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FBC or DPRK?

FBC or DPRK?This article was prompted by what we thought was an awful letter Fylde had sent to someone who wanted an extra bin.

When we read the letter, we wondered if Fylde Borough Council had become the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ('DPRK').

It prompted us to look further into the legislation about household waste collections, and we found some changes had been made to what we had previously known as the settled law in this matter - and we think all our readers will want to know about it.

SYNOPSIS
In our comparison with the DPRK we first look at some similarities between Fylde's Dear Leader and the Dear Leader in North Korea, before looking at More Comparisons With North Korea in their approach to dealing with people.

Then we give Our Own Take on the Letter, looking at it's Practical Failures, and Its Purpose, and finally at The Tone of the Letter, before asking 'So What's Really Going On?' and then move on to ask 'So Is It Right?' which gives the legislative background to show it is technically correct, (but that's not the same thing as its being right).

Finally we ask 'So Where does this Leave Us?' as we pull together our own view of what did (and should) happen.


 FYLDE'S DEAR LEADER

Regular readers will know our occasional use of the term 'Dear Leader' for the present Leader of Fylde Council, (Cllr Susan Fazackerley - or Cllr Sue Fazackerley - as she seems to prefer to be known).

Our use of this epithet had two origins:

One is that she is paid an allowance of 10,000 a year simply for being the Leader (and that's on top of her 3,750 a year Basic Allowance as a Borough Councillor).

In fact, in the most recently published figures (2016/17), she received gross allowances of 14,774.04 together with another 408.02 in additional expenses.

When Fylde ran the Awful Cabinet System, the role of the leader was very time consuming and has a lot of responsibility. In effect the Leader took all the day to day decisions, and the Leader *was* the Council.  Unbelievably, in a Cabinet system, the full council meeting was not even allowed to overrule the Leader's decisions.

But after a public referendum forced Fylde back to the Committee System in 2015, this situation reversed, and the Council itself reigned supreme once again.

So there was no longer any need to have a 'Leader' at all. There are no formal functions for the Leader to perform in a Committee system council, and the role has little purpose. We, and some councillors, have each said there is no need to pay Fylde's Leader a 10,000 a year allowance for doing almost nothing.

So we thought the term - 'Dear Leader' - was a very apt epithet in these circumstances.

But there was also another reason.

The 'Leader' of any organisation sets - or at least influences - the tone and culture within it

And the current Leader's approach to a number of matters - and especially to the process she instituted to create the 'Corporate Plan' - was anything but 'corporate'.

It was closer to megalomania.

The importance of this (deceptively simple) document cannot be overstated.

It drives everything Fylde does.

  • It is the foundation of the local plan's 'Vision Statement' that underpins all the new housing development Fylde promotes.
  • It casts the mould for the creation of internal 'Directorate Service Plans' which officers use to implement the policies contained in the 'Corporate Plan'  - These are measures that are actioned by officers without further authority.
  • And it is a distillation of the 'essence of Fylde' that external organisations will use to guide their work in relation to Fylde.

But as we have previously reported, preparing this 'Plan' was done in secret, behind closed doors at an 'awayday' to which only Conservative Party members were invited, but at which, taxpayers had to pick up the bill for the refreshments. (In our view improperly).

This 'Corporate Plan' was such a bad document that more than 35% of the elected councillors outside the Conservative Party, (who had been completely excluded from the process to prepare it), decided not to be bound by its content. They published their own 'Statement of Dissent'.

That concluded with the following statement:

"Any Corporate Plan can have no credibility if it is prepared and approved only by one part of the council, and this plan is neither corporate - because its preparation has not been shared by all members of the council - nor is it a plan, because the process to implement it; the resources it will require; and the outcomes that will be measured to assess its performance, are all unknown. It is therefore not a Corporate Plan that we can support"

The secretive way in which the Dear Leader orchestrated the preparation of this key document - so as to intentionally exclude the views, proposals and ideas of non-Conservative Councillors from its preparation - put us in mind of the sort of processes employed in North Korea, and the name 'Dear Leader' became even more fitting, as did an easy confluence of both Leader's preferred personal names: 'Kim Jong Un' and 'Kim Jong Sue.'

So her cost to us, and her practice of excluding the views of those outside her own party, was an irresistible justification for the counterbalance epithet - Dear Leader - and on and off since then, we've been using it.

 MORE COMPARISONS WITH NORTH KOREA

But recently, another matter also put in mind of Fylde's parallels with North Korea - (and in particular with its 'Big Brother' State Security Department, the SSD), and that matter was the tone of a letter that found its way to us - via a rather long and tortuous route.

We thought it was an awful letter.

It was clearly an 'official' letter having (apparently) been sent by a Council Department, on Fylde's headed paper, to a taxpayer in Fylde.

It arose because the taxpayer had contacted Fylde Borough Council to ask for an additional household refuse bin.

We were told the householder was quite prepared (and indeed had expected) to have to pay extra for a second bin, because they routinely produced more household waste than one bin would accommodate and were happy to meet the cost.

At this point we invite our readers to follow this link to download and read the letter for themselves before we make our own commentary on it and, indeed, on what flows from it.

We have redacted the personal details from the downloadable letter to protect the identity of its recipient, even though they were NOT the individual who provided the letter to counterbalance.

 OUR TAKE ON THE LETTER

There's so much wrong, it's difficult to know where to start, but we'll try to put it into some sort of order...

 PRACTICAL FAILURES

Whilst the redacted address block was correct, the line beginning 'Dear Mr.' had the wrong name. It did not even match the name in the letter's name and address block. It was styled to the wrong person.

We don't think this is a letter that was sent by someone at Fylde at all.

To us it looks very much like a computer generated and standardised text, probably with a date variable 'mail-merged' in

We say that because in the 'administrative' block at the top right:

  • The letter has no identifiable 'Our Reference' other than 'Book WA' (presumably 'Book a Waste Analysis')
  • The letter has no identifiable 'Your reference' other than 'Book WA' - So both this and the previous 'Our Ref:' depersonalise the letter.
  • Next to the heading "Please ask for" there is no individual's name or direct dial extension number. This further hides the identity of, and anonymises, the sender of the letter.
  • The telephone number given on the letter is the generic number for the whole Council, not the number of the department or the individual who ought to be dealing with an inquiry from someone who is, ultimately, their employer.

(Publishing only the generic Town Hall number like this also means inconvenience for the householder if they want to telephone about the contents of the letter, because they will take their place in a longer queue of all calls waiting to be answered for all council services, than if the relevant officer's Direct Dial number had been quoted).

  • Worst of all, there is no identifiable individual signature at the foot of the letter. Not even the pre-printed name of someone who is prepared to take personal responsibility for its content, let alone a personal signature.

 THE PURPOSE OF OF THE LETTER

Whilst undeniably polite, what's going on here is that someone is going to look through the inquirer's bins and extra bags.

You don't need to be the Brain of Britain to work out that the purpose of this is not to provide the taxpayer with a second bin, but a process that will use a single instance inspection to see if any of the bin's contents, on that occasion, could have been put in one of the recycling bins, and if so, to use that situation as justification to refuse the request.

 THE TONE OF THE LETTER

The 'stazi-like' tone of the conditions under which the waste must be 'presented' says it all really.

All that is missing is the threat of punishment-beatings or flogging for getting any of it wrong.

And it concludes with the impersonal officialdom ending: '

'You do not need to be present during the [assessment] process and you will be informed of the findings of the waste analysis within 10 working days'

Yes Really.

Big Brother has indeed reached Fylde.

Had we been the officer of the Council (and servant of the people) who 'sent' this letter, we would be ashamed.

And, (if he knows about it), we'd be surprised if Fylde's Chief Executive is not also ashamed.

Before he became Chief Executive he headed Fylde's Customer Services, and he was very good at that job.

He absolutely knows how not to send letter like this one out.

When we read the letter, we were genuinely shocked. It is nowhere near the tone of the Fylde Council we expect.

Readers have heard us say before how, left to their own devices, effective officers drive hard for efficiency and standardisation. That's what they should do. They're there to make everything as efficient and cost effective as possible.

But an officer's 'inhumanity' in the drive for efficiency needs to be tempered by elected members exercising their role as 'the man on the Clapham omnibus.'

Councillors need to soften and humanise the working of the Council so it relates to the needs of people.

As Home Secretary Amber Rudd said recently of the 'Windrush' fiasco at government level:

I am concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual. This is about individuals, and we have heard the individual stories, some of which have been terrible to hear.

Like her Home Office situation, we think this letter from Fylde is an almost perfect example of how Fylde has, itself, become too concerned with policy and strategy devised by officers, and is losing sight of the needs of individuals.

We think that Fylde councillors are failing in their duty (and their fundamental purpose) when letters like this are sent out in their name.

 SO WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON?

We made some enquiries of councillors who are known to us and asked if they had seen such letters, and whether they were concerned about their tone and content.

The consensus view from those we spoke to was that Fylde is exercising an unpublished - and as far as we can tell unadopted - policy that no household with a family of less than five members will get a second grey household waste bin unless there are very exceptional circumstances.

Some we spoke with were unhappy with the tone of the letter, other were more - 'Well, there's not much we can do about it'

To us, that seems to be wrong, and it belies yet another parallel with those caught up in the Windrush scandal.

Councillors also suggested to us that the inspection and assessment of waste is undertaken like this primarily to implement this policy.

In effect, for most people, it is a policy that seeks to limit the non-recyclable waste a household may put out for disposal unless they have also recycled everything possible within their household waste before doing so.

 SO IS IT RIGHT?

This was always going to be our next question of course.

,And we were surprised to find that, when we started digging into the details, (like the legislative change that destroyed the 'Windrush' children's proof of residence, and moved the burden of proving residence onto those individuals)    it *was* technically correct.

Whether it was/is *RIGHT* or not is another matter entirely.

As far as we knew before our recent research, whilst it is clearly a laudable aim, recycling was not something that was compulsory for Fylde residents.

So if someone chose not to recycle any of their household waste, the local authority would still be obligated to remove it.

But there has been a subtle - but very important - change in the legislation.

Historically, any council had a statutory duty to collect household waste.

However, back in 2008, the (then) Labour Government sought to make amendments to refuse collection laws.

The outcome of that change now permits Councils to refuse to collect waste from anyone who fails to comply with their requirements regarding its collection (Yes, even though they are still required to pay the unavoidable taxes that fund it).

Phil Woolas, the (then) Environment Minister, quietly added an amendment to section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 that read:

"A waste collection authority is not obliged to collect household waste that is placed for collection in contravention of a requirement under this section."

This innocuous wording was inserted (in 2009) as a new clause 11 of Section 46 Environmental Protection Act.

From that date, Councils became free to set their own rules on what constitutes a "contravention" of their waste collection policies.

We hadn't noticed the change had been made back in 2009.

But it represented a reversal of the former basic right of all taxpaying households to have their household waste collected.

*That* right had been enshrined in law by the Public Health Act 1875 - and it had been the case ever since.

But it's not the case any longer.

To be honest, the change was made with such little fuss, we altogether missed noticing that it had happened.

But perhaps that was the intention all along.

 SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?

Well, we don't know how the Fylde taxpayer who received the letter went on after their waste was inspected and assessed recently. We hope they got what they wanted.

But the change in legislation means that now, the decision as to whether and how Fylde's household waste is collected ultimately rests with the Fylde Borough Councillors that we elect.

And Fylde seem happy to delegate the details of those decisions to their officers.

So if people in Fylde become unhappy, there is at least there is something they can do to bring about change, even if it is only once every four years.

Technically, we're not sure this practice of using a 'Waste Assessment' to justify refusal of an additional bin constitutes a Fylde Policy.

For this to be the case, we think it would have had to have been a matter reported to, and approved by, a majority of the Full Council, and - (although it could have been long time ago and our memory isn't what it used to be) - we don't recall seeing that go through at Council.

But no doubt Fylde's officers would say there is a policy to encourage recycling, and that's enough justification for doing what they are doing.

We don't think it is.

There are good reasons to recycle (although there are even better ones to reuse or adapt 'waste' for other uses). But we would argue that if Fylde cannot encourage recycling by convincement, it ought not to attempt to *require* recycling by the creation of underhanded policy hidden within the *method of collection*.

At the very least, we hope someone at Fylde will look at the awful wording of that letter, and introduce a more humanised methodology and taxpayer-focused approach.

If it wants to retain the policy that appears to be designed to exclude extra grey bins to households where less than five people are resident, and to force people to recycle more, then (although we do not support that as an approach) a simple improvement would be to send inquirers a small booklet containing a more user-centric explanation of the process, together a PERSONAL (and correctly addressed) letter from the relevant officer -  including their personal contact details and direct dial extension number - that simply advises the date and time that they will call.

At present, and written from its current officialdom-centric perspective, the letter is far too close to the North Korean Democratic People's Republic way of doing things for our liking.

But then, we do still have our own Dear Leader running things.....

Dated:  25 April 2018

 

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