Opposition members on Fylde Council aren’t being given a fair crack of the whip when it comes to key decision making, it has been claimed.
A group of 17 councillors – a third of the total members and all but two of the non-Conservative members of the authority – have signed a Statement of Dissent, saying they have been excluded from debate on the Fylde’s Corporate Plan as well as budget issues.
They feel that, in the first year since committee governance was re-introduced to Fylde following a public referendum in 2014 after nine years of a cabinet system, the ruling Conservative group - which holds 32 of the 51 seats on the council - ‘appears set on a course to circumvent the intent of that referendum’.
The Statement of Dissent, circulated to ‘consultees and other interested parties’, including the Local Government Association, says: “The Council has complied with its statutory requirement (following the referendum result), but the way in which the committee system is currently being allowed to be implemented is, increasingly, reflecting and moving toward the ‘closed shop’ decision-taking process of the former Cabinet system.
“Patently, committee governance is not what the majority party (who strongly opposed and campaigned against the petition for a referendum) want, and the current direction of travel appears set on a course to circumvent the intent of that referendum.
“The first demonstration of this direction was the chairman’s announcement in the November 15 Finance and Democracy Committee that the preparatory work for the Council’s annual budget would be undertaken by a working group that was not politically balanced; whose agenda, minutes and meetings would not be in the public domain, and to which, councillors who were not members of the majority party would not be invited, and may not attend.
“A similar approach has been adopted with Fylde’s Corporate Plan - more than a third of the elected councillors have been excluded from the process to prepare it.
“There is a clear need to work collectively to produce priorities supported by the whole council if Fylde is to produce a Corporate Plan that all can sign up to.”
The signatories to the Statement of Dissent are: Mark Bamforth (Fylde Ratepayers), Jan Barker (Labour), Keith Beckett (Independent), Julie Brickles (Independent), Maxine Chew (Independent), Alan Clayton (Independent), Peter Collins (Independent), Tony Ford (Liberal Democrat), Peter Hardy (Independent), Paul Hayhurst (Non-Aligned), Karen Henshaw (Liberal Democrat), Roger Lloyd (Fylde Ratepayers), Linda Nulty (Independent), Liz Oades (Independent), Louis Rigby (Independent), Elaine Silverwood (Independent), Heather Speak (Independent) and, folloiwng the issue of the Statement, opposition leader Coun Liz Oades said: “We hope anything that can be done will be done.”
But Fylde Council leader Coun Sue Fazackerley refuted the claims, saying in a statement: “The Conservative leading group was elected in May, with an increased majority, to lead Fylde Council for the fifth term running.
“In this capacity, with advice, full agreement and encouragement of the Local Government Association and having the mandate to initiate policy development and direction for the Council, we initiated the Corporate Plan process - the normal process in the everyday operation of every local authority.
“The proposals for the Corporate Plan were included for consultation on every committee agenda and sent directly to every elected member, members of staff and several partners.
“This represents the opportunity to engage as well as the opportunity for scrutiny on at least six occasions.
“The process offers greater transparency and engagement through the committee system, providing every member with the opportunity to be engaged before the full council debate.
“It is clear from the behaviour of the Opposition members that they are not satisfied with new governance arrangements for which they canvassed and to which they signed up as equal partners in a cross-party working group which met to draft the constitution.
“I am not sure what those members who signed up to the Statement of Dissent wish to achieve. The document is full of inaccuracies and has no legal status.
“As leader, I am disappointed that the Opposition has decided to play out council business outside the agreed and established framework of governance simply because the change of governance have not given them exactly what they want.”
Jon Harrison, chairman of the Fylde Civic Awareness Group, which led calls for a return to the committee system culminating in the 2014 referendum, said: “We believe that those members of the electorate who voted for a change, did so in the anticipation that a committee system similar to that which was replaced by the cabinet, would be re-introduced.
“The ruling party was strongly against the change and it would seem that they have sought to adopt a system that still excludes the active participation of non-Conservative councillors.”