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Ethic of Reciprocity

Ethic of ReciprocityThis article is about a hiatus at the start of the last Council meeting.

The Mayor refused to accept a 'Notice of Motion' that had not been properly submitted and thus did not meet the requirements of Fylde's constitution.

Conservatives who wanted the matter debated were very cross, but in our view, they have only themselves to blame.

SYNOPSIS
We begin with an Introduction which sets the scene for Agenda Item 7 - a Notice of Motion. Then we have What's a Notice of Motion - what it is, and how it works.

We then explain why the title for this article is Ethic of Reciprocity and what that means.

Next, we look at the Background goings-on that we think have influenced what happened at this meeting, before going on to look at What happened at this meeting, where we provide a link to the FBC video, and suggest readers view the 12 minute video for themselves.

Next, for our readers who are unable to access the internet video, we have a transcription of who-said-what at the meeting vis:

We offer a Short tailpiece in the (probably forlorn) hope of a better future.

 INTRODUCTION

There was a small frisson of excitement at the start of what had been scheduled as the last Council meeting before the summer recess.

It was also the first Council meeting chaired by Independent Cllr Peter Collins who has just been elected Fylde's Mayor, and he began his year with a bang.

After the technical procedural items, the meeting's agenda listed something that Fylde calls a 'Notice of Motion'

This sought to instruct the Chief Executive to write to the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Home secretary, (with copies to all Lancashire members of Parliament), saying that Fylde Council is opposed to any proposals that transfer any current responsibilities of the Fire and Rescue Authority in Lancashire to the Police and Crime Commissioner.

All very good and sensible stuff in our view.

But there was a problem with this 'Notice of Motion'.

 What's a Notice of Motion?

Well, it's a debating facility. (Albeit one that we think it's badly described by its title). It is a procedure by which, as of right, any Fylde councillor can propose a resolution for the Council to adopt, so long as it is about something Fylde does, or is something that affects the Fylde area.

But, because of regulations that require all matters that any Council is going to discuss to be published in advance - the councillor who is going to propose the motion at the meeting must give at least eight working days advance notice of their intention to do so, - Thus they give (advance) notice of their motion, and hence the name Fylde uses for this procedure.

The relevant wording from Fylde's Constitution is:

'10.1.(b) - Giving notice

Any member of the council can give written notice to the Director of Resources of a motion that they wish to move.'

And the Notice of Motion for Council on 16 July 2018 said:

'The Notice of Motion has been duly proposed by Councillor Ben Aitken.'

Except it hadn't.

The Background Papers section of the Agenda included the following:

"Notification from Leader of the Council 19/6/18"

And it was Cllr Fazackerley who had submitted the Notice of Motion, but what she had sent said that Cllr Ben Aitken would propose it at the meeting - and that does not meet the constitutional requirement that the mover of the motion must be the same person that gives notice of their intention to do so.

And in that situation, the Mayor exercised his absolute right as Chairman of the meeting to refuse to accept a motion which was outside the rules set out in Fylde's Constitution.

Now, some of our readers might, (and it certainly seems to us that many of the Conservatives at the meeting did), think this is a bit nit-picking, and something that would self-evidently have a good outcome should not be hampered, even if it strays outside the rules of debate imposed by Fylde's own Constitution.

We see two reasons to disagree with this view:

The first reason is that, above all, the most important aspect of any council is that, like the Monarch, we should be able to trust a Council to do the right thing, and to do things properly.

The rules that a Council adopts to govern its proceedings are, and in our view, must remain, sacrosanct.

Once you start to bend or disregard the rules it leads to breaking of the law.

The first Article of Fylde's Constitution says exactly that:

"1.01 Powers of the Council

The Council will exercise all its powers and duties in accordance with the law and this Constitution."

Another article says that none of Fylde's Articles in its Constitution may be set aside or changed.

Outside the Articles, some other debating provisions of Fylde's Constitution may be temporarily suspended, but only for the duration of one meeting, and then only if advance notice has been given, or if more that half of the Councillors present vote to suspend them.

In other circumstances, it might have been possible for someone to move suspension of Standing Orders for this item and have it proposed, seconded, voted for by more than half the Councillors and then debated and voted. But in practice that probably could not have happened, because it would have fallen foul of the requirement to publish all Motions 8 days in advance.

So to us, it is very clear that there was no way out at this time, and Fylde's Mayor was exactly correct in upholding the requirements of the Constitution.

In fact we'd go further and say that his officers should not have allowed him to be put into the position where he had to do so. They are the ones who should advise the Council on constitutional matters.

Sitting alongside the Mayor were the Chief Executive and the Council's Monitoring Officer. She has a specific responsibility to ENSURE that the Council does not step outside the law or its constitutional requirements without first being told that is the case.

We believe it should have been the officers, not the Mayor, who should have advised the Council that proceeding with that motion was not within the powers available to the Council and that the Mayor could not accept the invalid Notice of Motion.

And we say that by their failure to do so, they let down both the Mayor and their own office.

We think this sort of situation partly comes about because Fylde's current Chief Executive has introduced - or at least appears to be supportive of - the relaxation of what we would say were proper formal standards of civic behaviour. A simple example of this is Fylde's now widespread public reference to Councillors by Christian names rather than properly addressing and referring to them (and giving respect to their office) as, for example, Councillor Smith when in conversation.

Relaxation of formality in a council leads to confusion of roles, it can imply bias, can compromise principles, and leads to acceptance of the fact that high standards and proper behaviour may be set aside for expediency and achievement - that the end justifies the means.

And that's what most of the councillors who spoke at the Council meeting expected to happen.

It was a good cause, so they thought their own constitutional requirements should be set aside.  For them, the end did justify the means.

In a Council that expects to be trusted, the only time that sort of justification could possibly be allowed to apply (in our view) is for the duration of a civil disaster such as flooding, or some other similar acute emergency.

Relaxation of formality also leads to sloppy procedures taking root - as the Mayor has had to point out on this occasion.

And when the officers were pushed for definitive answers by the senior Conservative members, we thought their reluctance to stand firm and clear in support of the Mayor's decision spoke volumes about their capacity for independence. We'll justify that assertion with the verbatim quote at the end of the article.

The second reason we disagree with that view is to do with our name for this article - Ethic Of Reciprocity.

 ETHIC OF RECIPROCITY

Sadly, we can't claim the credit for this lovely and descriptive term.

Also known as the 'Golden Rule of Civilisation' - in essence it is a code for life, and it means

'you should treat others as you would like others to treat you"

This is a sentiment that would undoubtedly be known to the writer of 'The Water Babies' whose character 'Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By' was sweetness and light to her charges in the hope that the babies would follow her example.

Her sister, 'Mrs Be-Done-By-As-You-Did' was stern and unbending. She behaved toward her charges as they behaved towards others, making sure their actions came back to bite them, until they gradually learnt that - if you don't like it yourself, then it's best not to do it to someone else.

We think Cllr Collins would find affinity with Mrs Be-Done-By-As-You-Did - and we have good reason to think that, not least because of the background to this meeting.

The way the Conservative group (and officers) has behaved toward Cllr Collins and other Independent members of the Council in the recent past did, indeed, come back to bite them last Monday.

 BACKGROUND

We root this matter in meetings during 2017 which we covered in some detail in 'Fylde Waives the Rules'

During an item on Cllr Oades' (in our view, sensible) proposition to save 13,000 a year by deleting the supernumerary posts of Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council  matters became heated.

The Leader and Deputy leader had quite properly declared interests and left the room whilst the debate took place.

Unfortunately, the next most senior person in the Conservative hierarchy seemed to be Cllr Roger Small.

As we have often seen, he easily picks up the wrong end of the stick. He failed to see Cllr Oades' proposition as a financial matter (which it was) - and his less than sotto voce suggested he appeared to see it as a personal insult or attack on the two councillors involved (which it was not).

Clearly angry at what had been proposed by Cllr Oades, Cllr Roger Small attempted to use what is known as a Procedural Motion that would call for the debate on the item being discussed to end with immediate effect. Such motions take precedence in the business of the meeting and must be voted on straight away.

However, there are two similar but different procedural motions that guillotine the debate, and it was not clear exactly which of them Cllr Small was proposing.

The Monitoring Officer had to ask him to clarify which of two such motions he wanted to propose.

In his anger (or in his procedural ignorance) he chose the wrong one. We think the Monitoring officer spotted this, and, looking very uncomfortable, she gave the Council a woolly and incomplete explanation of the process he had selected before they voted on it.

She should have read the whole wording of the procedure from the Constitution, but instead she gave her interpretation of it, missing out some key words - and in doing so, in our view, she misled the Council.

We don't know whether her action was an intention to help Cllr Small or whether it was for another reason, but we are sure in our own minds she was wrong in the advice she gave.

Then another mistake was made when, having voted not to debate the matter any further, the Mayor of the day allowed further debate to take place in accordance with the Monitoring Officer's (incorrect) advice.

But worse was to come.

At the next Council meeting, when the minutes of the previous meeting were presented to the Council as a correct record, they were, in Cllr Collins view (and in our view), not a correct record of what had actually taken place.

Errors had been covered up.

So not only had the decision been wrongly applied, the fact it was wrong had been covered up in the minutes.

We said in our article of that time......

'Cllr Peter Collins (who, like us, is something of a stickler for proper protocol and procedure) had looked at the minutes and the webcast of the previous meeting, and raised it at the start of the next Council meeting when the Mayor proposed the minutes as a true an correct record of the meeting."

He said the minutes were not correct, and proposed an amendment that would rectify them

We covered all of this in great detail in our article Fylde Waives the Rules where we also explained why we agreed with him it was wrong, and we gave chapter and verse from the Constitution to justify our statement.

But at that meeting, all hell broke loose, and it descended into farce - as our earlier article showed.

In the end, Fylde's Conservative majority combined to defeat Cllr Collins' amendment that would have corrected the minutes, and the incorrect minutes were approved.

Fylde's Monitoring Officer declared orally:

"The amendment is lost. There were ten for the amendment, twenty-four against it and eight abstentions".

The subsequent minutes contradict this, saying 10 for the amendment, 23 against, and 9 abstentions.

In our opinion, this result showed that, like a number of scandals before it, proper procedure had been abandoned at Fylde, and the whole matter would most likely be toughed out and stonewalled by the Conservative group, whose abuse of their overall majority is allowed free rein by officers whose impartiality must be considered questionable in the circumstances of this matter, and whose first responsibility ought to be to uphold the Constitution for the whole Council at all times, not only when it suits the purposes of the majority party.

In fact, as we later reported in Fylde Rule Changes: 1  things got even worse.

In what we saw as a fit of pique for having her failure exposed, and in what some might see as a vindictive action against Cllr Collins for having the temerity to publicly challenge the minutes of the earlier Council meeting, the Monitoring Officer came forward with proposals to constrain any future challenges to the accuracy of the minutes.

That is appalling in our view.

So, having been treated in this way in 2017, we would not be at all surprised to find that now, in his position of Mayor, Cllr Collins' insistence on proper procedure being applied to matters over which he has authority is informed by his earlier experiences at Fylde.

And if we're honest, it was with a wry smile that we watched the Conservatives being bitten back by something they had previously bitten themselves.

So if the exercise of the Ethic Of Reciprocity - the 'Golden Rule of Civilisation' - causes the Conservative group to reflect on their behaviour toward other councillors - all of whom are elected with an equal mandate - it can only be a good thing in our view, and we salute Cllr Collins for having the strength of character to uphold the requirements of the constitution.

 AT THE MEETING

To close this article we invite readers to follow this link to watch what happened at Fylde's last Council meeting for themselves.

The relevant item is Agenda item 7 and it begins 4minutes and 30 seconds into the video, and lasts for about 12 minutes.

For those with no internet access to the recording we have transcribed verbatim our own independent audio recording of what was said.

Watching the video is better because you get the tenor, intonations and hesitations as well, but the transcription below is a second best report.

 MAYOR

"Agenda Item 7, which is, or was, a notice of motion for the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Authority. Following discussion with the Chief Executive and the Director of Resources, it appears that there are..., there have been administrative inconsistencies in that Notice of Motion. It's not been delivered correctly, and because of that, today, I feel I am unable to accept that Notice of Motion. Therefore, moving on to agenda item Number 8....."

At this point Cllr Fazackerley interrupted and asked if she could speak. The Mayor said she could.

 CLLR FAZACKERLEY

"I feel I would like some clarification, or we would like some clarification as to the inconsistencies and irregularities about the delivery about Notice of Motion. Thank You."

 MAYOR

"Thank you. The Constitution is quite clear. Written Notice of Motion must be received by the Director of Resources from the person who wishes to move that motion at Full Council meeting. That hasn't happened on this occasion. Thank You."

 CLLR SUSAN FAZACKERLEY

"Can I just respond to that please? I think it would be useful, because that Notice of Motion has been with the officers for a considerable amount of time, if some indication had been made as to that, and then we could have put that right. Thank You."

Cllr Karen Buckley indicated to speak and the Mayor called her.

 CLLR KAREN BUCKLEY

"Thank you Mr Mayor, do you mind if I, if we, check with the Monitoring Officer who's here present as to whether that is correct, and whether the motion [a few unclear words sounded like 'is correct'] or whether she agrees with the constitutional irregularities that you suggest?"

The Mayor refers the question to the Monitoring Officer

 MONITORING OFFICER

"Although I can confirm that due notice of the motion has been given, and therefore it's been able to have been published on the agenda papers, there is some conjecture about the route, about from whom the original notice came. It mentions on the order paper that the notice was given by Cllr Aitken, but there is some thought that it actually came via the back of Cllr Fazackerley as Leader of the Council, and in addition it was passed to the Chief Executive rather than myself.

So although due notice has been given, the Mayor is concerned that the absolute letter of the motion-giving element of the Constitution has not been met, and therefore, he obviously, Cllr Collins, the Mayor, has given his intention that as Mayor, that he is making a final decision regarding the application of that."

 CLLR KAREN BUCKLEY   (continuing)

"Thank you very much. This matter is clearly one for your discretion. If there have been some irregularities in the way it has been brought to your attention, to the officers attention, it is clearly its clearly within your discretion to allow this to go ahead this evening.

And when you think of the importance of the motion itself, then I would ask you to use your discretion to allow this to go ahead, because much as it is important that procedure is followed, it is also important to give weight to the item that is before you, and to consider that in the light of, as I say, the importance of this matter on the agenda.

To do otherwise it may be rather pedantic to see that the resultant procedures have not been followed [few unclear words] but I think it's more important to give weight to the actual item, and to allow that to go forward this evening. Because also, I'm mindful that this Council does not meet again over the summer and will not be meeting until September and that is another reason to ask you to use your discretion and allow the item to go ahead. Thank You."

 MAYOR

"Councillor Buckley. I am fully aware of the importance of this matter. I didn't take this decision lightly. The Constitution is there to be followed. It's not something that can be picked and used whenever we want and whenever we don't want to. This follows discussions with the Monitoring Officer and with the Chief Executive. I'm fully aware the next meeting is not until October, there are mechanisms also in the Constitution if you want to call a Special Council Meeting, I'm fully aware that mechanism is there. But I'm sorry, I've considered it and, the Agenda was published...., when the Agenda was first published on the Council website it was proposed by Cllr Fazackerley. That was what was on the Council website.

I looked at the Agenda a couple of days ago and all of a sudden it had been proposed by Cllr Aitken. I've asked for..., the Constitution requires written notice from the person who wishes to move the motion at the Council meeting to provide that written notice. That notice hasn't been provided. So I'm sorry, I can't accept it."

 CLLR SUSAN FAZACKERLEY

"Can I just respond with one point on that Mr Mayor. That was an officer error."

The Mayor called Cllr Mrs Oades who had indicated to speak.

 CLLR ELIZABETH OADES

"Mr Mayor, I hear what you say, and I know it's very very important that the constitution be followed.

However, this decision has to be made, it's a consultation. If we fail to respond to the consultation then we miss that opportunity.

It is extremely important that we support this Notice of Motion, so I don't want to give you any difficulties but if there is any leeway, and if as has been said its an officer error, then perhaps we could have a look at this and perhaps all learn from it tonight, to know that in future we must be very very careful how we read the Constitution in future.

I don't want to make life difficult for you Mr Mayor, but I know this is an extremely important decision and I am a member of the Police and Crime Panel, and also a member of the Fire Authority and I think if the debate were to take place it would be very important to support this Notice of Motion.

As I say, I don't want to put you in a very difficult position but I feel lessons must be learned tonight, that we must be more careful to reach the letter of the law in future with Notices of Motion."

Cllr Ben Aitken indicated to speak and the Mayor called him

 CLLR BEN AITKEN

"Mr Mayor, if an apology will change your mind, I apologise. Nothing was being tried, nobody was trying to get the better of anyone, no-one was trying to change governance etc. etc. Bit I'll just tell you a little bit of history.

First of all, on the second of July, I attended the PCC panel AGM. The Chairman publicly said to the PCC [we think this means the Police and Crime Commissioner] 'You're wrong the way things have gone ahead. You've gone about it incorrectly.' And he said it to him twice. The PCC didn't back down.

Now, Blackpool Council - which actually, I've taken most of the information from - that particular piece - have actually,...opposed...., they've done virtually the same as us.

Their Notice of Motion has gone ahead and they've opposed what PCC is trying to do. So what we're looking at, here, is basically across the Council, and I could have asked Cllr Oades to second it, and for some reason we actually did it in house. And I do apologise Cllr Oades cos I would like to ask you. No-one's trying to get the better of anybody, across this council but what we are trying to do, as soon as possible put this to the PCC that he is incorrect in what he is doing, and one of the things which is being said is we want to collaborate, yes, we do want to collaborate with the Fire Service, the PCC has taken this on board.

But there has been another meeting called on the 25th July, a special meeting. As yet I don't know what the agenda is but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's something to do with this, and I wouldn't really like to take it to the October meeting because I would like to turn round and say to the rest of the Panel, that Fylde Borough Council, as a group, together, don't support what the PCC is trying to do.

I agree with what you said. You can do whatever you want. Governance is there. If I've made a mistake I do apologise."

 MAYOR

"Thank you Cllr Aitken. I've not received a valid Notice of Motion, a valid Notice of Motion has not been received by the Director of Resources, so I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to do that."

Cllr John Singleton indicated to speak. The Mayor called him

 CLLR JOHN SINGLETON

"Thank you Mr Mayor. Thank you to Cllr Oades for supporting this. I do note at 12.1 under motions that any member of the Council can give written notice to the Director of Resources of the motion they wish to move, and the Director will publish the motion on the Council's website, and arrange for it to be placed on the agenda of the next available ordinary council meeting. Can I have a response to that please Mr Mayor? "

 MAYOR

"Certainly Cllr Singleton, the words are 'a motion they wish to move' - not a motion they wish to *be* moved. If you wish to move a motion in this council, it's up to *you* to provide written notice of what you're going to propose, to the Director of Resources.

I'm sorry, this isn't up for debate. I've been in the Mayor's Parlour, I've been going over this several times, and I'm unable to accept it.

So I wish to move on Agenda item 8."


And following a degree of dark mutterings amongst the Conservative group in particular, he did move on.

As we said before, we hope that if they didn't like the way they were treated on this occasion, members of Fylde's majority party might have the grace to reflect on what it feels like, and recognise the 'Golden Rule' that if you don't like it yourself, then it's best not to do it to someone else.

Dated:  20 July 2018

 

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