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Still a Shambles

Still a ShamblesFylde has just had its last Full Council meeting of the administration that was elected in 2007.

It finished in consistent style - by being as big a farce as it began.

counterbalance has recorded the career of this administration, highlighting the milestones, as it has trundled, and sometimes hurtled, along its route to civic oblivion.

Readers will recall that in 2007 'Commissar' John Coombes was elected back in charge. He and his Praetorian Guard had thrown out the old guard in favour of the younger, more manageable, combatants.

We made a prediction at the end of 'The Dust Settles.... ' in July 2007 after the last election - we said:

"Even as he hovers around the zenith of his power at Fylde, we think we have seen the seeds of the Commissar's demise if he stays here.

Getting rid of independent thinkers and surrounding yourself with people who tell you what they think you want to hear, inevitably detaches and insulates you from reality, leading to self delusion, and a belief that you can walk on water.

This is the same direction of travel as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. (Remember Kinnock's quote about her thinking she was a Sovereign) and, as far-fetched as it might seem at this time, we think the Commissar will go the same way if he remains at Fylde, that is, by assassination from within. It may take a while, but we now think this is the most likely result."

Sure enough in 'John Coombes Steps Down' of April 2010 we were able to chronicle his going.

That article also set out the litany of disasters he had already dumped on the people of Fylde.

We paid dearly for his huge civic ego; his over ambitious, wholly unaffordable grandiose plans; and his financial incompetence - the two greatest examples of which were the accounting failure that led to the StreetScene debacle, and the closure of the swimming pools which StreetScene precipitated.

We were heartened when David Eaves took over the administration. He brought echoes of an old style of consensus and said all the right things.

But we were worried about whether he had enough support within his party to carry the day.

He had several small wins, but there was always that nagging doubt in the background and, in 'Enter the Puppet-Master?' we speculated that David Eaves was a Leader who appeared to be a good, honourable and consensual Councillor, trapped within the rules of his party, and potentially held captive by it.

Now it looks as though that chicken has come home to roost.

The Special Expenses / Asset Transfer plan that continued (and redoubled) in effort during his administration was exposed at Scrutiny for the great con-trick it had always been - a plan to deceive Fylde's taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of pounds by sidestepping the Government's tax capping limit.

When the light of truth was shone in that corner, both here, and by a very astute new reporter at the Gazette, it was quietly put on the shelf.

But the final ignominious act of this administration has been the disgrace and civic squalor it has demonstrated by its deceitful plan to sell off Melton Grove which we believe was in order to fund a pre-election war chest - including a donation of 300,000 to Lytham Hall and money for schemes in Ansdell and elsewhere - as we have previously reported.

The Council meeting to consider the Melton Grove and Lytham Hall items last week had a packed public gallery.

At the start of the final business meeting of her term, independent Cllr Liz Oades as Mayor paid tribute to the people and groups who had greatly impressed her during her term of office.

In the 'Questions to the Council' session (which is intended for members of the public to be able to ask questions) two questions had been submitted by Councillors. One was from Cllr Roger Small about tax increases by parish councils, and the other by Cllr Brenda Ackers about swimming pool costs.

Both used the device of the rhetorical or 'planted' question to allow Princess Karen Buckley to ramble through a politically motivated pre-prepared diatribe about the Councils finances.

She used selected parts of the full picture - a process that has become her hallmark - in order to present her version of the truth. Nothing she said was not the truth, but it was not the whole truth either.  In the end - having chided her for politicking, the Mayor brought her to a close as she laid waste to the time available on an important agenda.

The next item was the Scrutiny Committee's reference of the intention to sell the Clifton (Lytham) Housing Association.

This was introduced by Scrutiny's Conservative Chairman Councillor Fabian Wilson (who voted for the call in at her own Scrutiny Committee), and it was seconded by its non-aligned Vice Chairman Cllr Kiran Mulholland.

At this point, Cllr Fabian Craig Wilson left the meeting.

She had proposed the item but did not stay for the debate or the vote. She simply got up and left.

Cllr Tim Ashton also left. He declared both a personal and prejudicial interest and left the meeting. It was explained by the Council solicitor that he had a personal interest because he was a director of, and represented the Council on, the Clifton (Lytham) Housing Association Ltd that was proposing to sell Melton Grove, and he had a prejudicial interest because he was also a Director of Lytham Town Trust Ltd who were likely to get 300,000 from the sale proceeds of Melton Grove.

As such, a reasonable member of the public might believe his judgement about these matters was prejudiced.

We couldn't agree more.

When the debate began, Cllr Trevor Fiddler stood to explain his role as the 'Decision Taker' in respect of selling Melton Grove. he said he agreed with the principle of disposal; it was Conservative Party Policy for councils not to manage social housing and he thought it was 'an anomaly' that Fylde was still doing so. The Fylde Conservatives had taken a decision to sell off Melton Grove and that was that.

counterbalance has said before that we agree with a lot of what Cllr Fiddler says, but we fundamentally disagree with his stance here.

Shelter is one the three most basic human needs and it absolutely ought to be afforded by every Council to those in genuine need. And in our view, genuine need can only properly be determined by those in the community that are elected as its representatives. We believe it is - or should be - a core and fundamental role of a Councillor to know the people they represent and to make judgements about the state of their need.

So we can't agree with Cllr Fiddler in this matter. That said we respect his honesty and integrity for putting forward his honest view. We did, however, fully agree with him when he said "There has been a lack of transparency" on this matter.

Cllr Elaine Silverwood wanted to know why the matter had not been debated before. She said the six Directors had been appointed by the Council and were responsible to the Council, and something so important should have been brought to the Council, not discussed behind closed doors.

She repeated a statement made by Cllr Fiddler that it was February this year when the funding request had been received for Lytham Hall, and demanded to know why this was not shown as a request for funding in the Council's budget agreed a month later in March, and why there were a row of zeros in the income section of the budget book against Melton Grove.

She said they needed to discuss all the conflicting details and not be railroaded into a quick decision. She proposed "That the transfer of the shares is deferred until a full and proper consultation is carried out with the residents of Melton Grove"

Cllr David Chedd seconded the proposition.

In the debate on this amendment, Cllr John Davies wanted to know why it was at this council meeting at all. he said the item had been put on the Council agenda before the Scrutiny Committee had even considered it and he had never known that happen before. He also said by having it on the agenda that night, the timetable for submitting public questions had denied the opportunity for any member of the pubic to do so "Which", he said "On an issue as emotive as this, I think is ridiculous"

Cllr Nulty said one of the biggest problems had been a lack of transparency and very few members of the Council has any information about it. She also thought that if the property was disposed of it should be to a registered social landlord, not a property developer. adding that to her the whole thing was morally wrong even if the officials said it was legal.

Cllr Ben Aitken spoke. He said he had a letter to read out from some of the residents when he had finished speaking. He said he first knew about Melton Grove two months ago. He had asked about it and "had been allowed to read the sale document" and has been satisfied with all the questions he had asked. He then read out a letter which he said was from the residents of nine properties. (we've subsequently heard that assertion is being challenged). The letter was an attack on the Residents Association and said everything was OK so there was nothing to worry about.

He concluded by saying "I propose the sale of Melton Grove" and that was quickly seconded.

This situation led to some confusion.

Administratively, what had happened was that he had proposed not an amendment to Cllr Silverwood's proposition, but he had put a counter-motion.

Now, if the Mayor had spotted this, she could, and in our view should, have refused to accept it. They were debating a proposition from Cllr Silverwood and only matters that amended the wording of that proposition should be accepted. This was not an amendment of the wording, it was an alternative proposition and ought to have been put to the meeting only if Cllr Silverwood's proposition had failed at the vote.

Instinctively, the Mayor knew this because she initially said  they were still debating Cllr Silverwood's proposition, only to be told by the Chief Executive that she should ask Cllr Aitken if his statement was an amendment - to which, of course, he said yes. Faced with this fait accompli by the officers, the Mayor continued with the debate, which was now about Cllr Aitken's supposed 'amendment', not Cllr Silverwood's proposition - which itself stood suspended.

This was wrong of course. The Mayor had been out-manoeuvred.

In our view the proper advice to give her was that Cllr Aitken's 'amendment' was, in fact, an invalid counter motion that could have achieved its result by his voting against Coun Silverwood's proposition. But this was not the advice she appeared to receive from the Chief Executive.

The debate continued. St Paul Hayhurst said they had precious little information on this matter and he had only kept up to date by reading the newspaper reports. He thought they should have proper information and they didn't have that, so he couldn't make a decision on such an important matter. He thought it should be deferred.

Then Cllr Mulholland rose to speak. He is the non-aligned Vice Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee that considered the matter in more detail last week (see 'Melton Grove Call In'). He said her really hoped they would not get a political vote as that would be a terrible thing on an item such as this. He agreed with Cllr Fiddler that it was not appropriate for Councils to run social housing. But he said "I have great concerns that the disposal is being sought tonight. I have great concerns that it is not to a registered social landlord. That worries me"

He said when the Council transferred its main housing stock they consulted with tenants and let them have a vote on whether to transfer or not, and that was the right way to do it. He went on to say he just didn't think it was sufficient for Cllr Pounder to say 'well we told them in 2009', that simply wasn't good enough, it should have been a proper consultation. He concluded "We simply don't know, and I'm certainly not going to vote in favour of a sale tonight, I'm going to vote to defer it and I really hope we don't get a political vote"

We figure he said that about it not being a political vote because he knew that's what was lined up.

Cllr Eastham referred to his earlier comment in January about learning about Melton grove from the press. Showing clear signs of impatience he berated the way this had been gone about. He said the process was failing to protect the continuity of succession for worthy residents. He was worried about future development on an important site designed by Tom Mellor because planning alone would not give enough control of development. He wanted to ensure that as much protection was given to the site as possible, and that there should be a vigorous campaign to prevent future development of the area, going as far as encouraging officers to put tree preservation orders and conservation designations on it, in order to better restrict what could and couldn't be done in the future.

Cllr Fidder said he was beginning to waver, because most of the speakers he had heard had spoken against Cllr Aitken's 'amendment'. He said the popular view that the disposal was unlawful, was wrong. (We think he may yet be proved wrong himself on that matter). And they shouldn't cloud the issue of disposal with what they were going to use the money for.

Cllr Janine Owen said she had huge issues with this matter and why this had been brought to Council now, saying that if they were at the point where the Portfolio Holder was wavering, then they were in trouble. As the last council meeting of the administration they should leave a legacy they would have been proud to leave, and they could only do that with more information so it should be deferred. They should not be making a decision where they didn't understand what was going on, and al least half of them didn't.

Cllr Peter Hardy - the epitome of common sense - thundered to Cllr Pounder "Cllr Pounder said: - "as a Director of the Company my first duty is to the Company".   Rubbish.   This Council was elected by the people of the Fylde to represent them and their interests, first and solely, not a company anyone is a Director of"

Speaker after speaker lined up to complain that they had not received enough information to make a proper decision, that information was provided late or not at all.

Cllr Chedd wanted to know why, when the Directors had been approached by the developer and had rejected the registered social landlords in his favour, the site should not have been tendered on that basis. He suggested that other developers might have offered even more if there was development and planning permissions in the offing.

When the vote on Cllr Aitken's 'amendment' was about to taken wording of the resolution provided by the Chief executive to the Mayor was "It is proposed to dispose of Melton Grove and confirm the decision of the Portfolio Holder"

The vote was:
For the disposal as proposed by Cllr Aitken
Cllrs: Ackers, Aitken, Ackeroyd, Andrews, Bennett, Buckley, Clarkson, Coombes, L. Davies, Eaves, Fazackerley, Fiddler, Fieldhouse, Fulford-Brown, Hyde, Jacques, Little, Pounder, Prestwich, P Rigby, Small, Threlfall, (22)

Against the disposal:
Cllrs: Beckett, Chedd, Chew, Collins, J R Davies, Eastham, Ford, Hardy, Harper, Hayhurst, K Henshaw, H Henshaw, Hopwood, Mulholland, Nulty, Oades, Owen, Pagett, L Rigby, Silverwood. Speak (21)

Cllrs: Cornah, Halewood  (2)

Not present or left before the vote:
Cllrs: Ashton, Caldwell, Craig-Wilson, Douglas,  Renwick, Singleton (6)

22 for 21 against, so the 'amendment'. was declared carried by the slimmest of majorities.

We could go through a whole series of 'what if's' at this point but we'll highlight only one. If Cllr Fabian Wilson had not have walked out of the meeting after introducing the item, but had stayed and voted as she had at her committee, the result would have been a tied vote with the Mayor's casting vote to decide the matter. Given that the Mayor had voted against the sale at this time, the decision would probably have been the reverse of what it was.

But that aside, two things are wrong here.

Firstly, and technically, the Council resolution probably should have been to refer the decision to the Portfolio Holder with the Council's own view on the matter.

Stupidly, (in our view), the Council is not able to determine matters referred to it by a Scrutiny Committee, it may only make a recommendation of its view on the matter to the Cabinet or the Decision taker - as we were told time and time again over the Heeley Road Hostel sale, (when the Council threatened to decide the matter itself).

The failure to highlight this fact in the agenda and the report of the Scrutiny Committee to Council was yet another failing of the officer class at Fylde.

Secondly, the amendment they just voted on was not what Cllr Aitken had proposed. Then words he used were (and we listened very carefully) "I propose the sale of Melton Grove" And those were the words that were seconded.

It appears from looking at the recording of the meeting that the difference in wording between the two was inserted by the Chief Executive for the Mayor to read out as the (revised) resolution. We don't doubt this was because he knew Cllr Aitken's actual 'amendment' was inappropriate to effect as it was worded, so it looks as though he changed it for him after it had been debated.

You simply can't do that. The wording of resolutions ought to be inviolate. Change can only be made to a proposition by an amending the wording after the amendment has duly been proposed, seconded, debated if necessary, and voted upon. You can't simply insert a few extra words at the end when you feel like it.

There is also further evidence of maladministration.

In an attempt to mollify a hiatus of confusion just prior to the vote, the Chief Executive said "During the debate [on Cllr Silverwood's proposition] Cllr Aitken put - an alternative motion - which, in effect was an amendment , which was seconded by Cllr Fiddler, and that's the issue under debate until that is discharged by a vote. If that vote succeeds, that becomes the substantive motion which replaces Cllr Silverwood's original motion. However, if that amendment fails, then we go back to the original motion put forward by Cllr Sliverwood"

It wasn't an amendment of course, and the Chief Executive knows that. He is an expert on procedure. It's the core of his job. He full knew - and if he didn't he absolutely ought to have known - that it was a 'counter motion' and he should have advised the Mayor not to accept it.

But for whatever reason, he failed to do that.

It's yet another example of the sloppy and shambolic mess that this administration has been throughout its existence, and how the full Council has been sidelined and disrespected by officers intent on carrying out an agenda that was designed to benefit others.

But then, things got even worse.

This item was introduced by Cllr David Eaves who reported the request from the Heritage Trust for the North West.

The Trust suggested that the Council could contribute 300,000 toward the restoration costs. He said the matter was reported to Cabinet last week, and Cabinet made an in-principle decision of support for the payment, and Council were now asked to agree that support.

Cllr Pagett - former Heritage Champion started off an the wrong tack by referring to the Melton Grove decision they had just made (no doubt because the agenda recommendation from Cabinet was to link the sale of Melton Grove to the funding of the grant to HTNW) she said: "What's the rush?, and is this money a rabbit to be pulled out of a hat just before an election? I personally feel this matter has been carried out in extremely suspicious circumstances"

As is her wont, she probably spent too long on this introduction to her main point, and some very unfortunate jeering and heckling began. The Mayor intervened and asked her to move to a more relevant aspect. She said she would be voting against giving the money to the hall because she didn't want Melton Grove and its vulnerable residents to be put at risk. The heckling grew to a crescendo and St Barbara [who was perfectly within her rights given the agenda recommendation to Council was to link the two items] became very angry at the interruptions and broke off her text to chide the hecklers in the Conservative ranks.

Returning to her text she said the appeal - as recommended - should be denied and that the funds to support the Hall should be sought from elsewhere in the Council's budget, and that Melton Grove should not be sold.

She was seconded of a sort by Cllr John Davies who said he would second most of what she had proposed, (We're not really familiar with that sort of approach to seconding) but he thought that the decision on Melton Grove had been made so he couldn't support that part of what she said. Cue a conflab. Result: the amendment dropped the Melton Grove not being sold part. Cllr Davies went on to argue that the Melton Grove funds should not be allocated to the Hall and the Council should decide the use to which they would be put.

Debate began on St Barbara's amendment.

Cllr Kevin Eastham spoke in favour of the donation. He said they were being asked to decide in principle, but they also needed to be better informed about public access and a number of other matters.

The Cllr Hayhurst said he had always supported Lytham Hall and had previously supported the hall to the tune of 250,000, but that was when Fylde was debt free and this money [from Melton Grove] could be used to pay off debt. Quoting figures from the finance officers report he said they could pay off debt with it and reduce payments by taxpayers by up to 60,000 a year, and in view of that he couldn't support giving the grant on this occasion.

Throwing smoke into the debate, Princess Karen Buckley asked where they would get the money from - they had only just agreed their budget.

This appears to have been a case of selective amnesia for her, in view of the 2 million they had just plumped up their reserves.

There is easily enough money to fund the grant - and undoubtedly Princess Karen knew about it. She simply asked where they would get it from. Not at all untruthful. But again, not the whole truth.

We are learning that it is difficult to trust what she says at face value.

The vote on St Barbara's amendment was heavily lost. Just her and Cllr Davies voted for it. Everyone else voted against or abstained

That result was a puzzle to us, because it supported the Hall, but not with the Melton Grove money. So by inference, either the Council was not prepared to spend any tax receipts or government grant on the hall, or a large number were not going to support it anyway.

But our confusion was set to get even worse.

The debate on the main proposal started again.

Speaker after speaker lined up to say "No" to the donation. Even those who usually seem to support the Conservatives were vehemently opposed.

Typical of the mood was Cllr John Bennett. He said "I shouldn't have to remind members that Conservative Policy is to reduce debt, not to give money away. I believe - well I know - that we are already giving a grant from Lancashire County Council.

I, as a ratepayer pay to Lancashire County Council as well as Fylde Borough, so I don't see why I should be having to contribute to the same thing twice.

Now, this particular item should have been on the second of March meeting. It's an absolute disgrace that it's on tonight. [He meant it should have been debated as part of the overall budget] Then, people could have moved something out of the [capital budget] to replace it with this, but they were not given that opportunity.

And as Councillor Hayhurst has said, far better than I possibly could, is that this [Melton Grove] money could reduce the debt that we might have to pay by between 24,000 and 60,000 a year. Now think about that. Its a lot of money and, as I say, I support Conservative national policy, so therefore I will be voting against this"

Even more outspoken was Cllr Mulholland. He said he wasn't being political or trying to put a spoke in anyone's wheel but then he said "I am going to vote against this, on principle, I think to see it - we've talked a lot about transparency tonight, and I think this isn't transparent, and to link it on tonight's agenda with the sale of Lytham (Clifton) Housing Association, to link it with that, having seen such a political vote, is worrying.

I had heard lots of rumours, which I dismissed. I'm now not sure I was right to dismiss those rumours.

One thing, for sure, I remember many years ago in Councillor Tavernor's time we used to sit there every year and go through a long list of grants and donations, and eventually we stopped because as Cllr Bennet said If I want to give money to organisations and charities, I choose who I give it to. Don't you give my rate money away, it not up to you to choose who to give it to. And I think its damn right that you don't. But we've somehow got this info, we've sold this thing - and I'm not sure who owned it, is it the Board or is it the Council - but we're getting this fantastic capital receipt, and it's linked on the agenda to Lytham Hall. Personally I think it's appalling.

Yes, Lytham Hall is a great scheme, but we aren't in a position to give money away, to whoever it is. We haven't even had time for the dust to settle on it. The deal's not even been done, and we're looking where to give it.

So I now do think this is strongly linked.   Promises have been made and I'm sorry to say it, but I believe that's probably the case - we'll do this, we'll give you that. I think it absolutely stinks. I'm sorry, but I will be voting against it."

He had seen the light of course. It was a very telling speech and will have shaken fear into the hearts of the Conservative group and the Cabinet who have been pushing this forward.

Princess Karen did her best to restore the position, by "correcting members of the opposition with their figures" She then set off on a complete tangent about how much borrowing the council had at present.

What she did, was what she set out to do. And that was to defuse some of the damage that Cllr Mulholland had done with his oration, which, when she had finished, had been forgotten as people tried to make sense of the irrelevant figures she had thrown into the debate.

What she failed to see though was a mistake in the middle of the officers report - where some of the figures were, in fact, wrong.

Sensing the scale of opposition, and that the fringe conservatives were indicating a wavering against the plan, some of the conservatives weighed in with support.

Cllr Brenda Akers said - with no hint of compromise or contrition, "We are going ahead with Lytham Hall. We're determined to go ahead with Lytham Hall"

That's the spirit that's been hiding behind this all along.

We suspect Cllr Pat Fieldhouse was probably elbowed aside by people like her fellow Director Cllr Ackers (who chaired some of the Melton Grove meetings herself), and that all along she had  the intention of securing the sale - to fund an election-winning donation to Lytham Hall.

Cllr Janine Owen said she supported the hall with her own money,  but she didn't want to be taxed twice and neither did her residents. LCC was supporting it and it wasn't for FBC to decide to spend 300,000 of their money on the hall as well. She agreed with Cllr Mulholland and said of the deal "It absolutely stinks"

Then - like Lazarus from his deathbed - up rose the Commissar to ask some questions. We thought he was perhaps bowling googlies to new High Command, but couldn't be sure. He did say he didn't want to bowl anyone a low ball though. He seemed to be saying the money ought to be held back to see if it was needed at the end of the fundraising, not given now, and wondered whether that was a good thing or not.

It was an indication that support for the scheme wasn't even certain within the Conservative group.

So it was perhaps less of a surprise than it appeared, when a most strange turn of events arose later on in the meeting.

Even Cllr Fazackerley said she had been "Wrestling with her conscience" on the matter. She went on to use the parable of the talents where a rich man had given a small amount of money to three people and asked them to increase it as best they could. Likening this to the needs of the Hall, she was no doubt referring to the self-help analogy.

We couldn't help wondering how the instance of betrayal for 30 pieces of sliver would sit with such religious convictions.

Cllr David Eaves tried to answer the Commissar, but seemed to flounder, He asked for the finance officer to comment, but the Chief Executive intervened and said he would try and get some further information outside the meeting.

Then Councillor Howard Henshaw asked Councillor Buckley if she could explain the calculations on the repayment of debt where the Council could save approximately 24,000 to 60,000 by using the money to pay off debt. He worked that out to be an average interest rate of 14% and that didn't seem right. He wanted to know if that was correct. For all her bravado in 'correcting opposition councillors' she wasn't able to answer that in the meeting and undertook to do so later.

We've since seen an apology from the Finance Officer which admitted an error, saying that the saving had been calculated on the full 1.5 million, not just the 300,000 that was to be the donation.

So Cllr Henshaw (Ex international banker) was right, and Cllr Buckley who had wanted to 'correct the opposition's errors' hadn't seen the mistake herself.

We also noted here that the figure now seems to have gone up from the 1.35 reported to Cabinet by Cllr Fiddler, to 1.5m in the Finance Officers communication. So maybe the difference is what the developer will pay if he gets the planning permission to redevelop on the site.

The Mayor was just summing up prior to the vote when Cllr Kevin Eastham asked what the resolution was.

He was told it was as per the order paper. He then re-iterated this should be an in-principle decision and there needed to be more information. The Mayor corrected him to say that that the recommendation they had been debating was that a capital grant of 300,000 be made to the Lytham Hall Appeal, conditional upon the sale of Clifton (Lytham) Housing Association.

And at that point the meeting began to descend into farce.

First there was an argument involving the Mayor and several councillors about which page the motion was on, and what precisely they were about to vote on.

From the outside this meeting had now become a Monty Python sketch. - He's got the right pages - no he hasn't, I've got them. - well which pages have you got - that's not what mine says - what does yours say? - you know the sort of thing.

Absolute, pure farce.

Cllr Kevin Eastham still wasn't happy. He said "I can understand that we need to take an in-principle decision to get this moving. Now, if in principle, we say "no" then there's no point in asking for these funds, the Heritage Lottery will go away and the good people of Fylde will thank us very much for turning down three million pounds. What I'm trying to do is get an in-principle decision which says that provided we get this detailed information then we will go along with it. That is what has been said off the leadership table here, its just a question of how we put that in words.

So if you want me to do that then I am willing to put the proposition that we agree to this in principle subject to getting further information regarding the details of exactly how money will be spent and when it will be required so that at least it will give us some confidence, it will give us some certainty. It's jolly difficult to get money out of Government at this moment in time and I don't think anyone would thank us if the headlines in the paper were "Council refused three million lottery fund"

The Mayor then asked if that was his amendment, and if he had a seconder.

We were then treated to the extra-ordinary spectacle of Council Leader David Eaves seconding a proposition put by Cllr Eastham which was against the motion he himself had proposed at Cabinet, had been voted through at Cabinet and had also put forward by him as his proposition at that self same Council meeting a few minutes earlier.

The Mayor (correctly) advised that he could only second Cllr Eastham's amendment if he withdrew his original proposition.

Cllr Eaves confirmed that was what he wanted to do.

He said he supported Cllr Eastham's amendment saying "the in-principle decision to be made and for further information to be received by this Council with regard to all the questions that have been asked this evening and including the questions you [the Mayor] asked at Cabinet. I'll ask my seconder also to withdraw the original resolution."

The meeting descended deeper into chaos.

Before agreeing, his seconder (Princess Karen) asked for the resolution to be written down so the were all clear about what it was they would be voting on.

At this point the Chief Executive started writing his own version of what the resolution should be.

He then said he would "try and summarise what's been said"

He continued "I'm looking at the original recommendation on page 11 of the order paper, and I think the suggestion is that that should be amended to something along the lines of - to agree the recommendation of Cabinet in principle, to a grant of 300,000 being made to the Heritage Trust for the North West for the Lytham Hall restoration fund, subject to further detailed information - and that's where I stop now because I could do with some a,b,c,d of what further information is required."  And with that he sat down.

Cllr Eastham clarified it was "financial arrangements; public access; funding from elsewhere, and a detailed breakdown of the funding timetable and timescale".

The Mayor asked Cllr Eaves if he was happy with the re-wording. He said he was.

The Mayor - who was more awake than most of them there said this was yet another amendment and it had been seconded, so it was now open for debate. Did anyone wish to speak to it?

We ought to say at this point that despite some bad advice she was given, little or none of this disaster of a meeting was the Mayor's fault. Without her experience it would have been a lot worse. Queen Elizabeth Oades is a safe pair of hands running  a meeting. As she ably demonstrated, she has a grasp of procedure better than most, but even she was being led astray on occasions. It shows how bad this administration has become.

Cllr Nulty asked if the proposition meant this would come back to the council for a final decision once all these questions have been answered.

Cllr Eastham replied "I would hope so"

What does that mean as an answer for heaven's sake!

Cllr Janine Owen saw the sleight of hand that was being prepared. She said that's not what they were voting for "Forget what you think of the information when it gets here, because in principle you've agreed to it anyway"

Cllr Buckley agreed. She said as written, the matter would not come back to the Council. She wanted it to continue to say, "and conditional upon the sale of Lytham Housing Association" because, of course, in her view, if there was no receipt there could be no grant.

The Commissar was on his feet. He suggested changing the wording to "conditional on the identification of surplus additional capital receipts being identified. I really don't think it's appropriate to link it to the sale of Melton Grove, so perhaps if we could say - 'surplus capital receipts being identified' - and it doesn't matter at the end of the day where it comes from"

That in effect, was a further amendment, and it was then seconded.

There should of course have been a debate and vote on that amendment to see if it was supported, but in the melee that this Council meeting had become, all that was forgotten about, and the Chief Executive was asked to read out his version of the latest position as a sort of 'composite' resolution beloved of the Labour Party Conferences before they became stage shows.

Mr Woodward said the resolution should be "to agree the recommendation of Cabinet in principle, to a grant of 300,000 being made to the Heritage Trust for the North West for the Lytham Hall restoration fund, subject to:

1) further detailed information being available to the Council on a) financial arrangements; b) Public Access; c) Project timetable; d) other funding contributions

2) recommendation 1 to be subject to the receipt of equivalent additional capital receipt being identified in the Council's capital programme."

At this point the vote was taken but, because it hadn't been David Eaves who proposed it, several of his own side seemed to be unsure which way they should vote.

Panic ruled.

Councillor Ackers - who supported the Hall, voted against the amended proposition, as did Cllr Christine Akeroyd and Cllr Angela Jacques.

The full result was:

For the 'in principle' resolution proposed by the Chief Executive
Cllrs:  Aitken,  Andrews, Buckley, Clarkson, Coombes, Cornah, J R Davies, L. Davies, Eastham, Eaves, Fazackerley, Fiddler, Fieldhouse,  Halewood, Harper, Hopwood, Hyde, Little, Pounder, Prestwich, P Rigby, Small,  Threlfall, (23)

Against the resolution:
Cllrs: Ackers, Ackeroyd, Beckett, Chedd, Chew, Collins,  Hardy,  Hayhurst, K Henshaw, H Henshaw, Jacques, Mulholland, Nulty, Oades, Owen, Pagett, Silverwood.  (17)

Cllrs: Bennett, Ford,   (2)

Not present or left before the vote:
Cllrs: Ashton, Caldwell, Craig-Wilson, Douglas, Fulford-Brown, Renwick, L Rigby,  Singleton, Speak, (9)

23 for - 17 against so the amended resolution was carried,

We were then treated to the Corporate Plan item which Council spent as long on as we did on our earlier reports, (ie next to nothing) except that once again, some members had papers with this extra item on and some had not. Others said they has been handed out that night at the meeting. For some it was Item 9 for others it was a different item number. Cue disruption whilst everyone tried to sort themselves out (hands up who hasn't got it, that sort of thing), and disagreement between the Mayor and the Deputy about whether, and how, to proceed.

This has all happened of course because of the unholy rush to get all these items onto this Council before they break up for the election of the new council

It was a total shambles and a disaster.

Administration? They haven't a clue based on tonight's performance. The Mayor quite properly said "This is a mess. Its a dog's breakfast and I'm not happy with the way people don't seem to have the right papers"

She proposed deferring the item which was widely supported.

End of - as they say.

Then Cllr Ben Aitken tried to re-open the debate about Lytham Hall funding and was given short shrift for his trouble by the Mayor.

Then we came to the notices of Motion, the first two were 'motherhood and apple pie' and passed with almost no debate. The third was from St Paul Hayhurst who wanted to scrap the idea of charging special expenses over parish areas.

Good try, but not well enough supported in view of the fact that there is an all party working group going to be looking at this shortly.

The fourth Notice of Motion was not discussed at all.

We were amazed.

This was a properly constituted and published agenda item motion about the disposal of Melton Grove from Cllr Elaine Silverwood and it was not withdrawn nor was it discussed.

It might be argued that they had made the decision on Melton Grove, so it was unnecessary. But that is not the case. Cllr Davies was wrong earlier in the debate to say they had made the decision about Melton grove. The decision they made was (or should have been) what  recommendation to make to a Portfolio Holder, because  they were actually debating the call-in resolution at that time.

This motion was a matter for the Council itself to decide, and thus a completely different decision.

It could have created an interesting constitutional issue to resolve, if the Decision Taker had decided to sell (as he had indicated he would), and the Council had decided not to.

No wonder it didn't get debated. Perhaps it's no wonder the Chief Executive failed to see that it had not been debated either. Once again we noted that it was his job to make sure the administration of the meeting was right.

We waited to see what happened about this after the meeting, but so far as we can see, nothing has happened so far.

We imagine this failure to discharge that motion could well form part of the basis of a legal or other challenge to the Council's decision on the Call-in resolution itself.

We think there are now ample grounds to effect such a challenge, and wouldn't be surprised to see that as the next step.

Heavens above! What a disaster of a meeting.

Talk about 'confused dot com', it's got nothing on this lot!

If the Fred Karno administration that is just ending wasn't so serious, it would be laughable.

But it is serious.

The have lost millions of pounds in taxpayer cash over their term, and that's bad enough.

But the ethical approach has been very sadly lacking as well. This administration has brought shame on the previously good name of Fylde Council.

They have brought the whole Council into disrepute.

The sooner this administration is swept away, and a new one installed, the better.

In exactly the same way that Tony Blair created excuses to justify the immoral and possibly illegal decision to go to war with Iraq, so this administration has created excuses to justify its immoral and possibly illegal decision to sell Melton Grove.

And it is still the shambles it was when it started.

However, there is still one final point to recall as the epitaph of this deceased administration is chronicled.

There was an 'exempt' item at the end of the agenda for which the public and press were ejected from the hall.

These are always interesting, and this one was described as a 'Staffing Matter'

Now - it's not general for gardeners and bin men to be dealt with by Council. That usually reserves its favours for the top triumvirate - the Chief Executive, the Solicitor / Monitoring Officer and the Section 151 Finance officer.

As it happens, we were in the foyer when the meeting resumed after a short break in proceedings, and we saw the Chief Executive leave the hall whilst councillors were still in session. That's a pretty good clue as to who the 'Staffing Matter' was about.

It was made even more interesting when all the other officers came out of the hall - so Councillors could discuss whatever was on their agenda in complete secrecy.

Chances are, there is some sort of change coming for the Chief Executive, and judging by the removal of the other officers, we think it's probably not what he might have wanted to hear.

Perhaps he will be on the move after the election.

Dated:  07 April 2011


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