Monthly Archives: January 2018

If 10 WLBC elected members don’t, or can’t, pay their own council tax on time, what does that tell the public who face legal consequences for none payment? WLBC states “If you do not pay you will be sent a reminder. If your payments are arriving late, you will still receive a reminder. You must pay the amount on the reminder notice within seven days to bring your account up to date – and you should continue to pay on time otherwise you may lose the right to pay in instalments. If you receive a final notice then you will have lost the right to pay in instalments. If you do not pay the full amount or reach a satisfactory arrangement then a summons will be issued”.

Having reported about the 10 West Lancashire Borough Council (WLBC) members being pursued to pay their individual council tax while receiving member allowances, I now want to know the names of the 10 members who are in arrears of council tax, the amount of council tax arrears of each of the 10 members, the dates when the arrears commenced for each of the 10 members, what penalties if any has WLBC imposed on each of the 10 members, does WLBC have any legal method of withholding member allowances to be set against individual arrears of council tax, what publicity does WLBC use to enable the public to know if their own elected member(s) are in arrears of council tax, and is WLBC aware of the judgement in “The Upper Tribunal Appeal No. Gia/4597/2014 Administrative Appeals Chamber Before: Upper Tribunal Judge Kate  Markus QC in which it was declared, summarised, below?

“Mr Haslam’s interest as a journalist is to publish the information to the wider public. His interest in informing the public elides with that of the public in knowing the identity of the journalist, and both are rooted in the interests of transparency, accountability and efficacy of the democratic process. There is no doubt that the interest is legitimate. The next question is whether disclosure of the identity of the councillor is necessary to the legitimate interest in question. “Necessity” means “more than desirable but less than indispensable or absolute necessity”, and disclosure must be the “least restrictive” means of achieving the legitimate aim.

“Mr Haslam could publish a story that an unidentified councillor has defaulted in payment of council tax and been summoned. But that would not achieve the transparency of the Council’s processes nor the accountability of the councillor to the public which Mr Haslam seeks and which I have decided is an important legitimate interest. In resisting identification of the councillor Mr Knight effectively asks the local electorate to trust in the efficacy of monitoring because they have no means of testing it.

“Moreover, even if these safeguards all work effectively, unless the councillor is identified the electorate is deprived of information which, for reasons I have explained, there is a legitimate interest in their knowing. There is no other effective means of a journalist obtaining this information. It is not realistic for a journalist to be available in the magistrates court during all council tax lists in case a councillor might appear in the list. And, as the Council pointed out, a summons does not necessarily mean that a hearing is held in open court. Reliance on a public list including the name of the councillor and on a journalist happening to be in court when and if the list is read out would mean that whether or not the information could be published would be arbitrary.

“Mr Knight raised, at the hearing, the possibility of the Appellant obtaining court records. This cannot be achieved under FOIA because of the operation of section 32(1). Mr Knight suggested that the records might be obtained under rules of court. He did not say how this could be done. I do not know whether it is possible under the rules of court. But in any event I do not consider that this is a realistic suggestion. It is difficult to see how a journalist would know what lists to obtain. It seems that it may involve a journalist obtaining all lists and scouring them for the names of councillors. On the evidence before me this is not a realistic suggestion.

“I conclude that disclosure of the identity the councillor is necessary to achieve the objectives of transparency and accountability. Finally, I must consider whether disclosing the councillor’s identity is unwarranted by reason of the prejudice to the article 8 rights of the councillor. I have already set out above the ways in which disclosure in this case is likely to interfere with the councillor’s rights. The issue substantially overlaps with that of fairness.

“As explained in the reasons above and in the closed reasons, the prejudice is not unwarranted. I have reached my decision without reference to Article 10 and I do not need to resolve the dispute as to its application in a case such as this. The First-tier Tribunal’s decision was made in error of law and I set it aside. The name of the councillor in Case 5 is not exempt from disclosure under section 40(2) FOIA and the Council is obliged to provide that information to Mr Haslam”.

Ultimately one Bolton  councillor was summonsed to court at some point between May 2011 and April 2012 for not paying £936 in council tax. The summons was withdrawn after they paid the bill in full. The councillor was then sent another order to go to court at some point between May 2012 and April 2013 for not paying £1,039.89. The summons was withdrawn after they entered into a payment plan with Bolton Council. As a Bolton tax payer claimed “This is still more secret than the Chilcot report! What is it with all these cover ups?”

Following news of the demise of Aughton Spar  comes news of another imminent Aughton shop sale or closure. The Aughton News shop at Long Lane/Parrs Lane junction  is already operating on reduced opening hours and its owner has confirmed he will be leaving the business.

Meanwhile the Spar is being stripped of its stock and fittings. The National Lottery equipment  has gone today, while inside can be seen piles of newspapers that were never sold. The Cockbeck Co-op will probably be rejoicing at the Spar closure and loss of competition apart from the niche S Huyton.

We describe Aughton today as somewhat scruffy and unkempt as austerity takes its toll on services we all fund with council tax. It can be dangerous too, if you drive from Granville Park into Delph Lane, with its appalling pot holed road surface down below the old cobblestones and its road grids on the lower half towards Granville Park full of rubbish. We have five local Aughton councillors, probably three more than we need, but just one should be reporting on these dangerous potholes. We live in hope!

The Lancashire Post  reports on councillors who have been pursued to pay their own council tax while still in receipt of member allowances, including the shock claim that West Lancashire is included among the worst in the country.

“Town halls across the county had to send reminders to their own elected members about late council tax payments, according to new data. In Preston and Chorley, councillors were then issued with court summonses after failing to pay up after being prompted. Only South Ribble and Ribble Valley authorities were not required to send out reminders in 2016/17.

“West Lancashire District Council  was among the worst areas in the country, having issued 10 reminders. Wyre and Blackpool each sent out two but no further action was required. Fylde issued one. Councillors who are in arrears with their tax payments are not able to vote on their local authority’s budget. In Preston, three reminders were issued, one of which led to a court summons for Liberal Democrat member for Cadley Coun Stephen Mullen. Coun Mullen said “Due to financial difficulties during the period when I was unemployed and later starting self-employment I fell behind (on payments). My current council tax is paid on time via direct debit and I have been paying off the arrears in instalments. As per the law I leave the council chamber and do not vote (on council tax items)”.

“Chorley’s  trio issued with summonses represent the same ward: Clayton-le-Woods North, for Labour. Couns Steve Murfitt (£570) and Jean Cronshaw (£64) paid up after being prompted, the figures show. Coun Murfitt said the missed payment was an “oversight” that was swiftly rectified. Coun Cronshaw said she missed a payment when she was in hospital and cleared it at the earliest opportunity. Coun Charlie Bromilow had an unpaid bill of £1074.71 with a payment plan agreed following a court hearing. She said the bill has been settled and the missed payment related to a time when she was off work”. 

So who are the WLBC 10, out of 54 members? We should be told, it’s a large percentage, and should cause concern to those of us who pay up on time.

  The Aughton Spar shop has closed its doors at very short notice to staff today. Shoppers were turned away and a notice on the door told them “This store is now closed”…and ends…Spar There for you. Well not in Aughton any longer. It’s all down to the Cockbeck Co-op opposite, too much competition for the small community. Who will be next in this area? 

“Our West Lancashire” has raised the issue of Glenburn’s football facility and claims “Taxpayers money was spent in providing this football facility for the town and to simply lock the gates and leave it unused is verging on the criminal” – Adrian Owens, Our West Lancashire. 

When will a local WLBC party, Labour or Tory, have the balls to call for a public inquiry into the lies about facilities and the landfill scandal that has now left locked gates on Beacon Park Golf Course former driving range, that is still claimed to exist by West Lancashire Borough Council, West Lancashire Community Leisure, and Serco Leisure, who still, today, claim “About Us. Beacon Park Golf Centre is a well maintained golfing facility located right in the heart of West Lancashire. The whole family can tee off and enjoy a round of golf on our 18 Hole Par 72 course. The Driving Range at Beacon Park Golf Centre is the only under cover floodlit range in the local area. Why not come along and practice your swing in one of the 22 bays. Whether you are a budding pro or a beginner, we can cater for you, from four years old or ability. Our team of leisure assistants are on hand to ensure your visit is a safe one as well as an enjoyable one.

Those 22 driving range bays are here …just dig them out…from under 35,000cubic meters of landfill rubble. Verging on the criminal? Probably, definitely, in the category of crimewatch.

Wyre Council appoints a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor every year at its Annual Meeting in May. The Mayor is considered as the First Citizen of the borough. The only exception to this rule is when Royalty or the Lord Lieutenant visits the borough. It might be considered an honour to be nominated, or devalued depending on who that nomination might be.

Readers will remember that Tory Cllr Paul Moon quit Wyre Council’s ruling cabinet some years ago after throwing a dog “poop scoop’ bag at a member of the public, following a council chamber debate on dog control orders. The bag that resembled canine faeces hit dog-lover and pensioner Mrs Irene Horner. The poop scoop bag incident was witnessed by several councillors and some of the 45 members of the public, mainly dog owners, who attended the Wyre cabinet. A shocked Mrs Horner said it was disgraceful behaviour from a cabinet councillor, which only served to bring the council into disrepute.

Moon stepped down from his £8,000 a year post as cabinet member with responsibility for street scene’ matters. Moon commented that “the use of the visual aid backfired quite horrendously. I apologised to the members of the public, and to try and alleviate the problem I resigned from the role of street scene portfolio holder. Two years earlier Moon put a pair of underpants on his head  during a mayoral meeting, which in itself was an insult to the office.

It’s now reported by the Wyre Council Residents Concerns and Action Group that “I see your group are rightly having a pop at Paul ‘Two Seat’ Moon. For your information he has just declined the position of Mayor of Wyre for Municipal Year 2018-19 (salary £9,243). He was only fourth in line but two Conservatives and one Labour Cllr turned it down before he was offered the Mayoralty (His non-acceptance most likely had something to do with the stick he would have deservedly got from your group). Following Moon declining, a further two Labour Cllrs have rejected the position. That’s SIX in total having declined it so far. I think the unreasonable cost of having a Ceremonial Mayor may finally be hitting home. Not so long ago, I remember a time when people would have been proud to have accepted this role, and represent WBC”.

And, it is reported in minutes of Wyre Borough Council Planning Meeting Wednesday 6 December 2017 at the Civic Centre, Poulton-le-Fylde. “PA.35 Election of Vice Chairman. Councillor Shaun Turner had notified his intention to stand down as Vice Chairman of the committee in the light of his significant workload commitments at Lancashire County Council. RESOLVED that Councillor Paul Moon be appointed Vice Chairman of the Planning Committee for the remainder of the municipal year 2017/18”.

This places Moon within a whisker of the Chair, with a juicy Special Responsibility Allowance of £6,204. Will we WLBC council tax payers see even less of Two-hatter Moon than we do at present? So what, you might think? Quite!

As it becomes known there is no funding available to make use of the Glenburn 3G pitch, Our West Lancashire  believes “Surely the obvious thing would be to turn these pitches over to a community group in the town on a peppercorn rent. OK the site might eventually be needed for a rail station but in the meantime to let this facility go to waste is verging on criminal. What do you think? Let us know” .

Unless my memory is faulty I thought there is a requirement for Sport England to have a say in these matters? Sport England had a role in development control, being a statutory consultee on planning applications and development control matters involving the loss of existing or former playing fields. Sport England was concerned with the protection and enhancement of other sports facilities (both built and non-built) and ensuring adequate provision of new and improved facilities as part of new developments, and it expected to be consulted on any proposal resulting in the creation or loss of a major sports facility.

If that is still in place why hasn’t someone invoked the development control? Or maybe it was revoked? Looking at the picture, and being in Skelmersdale where not much seems to matter any more, it looks ripe for handing over to Serco Leisure Services and Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd for a huge landfill site and a substandard foot golf facility, this is how good they are  at it!

It’s not only some local residents who are cross about Aurora and its intrusion into our lives with its plans to make a scoping request in advance of a planning application for exploratory drilling and fracking in PEDL 164 on Altcar Moss. Mrs M Tarplee and Barbara Bellis have written to the Champion  letters about it. Mrs Tarplee reminds us that local councils are saying no but they are being overturned by central government. Seismic events and HGVs on our roads add to the dangers.

Barbara Bellis is concerned by the affect of fracking on wildlife, as Altcar has the highest levels of skylarks , lapwings , and hares  in the country, all nesting and breeding on those fields. And she asks, “have we nowhere that is safe for our wildlife”, and tells us “God help this planet”. She is not alone and will find support as we wrote last week, from the “Moss Alliance”, the recently formed alliance of local groups opposed to fracking.

Rosie Cooper MP Labour West Lancashire is also on the case, in Parliament, as she asked the Rt. Hon. Member for Meriden representing the Church Commissioners what the policy of the Church of England is on fracking on land owned by the Church of England.

Caroline Spelman, the Second Church Estates Commissioner replied “All oil and gas deposits in the UK are owned by the Crown. There are no plans for the Church Commissioners to use its land or mineral rights for the purpose of fracking. As a policy, The Church Commissioners do not seek applications for seismic drilling/exploration and fracking. Allowing seismic testing/exploratory drilling does not imply approval of fracking. Litigation risks arise for landowners should they wish to oppose a request to carry out geophysical surveys on their land. The Church Commissioners seek to minimise this risk.

The Church Commissioners are responsible landowners and landlords and we seek to protect both our interests and those of our tenants. The Church does not have an official position on fracking and recognises it’s a controversial and evolving issue and people within the church hold a range of views. The Church of England issued a Briefing Paper on Shale Gas and Fracking in December 2016 which can be found here:

Perhaps you are asking yourself why we have to pay so much for central government taxation for services only to find local taxes are being added just to cover the austerity shortfall. We are all now well used to receiving notice of extra charges for council tax, paying for green bin charges and huge increases in senior council management wages.

Death and taxes are the certainties of life. So, now, is the annual appearance of the begging bowl  from Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw. He has criticised the Government for forcing the burden of funding policing onto local council tax payers, as the Police and Crime Panel approved his plan for funding Lancashire police.

Presenting his plan to the panel, which includes councillors from across Lancashire, the Commissioner outlined plans to increase the council tax precept by £12 per year, or 23p per week on an average property in 2018/19, safeguarding local police jobs across the county. This followed a consultation with the public where over 78% of those who responded supported increasing the council tax precept by at least 23p per week.

He said “I don’t agree that Council Tax is the best or fairest way to fund the police. Areas with similar budgets to Lancashire, like Essex and Sussex, are able to raise 40-50% more than we can with exactly the same increase in the precept. However, as this is the only tool available to me to ensure there aren’t further cuts to our policing budget, this has to be the course we take”.

Graham Walker from Up Holland has written to the Champion letters . He asks “Where does Grunshaw think money for police increases is coming from” because “Inflation is rising faster than wages and benefits cut”. And he wants the Commissioner to explain how last year’s increase was spent. We can suppose Chief Constable Andy Rhodes has done it for him, as he said “We are extremely grateful to the public for their continued support. This increase in council tax will help to ease the pressures of police budget cuts and maintain police officer and PCSO numbers and I would reassure the public that we will continue to work with the Commissioner to protect front line services and deliver further efficiencies and deliver savings where possible”. That will not appease Mr Walker, whose concern includes “police officers retiring after 25 years service with generous pensions and final golden handshake settlement sums”. Not a lot different from local council senior directors then? 

In October 2011 the introduction of joint managing director roles at West Lancashire Council was “part of cost-cutting measures”, as former Chief Executive Bill Taylor took voluntary redundancy and the post was scrapped. The council said the change would save £165,000 a year. It lasted four years until October 2015 when Gill Rowe retired. And that was to save money too as we got, guess what, a Chief Executive!

And now, while a new management structure comes into force at West Lancashire Borough Council  there will be no new Member structure. There will still be 54 elected members for only 25 wards. Saving the council tax payers more than £100,000 a year on management costs is fine. Saving the council tax payers zilch on member costs is wrong.

And while the number of directorates will be reduced from four to three with services that were provided by the Council’s Leisure and Wellbeing Service being moved into the other directorates, how many directorate deputies will there be? Are they to be reduced too? The three directorates will be: • Development and Regeneration Services • Housing and Inclusion Services, and • Leisure and Environment Services.

The directorates will continue to be supported by Legal and Democratic, and Finance and Human Resources Services, two essential officers and staff. Councillor Ian Moran Leader of the Council, said “The revised management structure will drive forward our priorities while also delivering much-needed savings in the face of continued government reductions to local authority funding. I look forward to working with the team to meet our ambitions for West Lancs and bring improvements for residents and businesses across the Borough”. Any time soon it will be impossible to look at a service in West Lancashire that hasn’t been reduced, including all the LCC services we pay for.

So when will we have what has often been mentioned, a reduction in the number of elected members, from 54 to 36? As the management and services contract, why do Ashurst, Aughton & Downholland, Derby, Knowsley, Scott, Skelmersdale South, Tarleton, and UpHolland all have three members? If Bickerstaffe, Halsall, Newburgh, and Rufford only need one each why should others have more? It’s time to justify just how many members we really need. Years ago we used to read about “councillor walks” when councillors walked their wards and reported back on the state roads and facilities were in. Have you ever seen one of your councillors doing that? No, me neither!