindset that refuses to disclose the opinion in such circumstances is actually a case of 'Fylde Versus the People'.

And as readers will see from this article, it is chiefly Fylde Conservative group that are hiding this matter from the public.

We have no doubt Fylde will be shown to be wrong in this matter, and they will have to accept that the property *is* held by them on Charitable Trusts.

But two significant things have happened since our last article on Lytham Institute.

A motion about it was proposed and debated at a Fylde Council meeting at the end of March, and a fairly stormy meeting of the Friends of Lytham Institute took place in Lytham.

The rest of this article deals with what's been happening at Fylde; we're still working on the article about the Friends' meeting.

 FYLDE COUNCIL MEETING 25th MARCH 2019

Although not officially an agenda item with an officer report, this turned out to be a very significant Council meeting for the Institute, and a lot of time was devoted to it.

Readers with a particular interest in either the Institute or the way the majority Conservative group runs the Council can see for themselves - because all the debate is available on the Council's You Tube video channel

Whilst you get the full impact and the intonations from watching the video from start to finish, in order to assist those who have limited time available, we've transcribed the key points in the debate.

We've also provided the starting time of the video segments at relevant points within the text of this article.

Although there were no officer reports on the Institute, there was a 'Notice of Motion' which had been submitted in the name of Cllr Tim Ashton. It was up for debate at Item 8 and it said:

'Following legal advice obtained by the Lytham St Annes Civic Society regarding the charitable status of the Lytham Institute stating that Counsel’s opinion is that the building is still subject to the charitable trusts created by the 1917 deed of assignment.

The Council are to work with partners including local groups, businesses and other interested parties to ensure that community use is retained within the building.'

We'll return to this Notice of Motion in a few moments, but it was preceded at Item 5 on the agenda by a question about the Institute from Independent Cllr Elaine Silverwood, and also by a chap speaking in the 'Questions from Members of the Public' part of the meeting - at agenda item 6.

 Question from Cllr Elaine Silverwood

This began at about 8:15 (mins:seconds) into the recording when the Mayor invited Independent Cllr Elaine Silverwood's pre-submitted question about Lytham Library. She said:

"Is it the case that an eminent charity law barrister has provided her professional opinion that Lytham Institute is not owned by the Council but is held, like Lowther Gardens, on charitable trusts.

Is it also the case that the Charity Commission, on seeing the barrister's legal opinion, has written to the Council, advising us of our responsibilities as Trustee of the Lytham Institute.

And if these are the case, will the Council now register Lytham Institute with the Charity Commission, or will we wait until the Attorney General - he of the infamous 'codpiece' - has to prosecute the Council for its failure to do so."

At about 9:17 into the video, Conservative Cllr Susan Fazackerley replied with what appeared to us to be a prepared statement, saying....

"This Council has previously been advised that Counsel does not support the opinion that the Lytham Institute was held on trust.

I can confirm that an unsolicited Counsel's opinion was recently received from a third party. And the Charity Commission made an inquiry about the Councils response to this.

The Council has sought a further Counsel's opinion in the light of that correspondence.

We will carefully consider the further advice of Counsel when it is received, and take any further action in the light of that advice.

Officers have not yet had the revised legal opinion, and even if we had, its contents would not be something that we would reveal out of court."

At about 10:22 and as per Fylde's procedural rules, the Mayor then invited Cllr Silverwood if she wanted to ask a supplementary question based on Cllr Fazackerley's answer.

She said:

"Mr Mayor, because the question is with regard to Cllr Ashton, does Cllr Ashton now answer the supplementary or does Cllr Fazackerley."

The Mayor deferred to Cllr Fazackerley who said she would answer it. Cllr Silverwood said thank-you and continued....

  • "Will Councillor Ashton:

  • who prepared and co-ordinated the Institute's Business Case Bid to the County Council to secure the future of the Library;

  • who is a member of the Board of Directors and Trustee of Lytham Town Trust, who submitted and won the bid to house the library in the Trust's Lytham Assembly Rooms, a move that was in direct competition with the Lytham Institute bid co-ordinated by Cllr Ashton;

  • who is also an elected member of the ruling Conservative Group on both Fylde Borough Council, and Lancashire County Council, and is therefore uniquely placed to influence these matters.

  • Will Cllr Ashton now commit to using his good offices to re-establish the Public Library in Lytham Institute, to help secure the Institute's future as an important public facility, and to generate reliable and regular income from the County Council, to help ensure the Institute's future financial viability."

At about 11:52 into the video Cllr Fazackerley responded with...

"Thank you Mr Mayor, I would contend that that prepared answer [we think she meant to say 'question'] from Cllr Silverwood does not directly relate to my answer to her question"

So she wasn't going to answer it.

The Mayor took advice from officers and, probably recognising that Cllr Silverwood's point had been well made, let the matter lie and moved on.

This exchange speaks for itself, and needs little further comment from us. Readers will draw their own conclusions.

 Question from Mr Brian Turner

This began about 13:20 into the video. Mr Turner asked:

"Will the Council do everything within their power to return Lytham Library to the Institute which was built by the people of Lytham to house it 140 years ago."

He had actually written it down more formally, and the Mayor read the formal version out on his behalf, saying

"Recent legal opinion says that Fylde Borough hold Lytham Institute on trust and they should register it with the Charity Commission. Is the Council now going to do everything in its power to ensure that the library is installed in its rightful home?"

Cllr Fazackerley replied:

"The Council has previously been advised by Counsel that it does not support the belief that the Institute is held on trust.

We will carefully consider further advice from our own Counsel when it is received, and take any appropriate action in the light of that advice.

Any proposal to re-open the library service at the Institute would be a matter for Lancashire County Council."

We wondered if Cllr Fazackerley went to the same school as Theresa May, where they were taught stonewalling rather than stoolballing.

It's clear to us that this robotic spokesperson for the majority Conservative group has no interest in whether or what library service is provided in Fylde.

She said as much.

She thinks its up to LCC to decide where they put libraries and what services they provide. 'Nothing to do with me, Guv' she might as well say.

She's wrong of course. As we will show later in the article.

At around 15:06 into the video Mr Turner confirmed he had a supplementary question. Crucially, he said...

"On the strength that the County Council have a right to move the Library out of the Institute. But they don't have a right to move it into the Assembly Rooms without Fylde Council's agreement, and my second question therefore is: If the Council allow the Library to move to the Assembly Rooms by changing the Town Trust's lease on the Assembly Rooms, are they not failing in their duty as trustees by depriving the Institute of its main source of income."

Clever question, we thought.

At around 16:00 into the video, Cllr Fazackerley replied

"It is my understanding that the Town Trust are only too happy to house the Lytham Library. It's not a question of us asking them to do so. It was one of the sites that was identified as possible homes for the library, and the Town Trust, I understand, are absolutely behind it..."

Mr Turner tried to argue that they would be behind it - because they were going to get the income that had previously gone to the FBC through the Institute. But it was to no avail.

'Questions from the Public' are just that. Questions.

They are not a debating opportunity.

But Mr. Turner was right of course.

Cllr Fazackerley either didn't understand what he had said, or - given her robotic stonewalling answers - perhaps she intentionally chose, not to answer his supplementary question and simply side-stepped it.

The point he was correctly (and very cogently) making is that it is wholly within Fylde's gift to tell the Town Trust that the Council will not agree to altering their lease on the Assembly Rooms to let one of the rooms be used for a library.

Fylde could simply refuse to agree to change the nature of the use of the building from being two rooms to be hired by the public and community groups for assemblies (hence - Assembly Rooms), to just one room for that purpose, with the other for the exclusive use of Lancashire County Council.

Fylde would absolutely be within their rights to refuse that alteration of the Town Trust's lease on those grounds.

The point is: they are knowingly choosing not to do this.

With the Public Questions session now over, we moved on to Item8 on the agenda

 Cllr Tim Ashton's Notice of Motion

We thought this was quite a curious situation.

Whilst any councillor can give notice of a motion they want to move, it's more usual for ones that have the support of the Conservative group to be proposed by the Conservative Group Leader and voted through my their overall majority block vote.

But this one from Cllr Ashton patently did not fall into that genre.

Later in the meeting it became clear to us that what he was proposing did NOT enjoy the support of his colleagues in the Conservative group.

Furthermore, it was (technically) not even a 'proper' motion, because it did not propose that the Council would (or would not) do something. So it seemed to us that Cllr Ashton might have prepared it on his own.

Again, later in the meeting it appeared to us that his drafting of his motion was not simply grammatical incompetence. It was designed to provided a deceptively innocuous 'cover' for a different proposal that would see the Lytham Town Trust (of which he is a Trustee and Director) take the lead in proposing the future for the Institute.

At around 20:10 minutes into the video, the Mayor invited Cllr Ashton to propose his motion.

He began well enough by reading it out:

"Following legal advice obtained by the Lytham St Annes Civic Society regarding the charitable status of the Lytham Institute stating that Counsel’s opinion is that the building is still subject to the charitable trusts created by the 1917 deed of assignment.

The Council are to work with partners including local groups, businesses and other interested parties to ensure that community use is retained within the building."

Superficially, what he said would seem to most people to be innocuous enough - almost bland - in its intent.

However, the wording of the second paragraph in particular is quite dangerous in the hands of a man like Cllr Ashton. It is ambiguous. It could be read to pave the way for electors to be by-passed in preference for business and local groups to have a leading role in its future.

Later in the meeting again, we would later come to the view that whilst some might think he was referring to 'local groups' as being the Friends of the Library, he could equally have been referring to another local group - Lytham Town Trust.

And his aim might equally have been to secure control of the Institute under the wing of Lytham Town Trust.

Potentially, they were a ready-made group of Charitable Trustees who could absorb the Institute into their existing property portfolio for example.

Furthermore, there is a key but imperceptible sidestep at the end of his 'proposition'.

He suggested that 'community use is retained within the building.'

That's not the same as community use *of* the building. Far from it. His phrasing *could* simply mean just a small space in the building would be for community use, and the rest of it for commercial, or flats, or whatever.

Either way, at about 21:00 into the video, and after reading out his motion he began to rant.

In typical fashion, he turned the whole thing into a pure party political battlefield.

He berated the former Labour administration at County Hall for closing the libraries, he berated and personally sought to blame two Independent Fylde County Councillors (Cllr Liz Oades and Cllr Paul Hayhurst) for being party to, and voting for, the closure of Libraries across Lancashire.

We're not going to give any more of his rant airtime here, but readers who want to see exactly why they should not vote for anyone who espouses ideologically driven party politics as he does would do well to take some blood pressure tablets and watch his appalling and divisively damaging rant on the video.

To us, when he is in this mode, he represents the worst of what a Councillor should be. He actively seeks party political warfare. He clearly wants to be a tribal warrior politician, not a Councillor.

And to us, he does even not understand the difference between the roles.

He does nothing to seek consensus; he abhors it.  He delights in conflict and, frankly, we would not vote for him or his ilk if he was the last candidate on earth. (Although thankfully, readers will be spared that choice, because he's not standing for election this time).

Needless to say, his rant had the effect he wanted, as both Cllr Oades and Cllr Hayhurst could not fail to respond later in the meeting, arguing that it was his Conservative Government that had cut the funding to the County Council, which led them to prioritise spending on services for the vulnerable and disadvantaged rather than Libraries. And they went on to argue that when the Conservatives took control of County Hall and re-opened libraries, they did so by cutting services for the vulnerable to pay for them.

All truly awful stuff, and the worst sort of thing you can see in a Council Chamber.

After his party political rant he changed tack and moved onto what was - in reality - a sales pitch for the Town Trust, saying:

"Lytham is going to get a brand new library service, its going to be open 34 hours a week. The County Council had costed the option of keeping the library in the Institute versus the Assembly Rooms, and it seems, according to Lancashire County Council's figures, that it's going to cost less than 50% of the running costs to put it into the Assembly Rooms compared with the cost of putting it in the Institute. Those are the County Council's figures colleagues, not mine."

(We suspect he said that because he knows the figures are incorrect, and were designed to justify what was probably a pre-determined decision by the County Council. He continued:)

"So turning to Lytham Institute. The Institute was paid for, built and used by the community and it should continue to do so.

This sort of project that I'm proposing is not unprecedented. The Assembly Rooms was once part of Lytham Baths building, and a partnership was formed between Ashworths builders the Fylde Council and Lytham Town Trust. A £400,000 grant was given to the Town Trust to create what is now the Assembly Rooms.

This is a community facility, subsidised by business use in the same building.

So what am I proposing and how do we achieve this?

Fylde Borough Council should work with Lytham Town Trust, and the Friends group, to make the business plan that was presented to Lancashire County Council a reality.

A business plan that was presented some months ago to the Cabinet at the County Council. Incidentally, a business plan that was not supported by neither councillor Bamforth or Councillor Lloyd at that time, which I was very, very sorry about. In fact I'd go so far as to say they were hostile toward that business plan.

This was a business plan that gave mixed community use and business use hand in hand, one supporting each other.

As a council we can no longer hide behind the LCC 'user rights agreement' where we're waiting the County Council to withdraw that user right.

We all know, and we have to accept, that the new library service will go ahead in the Assembly Rooms.

Lytham Town Trust and the Friends Group are ready and waiting to take the building on, and work with the Council to achieve this.

Just some facts for you colleagues. Currently it costs £35,000 in the revenue budget to run the Institute. But that doesn't take into account the £20,000 that Lancashire County Council subsidise that building. So actually we're looking at over £55,000 per year to run the Institute, and what we're offering in this partnership is to save the Council at least £55,000 per year.

Now I think that's a good deal. Fylde Borough Council at the moment has £13.8 million pounds in its reserves, so surely it does not need to either sell the Institute or lease the building out to a business.

You can look at it as selling the family silver when its not even our family silver to sell...."

He went on to consider wider issues in Fylde including social isolation, old age and other maladies, before recapping

"....The Community are willing to run the Institute in partnership with businesses, to support the running costs as and when necessary.

Lytham Town Trust have a track record of running community assets, and they are leading the latest proposal.

This will result in savings in the Fylde Revenue budget, and this is not unprecedented as the Assembly Rooms was created in a similar way. The building belongs to the Community. It was paid for and built by them, and it should continue to be run by them too."

With that he sat down.

We were pretty horrified.

He is a Director of Lytham Town Trust and here he was, nominally speaking as a Fylde Borough Councillor, but appearing to have been speaking not in that role, but as advocate of the Town Trust's case for taking over the Institute building.

Frankly, we think he should have been stopped mid sentence - and given the opportunity to declare a prejudicial interest, prior to leaving the room. That should have happened as soon as it became clear he was (or was claiming to be) speaking on behalf of Lytham Town Trust.

The most telling line in what he said was

"Lytham Town Trust have a track record of running community assets, and they are leading the latest proposal."

We think that statement pretty much says on whose behalf he was speaking.

We think what he said almost certainly sealed the demise of the current Chairman of the Friends of Lytham Institute - as we will show in our next article.

He behaved like shabby version of a Town Trust snake-oil salesman pitching a tissue of lies to get his hands on a strippable asset.

In our eyes, he brought not credit to the Town Trust, but disgrace.

At about 27:29 into the video, The Mayor criticised Cllr Ashton, saying what he said was not even a proper motion but, having more speakers on the matter he said he would move on and he called Lytham Independent Cllr Roger Lloyd to speak.

 Cllr Roger Lloyd's Amendment

At about 28:10 minutes into the video, Cllr Lloyd began. He said

"....It's been three years since the Library closed in Lytham. A fact that hasn't gone unnoticed in the town. It's badly missed, although, happily, various groups are using a part of the building again after a great deal of uncertainty.

Both Mark and I can support this motion to a point. We believe the wording of this motion is vague and ambiguous, and would not necessarily safeguard the Institute for the people of Lytham.

"retained within the building" seems to spring out from the words that have been spoken.

This could mean just about anything - including a broom cupboard.

We would like to see Lancashire County Council reconsider reinstating the Library service in the Institute again, where we feel it belongs. Thousands of people signed a petition in support of the library's retention at the Lytham Institute.

What, you may ask is happening at the Assembly Rooms? Where is the promised library service? What are the Town Trust's plans for the library service? Has the Town Trust submitted successful plans for a disabled entrance? Do they have funds to complete the various works to accommodate the library?

In the meantime, there is still no library service in Lytham.

The new findings, undertaken on behalf of the Civic Society seem to point to the Lytham Institute not being owned by Fylde Borough Council, but instead the building is now defined for community use, and as such, must remain so, under the terms of the 1917 deed.

Has Fylde Borough Council replied to the Charity Commission, and if so, what have they said on our behalf? Does Lancashire County Council still retain 'user rights' for the Lytham Institute, and what are the legal implications.

Were the tender figures for the library service submitted to Lancashire County Council by the Town Trust accurate? Were the tender figures submitted by the Friends group accurate, or have things changed since then? What are the legal implications - and there will be many for the new Trust status for Lytham Institute.

What are the views of the Town Trust. What are the views of the Civic Society? What are the views of the Friends group? And more importantly, what do the people of Lytham want?, the people who initially paid for this building?

Fellow councillors, you've been asked to support a motion and a topic that many of you are not familiar with, and to a large extent are not in possession of the full facts. It would make sense to collate all these facts and anomalies together so that councillors can make informed decisions.

Over the last four years, if not longer, there have been no debates at committee level about the future of the Institute or indeed the library service as a whole, despite all the public unrest.

In the Terms of Reference in the Constitution, No 13 states 'To consider any management issues arising in relation to land or property within the remit of the Committee.' There are definitely issues here.

Term 5 in the Constitution Terms of Reference talks about policies relating to arts culture and heritage, and I believe there are issues there as well.

There is therefore, a raft of information that needs to be collated by officers, so that councillors can freely debate and decide what is best for the building and the people of Lytham. So I'd like to put forward an amendment Mr Mayor, that would take Alderman Ashton's motion a step further, so that the Council officers can be tasked with collating all this information, and answer some of the unanswered questions, and bringing this information to the Tourism and Leisure Committee"

He then read out his amendment which was:

"That the Council instructs the Chief Executive to place a report on the next meeting of the T&L Committee, to inform the Committee of proposals and progress regarding the library service in Lytham, and allow the committee the opportunity to debate whether its policies in relation to the arts, culture and heritage are sufficiently clear about the library service in Lytham, and also to consider any management issues arising in relation to the Institute and the Assembly Rooms."

With that he sat down.

We hope he won't mind us saying this about him, but usually, Cllr Lloyd presents a very informal persona. His manner is laid-back and casual, often understated, and occasionally, well, we might even go so far as to agree with one of our readers who likens his style to that of 'Dylan' - the rabbit character from the 'Magic Roundabout' (readers of a certain age will remember).

But here Dylan had stood aside, and Cllr Lloyd stood like a colossus amongst the councillors. Suited and booted for the occasion, here was a Statesman. A proper councillor. Definitely not a party-political point-scoring politician. In his speech, he was everything we think a councillor ought to be.

We've seen him do this once before in a meeting. He seems to rise to the occasion like this when he feels passionately about what he is addressing.

But whilst self evidently it exists, his passion in these moments is tempered not with rhetoric and division, but with plain unadulterated logic and common sense.

We're happy to salute and commend his presentation to the Committee.

In reality what he had done was taken two of the specific responsibilities of the Tourism and Leisure Committee and gently pointed out that the Committee was failing in its responsibilities - because it had not considered whether - for example, the reduced library service proposed for Lytham was culturally adequate or not, nor whether it would wish to support the idea that community hire of the Assembly Rooms should be reduced from two rooms to one room (to allow the reduced library service to be installed there), and lots of other factors in this matter.

He was absolutely right to do so.

Underlying what he said of course, is the undercurrent of distrust and secrecy promulgated by the Conservative group, who appear to be running a hidden agenda to empty the Institute of users so they can wash their hands of it.

But they're now caught red-handed in this endeavour and the Charity Commission will undoubtedly squash what they're up to.

Readers might care to recall that the Charity Commission are already on Fylde's case with their awful behaviour over goings on at the Lowther Gardens Trust.

Fylde's card is already marked with the Charity Commission, and the last thing they need is another red or yellow card being waved at them.

If the Conservative group had any sense, they would have jumped on what Cllr Lloyd had proposed and use it to begin a change of direction for their Institute and their Assembly Rooms.

But, sadly, they're evidently not that smart.

Also, at about 34:00 into the video - sadly, (but understandably in an election year), the next couple of speakers (Cllr Mrs Oades and Cllr Hayhurst) mounted a forthright and robust defence of decisions they made as County Councillors against the allegations that had been made against them in Cllr Tim Ashton's party-political rant.

Unfortunately this meant they were, in fact, mostly speaking to Cllr Ashton's motion - and under Fylde's rules of debate when an amendment is proposed, debate on the motion is 'parked' and debate on the amendment begins until it is accepted or lost. The impact of this was that most of the subsequent speakers did not debate Cllr Lloyd's amendment, but rather they spoke for or against Cllr Ashton's proposition.

The Mayor should have stopped this of course, but when anger and passion are in full flow as  they were, the need to ensure order within the meeting sometimes masks the constitutional niceties. It's the only time we think Fylde's Mayor has let something like this slip by him in the whole of his Mayoral year. Usually he has been completely on top of his game.

Cllr Oades concluded at about 38:45 into the video, and then seconded Cllr Lloyds amendment.

The Mayor, having gathered himself together, then did indicate he had a list of speakers to the original motion and (properly) asked if anyone wished to speak to Cllr Lloyd's amendment.

Some Cllrs did indicate for Cllr Lloyd's amendment, but they, again, spoke to the original motion rather than the amendment.

Mostly, they resumed the party political argument about Labour closing libraries and the Conservatives reopening them.

Readers can watch the video if they really want to see this party political foolishness.

Then, at about 45:50 into the video, the Mayor read out Cllr Lloyd's amendment again in the (forlorn) hope that future speakers would constrain themselves to debating the amendment, but such was the anger that Cllr Ashton's rant had generated that the Mayor's entreaty was mostly lost.

The one exception was Cllr Mulholland from Freckleton who spoke to the amendment and supported Cllr Lloyd's call for information and a structured debate on the matter in the Tourism and Leisure Committee.

At about 59:50 into the video, The Mayor read out the amendment again and called the vote.

Whilst a recorded vote had not been called, the evidence of the video at this point shows what appear to be all the non-conservative hands voting for Cllr Lloyd's amendment, and all of the Conservative Councillors voting against it.

The actual result was 16 for the amendment and 25 against it, so Cllr Lloyd's amendment was lost to the Conservative Party's majority block vote.

From what we could see, ALL the Conservatives present at the meeting voted against being better informed and having the matter being discussed in the Tourism and Leisure Committee (and that includes the one who seemed to make a secretive gesture with his finger in order to vote against Cllr Lloyd's amendment perhaps without being so easily noticed on the video).

Those voting against included Lytham Cllrs Peter Anthony, Cllr Ray Thomas, Cllr Tim Ashton, and the Chairman of the Tourism & Leisure Committee - Cllr Cheryl Little

We were very surprised at this, and will show why shortly.

 Cllr Fazackerley Proposes An Amendment

At about 1:01:31 into the video Cllr Fazackerley proposed a second (alternative) amendment to what Cllr Ashton had proposed.

She began by saying:

"Legal advice has been obtained by the Lytham St Annes Civic Society regarding the charitable status of the Lytham Institute, stating that Counsel's opinion is that the building is still subject to the charitable trusts created by the 1917 Deed of Assignment.

Once the County Council's user rights are withdrawn, the Council will consult with all interested parties regarding the building's future. This will mean considering all possible options, including community use for the Institute, and will include community engagement and consideration of the proposals that have been presented to the County Council, as part of a detailed, costed options appraisal."

It transpired that this first part of what she had just said was actually her amendment. She then continued....

"When the County Council decided the library would be moved from the Lytham Institute, representations were made by various community groups, asking that the Institute would be utilised in future as a 'community hub'.

Fylde's response to this was, and still is, that when the user rights have been withdrawn, the future of the Institute will be discussed. As I wrote in an email to the Chairman of the Friends of the Library last August, once we know what LCC intends to do regarding the user rights, we will be further considering the future of the building in consultation with all interested parties, including the Civic Society, and the Friends of Lytham Library and Institute.

Once notification is received, the Council will then agree a notice period. It is this that will trigger consultation and engagement.

The requirement under legislation to deliver best value will mean that all possible options will be given consideration without prejudice and as you will appreciate, the decision on the future use of the Institute must be made through an open and transparent process. This will mean that all interested parties have equal opportunity to outline their business case through an agreed procedure, similar to the exercise with the Scruples site.

Mr Mayor, voting for the amendment this evening, my amendment this evening, is the only right and proper way forward, leaving options open for discussion on the future of the Institute when the user rights have been withdrawn. And Mr Mayor, I have a seconder in Cllr Small

OMG. She's even WORSE than the Maybot.

She repeated virtually the same thing on two or maybe three occasions in slightly different ways.

And so far as we could see - just like Cllr Ashton had done - this was not an amendment either.

It did not seek to change any of the words he had proposed, nor did it begin with (The Council will....).

It simply sought to replace what Cllr Ashton had said with what we call a 'Monty Python' amendment - as in 'And now for something completely different'

Fylde's Constitution (foolishly) allows something which wholly replaces all the words in one proposition (with a different set of words) to be classed as an amendment.

To us Cllr Fazackerley's was not an amendment. In debating parlance it was a Counter-Motion, and it has no place being called an amendment. But Fylde's Constitution (with all its faults) still rules.

The Mayor invited speakers on Cllr Fazackerley's amendment.

At about 1:04:58 Cllr Silverwood questioned whether LCC were still paying Fylde, and whether LCC had a contractual agreement with the Town Trust, and she wanted to know who would consider the options that were to be submitted, that sort of thing.

She argued there was so much unknown that they were not equipped even to vote on Cllr Fazackerley's amendment.

Cllr Nulty echoed this concern. Cllr Lloyd wanted to know when the user rights might end and whether it would go before the T&L Committee for discussion. Cllr Liz Oades wanted reassuring that all the information would come back to members.

Cllr Fazackerley said payments to FBC were indeed ongoing. The agreement between LCC and the Town Trust has not yet been finalised. The information would come back to the council and would probably be debated through several committees. She didn't know when the user rights might end although she didn't think it would be too long. And everything would be in accordance with Fylde's Constitution.

At about 1:12:23 Cllr Roger Small said - in effect - everything would be alright and the future was exciting.

It was his usual...., Well, we'd probably better *not* say what we had in mind.

At about 1:14:19 Cllr Ashton was invited to sum up on his proposition. He did so, reverting once more into 'salesman mode' - before attacking Cllr Oades and Cllr Hayhurst once again in an extension of his earlier rant. The Mayor intervened several times to close him down, but he was in 'full rant' mode and simply kept going.

When Cllr Ashton eventually ran out of ranting steam, and after reading out Cllr Fazackerley's amendment again, the Mayor called the vote, and a recorded vote was asked for. The necessary five hands went up and a recorded vote was taken about 1:19:19 into the video

The vote for Cllr Fazackerley's 'amendment' was

For (27) – Councillors Ben Aitken, Frank Andrews, Peter Anthony, Tim Ashton, Karen Buckley, Delma Collins, Chris Dixon, David Donaldson, Susan Fazackerley, Tony Ford, Shirley Green, Neil Harvey, Angela Jacques, John Kirkham, Cheryl Little, Kiran Mulholland, Ed Nash, Sally Nash, Graeme Neale, Jane Nixon, Sandra Pitman, Richard Redcliffe, Vince Settle, Roger Small, Ray Thomas, Tommy Threlfall, Viv Willder.

(Of that group all are Conservatives except Tony Ford (LibDem) and Kiran Mulholland (Independent)

Against (5) – Councillors Keith Beckett, Maxine Chew, Alan Clayton, Paul Hayhurst, Karen Henshaw.

(Of this group all are Independents except Cllr Karen Henshaw (LibDem)

Abstain (9) – Councillors Brenda Blackshaw, Julie Brickles, Roger Lloyd, Linda Nulty, Liz Oades, Louis Rigby, Elaine Silverwood, Jan Barker, Peter Collins

This group is mostly Independent except Brenda Blackshaw who at present is still a Conservative but will stand as an independent in the May election. Jan Barker (Labour) and Peter Collins (Independent) are Deputy and Mayor respectively and often abstain on votes.

What you see here shows the Conservatives closing down on Cllr Tim Ashton's proposition so it would not be approved.

Amazingly, by voting for Cllr Fazackerley's amendment, Cllr Tim Ashton actually voted against what he had proposed himself !

Yes really!

That's another really Dim thing to have done as he ends his career as a Councillor.

But there was to be one more small twist on this topic before the meeting closed.

 Cllr Oades Moves an Amendment

Councillor Oades moved an amendment to the wording of Councillor Fazackerley’s motion by adding the words 'that the matter comes back to the council at the earliest opportunity'. Her amendment was carried, and Cllr Fazackerley's amendment, as amended itself by Cllr Oades' became the Council's decision.

 Taking Stock

So. To take stock of where we are and what we can glean from all this.

Well, the factual stuff that we're being allowed to know (and that's almost next to nothing) is all set out above.

But because most of the real stuff is being kept secret we're going to have to read between the lines to make some suppositions about what has happened and where this is going as far as Fylde are concerned.

We've no doubt that when the Library closed, Fylde's Conservatives (or maybe their officers) spotted an opportunity to activate a long held plan to get rid of it - or at least most of it.

The ideologically driven amongst them will not actually believe it is the role of local government to provide local public facilities from taxation.

You only have to hark back to Cllr Trevor Fiddler who, in the dark days of the Cabinet at Fylde took an 'Individual Member Decision' to sell off Melton Grove.

During a Council debate into what had happened on 28 March 2011 he said he agreed with the principle of disposal; it was Conservative Party Policy for councils not to manage social housing, and he thought it was 'an anomaly' that Fylde was still doing so. The Fylde Conservatives had taken a decision to sell off Melton Grove and that was that.

We think the Conservatives are using the same underlying ideology on Lytham Library.

That's why the FazBot was stonewalling.

We think she has an outcome in mind for the Institute and isn't going to deviate from that unless someone forces her to do so.

Sadly, the are very few people that *can* force her to do so.

The Government could - but pretty much won't.

The legal system could, but arguing it is long and expensive because legal aid is no longer so available - so unless something a bit unusual happens - that's not going to happen either.

(We say 'something unusual' because we did hear of a child - in Northampton we think it was - in whose name a judicial review of library closure had been begun because the child was being deprived of a children's centre that had been within the library.

In those circumstances, the child had suffered harm from the Council's decision but, being a child (with no income or assets) she could never meet the legal costs of a Judicial review, so she sought - and in our view was always likely to be granted - legal aid to pursue her case.

The interesting point to note here is that Lytham Library that was housed within Lytham Institute also had a Children's Centre - however, it's probably too late to bring a Judicial Review now anyway).

But the one thing that can kibosh any plan to sell off the institute is if the Institute is found to be held on charitable Trusts.

We're certain it *is* held on charitable trusts, and that Fylde is now in the death throes of a final, desperate attempt to wriggle out of them. (Hence the new barristers opinion and the stonewalling).

But we'd put real money on it that Fylde won't be allowed to wriggle out.

The Charity Commission (or rather the Treasury Solicitor who works for Geoffrey Cox the Attorney General at the request of the Charity Commission) will institute legal proceedings against Fylde (on behalf of the public) if the Charity Commission say a trust exists, but Fylde refuses to accept it.

We did hear tell of a rather snotty email from Fylde to the Charity Commission complaining that the Commission seemed to have already accepted what Mrs Quint had said to the Civic Society without their having given the council, as the property owner, a chance to express a view.

But that's the point really. It looks to us as though the Charity Commission has been convinced by Mrs Quint that Fylde are not the property owner.

So why would they not?

It's only the arrogance of untrammelled power that's blinding the sight of Fylde's Conservatives.

As Cllr Fiddler might have said 'The Charity Commission had taken a decision that the institute was held on Charitable Trusts, and that was that'.

We know Fylde got it's new Barrister's opinion on 5th April.

And as we said, we know they are they're refusing to release the content of that opinion. That alone suggests it's not good news for them.

But in this matter our readers should just think on this:

If Fylde had been told anything other than Lytham Institute was held on charitable trusts, we're certain their avid and prolific press release writers would have been screaming it from the rooftops already.

As it is, their silence on this matter has been deafening since 5th April.

 And There's More....

But there is another (and in our view) more important aspect of this matter in which Fylde has failed.

And that's in the role of the Tourism and Leisure Committee.

That role is set out in what are called 'Terms of Reference' in Fylde's Constitution (and these are what Cllr Lloyd spoke to in his amendment). They prescribe the responsibility of the committee.

There's a long story behind why they are not more detailed. Most are quite vaguely worded. The three for the T&L committee we are interested in are:

  • 1). To consider and scrutinise reports relating to performance of services under the remit of the committee

  • 5). Considering reports, reviewing, and formulating where necessary policies relating to arts, culture and heritage

  • 13). To consider any management issues arising in relation to land or property within the remit of the committee

A case can easily be made that the need for, and the extent of, a library, and library services, in any part of Fylde is a matter for Fylde's Tourism and Leisure Committee.

Firstly, under (5), there can be no doubt that libraries sit with the Committee's broader topics of 'arts, culture and heritage' - and it is entirely the Committee's responsibility to receive reports on libraries, to review the provision of libraries, and to formulate policies relating to Libraries in Fylde.

And this is the case irrespective who actually provides them.

It is part of the role of the Committee to be satisfied that the proper needs of its residents are being met whoever provides the service.

Under the former Committee system at FBC, the County Council officer responsible for all the libraries in Fylde would attend four T&L committees a year, and personally present their report on what was happening in them by way of user borrowing statistics, new acquisitions, changes to the opening hours, and so on - before answering questions about Fylde's libraries from elected members of the T&L Committee.

Secondly, under (1) above, a case can easily be made that the services within libraries - such as 'Children's Services' - were also matters upon which the Committee has a right to receive reports on the performance.

Thirdly, under (13) above, the Committee has a responsibility to consider any management matter that arises in relation to land and property owned by Fylde, and within the remit of the Committee. That responsibility includes both Lytham Library and The Assembly Rooms. Both of which are properties owned by the Council and managed by the Tourism and Leisure Committee as part of its role in Arts, Culture and Heritage.

So, knowing that information - as, indeed, Cllr Lloyd undoubtedly did - we find it utterly amazing that Fylde's Conservatives voted against doing what their own Terms of Reference require them to do when Cllr Lloyd proposed:

"That the Council instructs the Chief Executive to place a report on the next meeting of the T&L Committee, to inform the Committee of proposals and progress regarding the library service in Lytham, and allow the committee the opportunity to debate whether its policies in relation to the arts, culture and heritage are sufficiently clear about the library service in Lytham, and also to consider any management issues arising in relation to the Institute and the Assembly Rooms."

Unbelievably, at this April 2019 Council meeting, the Conservative majority group on the Council actually voted against what they themselves had established the Tourism and Leisure Committee to do.

Frankly, in better days, and in this position, the Chairman of a Committee would consider such a failure to be a resignation matter.

Furthermore, (since the day after the County Council took its decision to close Lytham Library), as far as we can tell, there has been no consideration of any of these matters by Fylde's Tourism and Leisure Committee.

That's a period of about two and a half years, and it represents a complete abdication of the responsibility that Fylde Council owes to its electorate.

Some of our eagle-eyed readers might have picked up our use of  'since the day after the decision to close the libraries was taken' and wondered how come we chose that date.

Well, we've been rummaging in our archives and, quite coincidentally, on 8th September 2016, the day that LCC Cabinet met to take a final decision on the matter, Fylde also held a scheduled Tourism and Leisure Committee Meeting.

And on the agenda  of that T&L Committee was an item with a heading we think was calculated to obscure its real meaning. The heading for item 8 was 'Lancashire County Council Review Of Property Strategy (Neighbourhood Centres)'

It may be that Fylde was simply copying the heading used by LCC, but the item  was actually about library closures and rationalisation.

The report set out some limited information about the LCC consultation that had taken place and said 'Officers will update members of the Tourism and Leisure Committee at the meeting on the outcome of the decision taken by LCC Cabinet.' (Probably because LCC's decision would have been taken in the afternoon, and Fylde's meeting was in the evening).

But Fylde's officers did not get to do so - quite probably because news had already leaked out anyway and, in any event, the Chairman introduced the item then straightaway called Lytham's Conservative Cllr Ray Thomas to speak - in a move that was evidently pre-arranged.

After a very short introduction, he said

"I would like to propose something. Obviously, today it's been decided that its going to close. As I said, this is going to have an impact on Fylde Borough Council and, therefore, this committee.

Also, as far as we know there are interested parties, two interested parties, so a small group of local people whatever, will submit proposals to LCC to take over the library building and also the library service.

Therefore I'd like to propose two things actually, if you want to take the two together; one that the future of this library is brought to a future meeting of this committee as soon as practical, and the other thing is to recommend..., propose, that the Chief Executive write to LCC to ask that the Library service remains open for as long as possible, to allow time for the community to take over the service."

His proposal was seconded by Cllr Richard Fradley.

There was some debate, but in summing up, the Chairman said:

"....Can I just, apart from the Committee, express concern, not only for the service, but also for the staff, cos there will be staff involved, and can we pin it that it will come back to a future T&L, as it is our asset, and we can discuss it in full."

So the T&L Committee chairman evidently agreed with us that the Lytham Institute is an asset of the T&L committee and for which her committee has management responsibility.

The formal Minute of the decision prefaces the resolution itself with further confirmation of this fact saying:

".....it was proposed that the Committee consider discussing the future of Lytham Library in more detail as the building was a Fylde Borough Council asset.

Following a discussion it was RESOLVED that

1. An item regarding the future of Lytham Library be brought to a future meeting of the Tourism and Leisure Committee as soon as practicable;

2. The Chief Executive writes to Lancashire County Council to ask that the library service remain in place for as long as possible to allow time for the community to take over the service, and to ask Lancashire County Council to ensure the safe retention of any books and archives relating to the
history of the borough,

3. The concerns of the Committee be placed on record, not only for the loss of the library service, but for the affected staff."

So, our readers might well ask, given that resolution was passed without dissent by the Tourism and Leisure Committee

  1. Why has there been no further report to the Committee in the two and a half years since that resolution was passed, let alone it being something that ought to have been reported 'as soon as practical'.
  2. What possible justification can the Conservative group have to vote down Cllr Roger Lloyd's amendment that sought to do just what Cllr Thomas' proposition and the Committee's Resolution said, but more explicitly.

The answer is they can have no justification whatsoever.

We believe Cllr Thomas' proposition in 2016 was genuine and serious and we salute him for what he said.

But at some time between then and now, he must have been silenced and sidetracked by the Conservative Group of which he is a member.

We say that 'must be the case' because he voted AGAINST Cllr Roger Lloyd's amendment to do exactly what he himself had called for in 2016 and which had not been done in the two and a half years since he called for it.

Yes, Really!

At some point - possibly after 2016 - leading Conservative group members must have become convinced that they wanted the Library to be switched to the Assembly Rooms - perhaps to add further financial support to Lytham Town Trust's income, or perhaps in order to clear the existing users out to the Lytham Institute to allow its part or full disposal with vacant possession, or perhaps both.

Nothing we can see in all of this can excuse the Chairman of the T&L committee in this matter either.

Having had her Committee pass the resolution - which she herself supported and partially worded - it became her responsibility to ensure that an item was placed on her Committee's agenda as soon as practicable.

She did not do so.

Even worse, she too voted against Cllr Lloyd's amendment.

Disgracefully, Fylde Council has made no formal representations or comment about any of its proposed library closures or any of the changes to its library service in any of Fylde's libraries.

 FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY MEETING

As we have been preparing this article, there has been another meeting of the Friends of Lytham Institute, or Lytham Library, (or both!) to which we were invited.

It was a sad and 'difficult' meeting in more ways than one.

And it resulted in the departure of the Chairman, whose colours had become too closely tied to the mast of Lytham Town Trust for the liking of many of those present at the meeting.

They did not want to give up on the fight to restore Lytham Library to its rightful home in Lytham Institute, and we detected what we thought was increasing hostility toward the Town Trust's involvement in this matter.

Another matter to arise in this meeting of the 'Friends' was the importance of making Fylde understand that Fylde held a key to preventing the Library being moved to the Assembly Rooms - by refusing to agree the Town Trust's request to change their lease.

Conservative councillors at the meeting said they now understood this situation, and undertook to make this known to their party colleagues.

There is a lot to report from the 'Friends' meeting, and we hope to bring it to our readers shortly.

Part of the delay is that we're chasing down some gossip that the Lytham Conservative councillors present at the meeting might not have managed to get that message through - because we've been told that a Fylde officer has already taken it upon himself to agree to the change in the Town Trust's lease on behalf of the Council without the matter being considered by any Councillor at all.

Whether he had the authority to do so, and whether - if it has been taken - such a decision will stand as the final one, remains to be seen.

We will be reporting further as soon as possible.

Dated:  23 April 2019

 

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