4,000 strong petition to trigger system vote

Members and supporters of the Fylde Civic Awareness Group outside Fylde Town Hall with a petition to change the cabinet system in Fylde back to a committee.
Members and supporters of the Fylde Civic Awareness Group outside Fylde Town Hall with a petition to change the cabinet system in Fylde back to a committee.

A referendum to change Fylde Council’s system of governance could be on the cards after more than 4,000 people signed a petition against the authority’s current model.

In February, members of the Fylde Civic Awareness Group (FCAG) held a seminar in St Annes to investigate change to the current cabinet system, which they believe is undemocratic, putting power in te hands of too few people..

The group hoped to gain signatures from five per cent of voters from within the borough of Fylde – around 3,070 people – to go from the cabinet system of seven portfolio holders to the committee system, allowing all councillors a say in decision-making.

On Tuesday the FCAG delivered more than 4,000 signatures to the Town Hall.

If all signatures are recognised by Fylde’s returning officer, it will trigger an automatic and binding referendum, most probably at the May 2014 European Elections.

The group hopes to time the referendum vote with the elections to reduce costs for the council.

FCAG vice-chairman John Bainbridge, said: “We listened to concerns about the cost of a stand-alone referendum and rearranged our schedule to co-incide with the European elections next May. Irrespective of Fylde’s accounting arrangements, the cost of this governance referendum need only be marginal, because all the voting arrangements will have to be in place for the European Elections.”

It is understood that up to 40 councils across the country are considering changing back to committees.

A dozen have already decided to do so including Hartlepool, Reading, Brighton and Hove, as well as Cambridgeshire and Nottinghamshire County Councils and Kingston-upon-Thames, Sutton, and Barnet in the London area.

Chairman of FCAG, Jon Harrison, added: “We have always believed the change would deliver more open and democratic governance

with decision-making by a majority of councillors in full council.

“Not by a group of just seven councillors acting as a cabinet.”

‘Referendum could set us back £50,000’

As the Fylde Civic Awareness Group delivered the petition to Town Hall, Fylde Council’s leader raised concerns about the extra cost of a referendum vote to the borough.

Coun David Eaves said anyone backing the committee system should do so at the 2015 elections – rather than a “costly” referendum.

He added: “This has been championed by a particular group of individuals. The petition has been collected over a large number of months.

“Clearly the 4,000 signatures have to be checked, to see if they are legible and from voters in the borough.

“It’s not something I support. It’s a shame this referendum is going to be forced on the majority of the council’s 78,000 residents.

“It will come at a cost. I imagine the organisers are targeting the May 2014 European elections. It’s quite clear it will bring costs to ratepayers.

“A referendum on its own will cost £100,000 – all costs will not be met by the European Union, so I believe it will cost around £50,000.

“At this particular time, when money and services are being reduced, it’s a shame this further burden will be placed on the taxpayers of Fylde. Going back to the committee system, it will obviously increase the financial burden on Fylde Council.

“You only have to look at the 250 jobs which are set to be lost at Blackpool Council, the £300m set to be cut by Lancashire County Council – we would have to find the money from somewhere, whether that be looking at jobs, council tax or services.

“I would recommend if you want to champion the committee system, do it at the 2015 elections.

“If you wish to be a candidate, nail your colours to the mast and let the people decide.”