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Lytham Hall Echoes Melton Grove

Lytham Hall Echoes Melton GroveThis article is another long update and our own analysis of recent happenings regarding Lytham Hall - and haven't there just been some happenings!

The article covers the period since our last report on 2nd July 2017, and we can see echoes of the Melton Grove scandal appearing in Fylde's handling of this matter.

Fylde would also have done well to have kept the following in mind......


"And always keep ahold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse."      (Hilaire Belloc)


SYNOPSIS

Readers wanting more background on this matter should see our two previous articles 'Lytham Hall Update: June 2017'  and the earlier one 'Lytham Hall Mess' of 6 March 2017 The early origins of this story can still be seen at 'Capital Funding Request - Lytham Hall' of 18 March 2011.

We begin this article with an Introduction to set the scene, followed by an Analysis of the Agenda Report of Fylde's third Tourism and Leisure Committee meeting on 7th September 2017.

We then go on to consider What Happened During that meeting, including contributions from John Hornyak Marion Coupe; Reg Jose and John Turner, together with Fylde's CE's oral presentation of the report.

We also report committee members who took part in the debate, including Councillors: Julie Brickles; Maxine Chew; Jan Barker; Susan Fazackerley; Sandra Pitman and Karen Buckley.

The meeting then descended into mayhem as the chairman Cllr Cheryl Little, led the committee into utter confusion.

We end this section with a List of what was printed in the minutes as the decisions that were taken. Whether this was an accurate record or not is anyone's guess, but it is what the Clerks say the Committee decided, so it becomes the official record.

Next, we move to Lytham's version of the City's 'Big Bang Event.' The Bombshell announcement of Mr Turner's plans for the future operation and management of Lytham Hall and, having reported the details, we look at What we think it will all mean under the headings of: Information;  Staff Selection and Cultural Change; Priorities; and Side Issues and Relationships.

Finally, we draw our own Conclusions by comparing what were and might be  the positions of Heritage Trust for the North West, Fylde council, and Lytham Town Trust, before and after the changes Mr Turner announced.

 INTRODUCTION

Regular readers will remember the awful series of articles we published about the most shameful episode in Fylde Council's history - the sale of Melton Grove (MG).

From evidence we had seen, and from what we were told by insiders, it became clear that the appalling treatment of MG residents in the prelude to the sale was characterised by both a hidden political agenda, and by measures of dubious morality.

These measures were at least supported - and might even have been driven - by senior Fylde officers - whose requirement to deliver political neutrality appeared compromised as they sought to generate a large capital receipt from the sale of MG.

The Conservative group chose to hide their civic responsibility to their tenants under a cloak of secrecy afforded by Company Law to force the sale through, whilst the non-conservative councillors were growing increasingly alarmed at what was happening, but were powerless to stop it.

In the December before the MG saga began, we had been told that Fylde's ruling Conservative group (or at least its leading members) came to the view that they wanted to find £300,000 to spend on a grant to Lytham Hall.

This grant was to be one of the main keys that would unlock a massive multi-million pound Heritage Lottery Fund grant for work to restore Lytham Hall.

Fylde's Conservatives also wanted another big chunk of money to do an 'Environmental Improvement Scheme' in Ansdell town centre.

At some point, it was decided to generate both lots of money by selling off Melton Grove to produce a large capital receipt.

It was suggested to us by people both inside and outside the Council that these projects had been privately identified by Fylde's Conservative group as being likely to win them plaudits and support in the Local Government Election which was due the following year.

In the event, (and although they were re-elected as the majority group on the council), the Melton Grove saga proved toxic and very damaging for them and, even today, it is recalled as one of Fylde's least finest hours.

The fate of worthy elderly MG residents appeared to be viewed as 'collateral damage' in the bigger picture of generating £300k for Lytham Hall.

Subsequent to those inauspicious beginnings, we have recently seen the same ethos of steamroller diplomacy, a hidden political agenda, and dubious moral judgement being employed once more in connection with Lytham Hall.

We also still see senior officers of the Council being at least compliant with, if not supportive of, a senseless, politically driven course of action in which Fylde Council - in our view - has no sensible locus to take action at all.

All FBC has done is making things worse for everyone - and, in doing so, we think the Council denied exactly what it said it hoped to achieve.

At its last meeting, The Committee had listened (and we have to say, not very politely) to John Turner, one of the new Trustees of the Heritage Trust for the North West.

(HTNW took a lease of 95 years on the Hall and for many intents and purposes they now 'own' the Hall - just as those of us in LSA who have leasehold property also 'own' our homes).

Mr Turner had outlined the trust's plans for future governance and operations at the Hall to Fylde Councillors, and the Committee concluded they would:

  • "note the responses from Mr Turner on behalf of HTNW to the recommendations made by the committee on March 9th 2017

  • support the proposed establishment of the new project team with new leadership, governance and financial arrangements that are consistent with best practice and transparency.

  • seek reassurance, with supporting evidence, from HTNW that the new team will have the capability and personnel to deliver a successful Lytham Hall restoration project, in order for the committee to have confidence in HTNW delivering the Lytham Hall Restoration Project.

  • appoint Councillor Richard Fradley as the borough councilís representative on the new Lytham Hall Restoration Project Team with the role and responsibility to be agreed in consultation with HTNW and reported back to the committee.

  • [have] "the nominated member (Richard Fradley) work with the Director of Development Services and other appropriate officers to monitor the progress of the actions agreed by HTNW and provide a progress report to the committee on September 7th 2017.

  • request that HTNW produce an immediate action plan with timescales to ensure the achievement of the input improvements pledged over the next few months."

The Committee also resolved:

  • "That if it is clear to the nominated elected member (Richard Fradley) over the summer period that satisfactory progress is not being made against the action plan, or with the establishment of a new project team, or the financial, governance and leadership arrangements, ahead of the September committee, the Chairman of the committee be notified to consider any appropriate action.

  • That the committee withhold but retain the option to take such action as may be open to it (including legal action) to recover whole or part of the grant, and to seek the intervention of the Charity Commission to review the overall financial management and governance arrangements of Heritage Trust North West and its respective trading companies, subject to satisfactory progress with the new leadership, governance and financial arrangements outlined by HTNW in this report."

We were surprised and shocked by many of these decisions.

Mr Turner had told the Committee that he would have measures in place to effect significant changes by October, yet here were the Committee saying they wanted to see the changes in place before their 7th September meeting.

Quite why they chose to attempt to usurp HTNW's timetable is not at all clear.

We were also surprised at the decision to select a single Councillor to assess progress on the Lytham Hall Project. This is a very unusual move.

It ought to have been done by professional/Technical officers reporting to the Committee, and it makes us wonder why none of the officers had volunteered or been required to undertake this role. (We wondered if they had been warned off, or were less than willing to become embroiled in something in which Fylde Council had no proper locus to become involved).

Furthermore (and in the absence of a professional officer making reports) if it had to become a responsibility vested in a Member of the Council, it would have been far more acceptable to have had the reporting prepared and undertaken by the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Committee.

Arranging to have this undertaken by one ordinary Committee member is not usual, and frankly it is procedurally unwise, irrespective of who it is.

Furthermore, we were quite shocked the Committee agreed to choose Cllr Fradley - because during the meeting, he had freely expressed the view that he knew nothing about The Heritage Trust for the North West. (He had also demonstrated possession of a mind that seemed to us to be pretty made up and tightly closed on several aspects of Lytham Hall and the HTNW).

We saw considerable evidence of what seemed to us to be pre-determined view as to what should happen with the Hall - and that was even before he was proposed to be its assessor and reporter - let alone before he had sought some information to enlighten himself about the situation.

All of this added weight to our growing view that there was a hidden agenda in play that the whole Committee had not seen, were not party to, and had not approved.

The smell emanating from the Committee's involvement in Lytham Hall was getting decidedly rat-like.

As readers will spot from the resolutions above, there were also other 'issues' that didn't gell with us, and didn't seem right.

Our growing impression was that Fylde was becoming (or was choosing to become) enmeshed in the growing row between Lytham Town Trust (as landlord) and the Heritage Trust for the North West (as the lessee), and FBC appeared ready to try to assume the role of 'enforcer' for the Town Trust - a role which the Council has no locus to perform.

So with that by way of introduction, we now look at....

 THE T&L AGENDA REPORT.

Readers can follow this link for a full copy of item 4 of the T&L Agenda for Fylde's 7th September meeting which we now abbreviate below.

The report is formally attributed to "COUNCILLOR FRADLEY & CHIEF EXECUTIVE" although as we shall see later, Cllr Fradley was not present at the meeting to present his report in person, and the Chief Executive did what we thought was a passable impression of St Peter at the Last Supper, denying knowledge of it (or at least distancing himself from it) twice if not thrice before the night was out.

The agenda item was marked as a 'Decision Item' (rather than an Information item), and headed "LYTHAM HALL RESTORATION PROJECT Ė PROGRESS REPORT."

We think this choice of status and title is quite deliberate - its phrasing gives an observer the impression that Fylde has responsibility for overseeing progress on the project to restore Lytham Hall.

Fylde has no such responsibility.

The report summarises itself by saying that it includes feedback, comments and views from Councillor Richard Fradley on the progress made since June on the actions to prepare for a new lottery bid.

It goes on to say that Fylde's officers and / or members have had conversations and meetings with Heritage Trust North West (HTNW), Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), some of the volunteers from Lytham Hall, and Lytham Town Trust (LTT).

It also notes that

"Councillor Fradley has been supported by the Chief Executive and the report includes views, opinions and conclusions based on the conversations held and any supporting evidence provided."

The body of the report appears to reproduce the resolutions of the previous T&L Committee, but notably, it omits the perhaps slightly inconvenient first two resolutions which:

  • "note Mr Turner's presentation to the previous Committee"

and the Committee's decision to

  • "support the proposed establishment of the new project team with new leadership, governance and financial arrangements that are consistent with best practice and transparency."

For reasons that are as yet unclear, it seems that Fylde did not want to wait for Mr Turner's report (which he had said would be concluded by October).

This makes us wonder whether Fylde wanted to implement some proposals of its own, perhaps to pre-empt what HTNW might be planning.

Furthermore, some of the wording setting out what the committee decided in their approved minutes - and what the Chief Executive's current report to this T&L Committee says they decided at their last meeting - has some subtle, but important, differences.

For example, the original minutes say Fylde would:

  • "appoint Councillor Richard Fradley as the borough councilís representative on the new Lytham Hall Restoration Project Team with the role and responsibility to be agreed in consultation with HTNW and reported back to the committee."

Whilst the CE's latest report says their decision was ....

  • "b. That the committee nominate a member to link with the new Lytham Hall Restoration Project team with the role and responsibility to be agreed in consultation with HTNW and reported back to the committee."

Read carefully, the difference here is that the Minute requires Cllr Fradley to become a member of the 'project team' whilst CE's report merely requires a nominated member to link with the project team.

The difference probably arises because the 'project team' comprises whoever HTNW choose to invite as members. Fylde Council's minute attempted to nominate themselves to be part of his team, and it did so when they have no locus to do so. Membership is within the gift of HTNW, not Fylde Council

Likewise, the paragraph in the Minute that begins

  • "That if it is clear to the nominated elected member (Richard Fradley) over the summer period that satisfactory progress is not being made against the action plan, or with the establishment of a new project team....."

had become....

  • "d. That if it is clear over the summer period that satisfactory progress is not being made with the establishment of a new project team ...."

The Chief Executive's re-wording of the Minute fails to record the Committee's allocation of responsibility specifically to Cllr Fradley as the nominated representative, and produces a much more 'wooly' decision - because no-one is clear who it is that has to be satisfied whether sufficient progress has been made or not.

It is not clear whether these omissions and changes to the wordings are the result of nothing more than sloppy reporting of the previous minutes, or whether they indicate some back-pedalling or a change of mind on Fylde's part.

The Fradley/Oldfield report speaks of meetings that have taken place, before going on to say...

"However, in the nine week period since June 22nd, and the compilation of this progress report to the committee, there has been no evidence provided of action taken, changes put in place or plans progressed. No evidence has been provided of a new team being established, names provided, recruitment started or any evidence of a bid being put together to the HLF Resilience Fund....."

This wording is biased and selective reporting to the T&L Committee on Fylde's part, not least because it fails to include reference to Mr Turner's statement at the previous Committee that his work would not be completed until the end of September - and the lack of 'evidence' referred above to was determined by the Fradley/Oldfield Report on or before 7th September, (well before Mr Turner expected to complete his work).

There follows another biased and damningly-phrased paragraph implying that, whilst people are talking about change, everything is still the same, adding that Mr Turner will not have operational responsibility for the Hall and Mr Miller is still in operational charge.

We say this is one-sided reporting because it is calculated to lead the reader to the perception or conclusion that there will be no change so Fylde must do something more about it.

In fact this is complete rubbish.

They were told there would be no change announced until the end of September or early October, and this Fradley/Oldfield report was last modified on 29 August which is a month before that deadline. 

Furthermore, as Mr Turner told the last Committee meeting, he is a Trustee (not an officer) of HTNW. So it follows that even in principle, let alone in practice, he has (and should have), little or no responsibility for day to day operations.

His position is similar to Fylde, where a Councillor has no operational responsibility. It is the official -  the paid officer - who exists to execute the Council's decisions and instructions.

Whoever included this implied criticism of Mr Turner's role at HTNW, failed to explain this difference to the T&L Committee.

They should have made it clear that Mr Miller, and Mr Oldfield are the Chief Executives of their respective organisations. They are the ones to have day to day operational control, not the Trustees or Councillors.

But this report implies that Mr Turner is somehow wrong not to have operational responsibility for the Hall.

It's phrasing appears calculated to continue to deliver an unbalanced, negative view of HTNW.

As he had told the previous Tourism and Leisure Committee meeting , the change being planned by Mr Turner was for Mr Miller to step aside from the Lytham Hall Project at the end of September, and for a new operational manager to be appointed to take charge of day-to day operations at the Hall.

Fylde Councillors deserve (and need) to be provided with all sides of an argument in order to be able to arrive at proper conclusions. That responsibility sits squarely on the shoulders of Fylde's officers.

But they cannot arrive at proper conclusions when their reports are partial and biased, as this one is.

Allowing the delivery of incomplete and biased information like this is exactly what happened over the Melton Grove affair.

It is extremely unprofessional and it is also dangerous for our democracy.

Above all else, paid officers must rise above the party politicking and insist on a proper balance being presented in their reports to Committees.

The biased tone of this report means that councillors had no proper understanding of the decisions they are being asked to take, and their decisions were therefore potentially unreliable.

This Committee - and the whole Council - is being badly let down by their officers.

The biased, partial reporting in this item can only have had one purpose - to condition the minds of councillors on the T & L Committee to believe that a particular, (probably pre-determined) decision was the only one that could sensibly be taken.

We think the real reason behind much of what is going on can be found within the report's paragraph which says

"The option of HTNW not being involved in a future bid to the HLF was discussed and Mr Turner confirmed that this would be on the agenda of the next meeting with LTT, the landlord for the site. The option would require HTNW releasing the tenancy which under the terms of the agreement would could potentially involve substantial dilapidation and repair costs. HTNW were aware that LTT indicated the terms of the tenancy could be negotiated to facilitate surrender of the tenancy provided that HTNW wanted to explore this option. This is a matter between the landlord and tenant but Mr Turner confirmed that this was a possible option."

Readers will form their own views as to what this might mean, but we read it that the Landlord seems to want to end its relationship with its tenant altogether, and they want to talk about the terms under which 'Hexit' might happen.

We could see more than one reason why the Landlord might want to have their tenant removed.

The most superficially obvious is because the Lancashire County Council changed their mind and failed to deliver the £1m grant they had promised to HTNW.

This resulted in HTNW being unable to demonstrate they had sufficient funds to complete the project they had promised the Lottery people they would do, and the Lottery folk withdrew what they had said they would put into the project.

So everything came to a halt.

Lytham Town Trust (and FBC) seem to think LCC withdrew the Lytham Hall Project grant to HTNW because of failures on the part of HTNW to meet timing conditions on this grant that had been imposed by LCC.

And certainly that's what LCC want people to think.

But we've looked into this in quite a lot of detail - (See our article 'Lytham Hall Mess' of 6 March 2017), and we are absolutely convinced it is not possible to be so definite as to the cause of the £1m Lytham Hall grant being withdrawn.

There are strong grounds to believe that HTNW was a completely innocent party here, and the real cause lay with LCC, who chose to link a completely separate matter between them and HTNW about a broader HTNW matter that was not connected with the Lytham Hall grant, in order to justify LCC's withdrawal of the grant for the Lytham Hall Project.

However, the landlord (and FBC) seems to want to believe HTNW was at fault. They seem ready to say the blame lies with HTNW, and it now appears they want them out of the frame altogether.

Our own view is that HTNW (and Mr. Miller in particular) is the premier (if not the only) North West non-governmental organisation with the experience and empathy to understand and manage restoration projects for important buildings of the calibre of Lytham Hall.

So, we wonder, if Lytham Town Trust are mulling over a possible situation with HTNW not on the scene, who might then undertake the restoration project?

Clearly Lytham Town Trust itself does not have the capacity or experience to do so, (or it would not have needed to lease the property to HTNW in the first place).

We don't think any of the local Councils would want to (or even should) take over the project and manage it for the public good themselves, (especially given the funding reductions they are being required to make by Central Government at the present time)

And if, for the moment, we rule out the restoration project being reduced in scale and scope, in order to be taken under the wing of an architectural practice or similar, as part of a redevelopment of the Hall into some sort of flagship commercial use (rather than the Hall and Grounds being used as a public asset - as most people currently envisage), then we can think of only one other NW organisation who might be willing to take it on.

That would be the Groundwork Trust who began life in the early 1980s as a left of centre/green organisation based first in St Helens, and later with a presence in East Lancashire.

Their early work promoted wildflower meadows and used the Government's temporary employment schemes to fund unemployed youngsters and the associated minimalist materials costs to implement the cheap conversion of derelict land into 'wildflower meadows' and the like.

Since that time they have grown and, no doubt, changed. And, to be fair, they have probably changed more than we realise in recent years.

But because our knowledge of them and their capability dates back to their origins and early years - when we were distinctly unimpressed - we would have been reluctant to let them loose on anything we considered to be an important project - we couldn't see the wisdom of them taking on something as important as Lytham Hall.

If they are discounted, that leaves us the option of either a developer or an architectural practice, And we could only see that option working if there is some (what the planners euphemistically call) 'enabling development' i.e. unpalatable commercial exploitation of the Hall or its grounds or at least of parts of them.

And given that the Hall and grounds were acquired by Lytham Town Trust - chiefly with a grant from British Aerospace and the generosity of 'Guardian' at the time, who threw in a number of other income-generating properties like commercial farms, the income from which was intended to enable the Town Trust to fund the ongoing maintenance of the Hall, and that all of this was done especially to avoid the Hall falling into commercial use, we wonder how the Town Trust could now consider looking at a commercial use option if, indeed, it is something they have considered, or do consider, doing.

We mention this as a possibility only because we have picked up the names of some local people of note in the property or development arena whose names we have recently heard spoken of in the same breath as the Hall.

And if one or more of these options was to be under consideration by the Landlord, it might explain why Fylde's Chief Executive found it necessary to comment in his report to the Committee about the possibility of '.... HTNW not being involved in a future bid to the HLF....' and that '....this would be on the agenda of the next meeting with LTT....'

But for the moment at least (and we think for a lot longer), such possibilities have moved onto the back-burner because - as CE's report also notes, that meeting with landlord and tenant took place, but the option to surrender the tenancy was not progressed.

According to Fylde's CE, this was because of the

"unacceptable terms that HTNW requested to surrender the tenancy".

Here again we see the report's phrasing putting the perspective of Lytham Town Trust and the Council as one entity when in fact the report should have made it clear to councillors that the 'unacceptability' referred to here was attributable only the perspective of Lytham Town Trust as the landlord.

Without Fylde being party to the terms of the original lease, any other agreements, and the recent preparations, meetings and discussion about surrendering the lease, the Council is not in a position to judge (and frankly ought not even to *attempt* to interpose itself or to position itself in) what might, or might not, be said to be acceptable terms between a private landlord and tenant.

Paragraph 7 of Fylde's CE's report records a meeting between Messers Fradley and Oldfield and someone from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Unless Fylde Council was planning to fund or take over the project to restore Lytham Hall, we could see no point in such a meeting taking place, (and especially one that did not appear to involve the landlord of the property and the tenant as well).

But meet they did.

The Chief Executive's report says the purpose of the meeting was to establish the process and prospects for a further bid to the HLF for the restoration of Lytham Hall.

But according to what he says, they don't seem to have discussed the restoration of the Hall itself.

They did, however, talk about the prospect of a separate HLF grant to fund the work necessary to be able to submit another or a revised request for a restoration grant for the Hall.

We're unsure of the value of this because there already exists at least two detailed plans (with supporting survey work and so on) for the restoration of the Hall.

One of these is the original plan which failed when LCC withdrew the £1m grant they had promised, and a second, which is a 'cut-down' version of it formulated by HTNW employees.

This reduced scale and scope version was the one submitted to suit a budget that did not include the LCC £1m grant, and it was rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

So it seems to us that it's not additional plans for the Hall that are needed, it's additional cash in the region of at least £1m and possibly by now even more because further deterioration will have taken place in the building, and, as ever, methods and standards of restoration, (and costs), continue to increase when the project is standing still.

Personally, we think Fylde would have done better to expend its efforts in giving - or at least helping to find - the additional money that is needed to actually DO the restoration work that is needed.

The HLF seem to have told Fylde that they are expecting an application for one of these preparatory grants. (This does not surprise us at all, see below).

They are separate to the main HLF grants and are allocated from a pot of HLF money designated for 'Resilience' - that is, they provide money to help organisations to prepare bids for larger sums so as to make them more likely to be successful - (typically by improving the evidence of need, or by more accurate or detailed financial and business projections, or to make bidders more financially stable and well-managed themselves).

We are not at all surprised at this because back in November last year a reader sent us an internal circular from Mr Miller setting out what needed to be done after the HLF grant for the second part of the project was withdrawn by HLF.

In that note he said:

"Currently HTNW is reviewing its Governance, to take account of recent changes in both charity and company legislation. The Trust has obtained a small grant to cover the costs of this Governance Review. It will cover:-

  • review of the Memorandum and Articles of Association;

  • membership of the Board of Trustees;

  • skills audit;

  • advertising, interviewing and appointment of new Trustees;

  • appointment of Advisory Groups (Building Conservation/ Gardens/Collections);

  • human resources required to meet the objectives, the staff structures, the
    appointment of new staff and reporting arrangements;

  • finance controls and reporting.

Having carried out this Review, HTNW will apply for an HLF Resilient Heritage Grant to enable the Trustees to take a fresh view of all its projects, but particularly Lytham Hall, and reappraise the plans for each project to see if there are any alternative or better ways of developing each one. This will take at least a year to 18 months, but will result in new Business Plans including one for Lytham Hall which the Trust can use as the basis for a new HLF application for Lytham Hall in 2018......."

Readers will see that - even by last November - this work had already been put in hand by the much-maligned Mr Miller (on 22 November 2016 to be precise), but paragraph 7 of the Fradley/Oldfield report knows nothing of this, and it concludes by saying:

"To date HTNW have not submitted a bid to the Resilience Fund for a grant to support a full bid for the restoration project."

That may be an accurate statement by Fylde, but it is not the whole story. It omits that a grant had been sourced from elsewhere.

Clearly, the situation that the Fradley/Oldfield report described will be, (and will remain) the case if, (as Mr Miller's note of November 2016 report envisaged) the work that HTNW had to complete for their Governance Review would not actually be ready until around or before, May 2018.

It seems to us that some councillors at Fylde have been blinded about what is actually happening already by their unwillingness to listen to what they are told, and they are hampered (in our view) by their self evident prejudiced and unfounded rage against Mr Miller's way of making things happen.

This is yet further evidence of biased phrasing in this report.

It says nothing of the positive action Mr Miller initiated. Instead, it accentuates the negatives and fails to recognise that a full bid was, (and so far as we know, still is) ready to go if someone would stump up the £1m that LCC reneged on its promise to give to the Lytham Hall Restoration Project.

We think the only time a completely new RESTORATION bid (which is what Fylde seem to want) would be needed is if there was some significant change envisaged to either the nature of the scheme (say something with an associated 'enabling' development that would generate the money), or a new restoration scheme of reduced scale or scope were to be devised - one that would do less work, but which would be acceptable to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Adding even more bias and criticism of HTNW, the Fradley / Oldfield Report to T&L went on to highlight what the HLF's 'Moore Stephens' Report had criticised about administrative and operational arrangements within HTNW, without any mention of the measures that HTNW had begun to put in place to rectify this criticism last November. (We have addressed this matter in previous articles), and it concluded that:

"A bid to the HLF that does not involve HTNW would be less challenging and could be prepared and processed easier and quicker because the outstanding concerns HLF have with HTNW include in the Moore Stephens Report remain. The Chief Executive of HTNW remains in the same role at Lytham Hall at the time of writing this report."

Again, they have failed to ascertain and report the progress that HTNW had begun and is currently making toward meeting the recommendations of the Moore Stephens report, and the fact that it was estimated that this work would to take up to May 2018 to complete.

Fylde had also made what we regard as unreasonable requests and requirements regarding HTNW's broader activities that are away from and do not concern Lytham Hall, including:

  • more regular board meetings;

  • the agenda from the HTNW Board meetings;

  • and documented internal policies and procedures;

This is no business of FBC at all, but they cite the lack of evidence of compliance in these matters as though it were another indictment of fault.

It is none of their business.

The Fradley/Oldfield report to T&L went on to note the physical deterioration of the Hall is continuing month after month without the major external and internal renovations that the restoration project was designed to deliver.

It expresses concern for the external appearance of the Hall and a need for a significant program of repairs and maintenance simply to stem the rate of deterioration.

They add that LTT, in the capacity as landlord have initiated a clause in the lease to commission a full dilapidation survey of the Hall and surrounding infrastructure to establish the extent of repair and maintenance required by the tenant (HTNW) in order to meet the requirement of the tenancy agreement.

Whilst it is undoubtedly the case that there will be further deterioration, it must also be the case that this was inevitable once LCC withdrew the £1m grant for the Hall, and HLF would not accept a cut down version of the original lottery application that HTNW had worked prepared.

If there had been a schedule of dilapidation prepared as part of the original lease agreement, it should be possible to see the extent of the deterioration now, but if this is the first call for a dilapidation survey (and it's the first mention we've heard of it), we wonder with what this new one might be compared?

And even if/when it is compared, there exists an ocean of arguments to be had about liability for, and just what constitutes, maintenance, repair, conservation, restoration, and so on, and what the agreement between the landlord and tenant requires of each.

There's plenty of work for lawyers here.

The Fradley/Oldfield Report says the purpose of the dilapidation survey is:

"to establish the extent of repair and maintenance required by the tenant (HTNW) in order to meet the requirement of the tenancy agreement."

Without knowing the terms of the original lease, one can only speculate what the value or outcome of embarking on such a course might be, but we do note Fylde's reference is to 'repair and maintenance' and (at least in our book), that's not the same as 'restoration' or even 'conservation'

The report to T&L notes that a meeting requested by FBC had been arranged -  where Councillor Fradley and a senior accountant from Fylde could review the accounts in an attempt to identify expenditure against the £300,000 contribution made by the Council.

It goes on to complain that it could only be arranged for September 29th and noted that this was an

".... inconvenient time frame that does not allow for any update on the expenditure of the grant in this report."

We wonder what on earth Fylde is thinking about here.

They commissioned two specialist public sector auditors from Blackpool - (people who might well have been the most able investigative auditors on the Fylde coast) to look at HTNW's accounts, and they reported it was not possible to find more than they did in their report (which we covered in detail in an earlier article).

By asking for Cllr Fradley and one of Fylde's audit or accounting staff to inspect the HTNW accounts again - and here it should be remembered that the FBC grant was given to HTNW not to 'Lytham Hall' (which as far as we know, is not a legal entity and therefore cannot have its own bank account) Fylde seem to be implying that they do not believe what the Blackpool Auditors found.

We find that truly incredible.

Furthermore, given that the last T&L meeting was told that HTNW's revised governance arrangements would not be available for reporting until the end of September, and that the 28th Sept appears to be the first available date for another inspection of the HTNW accounts, we wonder why Fylde decided to have this item on their agenda now.

They could have delayed it until their next Committee or they could have called a supplementary (special) meeting in early October if it was so important.

But then, we get to what we think is Fylde's real reason for this report.

The end of paragraph 15 says:

"....Feedback from all stakeholders, apart from HTNW, indicates a loss of confidence in the current leadership of the project and a view that any continued involvement of the current leadership, in any form, would be untenable for the project going forward. A number of stakeholders also believe that the culture and behaviour of the current leader of the project is reflective of HTNW as an organisation and that the individual and the organisational behaviours are inseparable. "

And in particular we focus on the bit that says "...any continued involvement of the current leadership, in any form, would be untenable for the project going forward..."

This appears to be the same view of the Landlord.

It's almost as though Fylde was seeking to act in place of them in this matter.

The Fradley/Oldfield Report concludes with a written 'statement' from Cllr Fradley where he...

'confirm that paragraphs 1 - 16, written by FBC Chief Executive, represent a true and accurate summary of the meetings and conversations held with LTT, HTNW and HLF....."

He also says:

"I find it very disappointing that the timescale agreed at the meeting, for evidence of the organization and financial restructuring, has not been forthcoming. A conclusion could be made that the senior management of HTNW were not fully in agreement with Mr. Turnerís proposals. It is my opinion that HTNW have been given more than enough time to provide the Tourism and Leisure Committee with the information requested regarding the restructuring of HTNWís Lytham Hall project team. I can only therefore conclude that:

  • I donít have the confidence that HTNW are willing to establish a new management and financial team to manage the Lytham Hall project.

  • It is my belief that this apparent lack of commitment to restructure will severely damage any future bid to the HLF.

It is my opinion that:

  • Further investigation and legal advice is required to establish expenditure against the £300,000 contribution made by Fylde Council with a view to recouping some or all of the funds, dependent on the outcome of the investigation.

  • A Community Interest Company is formed to establish new funding streams for the Lytham Hall Restoration project (funded through a bid to the HLF Resilience Fund).

  • Fylde Council act as the Accountable Body for any future HLF bid.

I fully understand that FBC have no input into the Landlord / Tennant relationship between LTT and HTNW, but I hope that the following observations will be noted:

  • Negotiations are encouraged between LTT and HTNW to come to a mutual agreement with regards to restructuring of the project teams or surrender of the lease.

  • HTNW need to be encouraged to be more transparent about their financial matters with regards to Lytham Hall.

  • HTNW be encouraged to act on the findings of the Moore Stevens report.

I would like to thank everyone for their time and inputs to this report and look forward to working with all the stakeholders to deliver a sustainable solution to the restoration of Lytham Hall."

So there we have it. Fylde has devised its own solution.

They are being asked to consider a takeover from HTNW.

He (and/or Fylde's Chief Executive, as co-author of the report), is suggesting a 'not for profit' business is formed to generate new funding for the Lytham Hall project, and that Fylde should hold the purse strings for the restoration.

It's meddling of the worst order.

We thought it was a biased and, frankly, awful report for Fylde's T&L Committee to consider.

They were being treated as a 'mushroom committee'. (Keep 'em in the dark and feed them a load of bull****)

The report did not present options for the Committee to debate, it was not balanced. It was partisan, and it led to only one conclusion.

And that conclusion felt very much to be in the style of those we saw at Melton Grove, in that it had been pre-determined by the Conservative group, and officers were being required to deliver a particular outcome that other Councillors were going to be pushed to follow.

 WHAT HAPPENED AT THE 7TH SEPTEMBER T&L MEETING?

Our overall rough and dirty view was exactly as we had suspected would happen from the agenda.

The Chairman appeared to have a series of pre-written amendments or additions to the recommendations which she sprung on the Committee, and which her colleagues used their majority to push through.

It was an awful meeting, and it ranked amongst the worst we have seen at Fylde.

Once again it was a packed meeting with additional chairs having been brought to meet the needs of the public gallery.

We saw people there from HTNW, LTT, The Friends of Lytham Hall and, we suspect, volunteers from the Hall itself.

Before the meeting started, one of the clerks asked those in the gallery whether those registered to speak in the 'public platform' were present and still wanted to speak.

There were three, John Hornyak, Marion Coupe and a chap called (we think) Jones or Jose (there was a hubbub at the time he gave his name).

She asked if anyone had questions and one chap said:

"This report, am I talking as well? John Turner?"

This, of course was the chap who had spoken at length at the last meeting (where he said he was preparing new arrangements for Lytham Hall's management and he would have them ready to report to the Council by the end of September).

He was told the Chairman would address that matter once the meeting got under way.

But clearly, this time, he was evidently not to be part of the meeting.

The meeting opened with some technical difficulties in that the microphones were not working.

It was an inauspicious start.

The pubic platform was the first item and the Chairman said there were four speakers (Mr Turner had been included).

So unlike last time, on this occasion he was being treated as a member of the public and limited to one three minute session before the meeting proper started.

The Chairman first called:

 JOHN HORNYAK

There was a short hiatus when it became clear that even the microphone at the reporting table was not working. It was swapped with others, but none of them worked either.

(Fortunately we are lucky to have an exceptionally sensitive audio recorder and, for the most part, although we cannot hear everything on the night, the recorder can pick up what is said without microphones being used).

He was asked to speak without the microphone.

He said he was a grounds volunteer at the Hall and a member of the Lytham Hall Management Committee. He said his background was as Head of Horticulture at Myerscough College before retiring in 2002. He was co-author of the Lytham Hall Conservation Management Plan 2016-2060.

He said he was often asked why, at Lytham Hall in the 21st century, the dedicated volunteers and staff had to read newspapers or hear about discussions from public meetings such as this in order to discover fundamentally about their organisation, rather than hearing from senior managers, adding....

"At last, today, Mr Turner invited us to a meeting next Tuesday, about progress and future plans for the Hall.

I hope and pray we will learn something reliable and constructive tonight"

Referring to the agenda report, he said he was especially interested in Paragraphs 10 and 11 of the report, and he said the volunteers and others were very frustrated, disappointed and concerned, yet continue to work as hard as they can, and be constructive and positive under the highly demoralising and stressful circumstances of a culture that is preaching poverty.

He said the incontrovertible fact was that Lytham Hall today, still had collapsed ceilings, leaking roofs, defective rainwater goods, broken windows, negligible heating, and numerous areas of severe damp and worse, and he doubted this was the case in 1997.

He referred to Bank Hall in Chorley which had been on the television. He said this building was on Historic England's 'At Risk' register, as is Lytham Hall. He said the TV had clearly shown how quickly a historic house could deteriorate and at Bank Hall, the lost interior would have to be rebuilt incorporating 12 luxury apartments in the building's shell. He said it was a shame someone could not have acted sooner. He said he understood that Chorley Council had become the 'accountable body' for the Bank Hall project.

He went on to say Lytham Hall and its parkland urgently needed an accountable body, with the potential for public, HLF, and corporate credibility. The project needed effective leadership, with the skills to reunite personnel and manage competently, transparently and sustainably for Lytham St Annes, its visitors and the country, thus honouring the £1m gift by British Aerospace for the community 20 yeas ago. He concluded:

"Potential investors and stakeholders need a team who can be trusted to communicate openly and market the (it sounded like 'brand'?) with integrity, expertise and respect for legal compliance.

Madam Chairman, We need to repair *all* the damage, both physical, interpersonal, and reputational. This is our heritage. The clock is ticking, just look at Bank Hall. Could Lytham Hall be next."

Next to speak was:

 MARION COUPE

We know Mrs Coupe as an able and forthright speaker. She chairs the Lytham St Annes Civic Society. We have a lot of time for her and the good works she does to protect the heritage of the area.

We managed to get a full copy of what Mrs Coupe said, and readers can ask us for a copy if they would like one.

In summary, she said had been a supporter of the acquisition of Lytham Hall for the community since it was put up for sale 20 years ago and she knew the building better than most people.

She said HTNW is a much respected regional body with unrivalled knowledge in conservation of buildings.

It had subsidised LH for many years from its own resources plus grants which were now difficult to achieve, adding that HTNW should be praised for the steps they have recently taken to bring up to date their governance structure so that it fully conforms with the best principles.

At this point, we wondered how it could be that if she knew of the steps HTNW were already taking to comply with the Moor Stephens recommendations, and we also knew something of them, how it could be that Fylde did not appear to know anything of them?

Mrs Coupe went on to say:

"I find it a disgrace that Lytham Town Trust, with funds of approaching £2m will not pass over any, nor will the Friends of Lytham Hall (which I set up 20 years ago) nor will they assist with the urgent decorating project at the Hall. They have £60K in the bank. None of this is very 'friendly'.

Of these three charities it is HTNW which has unconditionally committed its financial resources in keeping Lytham Hall operational for the last twenty years.

The Town Trust has become asset rich from property interests acquired from Guardian when the Hall was purchased. These assets would not have been acquired had the Town Trust not taken on the commitment of the Hall. These assets are FOR the HALL."

She moved on to the T&L agenda item and said she thought the Fradley report was anecdotal and amateurish. She argued the Council should not be party to it.

She said the big question was what was the point of the aggression and scapegoating? People had to work together.

She argued that if the present confrontational situation continued, HTNW - itself run on a shoestring and relying on volunteers, could be forced out of existence.

We could not have agreed more with her when she said:

"Nothing justifies the nasty personal abuse suffered by John Miller, now himself a volunteer.

Lytham Town Trust are trying to force HTNW to give up their dedication to the Hall.

I would like to know what their plan B is. This is my last point. I'd like to know what... where this is going really.

Iím told that people doing this have a Plan B, but we don't know what it is.

Do the council really want to collude in destroying all that has been achieved - without knowing about a plan B?

Lytham Town Trust canít run Lytham Hall. This council wouldnít want to. So if we are planning for the future here - what are the plans? Where is the transparency that a charity should have?"

She also refuted the comparison made with Bank Hall, saying it was not fair because that had been derelict with no roof for over 50 years, in the ownership of Lord Lilford. The shell of the building would not be there at all if it were not for HTNW, who took it on with a successful lottery application and partnership with Urban Splash so that the conversion is now able to proceed.

Next was

 REG JOSE

He was a very practical sort of a chap who said he was a volunteer involved at the moment in repairing the windows, currently working on the bay window in the Courtyard.

He said he wanted to introduce one or two items from a layman's point of view. Speaking with a London accent he said

"As you can hear, I'm a new boy. It seems that nobody's got on with anything since I've been here, it's all dancing around. When are we going to get some direction and some solid guidance? We take one step forward and two steps backwards. We make new windows for the courtyard, one of them has been OKd, and put in. We made another three, never told ooops stop, don't do that. And its the same with the bay window, nine months ago we measured up, then it was going to be, not going to be, will be, won't be. We've lost volunteers, and the people that are there are disheartened. Everybody at that Hall is pulling for that Hall, it's the only reason we go there."

He then said (and for readers not familiar with folk at the hall, we understand that the lady he was about to refer to took on the sort of 'Acting Manager' role at the Hall when the actual manager was terminated when the lottery grant money ran out. By all accounts - from other volunteers we know who have previously worked with her at the Hall - she was very well respected and highly thought of ).

"Marianne has asked for a four month sabbatical because she is so disillusioned, and the reply was, if I can read it, 'The trustees have asked me to say that they have agreed to your request for a sabbatical to the end of your contract. At this stage they cannot guarantee any work in the New Year.'

I mean that is not the sort of reply to somebody who has put their heart and soul into this place. We had that poor girl in tears this afternoon. She don't know which way to turn. She doesn't want to leave, but she sees no future in it. And this is beginning to seep down through everybody. So all I would like to say is, could everybody just stop fighting, get their act together, and let's get this hall up and running."

From what we have been able to find out, it seems a complicating factor for her was that when the money ran out, LTT agreed to keep her on a temporary basis and they paid her a salary themselves, but she actually reported to HTNW, and when the relationship between LTT and HTNW broke down, she must have found herself in an impossible situation. We didn't know the lady, but it must be a testament to her character that she managed to do such a good job for so long in those circumstances.

Finally, the Chairman called Mr Turner of HTNW.

 JOHN TURNER

He reminded the Committee he was here representing HTNW as one of their Trustees. He said (verbatim)

"In response to the reports you have from Cllr Fradley this evening, I just wanted to add a few quick words, because I did meet with him and Mr Oldfield on one occasion, very soon after the last Committee, and I reinforced what I said there.

I have been away, and actioning the things that I promised I would do in that regard.

One of the key things I did offer Cllr Fradley and Allan was full and utter open access to HTNW's accounts, with the offer of our accountant being on site for the whole day to work with your auditors or your accountants, to get to the bottom of any questions you have, because we have nothing to hide.

That hasn't been taken up yet. A date is in the diary, so therefore, I found this report exceedingly, negative, and ill-timed, because a lot of work has gone on.

In relation to HTNW's Governance Review, we have appointed three new Trustees and undertaken our Skills Audit, and our governance review means that we've also re-examined and restructured our organisational structure on a regional basis.

In relation to appointing a project team at the Hall itself, I've been working, again behind the scenes, on my staff review with key members of the team, and I have, I've called a meeting next week because I will be making a full announcement to staff and the team as to the new structure.

And right at the heart of that structure will be a new General Manager who I've agreed terms, and will be in place to take over the operational management of the site in full.

That Operational Manager will report through me, representing HTNW, as the experienced Trustee in leisure and heritage management, and I will likewise be going straight through to the Trustees of HTNW. It's going to be a reporting line from the General Manager, through me to the Trustees.

I can announce also that simultaneous with that, John Miller will be retiring from all aspects of the Lytham Hall Project with and from the dates of my announcement.

I have not, because of timing.... I am just back from holiday, but because of timing and linking in with the staff, I was committed and gave you reassurances that I would deliver stuff by the first of October.

Therefore your rushing this through, to be honest, keeping things unhelpfully disquiet, doesn't help.

But, announcements this week, and I'll leave it at that. But if you wanted me to take part in further or additional discussions, because there is so much to share with you, then of course I will be available, but if you want to limit me to three minutes then that's fine."

The chairman confirmed that was the case and moved to open the meeting proper. Mr Turner sat in the gallery.

The meeting proper then commenced. In the 'Declarations of Interest' section, The Chairman declared a personal interest in item 9 relating to Lowther Gardens Trust Annual Report as a trustee, and Cllr Sandra Pitman declared a personal and prejudicial interest in the Island Regeneration item.

We were a bit surprised at this because we seem to recall she had previously declared a personal interest as a volunteer at Lytham Hall, bit she did no do so on this occasion. Perhaps it is no longer the case.

The Minutes of the previous meeting were approved, then Substitute Members were notified:

  • Council Leader Cllr Susan Fazackerley was substituting for Cllr Tim Ashton;

  • and Deputy Leader Cllr Karen Buckley was substituting for Cllr Richard Fradley.

These two are currently the two most influential and powerful councillors at Fylde.

The Conservative 'big guns' had been wheeled out for this meeting.

We thought they were there to make sure whatever they wanted to happen, did happen.

 Fylde's Chief Executive's Report

Fylde's Chief Executive, Allan Oldfield was invited to the reporting table, and one of the Departmental Directors assumed the role of advising the Chairman.

This is an unusual role reversal. Normally, if they are present, the CE acts as the Chairman's advisor.

Again it added weight to our view that the big guns were being brought to bear on this item.

The Chairman said that unfortunately, Cllr Fradley could not be present, so the CE would present the report. He said:

"I've been asked by Cllr Fradley this evening to express his sincere apologies that he can't attend in person. When he was appointed to look at the progress being made he wasn't aware that he would be taken away on business, unfortunately.

Cllr Fradley has been working with me on the meetings, conversations, research, editing, and putting together the report, and in section 17 of the report, Cllr Fradley's own comments are in italic, and his opinion and summary for the Committee to view."

His next statement shocked us. In what we would describe as one of the most rapidly distancing moves we have seen an officer make in recent years (and immediately after saying Cllr Fradley had *worked with him* on the meetings, conversations etc etc), he said:

"The progress report before you is the opinion of Cllr Fradley, based on meetings, conversations, etc etc...."

Here was the CE saying - It's my report, but at the same time he was saying 'Not me guv, honest!'

We found this a very confusing aspect.

He then outlined what the report said - with very little in addition to what we have already reported above, except that he said Cllr Fradley was very keen to obtain *evidence* of a bid being made to the HLF Resilience Fund by HTNW that would outline the Project Team and the Leadership that would use any grant from that fund to put together a bid for the restoration of the hall.

It's possible we're missing something here, but we thought he was talking utter nonsense.

According to Mr Miller's note of last November, HTNW have ALREADY HAD a grant (from elsewhere, not from the Heritage Lottery Fund), to undertake a complete review of the HTNW governance and operational arrangements, and they had devised a programme that Mr Miller, and now Mr Turner was working through, and it would complete sometime before next May.

The bit that Fylde keep missing here, is that HTNW is an operation much wider than Lytham Hall.

As usual these days, Fylde's overweight stance in power seeking (as opposed to outcome seeking) is one which we think the Conservative group absorbed into their civic DNA during the dark years of the awful Cabinet System. And this, coupled with a parochial focus, leads them to the view that they are the centre of the universe.

HTNW has (or at least had) something like 18 other heritage properties they manage across the North West of England, and the Moore Stephens report, whilst generated by the HLF to help them understand why the Lytham Hall grant had failed, was not only about Lytham Hall, it was about the overall organisation and operation of HTNW in relation to ALL its properties. And its recommendations were about changing HTNW.

It was not specifically about changing the Lytham Hall Project - except to the extent that is was one of the properties of which HTNW had ownership or responsibility.

Fylde's CE laboured the point about 'no EVIDENCE having been provided' very heavily, saying there was much promised, there was no actual evidence produced to Cllr Fradley

We would simply ask readers to consider how appropriate it would be for Fylde to be told about what was being planned for the future of HTNW and even for the management of the Lytham Hall Project before it had been agreed by the Trustees of that organisation and, more especially, before the employees and volunteers of both the wider HTNW operation, and those on the specific Lytham Hall Project,  had been told what their future would be.

Frankly, all this was none of Fylde's business.

They had signed off all of HTNW's annual reports concerning the grant Fylde had given to HTNW as all being wholly satisfactory and in order.

And the Chief Executive himself had given an absolutely glowing testimonial letter to Mr Miller for the work he and HTNW had done at the Hall on 23 May last year.

We think that letter alone - and especially the bit where Fylde's CE wrote....

"We are delighted with the progress and particularly impressed with the transformation of the Park, and look forward to the completion of the next phase.

I confirm that the Trust has complied with all the reporting procedures regarding the grant of £300,000 paid to the Trust. Members have appreciated the opportunity you have given them to formally inspect the restoration on a number of occasions."

.... is enough to have them laughed out of court if they were ever foolish enough to try and reclaim any of the grant they gave to HTNW.

Mr Oldfield concluded his introduction of the report by saying

"Cllr Fradley concludes in section 17 that in the absence of this evidence of progress to set up a new team to deliver the project, he..., his opinion..., he does not have confidence that HTNW will deliver the restoration project within the foreseeable future. He's put two recommendations in the report which members might take the opportunity and some time to debate and discuss."

We thought CE's hesitation there i.e. when he said - "he.... his opinion.... he does not" was indicative of him distancing himself as the co-author of the report yet again.

He continued, and advanced the report's recommendations:

"The first one, he asks the committee to come to a decision as to whether the Committee has confidence that HTNW can establish, lead or be involved in the project team that will deliver a successful Heritage Lottery Bid for the restoration of Lytham Hall.

He then asks that, dependent on the decision by the Committee on Recommendation 1, that the Committee then agree or propose actions that would establish an appropriate organisation and structure that *can* prepare a Heritage Lottery bid, that can progress the restoration of Lytham Hall."

The Chairman then said members were referred to the recommendations on page 3 of the report, but she would open the matter for debate.

First to speak was

 Cllr Julie Brickles.

Regular readers will know we have time for this lady. She is a very practical, plain speaking, down to earth councillor who is very well regarded by her electorate.

To our mind, what she said was undoubtedly the most sensible comment of the whole night, so we reproduce it in full here. She said:

"I'll start if I can. This is the third time I've sat on a committee that's discussed this. It's the third time I've actually read a report on this. And to be honest, today I read this three times, because I was actually trying to read what it says between the lines.

I personally am very uncomfortable with what's happening with Lytham Hall. We all want Lytham Hall to be restored. We all want Lytham Hall to be the gem that it's supposed to be in Fylde. But I personally don't think that we're getting to the bottom of what's actually happening at Lytham Hall.

It makes me so uncomfortable, what's happening, that I won't be voting either way. I will be abstaining, and I will be asking for my abstention to be recorded.

I don't know whether this is personal, political, or what's happening there, but I do feel that something is happening that has not been reported to us, and that's not the officers fault, but decisions are being made, I feel, elsewhere, and I'm just not comfortable at all and, like I say, I will be abstaining, because no matter how much I read the reports, no matter how much I see the *personal* aggression towards people who come to speak at this table, I just can't get my head round what is actually going on. I think it's something that's being decided out of this committee, and so I'm very uncomfortable with it."

 Cllr Maxine Chew

Said she had read the report with increasing despair. Clearly she had absorbed the claimed lack of progress set out in Cllr Fradley's report and had expected change to be much more rapid than it had been, (even though she had also heard Mr Turner say at their last meeting that he would not complete his restructure for the Hall until the end of September and this was only the start of it)

She was disappointed that the Hall was going to have to face another winter without restoration.

She said

"I really had confidence in Mr Turner that he would put these things in place, that he would come back with the evidence, and I can't see that we can make progress at all whilst HTNW are there".

Cllr Mrs Chew is deeply into heritage and she has a heart that is almost as big as the hall itself. But we thought that on this occasion, she had been taken in by the Fradley/Oldfield report which she expected to be able to trust, and appeared to have done so.

The problem we thought she was missing was that HTNW has (and has always) relied on being able to obtain grants to fund its main restoration work.

They do not have funds of their own to do the restoration, and the problems of the deteriorating building were entirely attributable to there being no money.

There was no lack of will, and some work was still being done as income generated at the hall would allow, but LCC's removal of the turnkey grant of £1m to the Hall caused the failure of the whole Lottery funding and, unless someone else provided the money, there is literally no money to do any significant restoration, and probably not enough even to do enough firefighting.

As if to prove this point, she said even if they completed what they needed to do about a management reorganisation, what were they going to do about the Hall? Nothing.

At this point an exasperated Mr Turner said

"That's not right, and with no right of reply....."

The Chairman quickly shut him up with:

"I'm sorry, we can't take any comments from the audience"

Making matters worse, Cllr Chew asked if the roof had been repaired, if the windows had been repaired, had any part of the fabric of the building been repaired.

Of course, Mr Turner was denied the opportunity to explain any of this.

 Cllr Jan Barker

Said she agreed with a lot of the comments already made, but the key point was that the Heritage Lottery Fund had said they would not consider a bid that involves HTNW as the lead or accountable body, but it doesn't actually say they wouldn't consider a bid that involved them in some way.

She said she noted the agenda item suggested that FBC should become the accountable body (at which the Chairman interrupted her and said they would come to that later!)

Perhaps unsurprisingly from such a biased agenda report, Cllr Barker was plain wrong here.

HLF had said they would not consider a further bid from HTNW until HTNW had made the necessary changes to their management, governance and accounting arrangements. And that's exactly what HTNW were in the process of doing.

It looked to us as though like Cllr Mrs Chew, she too had been taken in by the biased and partisan Fradley/Oldfield report.

Cllr Barker concluded that because she could not seem to get to the bottom of it herself, and she had no idea what was meant by forming a Community Interest Company (which was proposed in the report), she did not know who would appoint it, and she worried about what was involved.

She also wanted to know if HTNW were likely to surrender the lease to Lytham Town Trust? And she asked if anyone had approached LTT regarding what the costs were?

We felt sorry for her. She was trying to ask the right sort of questions, but was not being given adequate, let alone the proper, information upon which to either frame the right questions, or come to a view.

And, of course in our own view NONE of this is any business of Fylde Council anyway.

They have consistently refused to accord even the matter of conservation (let alone restoration) a sufficiently high priority in Fylde to have an officer dedicated to this role, and it was only when Mrs Coupe encouraged the Civic Society she chairs to spend £10,000 of their own money as a grant that would enable Fylde to hire a temporary Conservation Officer - to undertake a specific Local Listing project - that this was done.

At this point, the meeting was interrupted by the Chief Executive.

We thought he seemed uncomfortable with the probing questions Cllr Barker was trying to ask.

He said:

"I'm conscious of other speakers, but just to establish a few, one or two things, that so far...."

(We know this isn't grammatical, but it is what he actually said, before he went on to say).

"The Heritage Lottery Fund will entertain a future bid from HTNW if they deliver the recommendations of the Moore Stephens report. So that was ... It's not that they won't do, and that's been confirmed with the Heritage Lottery Fund.

They were given a draft of Richard's report, and they were happy that it was a reflection of their position."

We were truly shocked and utterly amazed.

The Chief Executive was here admitting that, without that report having been agreed (or even accepted) by the T&L Committee on behalf of Fylde Council, he had given the Heritage Lottery Fund a copy of their Fradley/Oldfield report.

This is a report that we regard as unreliable, hugely biased, one sided, and which appears to us to have been prepared in order to deliver a pre-determined outcome that wholly improperly sought to exclude HTNW, (the owner of Lytham Hall  to many intents and purposes), from the process.

Furthermore, it sought to have FBC become the accountable body for the restoration work.

If we were a Trustee of HTNW and knew this, we would want to seriously consider taking action against FBC for the damage this action had done to their reputation with the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Fylde's CE went on to stress again that Cllr Fradley had not been given any *evidence* of progress.

What we think was happening here was that they might have been aware that progress was being made to implement the Moore Stephens recommendations, but his focus on no *evidence* having been produced, had once again - just as had happened in the Melton Grove debacle - used words to selectively justify a particular outcome that was, for a reason at the time unknown, their desired choice.

The Chief Executive came close to admitting this (and covering his own back) when he said:

"That evidence was asked for.

Now that doesn't mean there hasn't been progress.

I think it's just worth bearing in mind no evidence was provided to Richard of progress"

 Cllr Susan Fazackerley

Said she had re-read the report that afternoon and had highlighted what she thought were the really crucial aspects, and she ended up highlighting almost the entire report.

(We suspect we could have done the same, but we would have arrived at a very different conclusion)

She said she read it with increasing despair and almost incredulity.

We agreed, but again, for completely different reasons.

She said

"Mr Turner says he's still much to share with us. May I suggest that this isn't a case of too little too late, but its virtually nothing too late. And I know our officers have been trying to contact Mr Turner for quite a long time - and I know he says he's been on holiday, I think this pre-dates his holiday, and post dates his holiday - to no avail.

Everyone is critical of HTNW. Including the report that FBC authorised that was carried out by personnel at Blackpool Council. The Moore Stephens report, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and every volunteer who has spoken in this committee and also that I have personally spoken to, is very critical of Heritage Trust North West.

The only people that don't seem to see anything wrong with Heritage Trust North West is the Trust itself. I do urge this committee tonight, that we do take some urgent, drastic, action to right the wrongs that have happened at Lytham Hall.

Allan and I have been aware that there has been something wrong in the state of Denmark since a year last spring when Alan Turner and Simon Thorpe came to see us. We are no further forward now."

The Chief Executive butted in at this point to say it was John Miller and Simon Thorpe who had been to see them.

 Cllr Sandra Pitman

Said she felt enormous sympathy with Mr Hornyak and the volunteers who had been working at the Hall, and also tremendous sympathy for Marianne who had been organising some of the events. She said a lot of people had invested time, energy, their talents, in that building and it was difficult for her to comprehend how they were feeling at the moment.

She said they needed something to go away with to show there was some progress, and Fylde could offer that. She said

"We *can* force the issues, and I think we *should* force the issues, because it's pretty clear that since the last meeting on 22 June, and today, there should be concrete evidence that there are actions not just words.

The way to Hell is paved with good intentions, and Heritage NorthWest have, basically, given us so much blether over the months, about what they're doing, what they're not doing and all that, it beggars belief how we've all been strung along for so long, and to come to this meeting and basically given - oh yes another set of good intentions that it's all going to be alright on the night - is not enough now.

I was not happy at the end of the last meeting. I didn't think anything was going to happen, and so basically I will support the changes to try and bring something about which will lead to another bid, and as soon as possible, to the Heritage Lottery.

We owe it to the volunteers, we owe it to that building, we're going to betray our heritage if we do not do something more than just listen to good intention without concrete actions and I think this body should take those steps tonight."

We felt this was a 'patsy' contribution.

To us it had exactly the feel of a cleverly thought through, and cunningly delivered justification in support of a decision that had already been taken by her political group - to insert itself into the relationship between the landlord and tenant of Lytham Hall.

We came away with the feeling that she knew a lot more than she had let on in what she said.

 Cllr Karen Buckley

Indicated to speak.

She's probably the cleverest one amongst the Conservative group and one of the best able at convincing people.

We've watched her in action over several years and we have a great respect for her ability as an advocate. She's really good at it, and knows just how far to go to sow seeds in your mind without seeming to be too immersed in the outcome she wants.

She asked to check something with the Chief Executive.

She wanted to know whether it was the case that the recommendations in the Moore Stephens report had to be accepted and addressed in full by HTNW, or whether HTNW could continue to dispute some of them (as Mr Miller had once said he did) and still be regarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as an acceptable body to submit a new bid for funding at Lytham Hall.

She also wanted to know whether, in the meetings that Cllr Fradley and the CE had had, that issue had been addressed or come to light.

See what we mean. She's good. That was a really clever, even an innocent-sounding - question to ask.

But the effect of asking it was to cast further doubt toward HTNW.

It's for debating examples like this that we have heard her approach described as the 'butter wouldn't melt in her mouth' approach by those of other political persuasions on the Council.

Mr Oldfield said:

"In the meetings I had with the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Cllr Fradley, it was made clear that the Heritage Lottery Fund want to see the recommendations of the Moore Stephens report implemented.

When John Miller previously came to present to this Committee - it might have been nearly 12 months ago, November possibly - The Moore Stephens report hadn't been released. The reason for it not being released was because it was quite clear that HTNW, and John Miller in particular, had significant challenges with the recommendations and did not agree with them.

We have not had confirmation subsequent from HTNW that they are happy now, and they will implement them. What we haven't had is any evidence that they are being implemented, and neither have the Heritage Lottery Fund."

Readers will have to make of that reply what they will. To us it sounded like a 'don't know" wrapped up in a cloak to sound like "No"

We also wonder whether - without knowledge of what took place between HTNW and HLF regarding what was said at the time - whether it was Moore Stephens' recommendations that were being challenged, or the evidence upon which the Moore Stephens report had relied.

For example, and as we have said several times, we could easily see a case to challenge the evidence provided by LCC that LCC's decision not to continue with the £1m grant to Lytham Hall was because HTNW had separately refinanced its borrowing for some specific other projects, and it then no longer needed to borrow money it had previously also asked LCC to provide - and in consequence of which LCC had required HTNW to sell some of those other properties.

But HTNW had chosen to refinance elsewhere rather than sell as LCC had required.

There was no clear connection between these matters, but LCC chose to make one, and linked these two matters together - arguing that a timetable failure on the wider HLF re-financing matter constituted a failure for both.

A different administration could easily have chosen not to do so.

Challenging disputable evidence like that is clearly not the same as refusing to implement the recommendations.

But either way, just by asking the question that she did, Cllr Mrs Buckley had sown the seed of distrust - and very effectively too.

That seemed to be the end of the speakers.

 Cllr Cheryl Little (Chairman)

Reading from what appeared to be a script prepared before the meeting, the Chairman said:

"The Committee appear to be passionately and sincerely supportive of the findings of Cllr Fradley's report. Therefore can I recommend that we look to pick up some of the bullet points contained in Cllr Fradley's report, to form new or additional recommendations based on the contents of the progress report.

  1. Advise the Heritage Trust for the North West that the Committee has no confidence that it can establish, lead, or be involved in a new project team that will deliver a successful Heritage Lottery Bid for restoration of Lytham Hall."

At this point Cllr Mrs Akeroyd asked if they were taking that recommendation with the word 'No' in it as one item that they were voting on before going on to any of other?

The Chairman responded;

"Well, I will use.... I think there were some bullet points from Cllr Fradley.... they're on the screen now, and we've put them in some form of....."

Cllr Mrs Akeroyd interrupted again to say the decision they took on the first item would condition or constrain matters to be decided further down the list.

The Chairman said if that as what the Committee wanted to do, she was happy to do so.

This looked as though this wasn't part of the plan and we thought we saw a flurry of 'what should we do now' looks amongst the Conservatives on the Committee.

The Chief Executive weighed in to say he thought Cllr Fradley's intention was rather than for him to represent the view of the Committee on his own, and therefore in recommendation number one, suggest that the committee have no confidence, he has deliberately asked the Committee in number 1 to come to a decision as to whether they have confidence or not, adding that he thought it would be more suitable to deal with that item first. The Committee might say they still had confidence, they may say not, he said it was down to the committee, and he'd recommend that's dealt with in isolation.

Cllr Mrs Akeroyd proposed it, and we think either the Chairman or Cllr Mrs Pitman seconded it.

There were 12 councillors present, 10 of which appear to have voted for this resolution. Cllr Brickles was asked if she wanted her abstention recording and she said she did.

The Chairman read out the second recommendation on the order paper, saying

"Dependent on the decision on recommendation 1, that Committee agree actions that will support the establishment of an appropriate organisation and structure to prepare a Heritage Lottery Fund bid for the restoration of Lytham Hall."

Someone - we're not clear who, but it may have been Cllr Mrs Blackshaw or Cllr Mrs Barker said

"Can I just assume here that that appropriate organisation definitely would not include Heritage Trust for the Northwest because of what we've just voted on. They can't be involved in any way at all?"

The Chairman said

"Yes that's right because we've said No"

The Chief Executive weighed in again to contradict her and said

"I have spoke to Cllr Fradley and it doesn't necessarily mean Heritage Trust for the Northwest will not be involved at all, erm....."

His voice trailed off.

Cue a period of utter confusion and argument about what they had decided and what they had not decided, and whether what the Chief Exec had said had just changed what they had already voted on.

Apparently trying to both distance and extricate himself from this decision, the CE said

"I think Richard was minded to still...., because they are the tenants of the site."

Of course they are. Any attempt to exclude them from such a bid was stupid, and it was always going to be doomed to failure.

They have the benefit of the remainder of a 99 year lease, and for many purposes, including applying for planning permission, a lease of that length constitutes ownership.

Cllr Barker said

"I'm a little bit flummoxed now because we've just voted on it so...."

Civic mayhem resumed.

The Chairman had lost control of the meeting and many people were speaking at once.

The Chairman sought to regain control and said they would ignore recommendation 2 and move on to some of the other options.

Unfortunately the report only had two actual recommendations, one of which they had approved and the other they had just decided to ignore.

So instead, they went on to what the Chairman called 'the options', the first of which appeared to be

"To investigate the option of making a bid with partners to the HLF Resilience Fund to establish a body or structure, i.e. a Community Interest Company to make a full bid for the restoration of the Hall"

This wording was not on the order paper as either a recommendation or an option.

What there was, was an opinion expressed by Cllr Fradley that

"A Community Interest Company is formed to establish new funding streams for the Lytham Hall Restoration project (funded through a bid to the HLF Resilience Fund).

The Chairman appeared to have some wording prepared that would turn Cllr Fradley's opinion into a recommendation, and we believe that's what she read out.

Seizing the moment and using the same basis, she pushed on saying ...

"Support Fylde Council acting as the Accountable Body for any future HLF bid.

Encourage HTNW to be more transparent about their financial matters.

With regard to Lytham Hall..... Do jump in if you don't.... cos I'm only going from my little notes....

Encourage HTNW to act on the findings of the Moore Stephens report.

And that officers seek legal advice to establish whether there are grounds for Fylde to reclaim some or all or part of the capital grant.

We might not want to do that, we might not take that action.

If some members are supportive of these recommendations, could we have a discussion, then I can have a proposer and seconder.

All in favour please."

Oh Dear.

This was truly awful. She was reading out notes she had made about what the Committee should decide.

She had taken some of what Cllr Fradley had expressed as an opinion, and disregarded his other opinions. In other cases she had contradicted herself.

She appeared to have read them out as propositions, but she failed to ask anybody to second them. She then offered them for 'discussion' by the Committee and seemingly asked for a vote of the committee on whether they wanted to 'discuss' what she had said.

We quite like Cllr Little as a person. She has a heart of gold and mostly means well, but she had led her committee into an utter and complete mess.

Cllr Mrs Chew said she was sorry, but she hadn't quite caught up with what had been said (We were not surprised!)

The Chairman confirmed our worst fears when she said

"Right. I've read some of these and I've put it in words that I.... I mean it's not on screen, but from his quotes, I've put it in some words, so if you want me to go through again...."

It had become a complete and utter disaster of a meeting.

She then attempted to take her notes one item at a time, but became lost in a general melee of noise.

She read the first one out again and Cllr Fazackerley said something about only up to the "eg"'s and Cllr Little said

"OK fine, these are only notes from Cllr Fradley's observations."

Confusion reigned once again as we watched in disbelief and councillors picked at bits of her notes here and there like a sore, with some things contradicting each other and no structure at all to the debate.

Cllr Chew tried to bring some semblance of order when she said that HTNW were the tenants of the Hall and she wanted to know what the legalities of trying to do what the Chairman was proposing were, because, she said, if they insisted on keeping the tenancy and refused to work with FBC, they would achieve nothing again.

And quite honestly, if we were HTNW, after the treatment FBC has meted out to them, that would already be the case anyway.

Mr Turner must have the patience of Job.

Supposedly helping, but actually adding more petrol on the fire, Fylde's CE said

"The landlord - tenant relationship is not something we would investigate or get involved in"

We were incredulous.

Here was a report jointly at least in his name, expressly proposing just that.

- That Fylde support the establishment of a Community Interest Company to at least fundraise for the Hall, and to become the financially accountable body for its money. His report had also taken a partisan stance alongside the landlord and against the tenant with regard to the reasonableness or otherwise of the money that HTNW wanted to surrender the lease.

To be honest it was all we could do not to storm out of the meeting at this point - giving the Committee an unwelcome piece of our mind en-route.

That advice might have included their providing the Hall with a £1m grant toward the restoration - just as they have recently contributed £1m to the cost of Kensington's link road across the Moss in order to speed up its delivery.

In the end we did manage to remain composed, but were appalled and astonished by what we had seen and heard.

It was as awful as it was stupid.

It's just too painful to report the detail of this appalling meeting further, so we'll cut to the end and say that the minutes of the meeting record the following decisions had been taken.

 From The Minutes

  1. To advise the Heritage Trust North West that the committee has no confidence that it can establish, lead or be involved in a new project team that will deliver a successful Heritage Lottery Bid for the restoration of Lytham Hall.

  2. To investigate the option of making a bid with partners to the HLF Resilience Fund and also investigate the feasibility of establishing an appropriate accountable body or structure e.g. a Community Interest Company to make the full bid for the restoration of the Hall.

  3. To support Fylde Council acting as the ĎAccountable Bodyí for any future HLF bids

  4. To require HTNW to be more transparent about their financial matters with regard to Lytham Hall and act on the findings of the Moore Stephens report.

  5. To reserve the right to undertake further investigation and/or seek to legal advice to reclaim all or part of the £300,000 capital grant.

  6. To reserve the right to report the matter to the Charity Commission if deemed necessary.

  7. To make appropriate arrangements for a progress/standing report relating to the Lytham Hall Restoration Project to be included on the agenda at each meeting of the committee.

Cllr Brickles (sensibly) had her abstention on all of them written into the minuted record.

Much later in the meeting - on an item relating to Fylde's own grant to prepare a lottery bid for Fairhaven Lake, one of the councillors (we won't embarrass them) asked if they could be sure that the heritage people from Lytham Hall would not be any part of that bid.

In subsequent exchanges and clarification of what the Councillor was on about, it became clear that because the word "Heritage" is in the title of both organisations, the councillor apparently thought that the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Heritage Trust for the North West were one and the same body.

With that level of understanding, we wondered what hope there was for Fylde - or the Hall for that matter.

And with that we close the section on what happened at the T&L meeting.

 TUESDAY'S 'BIG BANG' BOMBSHELL

The following Tuesday, and true to his word, Mr Turner assembled those working and volunteering at the Hall to hear what was going to be their future.

The bare facts were, that from that day forward:

  • Mr Miller ceased to have control of the Lytham Hall Project. At the time of this announcement, we understood from what Mr Turner had told an earlier T&L meeting that Mr Miller was to remain as Chief Executive of the Heritage Trust for the North West. However it was later suggested to us that he no longer has that role either. But even more recently, we have heard that was not the case, and he is still HTNW's Chief Executive. Sadly, we cannot be more sure of his status at this time.

Apart from Mr Miller's personal circumstances, the status of his post is crucial to HTNW's governance. If they have no Chief Executive, and do not plan a replacement, then his role will either be shared amongst other employees, or perhaps amongst the Trustees - which would be a significant (and in our view, dangerous) change.

  • John Turner has assumed a specific responsibility as a Trustee responsible for either Lytham Hall or a geographic area that includes Lytham Hall. We're not yet clear whether this involves him having more operational responsibility, or whether he will continue in a purely strategic role.

  • Mr Turner selected (and appears to have handpicked - as we have not been able to find any advertisement for the job) and appointed Peter Anthony as the Hall's General manager.

Mr Anthony will be familiar to many as a popular local singer; for his connections with local show business; his former part ownership of 'Antons' upmarket cafe in St Annes; his unsuccessful attempts to become an MP for Blackpool South; his successful attempt to become a Conservative councillor at Fylde; and his most recent employment by Heritage Trust for the North West to run the tea-rooms at Lytham Hall.

We understand that Mr Anthony now has overall responsibility for the whole of the Lytham Hall site, Hall and grounds, and will report directly to Mr Turner who is one of, and will in turn report directly to, the Board of Trustees.

  • Mr Turner also appointed Mr Anthony's colleague Paul Lomax as Deputy General Manager. Mr Anthony has, until now, shared responsibility for running the Tea Rooms at the Hall with Mr Lomax. Readers will remember Mr Lomax also stood as a Conservative candidate in recent Fylde Council election in Lytham.

Both Mr Anthony and Mr Lomax are well known within entertainment circles locally.

We also understand that a third appointment was or is in hand to take over the running of the tea rooms as the other two move up the ladder.

  • Mr Turner also unveiled plans to establish a charitable trust to be known as the 'Lytham Hall Foundation.'

This will become the vehicle through which income and expenditure in connection with the Hall will be channelled. We imagine this will separate Lytham Hall's operational funding from HTNW's accounts, which is what many have been calling for.

We have also heard the name of another serving Fylde Councillor mentioned in connection with this Foundation, but are not yet able to say more on this.

 SO WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

That's the big question - and we have to say that, based on these decisions, we are concerned for the Hall's future.

We're concerned not so much for its restoration - although that risk remains and looms large - but for the change in culture at the Hall that is likely to flow from the choices Mr Turner has chosen to, and is likely to, make.

We begin by saying we have very little hard information to go on, (and that's actually the first sign of what we see as trouble) - so most of what we say from now forward is simply speculation based on our own experience of being in a similar situation to that in which Mr Turner now sits.

True to his word, he has carried out exactly what he said he would do back in June, and he did it by the end of September which is also what he said he would do.

So it's clear to us that he is a man who is able to drive matters to his will. He can make things happen.

But for a community that still believes the Hall to be a public asset, we can envisage unwelcome cultural change being made as he tightens his control of the hall and its operation.

 Information

Typically in such circumstances - and especially having faced the unpleasantness he personally, and HTNW corporately, has faced from both FBC and Lytham Town Trust - we could envisage a clampdown on the distribution and leakage of information from the Hall.

We would expect to see information much more centrally controlled and 'hands on'.

In his circumstances, that's exactly what we would do.

We would also put all contact with external bodies on a much more formal footing than has been the case in the past.

If we were doing it we would remove the opportunity for the casual appearance of other organisations at the enquiries office for a chat, and staff and volunteers would be required to refer callers to make an appointment to speak with Mr Anthony - or perhaps - depending on who it was, with Mr Turner himself.

Apart from our own experience of such situations, we have some clues that point to this view. Our logic underlying this view can be found in Mr Turner's own statement to the T&L Committee last June, where he said....

"....."The strategy so far is that HTNW have just sat back and taken, and taken, and taken, and there comes a point where actually, you go - You know what, all these allegations are not founded, they're absolutely spurious, and we're going to have a go back."

So we expect one of his first priorities will be to tighten control on the flow of information that might damage HTNW.

That is likely to mean restricting information to more junior staff and volunteers as well as the outside world. Sadly, that also risks reducing their feeling of shared involvement and responsibility.

There will no doubt be press releases from time to time, but we expect they will morph into the same sort of sanitised, plain vanilla, reputational-enhancing ones that FBC itself adopted when a press officer took control of all its external communications.

We think Mr Turner will (understandably) want to stop the pain that has been being inflicted.

We think he is then likely to want to move to 'stage two' and go on the offensive in terms of information delivery.

 Staff Selection and Cultural Change

The most obvious and visible change heralded by Mr Turner's choice of staff is firstly the process by which they were appointed.

If, as we believe, there was no advertisement for these jobs, and the new incumbents were simply handpicked rather than exposed to competition, it shows that Mr Turner has a particular vision as to how the Hall should be run in future.

We may be able to glimpse this based on what Hall volunteer Mr Jose said in the Public Platform at Fylde's Tourism and Leisure Committee - i.e.

"Marianne has asked for a four month sabbatical because she is so disillusioned, and the reply was, if I can read it, 'The trustees have asked me to say that they have agreed to your request for a sabbatical to the end of your contract. At this stage they cannot guarantee any work in the New Year.'

I mean that is not the sort of reply to somebody who has put their heart and soul into this place. We had that poor girl in tears this afternoon. She don't know which way to turn. She doesn't want to leave, but she sees no future in it. And this is beginning to seep down through everybody. So all I would like to say is, could everybody just stop fighting, get their act together, and let's get this hall up and running."

If Mr Jose painted an accurate picture, then it's clear that what Mr Turner wants of his employees in the future is not what this lady had to offer. It does not even appear that he offered her an opportunity to apply for the job she was effectively doing already.

And given, that by all accounts reaching us, she was widely respected for her dedication, knowledge, ability and empathy with the historic value of the hall, and that the new appointees - who we must say, have been very successful in taking a weak tea-room and turning it into a popular and income generating venue - appear to have been chosen more for their commercial acumen and their 'showbiz' presentational ability, their appointment seems to envisage quite a fundamental shift in direction for the future of the Hall.

The two new appointees will have operational responsibility for the whole of the site and, of course, operationally, they will bring their own ethos to that task in the decisions they take as well.

With folk steeped in a background of showbiz glam, cherished numberplates and flash cars, it's not difficult to see at least some of the direction in which their own choices are likely to lead. And we can't see that being all heritage, restoration, and community.

We think the impending cultural change is also going to impact on the nature of the building.

We expect to see further change in the staff inside it and, more sadly, a likely change in the volunteers, for whom helping to restore the hall as a communal effort with HTNW has up to now been the big attraction.

The volunteers have already been battered and buffeted by the - in some cases vitriolic - criticism of HTNW for whom they work to help the Hall, and we can't help but wonder if the ethos that attracted the present volunteers is likely to have an even lower profile going forward, as maximising income, business development, and star-spangled promotion is likely to become the dominant order of the day.

If we're correct in our speculations here - and of course we may not be - we can envisage quite some drop-off in volunteering, or at least a significant churn, as cultural change takes place.

 Priorities

Anyone taking over an organisation with problems is likely to follow a well trodden path. It's not rocket science, and it's not unlike what the folk in accident and emergency units or firemen do.

First you assess what is wrong. Secondly your first aim is to firefight, stop the damage, and stabilise things. Third you start to put measures in place that begin to make progress, and finally you put systems in place that monitor and check on the progress being made, correcting things where necessary.

HTNW
On the broader scene, (and despite what FBC think) we believe the Trustees of HTNW are making steady progress to implement what the Moore Stephens report assessed as being their problems.

They have taken measures to limit or stop the damage, and to make their organisation more stable with new and additional Trustees.

They are now starting to put in place what Moore Stephens recommended in terms of administrative, governance, and financial change to 'modernise' their organisation and import 21st century organisational values and practices.

The undoubted impact is that HTNWs operational costs will rise. They are likely to become more businesslike, more commercial, and more hard headed. They will become less nimble and flexible as they are increasingly driven and constrained by the policies they choose to adopt.

In effect, and in the longer term, we could see them become operationally closer to the model of the National Trust who will not take responsibility for heritage buildings unless they also come with a big enough endowment fund. Such is the economic reality of the 21st century operating arrangements that everyone seems to be demanding of HTNW.

We're sad at that change, but we recognise it is probably inevitable.

For Lytham Hall specifically, we think Mr Turner has already assessed what he thinks is wrong, and his next move is to stabilise the organisation of the Hall. He's begun this, and it will now largely be down to the operational managers to implement stability policies and practices under Mr Turner's strategic eye.

One of their first priorities is likely to be getting the Lytham Hall organisation right, and that will be about staffing. But changes there are likely to increase the organisational costs. So in future we can probably expect to see the promotion of income-generating activities having a significantly higher profile - to help fund what we think will be higher staffing and operational costs, with any surplus being used toward mitigating or fixing the most serious structural problems at the Hall itself.

In this regard, financial management is likely to be a priority as well. The first step here (the Lytham Hall Foundation) has already been taken and we must await further developments here.

Only when the staffing and financial aspects have been stabilised, do we think attention will turn to building and repairing external relationships, including those with HLF, FBC and LTT, and the seeking of more external funding from other bodies.

In its immediate future, HTNW faces threats of legal action both by FBC to recover some or all of the grant they gave, and the implied legal threats by Lytham Town Trust who are currently pushing the implementation of a dilapidation survey (which may be seen as a prelude to action to terminate HTNW's lease)

Unless there is a rapid change in approach from these two organisations, (and whilst we hope there will be, we have little confidence it will happen), we think HTNW will adopt a siege mentality approach to them. They will build a wall around themselves and pull up the drawbridge. Remember, Mr Turner's words to the T&L committee

".... we're going to have a go back."

 Side Issues and Relationships

By all accounts, the relationship between Lytham Town Trust and HTNW had (or has) completely broken down. Both organisations had called for the removal of the head people on each 'side' of the arguments that raged between them.

From what we have heard, there is no doubt that personalities on both 'sides' had strong views and expressed them forcefully, and in the case of LTT, rather too publicly in our view (cf the public statements made by LTT members at FBC meetings).

It is also clear that the relationship between FBC and HTNW had also completely broken down - or at least it had amongst senior Conservative Councillors, who only last month led the charge against Mr Turner personally,

  • "I have to say that you are coming across as a John Miller apologist, and I'm afraid that doesn't wash with this Committee....";

  • "I really had confidence in Mr Turner that he would put these things in place, that he would come back with the evidence, and I can't see that we can make progress at all";

  • "Mr Turner says he's still much to share with us. May I suggest that this isn't a case of too little too late, but its virtually nothing too late."

and against HTNW

  • "the committee has no confidence that it can establish, lead or be involved in a new project team that will deliver a successful Heritage Lottery Bid for the restoration of Lytham Hall";

  • "To require HTNW to be more transparent about their financial matters with regard to Lytham Hall";

  • "To reserve the right to undertake further investigation and/or seek to legal advice to reclaim all or part of the £300,000 capital grant.";

  • "To reserve the right to report the matter to the Charity Commission"

and worse

It reached the point where Fylde were about to try to take control of the situation and create another body - wholly separate from HTNW - to apply for grants to restore the Hall and FBC itself to be the financially accountable body in respect of that money.

We've never been clear about whether there was any sort of link or tie-up between LTT and FBC in this matter. At times it almost felt as though Fylde was acting as the 'muscle' for LTT who, excepting for speaking very critically of Mr Miller in Fylde's Public Platform, mostly stayed out of the spotlight.

But now, at least superficially, we have a wholly new situation.

It must be the case that whilst Cllr Fradley and Fylde's CE Mr Oldfield were conducting their recent investigations, and coming up with views that produced the most recent recommendations of the T&L Committee, Mr Turner was preparing the ground to appoint Mr Anthony - and to decide whether he would be able to do what was necessary.

Mr Anthony is now a senior HTNW employee and a Conservative Fylde Borough Councillor.

We wonder whether he knew what was likely to happen, yet allowed his Conservative colleagues on the Tourism and Leisure Committee to soldier on along their own track.

And if that is the case, we wonder what sort of conversations might have taken place within the Conservative group at Fylde once his appointment became public knowledge.

Either his situation is untenable at Fylde, or he appears to have destroyed what the T&L Committee decided, because in effect, they said

  • they had no confidence that his employer can establish, lead or be involved in a new project team that will deliver a successful Heritage Lottery Bid for the restoration of Lytham Hall;

  • they wanted to look into sidelining his employer and take over the restoration project themselves;

  • his employer needed to be more transparent about their financial matters;

  • they reserved the right to take legal action against his employer and to report them to the Charity Commission.

If Fylde do decide to prosecute a legal case against HTNW for the Lytham Hall grant they made, they will in effect be doing so against one of their own councillors!

Quite how all these situations will be resolved is unclear to us at this time.

 CONCLUSIONS

Before Mr Turner's announcement there seemed to be three groups who each believed it to be their role and purpose to control what went on at Lytham Hall.

1). Heritage Trust for the North West, who have been much maligned and silently suffered the humiliation of seeing their Chief Executive John Miller - the man who has saved so many buildings in Lancashire - publicly castigated as incompetent when - in our view, that fault lies somewhere else altogether.

2). Lytham Town Trust, seemed to want John Miller - and possibly the whole of HTNW - out of the frame altogether. Unless they had someone lined up to buy the site from them, or an alternative group in the wings to take it's restoration on, it's difficult for us to see where that was going.

3). Fylde Borough Council, who in our view, came to act almost as the enforcers for the Town Trust. Then they tried to take over the lottery grant application process themselves and sought to exclude the tenant from this process. We think they have made fools of themselves in this matter.

After Mr Turner's announcement, the position and outcome is even less clear, and probably will be for a while longer.

1), Heritage Trust for the North West: Our own view is that HTNW hold all the big cards in this game. Mr Turner is clearly a clever and strategic thinker who is able to deliver outcomes. We believe Fylde wholly underestimated his ability.

That said, we're less than excited about the changed culture with which he seems ready to envelop the Hall.

2). Lytham Town Trust: Is probably the biggest unknown. If they continue with the same people and the same approach they have demonstrated since this blew up, we can't see things getting much better.

If they felt able to press the 'reset button' and start over again, running alongside Mr Turner's future for the Hall within HTNW, then we think they could probably help to influence what might otherwise become what some might think could become an over-commercialisation of the site.

3). Fylde Borough Council: We think Fylde has made itself look very foolish in this matter. That's mostly down to what we'd say was something approaching blind fury from some of the most senior Conservative councillors. They sought to control events, but have succeeded only in demonstrating their impotence and incompetence.

We also think Fylde's senior officers have let down the other members of the Council by failing to advise them better and less partially.


LTT and FBC began this process when both of them attacked Mr Miller and pushed hard for HTNW to change.

Their aggressive and abusive stance toward HTNW, and their unwarranted and personal attacks on Mr Miller are probably what has produced a response that could easily become a siege if it has not already done so, as HTNW erect invisible defences for their protection.

We hope both will now pull back and look for opportunities to work together with HTNW.

HTNW is changing, but without moderating influences, we wonder if that change might turn out to be one that is less than welcome at the Hall.

And there's another risk in this change of course.

Just as - when Blackpool FC were financially successful in the Premier League - Owen Oyston claimed back money he said he had loaned to the club, we could imagine the double-edged sword that is the separation of Lytham Hall's funding arrangements from HTNW's accounts - so loudly called for by FBC and LTT - seeing future loan repayments or management and administrative charges made to the new Lytham Hall Foundation by HTNW for services rendered,  now they are to become a separate legal entity.

We recall Mr Turner telling the T&L Committee that HTNW has already stood the operating loss of Lytham Hall and over 10+ years, and that support had been in the region of £500,000.

And, of course, Mr Anthony, and Mr Lomax, and the new person (or people?) to run the tea rooms, (and any other additional appointments), will all have to be paid from somewhere as well.

We've no idea how much this might be, but we do remember saying in an earlier article that we thought it would take at least three people to replace Mr Miller, and the cost of three salaries was going to be considerably more than the zero that Mr Miller was taking.

We also recall Mr Turner being pressed by FBC about making an immediate appointment of a Manager to replace Mr Miller at the Hall - where Mr Turner replied:

"......If there was funding in place, in a bank account where we could simply go ' Oh well, here is £40,000 to buy in an interim manager or whatever,....."

So we still think our early quote from Hilaire Belloc's poem has a prescient prospect.....

"And always keep a-hold of Nurse for fear of finding something worse.

 Dated:  19 October 2017

 

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