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Friends of Library and Institute - April 2019

Friends of Lytham Library and Institute MeetingAfter the recent turbulent meeting of Fylde Council, where the position of Lytham Library and Institute was forced onto the agenda by a 'Notice of Motion' and some formal questions, we went to a meeting of the Lytham Library and Institute Friends Group on 9th April 2019.

To be honest, 'friendly' probably isn't exactly the best word to describe a meeting where diverging views caused the Chairman to resign part way through.  But it was enlightening, and we think it marks a sea-change in the future of the Library and Institute.

SYNOPSIS
We begin with a refresh of events at the Previous Friends Meeting starting with an Overall Impression, followed by the Purpose of that Meeting which considered whether it was still Angry with Lytham Town Trust or whether to Work With Them for the Future of the Institute, and we review how the Group Considered a Future Direction.

Next we look at the recent Friends Meeting Tuesday 9 April 2019, first at the Agenda and a sort of Report set out on chairs in the room. We then say What we Made of the situation so far.

Next we report the first part of the evening, from setting the scene at the Meeting's Start - through the Chairman's introduction and a subsequent interruption from the floor which showed that the direction followed after the last meeting was not agreeable to all the friends, and produced a fairly acrimonious public exchange.

The second item on the agenda was about the Civic Society's Involvement in obtaining the Barrister's opinion. Marion Coupe spoke about this and some background before introducing David Coupe who spoke at length about the barrister's opinion and the very significant implications that charitable trust status would have for the Institute.

After he spoke, the meeting moved back to a session of Public Contributions and the Chairman updated Friend's on a Working Group she had joined with Lytham Town Trust and others. This part of the meeting reopened the earlier disagreements over direction, and it became very clear that the Friends were out of step with their Chairman, who, honourably, resigned that role, and sat in the audience.

Next we say What we Make of all This, and offer two suggested alternative organisational ways forward.

Then we offer an Epilogue of news since the meeting. In particular we consider whether the Assembly Rooms Lease Has Already Been Altered, and the Formal resignation of the Friend's Chairman, and we consider a situation regarding the Lytham Assembly Rooms which are managed by the Town Trust.

Finally, we offer our own Conclusions on the situation with the Institute and library as it prevails at present

 PREVIOUS FRIENDS MEETING

In July last year, we had been invited to a meeting of the Friends of Lytham Institute.

We reported our experience under the 'Lytham Institute And Lytham Library' heading in our 'Snippet's article.

 Overall Impression of July 2018 Meeting

We had found this previous meeting slightly confusing, not least because the roles of those involved were unclear to us.

The room layout was a top table of three people with a facing audience.

In layout and content, it seemed more like a 'public meeting' than a collection of Friends (which is what we had thought it might be).

So initially, we were not clear whether the 'Friends' were the group of three on the top table, or whether it was some of the people in the room, or everyone in the room by virtue of their attendance. In the event it seemed to be the latter.

Partly this uncertainty was our own fault. To our shame, we hadn't been to any of the earlier meetings, so we didn't have the background as to how the friends group arose (nor for that matter, what sort of governance it operated, and what legitimacy it has to speak on behalf of the people of Lytham).

We don't mean to be impudent or critical when we say that, but when we left, we were just as confused about this aspect as when we entered.

There did not seem to be any difference we could see between what could be called 'Friends' and ordinary members of the public like us.

A lady acted as both Chair and Secretary and two others spoke from the top table with knowledge and authority. But we could detect no decision-taking process or much of an organisational structure.

Before going to the meeting, we had expected to see something more formal and structured.

But by the end, we couldn't help thinking that a paucity of organisational structure and decision-taking processes might be constraining the effectiveness of the group.

 Purpose of the Meeting

The purpose of that earlier meeting was said to be to consider what direction the 'Friends' should take for the future now the Town Trust's proposal to house the Library had been accepted by the County Council.

During the discussion, several people wanted to know if it was only Lytham where a competitive bidding process had been introduced to re-open the library.

There was also uncertainty about the nature of any future contact the Friends should have with Lytham Town Trust

 Anger Toward the Town Trust

Some speakers gave opinions that were very critical of the Town Trust, and wanted them taken to task for having prepared a competing bid that was submitted in opposition to the proposals that the Friends of Lytham Library had prepared.

Considerable anger toward the Town Trust erupted from the floor when Cllr Ashton explained that the Town Trust had provided the competing bid.

In answer to several cries of 'why?' from the floor, (and to the Chairman's question as to why the Trust did not consult with the Friends of the Library before doing so), the best Cllr Ashton could manage was to say he didn't know; they had not done anything illegal; they were a charity, and they could do what they want.

To be honest, we didn't think that answer satisfied many of the Friends.

 Or Work With the Town Trust

Despite the self-evident anger of some, others sought a more conciliatory tone, suggesting that the decision was now a 'done deal' - so the Friends group might as well try to work with the Town Trust to obtain their support to protect the future of Lytham Institute.

Cllr Ashton himself took this view. He said he was optimistic about the future of the Institute building based on the plans and costings they had already prepared, and said "There's no reason why we can't go forward with the business plans we had, just without a library service in this building.

Now it may be that we can persuade the Town Trust to not have the Library Service in the Assembly Rooms, but that's down to the Town Trust at the end of the day, they will have to decide that."

 So, Which Direction?

The Chairman sought views from the floor on whether there was a will to continue to oppose the Library being moved into the Assembly rooms or whether the focus should now move to securing the future of the Institute building.

Again, we heard views expressed for both (and other) options.

Our own view was that the comments from the floor on this aspect seemed quite evenly balanced, but if anything, the majority was just about in favour of fighting the decision rather than accepting it and moving on.

No vote was taken to determine the matter.

The Chairman promised to digest what had been said, and talk it through with others to try to find the best way forward.

That was the last we heard for several months, but it seems that things had been happening behind the scenes.

 FRIENDS MEETING TUESDAY 9 APRIL 2019

On 4th April, we received an invitation to attend the most recent meeting of the Friends of Lytham Institute in the Hewitt Lecture Room. It was fairly short notice for 9th but we were able to attend.

The invitation said the purpose of the meeting was to update everyone on the current situation and to seek views on the next steps for the Friends.

When we arrived, there was an agenda on each chair giving the batting order:

    "AGENDA

  1. Opening remarks and a review of the current situation regarding Lytham Institute by the Chairman.
  2. The Civic Society's Barrister's opinion
  3. Update on Fylde Borough Council's Position
  4. Report back on the Institute Working Party
  5. Where do we go from here - open discussion."

In the event, the meeting did not quite go according to plan and the agenda did not get followed.

REPORT

Also out on the chairs was a page of text having an unclear status or purpose, but it seemed to be about meetings that had been taking place between the Chairman of Lytham Town Trust, the Chairman of the Friends of Lytham Institute and a number of other individuals.

From what we could glean a 'Lytham Institute Working Group' had been established, and this was separate from, but connected to, the Friends Group.

It had the objective of 'preserving the Lytham Institute for the people of Lytham as a community hub.' (So there was no mention of trying to get the library back in the Institute).

It gave the names and interests of those who were members of the Working Group, but no indication of how (or by what authority) they came to be members of the 'Working Group.'

It appeared to be a 'fait accompli.'

From the list, it appeared to us that the Friends Group had been relegated to being just one of eight groups or individuals on the list, and the Lytham Town Trust seemed to have a leading role

A note said there had been four meetings of this group and the last two had sketched out plans to use the rooms for community rooms, accommodation for the Lytham archives and an arts space.

This was to be underpinned by commercial letting of the rooms on the first floor, and the note stressed that the building would only be financially sustainable with an element of commercial income to underpin the finances.

It also said that a significant amount of money would be required to make the building fit for these purposes, and the Working Group was considering possible sources of funding via perhaps Fylde Borough Council, some form of charitable body or a community interest company.

Readers can follow this link to see a copy of the full document for themselves.

 WHAT DID WE MAKE OF THIS?

Well, it appeared to us that this note from the 'Working Group' asserted that the Town Trust were now 'in charge' of the future of the building, (at least given that the Town Trust's Chairman was the first person on the list of Working Group members).

But again, as with the Friends group itself, we could see no evidence of democratic legitimacy for its creation.

Nor was there any evidence of a governance document or constitution for the group. There was no indication of who could become a member of it, nor how they might be selected, nor what it's decision-taking process was.

These aspects are especially important given the influential recent Barrister's opinion saying that the building belongs to the people of Lytham, not a self-selected subset of them.

We were puzzled and surprised by all of this.

It looked to us as though the Friends' Chairman had been having meetings that no-one else knew about, and matters had reached a quite advanced stage.

As far as we could see, this situation appeared to have come about because of a lack of a formal decision-taking structure within which the Friends Group could mandate their officials to act on their behalf.

So, in the vacuum, the Chairman had taken it to herself to progress the idea of working with the Town Trust.

To be honest - and after what Cllr Ashton said at Fylde's recent Council meeting - it looked to us more like the Friends Group had been absorbed by the Town Trust who (as Cllr Ashton had told Fylde Council) were now leading the plans for the future of the institute.

Furthermore, from what we could make out, the Chairman had not held any meetings of the Friends whilst this process was in train, and even some of those who appeared to be either officials (or at least more knowledgeable about matters) didn't seem to know much about it.

This was always going to be a recipe for trouble when around (or maybe a little over) half the people at the last Friend's meeting opposed the idea of working with the Town Trust altogether, and wanted the library restoring to the Institute.

And so the scene was set for what turned out to be a fairly difficult and unpleasant meeting.

As a small aside at this point, one of the Friends observed to us after the meeting that a notice was usually pinned to the external door which advertised the existence of the meeting.

They said in the early days of the group the notice had been headed 'Friends of Lytham Library'.

Later that changed to the 'Friends of Lytham Institute & Library'.

And for this night's meeting it had been headed 'Friends of Lytham Institute'

 THE MEETING STARTS

At the appointed hour, there were probably around 40 people present. We saw some faces we knew, Cllr Ray Thomas and Cllr Peter Anthony toward the front row, Cllr Roger Lloyd deeper into the audience. Cllr Dixon might have been there but we didn't spot him. Cllr Tim Ashton was not present this time.

There was a 'top table' for the Chairman and an audience again (as last time), but this time, to the left of the Chairman (as we sat) was Cllr Brenda Blackshaw.

She is currently a Conservative Councillor (like Cllr Anthony and Thomas), but she decided to leave the Conservatives and stand as an Independent in this election.

Both Cllr Blackshaw and the Chairman were sitting under a banner on the back wall that said "Save Lytham Library and Institute for Our Community" and we later saw a photo of this on Cllr Blackshaw's Facebook election page.

We also saw a couple of people we know to be candidates in the forthcoming election sitting in the audience.

At the other end of the table sat David Coupe, and next to him Marion Coupe from the Civic Society.

The Chairman called the meeting to order, introducing herself as 'the Chairman at the moment, but that might change.' So we guessed she was expecting some difficulty.

She noted the forthcoming election was a good time to lobby prospective councillors about the Institute, and said she had Cllr Brenda Blackshaw on the table with her because she was standing as an independent candidate and she would like to say something to the meeting.

We sensed the distinct bristling of rising hackles from other election candidates in the room.

She then launched a history of the campaign to save Lytham Library, followed by the shift to have the library restored into the Institute after LCC voted to move it (as a reduced operation) to the Town Trust's 'Assembly Rooms' Saying:

"....We're all very very disappointed wasn't going to be here, and I know some people are still very very disappointed and think it should come back here. I have written to the Town Trust to ask them if they will change their decision, and it just only now came yesterday to say that they weren't going to do that...."

She explained that without the library and its financial contribution from the County Council, it would be harder to meet the building's running costs.

She went on to speak about the Town Trust's Assembly Rooms and was speaking about the condition of them and what might be provided there by way of a library when she was interrupted from the floor by someone who thought her explanations were glossy and imbalanced.

He re-quoted what he claimed she had said in June....

"The residents of Lytham, .....and that's when you heard they would be putting the library in the Assembly Rooms....., the residents of Lytham will be incensed at this decision. We held a public meeting with 100 people present, all of whom wanted the library back in the institute. We're holding a protest march through Lytham Town Centre. Everyone in Lytham wants a library put back into Lytham Institute, Nobody wants it in the Assembly Rooms"

He went on to say that at the subsequent meeting in July, she had announced that the library was going into the Assembly Rooms and she was not going to fight it, instead, she were going to join with the Town Trust in a working group to save the Institute without the library.

To be honest, although we pretty much got the impression that *was* what she was thinking last July, we didn't actually hear her say that at the meeting. Perhaps it was said in private or after the end or something. The chap continued...

"Now, that sudden surrender was a complete bombshell to some of us Friends. We saw it as a betrayal of everything we had been fighting for, so I feel that your role on this Working Group was.... joining the Working Group, was a serious mistake. I feel it has let a lot of people down, and the result is that you have taken the name of the Friends, given it to the Working Group, the Town Trust have taken it, and I had to sit in the Council Chamber the other day, listening to councillors saying the Town Trust and the Friends are working together......"

The Chairman interrupted and said

"Well, that's true because I totally disagree"

The chap said

"I don't think we should be working together, I think you have no right to be standing there saying you are representing the Friends on this Working Party, and you're certainly not representing me."

The Chairman said they could have a discussion about it and see how many people supported his point of view. She said;

"I know, if you like, that the Councillors were not going to put a library back here because it would be too expensive..."

The chap interrupted again to disagree and restated his concerns.

Embarrassed silence reigned for most of the audience.

Here were two of the key members of the Friends group at complete odds - and in public - over the direction that the Group should take.

One of the Friends in the audience sought to change the tone and asked the Chairman to continue her explanation before she had been interrupted.

The Chairman said she thought the writing had been on the wall, and they would have to accept that the library was not going back into the Institute.

Referring to the note on the chairs she listed the people on it and said other people could join.

She said she had invited one or more herself, but they had declined to take part.

We were quite surprised at this statement, and we wondered what authority she might have had to make such a selective offer to individuals.

We're more used to officials of community and membership groups being properly proposed and elected to office by an Annual General Meeting of the wider membership of the group

In our view, the lack of proper transparent governance arrangements in both the Friends Group and the new Working Group is at the root cause of some of these problems.

The meeting slowly re-exposed the bubbling undercurrent of anger and disagreement by those who felt betrayed, and those who felt it was unrealistic to restore the library to the institute.

It was 'Brexit' writ small.

There were several times when so many were speaking loudly and at the same time that none could be heard.

The Chairman eventually restored order and said they could have a vote at the end of this meeting to decide the matter and if necessary she would step down, adding:

"I actually think I'm going to stay on the Working Group because I think that is the way forward. If I stepped down from that, it probably wouldn't go ahead, it wouldn't happen."

 THE CIVIC SOCIETY SPEAK

The second item on the agenda (which we guess most people were happy to move on to in their embarrassment)  introduced Marion Coupe who said she had a lot of experience of these sorts of things, and they were anxious to ensure the building didn't fall into commercial hands.

Her more measured tones (compared with what the preceding debate had become) were very welcome to most, and people wanted to listen to what she had to say.

She spoke of the Civic Society's campaign 30 years ago to stop the demolition of part of Lytham Baths and to keep it, saying

".... the Town Trust hold that building on the remainder of a 125 year lease at a peppercorn rent......The terms of that lease are very specific, and the idea was that a charity was set up, the Town Trust was actually set up, originally, to receive control of the Assembly Rooms. That's why it's there.

And it's constitution is a little broader.... in that they are concerned with other buildings as well. But the idea or the model was that the upstairs would be let commercially which would then subsidise the downstairs which should be let on favourable terms to local community groups. So it is a community building. And I see the same model working here."

She went on to say that at an early meeting about the Institute, there had been a proposal to sell of part of it in order to fund the purchase of the rest of it from Fylde Borough Council.

She said she was horrified at that, and after a lot of work done by the chap who had earlier contested the Chairman's actions, the Civic Society had paid for the opinion from a top ranking charity law barrister.

Before introducing David Coupe to speak, she said

"David here has actually prepared the instructions to Counsel pro-bono at Coupe Bradbury, and so thanks to David and Janet and Brian, this building is in a very different position than it was during last year. It's a real sea-change, and there's every likelihood it will remain a community asset.

From my point of view, the most important thing to do now, is to come up with something that's a financial plan which'll make it work..."

She went on to suggest that with the library in the building the chances of financial success were much better and the future would be more sustainable, adding...

"My view is that you don't give up on the library coming in here until it actually opens somewhere else."

To this she received resounding applause and shouts of 'Hear Here.'

 DAVID COUPE SPEAKS

Mr Coupe said he had prepared the instructions to Counsel to provide the opinion which had arrived in January. He said he wanted to pay tribute to Brian and Janet for what he said were hugh, huge amounts of very useful historic research.

He said it was a dream for a lawyer to have all that evidence provided, and that enabled him to prepare a very comprehensive set of instructions to Francesca Quint, adding....

"Francesca is really top of the tree when it comes to charity law. She's practiced a long time. She is very very highly regarded by lawyers up and down the country and if they have a really knotty charitable problem, Francesca is their first choice. She was also at one time head of the legal division of the Charity Commission, and they continue to hold her in extremely high regard. And that's why I chose Francesca to provide the opinion on the Institute.

I provided Francesca with such a lot of information that she was able to turn her advice round within seven days.

Very often when you instruct a Counsel, there are reservations that are put into the advice that comes forward, because very often, it's not black and white, there's a lot of grey in between, and therefore Counsel have to reserve, qualify opinions that are expressed.

What I think is very, very distinctive in the opinion that was delivered very, very quickly was Francesca's comment that in the opinion she says ' I have no hesitation' .... this is a top charity barrister saying ....' I have no hesitation in advising the words created' .... and she's referring there to the 1917 Deed of Gift by the Institute Charity to the Council .... 'I have no hesitation in advising that the words in the 1917 Deed created an exclusively Charitable Trust for the benefit of the public'

No equivocation. Out with it straight away..."

He went on to say that after receipt of her opinion, and on her advice, he delivered it to Fylde Council and notified the Charity Commission's Chief Executive in London, of her conclusions. He added...

"Because that advice was delivered in unequivocal language, the Charity Commission have taken the position - which is also fairly unusual for them - to write to Fylde Council to say that [indistinguishable word] you hold the Institute on Charitable Trusts, you've now got a duty to register it with the Charity Commission."

After noting and dismissing Fylde's current view that they owned the building as a disposable asset, and after paying tribute to all the previous generations who had fought to establish the Institute and Library in Lytham, he said of Fylde

"... it does not have a place on their general asset register where it is positioned with Fylde Council right now, they hold it as a charity trustee.

Council's can be charity trustees as well as local authorities, but it come into an entirely different category, and a council, if it's holding an asset as a charity trustee is no different to any other charity trustees.

Local Government law does not apply to it. It's future isn't determined in the debating chamber in the Town Hall, its future is determined by, first consultation with all the members of the local community.

So we're not actually going to have the future of this building determined by a debate by councillors sitting round a table in the Town Hall paying lip service to community comments - we know how it works there, certain members of the community can make comments, but it's the Councillors themselves who have the debate and pass the resolutions to determine a particular issue.

None of that applies to the Institute, because the Council doesn't own it as one of its general asset properties. It holds it as a charity trustee.

And therefore, if it is going to change the charitable objects on which it received the building - which I think is still highly questionable - then, by law, as charity trustee, they have to widely advertise what they're intending to do with the building, and they have to give the local community very very significant involvement in discussions about the future of the building...."

He said if Fylde want to change the charitable objects, then after proper consultation, they have to apply to the Charity Commission for what is known as a 'Scheme'  adding....

So right now, Fylde cannot change any of the charitable purposes which applied when the original trustees gave the building to the Council in 1917.

We pause at this point to paint the scene in the room for our readers.

The boisterous and argumentative atmosphere of before had evaporated.

Instead, the audience sat open mouthed, with wrapt attention and was hanging on every word Mr Coup spoke.

Undoubtedly this was what they wanted to hear.

Mr Coupe went on to explain how prior to 1974 the local authority for the area would have managed the library, but after 1974 Local Government Reorganisation the provision of libraries became a County Council function, adding

"Francesca made comment to me - it's not actually in the Opinion - but she made comment to me that, had there been realisation, recognition, in 1974 that the Fylde Council owned this building a charity trustee, they should have asked the County Council to become a co-charity trustee of the building with them, instead of reaching the incorrect assumption that the building belonged to Fylde Council as an asset of Fylde Council, and instead they entered into a User Agreement with the County Council for sharing of the use of the building..."

He went on to explain that the 'User Agreement' didn't require the payment of a rent, but both Fylde and LCC shared the cost of maintenance of the building according to the proportion of it that each used.

He contrasted this with the proposal where he said the Town Trust was attempting to charge a rent to the County Council for part of the Assembly Rooms adding...

"It also follows that if a deal is struck now, between Fylde Council as charity trustee, with the County Council, for the County Council to bring the library back into this building, they won't charge the County Council a rent - because this is a gifted asset to the community, so they'll share proportionate to the amount of use that each of them has of the building, the costs of maintenance and repair, but they won't charge a rent.

And that I think is one of the distinctions between what is proposed at the Assembly Rooms, and what would happen here. Because the Town Trust is preparing to charge a rent of somewhere in the region of 20,000 a year for the library facility in the assembly rooms.

I, personally, feel quite strongly about what they're doing there, because I was, as Marion mentioned, at the centre of things with the Town Trust at that time.

I was Secretary of the Town Trust, and we negotiated with Fylde Council - as part of the re-development of the Baths - that the Assembly Rooms would be created and the upper floors, as Marion has mentioned, would be available as commercial lets, in order to provide an income for the community to use the ground floor rooms for community use on a not-for-profit basis with charities and community organisations.

You can of course say that providing a library is a community facility, but then you have to ask the question, who's providing that?

It's not the Town Trust because the Town Trust is proposing to charge 20,000 a year. So that library facility in the assembly rooms is being provided at the taxpayers expense, not at the Town Trust's expense.

So when you actually reduce it down to that level, the Assembly Rooms is coming down from having the whole of the ground floor at the Town Trust's expense as a charity made available for community use, to having only the smaller of the two ground floor rooms - which is the Ribble Room - still being available for community use, and the rest of it providing a rent to the Town Trust..."

He went on to argue that the cost comparisons between the Assembly Rooms and the Institute for housing the library were not like-for-like, adding...

"I negotiated the lease terms on behalf of the Town Trust with Fylde Council when the Assembly Rooms was created. It was written into the lease, the long lease that they got, that the ground floor rooms would only be used for community purposes. Certainly they wouldn't be let. The Town Trust would not be letting them for a full rent, and that can only be changed if the Council agrees to lift that restriction on the lease of that Dicconson Room.

So the Council is entitled in law to turn round to the County Council and say - Sorry chaps you can't come into the Assembly Rooms, because we're not going to lift that restriction. So it's no good Fylde Council turning round and saying well, its the County Council's decision. It's not the County Council's decision.

It is the County Council's decision whether it's going to bring a public library to Lytham and where that's going to be, but it's not the County Council's decision alone.

If it's going to come into the Assembly Rooms, it only comes into the Assembly Rooms with the active consent and support of Fylde Council.

Concluding, he said if, as he expected, Fylde's second barrister's opinion agrees that the Institute is held on charitable trusts, Fylde will have to register it with the Charity Commission adding....

"And then, they've got to, on the face of it, use this building for the charitable purposes which were agreed in 1917, which means that the public library has to come back into this building.

And if the Council are saying - oh well there isn't a demand - I mean they could say - it would be a bizarre thing to happen - but for the Council to turn round and ... for Fylde Council to turn round - not the County Council, but Fylde Council, turn round and say there's no demand for a library in Lytham - they're not going to say that, because they've got councillors saying that - particularly Conservative Councillors - saying the library has got to come back here to Lytham so they can't say demand isn't there."

And he concluded by saying that unless Fylde could make out a pretty strong case for the library to move to the Assembly Rooms, then the library should come back here, and our local council should be putting every pressure possible on the County Council to bring the library back to this building where it belongs.

His presentation was received with sustained tumultuous applause and cheers from those assembled.

We know we've reported what he said at length here, but it is really important, and we wanted our readers to get the full picture of what he had to say.

The Chairman resumed control of the meeting, thanked Mr Coupe for what he had said, and the chap who has spoken earlier proposed a vote of thanks which had 'Hear Hear' echoing around the room and more applause.

 BACK TO THE PUBLIC CONTRIBUTIONS

We were now an hour into the meeting, and Cllr Roger Lloyd spoke to express his thanks to Mr Coupe. He had found it most enlightening. He also thanked the researchers and the Chairman for what she had been doing, adding that they should all be working together to make sure that the Library comes back. The sea-change brought about by the Civic Society had renewed hope in the town that the library would return to the Institute.

The Chairman mentioned that the matter had been raised by Cllr Tim Ashton at a Fylde Council meeting last month (which we reported in detail in FBC and Lytham Institute) and she read out Cllr Ashton's motion at that meeting.

She was then asked what the outcome of the meeting was and said it had been amended but she would rather other people gave their opinion of the Council meeting.

Noting that there were councillors present she hoped they might contribute to the meeting.

We think it was Cllr Peter Anthony who did first, saying

"Well, in Group, Tim's motion or Sue's amendment to Tim's motion was discussed in detail, and we actually, well, there was quite a few of us who backed him up... " [Interruption from the floor - Do you mean before the Council meeting?]"....Yes in the Group meeting. So we backed Tim up with this and we actually wanted to make it even better so, by adding a few bits as well, but it was definitely going to be a better scenario than the one that was being proposed, to ensure - well not to ensure, you can't ensure at the moment because we don't know who's going to be in charge after May 2nd, so we will be doing everything we can to ensure definitely, definitely that this building is community use.

We've fought for that. We've fought for that along with you all the way through, to try and get the Library back into this building, it was absolutely devastating when the Library didn't come back into this building and it went to the Assembly Rooms, we were devastated on that, and we helped write that business plan and everything."

He was challenged by the chap who spoke earlier who said he had been told by Cllr Fazackerley, leader of the Conservative Group at the Council meeting that the Town trust were very happy to have the library in the Assembly Rooms. Cllr Anthony responded by saying she had never said that to him and he certainly wouldn't agree with her.

Cue a multiplicity of raised voices.

Cllr Anthony might be right of course, but he *was* present at the meeting where she spoke those words to the man who had asked the Public Question, - as can be seen from Fylde's Video, just as Cllr Anthony can be seen voting against what Cllr Ashton had proposed.

We didn't quite see how that could be squared with what he had just said, but maybe we didn't understand him properly.

Speaking of what Mr Coupe had said, Cllr Thomas, (supported - and joined in comment - by Cllr Anthony) said they should all be singing from the same hymn-sheet, they had had been out marching, they had been down at County Hall, adding....

"I wish David had of had all that information before, because believe me, [few inaudible words], I understand as a lay person, where you're coming from, but we'll take that back, whatever happens after May 2nd we will take that back. As far as we're concerned that's wonderful news. That's music to our ears..."

Mrs Coupe sought to persuade them to return to the Council and put some pressure on whoever in Fylde is involved in the decision to change the lease on the Assembly Rooms.

Cllr Lloyd referred to a letter he had from July 2012, in which Fylde's property officer had spoken of the need to consider alternative options for disposal of Fylde Borough Council's interest in this building. He said there clearly had been a plan to dispose of it, an and he called for unity amongst councillors of differing groups, and for the fight to go on to restore the library to the Institute.

Cllr Blackshaw said she thought it might help if a Freedom of Information request was sent to LCC, because she had been told that some of the decisions had been taken behind closed doors. Cllr Anthony asked her to enhance that comment.

Moving into a mode that we thought was probably closer to 'attack dog' than the unity Cllr Lloyd had just called for, Cllr Anthony challenged her again to be more clear. The result, once again was multiple raised voices, but in lull, Cllr Anthony can be heard to say - 'well it's not like you Brenda to gossip is it?'

Oh dear, the petulance of pre-election posturing was strongly in evidence.

Soon after this, (and, we thought, rather ineptly timed in the circumstances) the Chairman invited Cllr Blackshaw to speak.

She did so, introducing herself as one of the Independent candidates in Lytham. She said she pledged her support to keep the Institute in the community, and she knew her fellow councillors did as well. She said she has asked why the library had to go to the Assembly Rooms and been advised to approach LCC with a Freedom of Information request in the hope of finding something (presumably within LCC's exempt financial information?) that might be of help.

At one point she became involved in a debate about disabled access to the Library, and criticism of the access at the Assembly Rooms where it was at the rear of the building. One of the other candidates standing for election - we think it was Beverley Love - also spoke about disability requirements.

Cllr Lloyd asked Cllr Blackshaw if she supported the library coming back into the Institute.

She said she did.

Then, turning to the Conservatives toward the front of the hall he said

"And what about you two lads over there, do you want the library back here?"

Cllr Anthony responded with

"Well we've been to all these meetings Roger like yourself, this isn't about politics, this is about singing from the same hymn-sheet, and you've been along to these. I'm actually shocked to see Brenda on the top table there because I've never ever ever in my life seen her at a library meeting ever, and she lives less than 200 yards away."

Cue multiple raised voices again. Cllr Lloyd called for calm and working together, and someone in the audience said he has seen the recent Council meeting descend into this level of name-calling. Cllr Anthony said it wasn't name-calling it was called electioneering. (We think that might have been meant as a jibe directed at Cllr Blackshaw).

For our readers' information here, it is our experience that those standing for an imminent election always become tetchy as the critical day draws near. They all put a great deal of effort into presenting their cases in a positive light, and most react badly to criticism or adverse comment.

It's understandable, and it comes with the turf. But it isn't always helpful.

A member of the public intervened and, addressing the two Conservatives, restated the question to ask if they were in favour of the library coming back here.

Cllr Anthony said:

"Of course we are, and we've fought for it in all the meetings."

That all sounded very positive and the meeting moved on.

We had a question of our own to ask Mr Coupe, and it was to ask whether - when the Charity Commission had written to Fylde Council to require registration of the Trust - whether they had also required the Council to separate the income and expenditure for the Institute from the generality of the Council's accounts - so as to ring-fence the income and expenditure for what was going to be a separate legal entity - from the normal income and expenditure of the Council.

Mr Coupe replied to say that the letter the Charity Commission had sent to the Council did indeed include that requirement, and (subject to any challenge Fylde wished to make) it would apply with immediate effect.

This could be good news for those wanting to support the Institute because, when Lowther Gardens was declared a Trust, Fylde Council removed the Central Overhead Recharges that had been charged to it each year, and re-absorbed them over their other services.

We think there may also be other benefits with charitable use - like concessions on rates payable and so on.

We make it that the removal of Fylde's Central Services Charges from the Institute would reduce the building's running costs by about 12,000 a year - and on present arrangements - that would halve the annual net deficit of the Institute.

 NEWS FROM THE WORKING GROUP

During the course of the meeting, many people had spoken in support of continuing the fight to restore the Library into the Institute.

It was very clear to us that bringing the library back into the Institute was the majority view of those present.

So it must have been with some trepidation that the Chairman set about trying to explain what had happened in the Working Group she had joined, (and where bringing the library back to the Institute was definitely NOT the aim).

She was right to be trepidaceous.

Taking the document that had been set out on the chairs as her cue-sheet, she began to explain that although some people were calling it the Town Trust Working Group, that was not correct, it was called the Lytham Institute Working Group and it was simply a group of people.

She said if Fylde Council were going to have an open and transparent procedure to determine the future of the Institute they were going to have to have a group of people saying what they want to happen, and this was a group of people that had an interest in making the Institute a lively community hub.

They had had four meetings and with all the ideas raised at the Friends meetings, they'd tried to work out with an architect what could go where.

She said it was all at early stages yet, and she knew one of the Friends had been asking for the minutes of the meetings and they had been refused.

A cry of protest went up from the person who had asked for them, and the Chairman said - well, lots of groups don't publish their minutes.

Others picked up the irregularity of such a group not providing minutes.

This, of course, brings us straight back to the issue - to our mind - of unsatisfactory governance arrangements for both the Friends and the Working Group.

Raised voices and arguments came to the fore again.

And from where we were sitting, whilst it seemed as though the Chairman enjoyed empathy and sympathy regarding the difficult situation in which she now found herself, her cause was not going to prevail, because her judgement about what should happen was so at odds with what most of the 'Friends' wanted. It also flew in the face of what Mr & Mrs Coupe had so tellingly outlined earlier in the meeting.

The chap who had spoken critically early in the meeting suggested to the Chairman that if she wanted to continue to be on the 'Working Group' she should make it clear to that group that she was doing so as an individual, and not as a representative of the Friends Group.

That was pretty much the pivotal moment of the meeting.

Crunch time had arrived.

The Chairman said she was going to stand down as Chairman, but she would still be on the Working Group, and somebody else could be the Chairman of the Friends group.

And with that, she recognised what was about to become the inevitable, and went and sat with the audience.

It was all very sad really. She had done a lot of work for the group, and had tried to bring people together.

And whilst her style of managing a group is much more informal than ours would be, we have to agree it is a style that avoids conflict and tries to work from mutually agreed consensus (rather than having majority votes that tend to divide people), and sometimes, such an approach has a much to commend it.

But in such a situation, it's easy to confuse people's silence with their consent, and perhaps it gave the impression that more of the Friends shared her view about giving up the fight for the Library than was actually the case.

There was undoubtedly considerable gratitude and sympathy for the former Chairman in the hearts of several in the audience. She had undoubtedly worked hard and been in tune with the Friends' aims and objectives up to last July, but the heads of most of those in the audience were now elsewhere.

In these circumstances, it was always going to be the case that acrimony between those holding differing views kept resurfacing as the debate continued.

One of the Friends said:

"I was in the Assembly Rooms just yesterday and it was disgraceful. And if that is a testament to thirty years - with respect to David - thirty years of management by the Town Trust, then God help the Institute if the Town Trust take over this building."

One person suggested that the Friends group had more or less run its course, and a new sort of group was needed probably with the aim of lobbying and influencing the parties involved.

After a few minutes of something approaching anarchic discord, it fell to the indomitable Marion Coupe with her best Joyce Grenfell 'schoolmarm' voice to restore sense and order with....

"OK this is silly. We don't want any politics, and we don't want any personal abuse or anything else. We definitely need to work together"

She went on to say it had been a useful discussion and, by way of credit, she noted that the meeting that evening wouldn't have taken place had it not been called by the Chairman.

Interestingly - and perhaps presciently - we thought, she concluded what she was saying with....

"OK, if Fylde say - Here you are then, you can have it. I mean that's actually what happened with the Mussel Tank Site, and in some correspondence I've had with Sue Fazackerley, she almost implied that that might be a similar scenario. In other words, the Civic Society were opposing commercial development on the green there, so it was a question of 'well you have it then'."

As the meeting was drawing to a natural close, a chap with a (please forgive us here, we're not good at international accents - but it might have been) a Canadian or American tone to his voice put his hand up. He said

"I just moved to Lytham a year ago and you can tell from my accent that I came from far away. This is, I think, the fourth meeting I've come to about the Library. One thing it seems to me is that the discussion seems to get a consensus, but there's never any clarity established. So is it possible to take a vote?

It sounds to me like there is a consensus that we, the Friends of this building, the group, should lobby very hard to make sure the library comes back here, and the leadership of this group to carry that forward. And certainly the Fylde Council can listen to us.

So is it viable to make a motion, and see what the real support for that statement is?

Confusion reigned for a moment.

Nominally there was no Chairman in place to take a vote of course and, sensing this, the man asked

"If there's some question about re-establishing leadership, then that has to be addressed as well. So,"

And at this point he asked the $64,000 question...

"So how is a decision made in this group? Do people vote?"

We wanted to applaud.

For us he had hit the nail on the head.

Marion Coupe took it upon herself to seemingly sidestep his question saying she would ask the Council representatives to try to persuade the Council to address the issue of the lease with Lytham Town Trust, and address the issue of lobbying councillors.

She asked if there was general consensus that that's what she should do, and many, if not all, the hands in the room went up.

And with that the meeting drew to a close.

 SO WHAT TO MAKE OF THIS

Well, we return to our opening comments.

There are two ways this can go forward now.

If there is to be a popularly supported campaign to be run by a revised or rejuvenated organisation, its first job ought to be to create some sort of Steering Group - probably comprising some of those formerly involved - to put together a basic outline 'Aims and Objectives' for the group, and to present that, and themselves, together with some sort of outline governance document, to a public meeting for Lytham residents, at which they would seek a mandate from the local community for what is being proposed.

Openness and transparency can be satisfied provided their agenda and minutes are published, and we would also expect periodic public-update meetings charting progress toward the agreed aims, partly to bolster the group's democratic authority, and partly to ensure no 'mission creep' over time.

The benefits of this approach are legion, not least transparency and democratic legitimacy. We think it also has the best chance of providing a sustainable longer term oversight of the outcome whatever that might be.

The main downside is whether it would be possible to form a Steering Group comprising people with sufficient time, energy, ability and judgement to drive the project forward.

The other main option would be for the campaign to attach itself to an existing organisation that has a ready made corporate structure and decision making process, one that has sufficient transparency and altruism, and which enjoys the trust and confidence of the local people by virtue of their existing reputation.

It seems to us from what we saw and heard at the meetings we have attended, that the Town Trust does not fit well enough into this mould for the people who claim to be members of the 'Friends Group' because - especially since the barrister's opinion, the Friends clearly wanted to continue to oppose what the Town Trust saw as the future of the Institute.

On the other hand, we might just have seen the Civic Society falling into the role of 'mothership' for the project.

After all, it was the CS - together with some generous individuals - who have probably secured the future of the Institute in one form or another by funding the Counsel's opinion.

 EPILOGUE

Since the meeting there have been a few developments.

 Has the Assembly Rooms Lease Been Altered?

The most notable development was that we were told - but have not yet been able to independently confirm - that a senior officer at Fylde Council has already taken it upon themselves to agree the change in the Town Trust's lease on behalf of the Council, allegedly using what are termed delegated powers. If that is true, and the decision stands, it means the decision could already have been taken without the matter being considered by any Councillor or Committee at all.

We have long complained that Fylde's Conservative majority Conservative party delegates far too much of its decision-taking to officers who, unlike Councillors, are not democratically accountable at the ballot box. And if what we have been told is true, we would not be surprised.

If it is the case, and if majority party Councillors (like Cllr Anthony and Cllr Thomas) want to live up to the undertaking they made at the latest Friends meeting, then the question they will have to pursue with great rapidity will be about whether the delegation was properly taken and whether the officer had the relevant authority to do so, and thus eventually, whether such a decision will stand as the final one.

We are aware of a quite famous legal case in Planning, (regarding environmental protection) where a council officer had relied on a broad catch-all delegation he had been given to decide whether certain types of environmental assessments were necessary or not. In the case in point it was concluded that for his decision to be valid, the Committee holding the responsibility for the matter MUST have explicitly recorded delegated authority for that particular decision to that particular officer.

There's no automatic application of this 'rule' either way, but it will be interesting to see whether the lease has been varied without a decision on the matter having been referred to, and taken by, Councillors.

 Membership of the Working Group

We understand that the Friends have contacted Lytham Town Trust to explain that their former Chairman has resigned, and no longer represents the Friends.

 The Assembly Rooms

We heard in the meeting that the Friends request for the Town Trust to change their decision to have the library in the Assembly Rooms had been refused by the Town Trust. We also heard one Friend speak of the condition inside the Assembly Rooms, suggesting that the management had not looked after it well enough for the last 30 years.

It's a while since we were in that building so we don't have recent personal knowledge, but we have heard similar comments from others in recent times.

And that set us thinking a bit.

If the Town Trust is no longer able to make their commercial rental income from the upper floors cover the cost of maintenance and / or - perhaps even more likely, if the scale of use of - and therefore the rental income from - the community rooms on the ground floor has reduced significantly, then perhaps, if the management is not able to turn around such a decline, and attract more community use of the Assembly Rooms, (and thus more income) they we're likely going to see attempts made to introduce alternative income-producing uses within the ground floor rooms whatever happens.

Perhaps the Town Trust's keenness to have the library installed there is not simply a preference, but more of an existential imperative so far as the Assembly Rooms are concerned.

And if, as one of the Library Friends said, the Town Trust appears unable to make a sufficient success of managing and maintaining the Assembly Rooms (important as they are to the character of Lytham), then we would also have to wonder how well the Town Trust's involvement in the Lytham Institute and Library Building, (which is an even more important 'Grade 2 Listed' building) would augur for its future.

 CONCLUSIONS

Quite a short time ago, it looked as though the decision had been taken to put Lytham Library into the Assembly Rooms, and the probably sale of (at least part of) the Lytham Library and Institute building would go ahead once LCC no longer had their 'User Rights'.

But we believe the legal opinion from Mrs Quint has changed all of that.

Undoubtedly in our mind, Fylde Council may no longer regard the Institute as being on their general asset register.

We think they will soon accept the situation that they are, in fact and in law, a Charity Trustee of the building.

They will have to separate out the income and expenditure attributable to the building from their Council accounts, and account for it separately.

They will be prohibited from selling any part of it.

At least initially, they will have to abide by the charitable purposes which applied when the original trustees gave the building to the Council in 1917.

And even more importantly, Fylde Council will have to bear the full future cost of its repair and maintenance - where previously this cost was shared between Fylde and the County Council.

In such circumstances, it would be extremely foolish of Fylde Council not to seek to restore the library to the Institute building in order to offset the higher maintenance costs they will have to bear if there were to be no contribution from the County Council.

And furthermore (as per the question Mr Turner asked at the recent Fylde Council meeting - and to which he did not receive a proper answer -)

"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."

His question could have had more significance than he might have imagined.

So we don't believe this is the end of the road.

But it is the start of another chapter.

We'll be reporting more for our readers when we are able.

Dated:  29 April 2019

 

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