Lytham Institute Update
We last caught up with Lytham Institute in July 2019, when we noted there had been an awful Finance and Democracy Committee meeting at Fylde.
We also heralded a Public Meeting to be held by the Friends of Lytham Institute seeking public views about the future of the Institute now the County Council's Library has moved to the Assembly Rooms.
We promised a fuller report on Fylde's Finance and Democracy meeting which we now provide, and follow that with an update of events concerning the Institute since that time.
We begin with a report of The awful meeting of Fylde's Finance and Democracy Committee where proper procedure was ditched for party political expediency, and where officers failed to intervene or correct the procedure. We look at the
Background to the meeting, then How and Why information can be Exempt from Publication, before looking at What Fylde's Agenda said.
We go on to report the Opening of the meeting, and give Our take on what happened before The Press and Public were improperly excluded,
and we give our own opinion on what we see as Failures by Fylde's officers.
We also publish The 'secret report' on the Institute presented to that meeting once the press and public had been excluded, and we
invite readers to come to their own view about it.
We then look at the result of that meeting where FBC took the decision to apply to the Charity Commission to Register the Institute as a Charitable Trust.
Next we move on to report what the 'Friends of Lytham Institute' have been doing, including their important Public Meeting last September.
After that, we consider what the alternative 'Lytham Institute Working Group' has been doing in their own (private) meetings. They appear to see a very different direction for the future of Lytham Institute.
Returning to the role of Fylde, we take a look the Chief Executive's statement that Both Lytham Institute and the Lytham Assembly Rooms are considered to be 'surplus to service delivery requirements' of Fylde Council.
Next, we take a look at the Building survey of the Institute that Fylde officers just commissioned at a cost of around £15,000; What it said was wrong, and How much it will cost to put it right.
Then we report that, just before Christmas, the Institute was formally registered as a charity by the Charity Commission, and we look at what we think that status will mean in the immediate future, before posing questions about whether Fylde's confusion over its roles as a Council and as a Trustee arise from ignorance or an attempt to confuse and obfuscate.
Finally, we consider an important Report called 'Lytham Institute: Possible Future Uses' that the Friends of Lytham Institute have just published (on 2 January).
It sets out its Findings - and aggregates them in various ways - to explain the uses and services local people have told the Friends they want their Institute to have in the future.
Finally, we look at What's likely to happen next for the Institute.
THE FINANCE AND DEMOCRACY MEETING
This was one of the worst meetings we've had the displeasure to sit
through at Fylde.
It was Chaired by Cllr Karen Buckley who is an able and very knowledgeable councillor. She undoubtedly knows how to conduct meetings properly. But on this occasion, she chose not to do so.
Sitting next to her throughout was Fylde's Chief Executive, whose failure to ensure the application of accepted procedures for conducting meetings, and equitable treatment of all councillors during meetings, was probably an even greater disgrace.
The meeting was scheduled to be conducted without the press and public present and, usually, there isn't much point in going to a meeting like this (where all the items are likely to be exempt)
- because you'll be on the way home quick as a flash.
But very occasionally that rule looks as though it might not apply, because there might be some debate about whether an item should be exempted or not.
We knew this might be the case here, because we had been made aware of a request from one of our readers asking Cllr Mrs Buckley to 'de-exempt' the item that was about Lytham Library, so the public could see what their Council was considering in their name, and the Cllr Mrs Buckley had agreed to put that request to the Committee.
All told, there were three agenda items, and Fylde's officers had decided that each of them met the criteria to be considered as 'Exempt Items.' This meant that (if the Committee agreed with the
these items could be heard and discussed without the press and public knowing any details.
It didn't take much of a genius to work out that the 'Lytham Institute' report that officers wanted to keep out of the public eye was almost certainly going to be about an opinion Fylde had received some time ago from barrister William Moffett
(Fylde decided his opinion showed that the Institute was NOT a charitable trust).
It was also likely to address the wholly conflicting opinion from barrister Francesca Quint (which we have previously published) - who said unequivocally that it
WAS a charity.
We thought Fylde's 'secret report' was intended to address both of these, and a subsequent opinion Fylde had sought from barrister William Moffett which, we imagined, would try to reconcile these two conflicting views.
Exempting an Item
The decision to exempt (and make secret) an item like this is not simply a matter of choice. Any decision to do so must sit within some quite tightly defined criteria set out by Parliament (in Schedule 12 A - Local Government Act 1972).
And the law also draws a clear distinction between 'Exempt' information and 'Confidential' Information.
Excluding the Press and Public for what the legislation defines as 'Confidential' information is mandatory. The council would have no choice but to exclude the press and public.
'Exempt' information on the other hand MAY (not 'must') be exempted if it meets certain criteria and if the Council decides that it does.
Furthermore, since a change in the legislation in 2006, there has also been a requirement to consider whether any decision to exempt some or all information in an agenda item is - or is not - outweighed by what's called
'The Public Interest Test'
Again this is not a matter of choice. It is a matter of understanding and interpreting the law on 'Public Interest,' which only allows exemption if:
"in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information".
There is no legal definition of 'The Public Interest', but as case law and academic studies have evolved since 2006, there *are* now a series of widely recognised factors that need to be evaluated and determined when councillors are considering exempting matters that might be in the public interest.
Sensible councils provide overarching advice to all their councillors on how to take decisions about exempting information, and readers with a particular interest in this can
follow this link to download a copy of such guidance issued (for example) by Rochdale Council.
Their advice includes the following:
'The [....] committee [....] considering the report will actually decide whether information contained in the report is exempt or not. However, bearing in
mind the legal requirements for agendas and papers to be published in advance, the report writer initially needs to consider these issues and give the reasoning for their view
as to whether information within a report should be exempt or not. A practice of applying "Exempt" status to a report without reasons being set out is no longer acceptable.'
Fylde on the other hand has, to the best of our knowledge, never made any comment about the Public Interest test when they recommend exempting an item to a committee.
In fact, Fylde's whole approach to exemption seems to us to try to persuade Councillors into believing that when the officers recommend exemption, it is as though it has been writ in stone.
We recall challenging the lack of advice to councillors on the Public Interest Test with Fylde a while ago, and were told that it was up to individual councillors to decide whether anything was in the public interest or not.
Whilst at the end of the day that is technically correct, unless the rules and parameters of such consideration have been properly explained, and the technical pros and cons of the specific issues in each case being considered for exemption have been explained to them - so that councillors understand the basis on which they need to take such decisions, then it is almost impossible for the legal requirements of the Public Interest Test to be properly judged by individual councillors.
Fylde's Published Agenda
In this case at Fylde, the first of the recommended exempt items was Item
4 - 'Exclusion of the public', followed immediately by Item 5 'Lytham Institute'.
And for the Institute item, the officers recommendation regarding excluding the press and public simply said
Members are invited to consider passing a resolution concerning the exclusion of the public from the meeting in accordance with the provisions of Section 100A (4) of the Local Government Act 1972 on the grounds that the business to be discussed is exempt information as defined under paragraph 5, Information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings, of schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972."
There are three points to note here.
Firstly, and despite the 'Exclusion of the public' heading on Item 4, this was not an *instruction* to exclude the public. It was an invitation for the Committee to consider whether they wished to do so or not; and if they did wish to do so, whether they considered the grounds given by the officers merited and justified excluding the public or not.
Secondly, the single reason Fylde's officers had selected to justify the exclusion was given as 'legal professional privilege.' In short, this is a way of not having to declare the legal advice you have received to your 'opponent' if legal proceedings are being undertaken. (We'll return to this shortly).
Thirdly, there was no mention of the Public Interest Test needing to be applied as part of the decision the Councillors were being asked to consider, nor was there any recommendation from officers as to whether or how much the exemption they had recommended met the criteria associated with the Public Interest Test.
The Committee Meeting Begins
When the meeting opened, a member of the public had registered to speak about the Institute and was invited to do so in what's known as the Public Platform'. He did so; then the minutes of the previous meeting were approved, before the Chairman introduced Item4.
Sadly, the Chairman appeared to forget her undertaking to our reader to draw the Committee's attention to the request to 'de-exempt' the item. Instead, she moved straight on to debate of the Exclusion itself saying:
"...Item number 4 exclusion of the public, we are asked to pass this motion, and my advice is due to the fact that we have been advised that it is legally privileged that we're looking at, we're considering a Counsel's Opinion, and that is the reason to exclude the public and it is appropriate to do so.
Does anybody wish to speak to that? ....."
There followed a long (and exasperating) debate because Cllr Collins did wish to speak to it, and he tried to do so.
Unusually, we're not going to reproduce a lot of what was said in this debate here, because we have produced a complete transcript of the whole item.
Readers can follow this link to download a verbatim transcript of everything that was said during the meeting and come to their own view.
Our Own Take On The Meeting
Self-evidently (as readers will see from the transcript), the Conservative members of the Committee didn't want to hear what Cllr Collins was saying, and the Chairman broke several conventions to try to prevent him from completing what was a perfectly proper motion
NOT to exclude the press and public.
With no proposition having been made when he was called to speak, Cllr Collins proposed that the item on Lytham Library should NOT be exempted.
He also proposed that the procedure rules relating to how Fylde exempted items should be reviewed by the Audit and Standards Committee.
In essence, his main argument for not exempting the item was that 'legal professional privilege' only justifies exemption if there are to be legal proceedings.
And he went on to argue that in this case, even a legal dispute (let alone proceedings) was unlikely, because Fylde's officers recommendations in the report included the words
We believed at the time (and were subsequently proved correct), that the officer recommendation in the 'secret report' was to AVOID Fylde involving itself in legal action with the Charity Commission, and this is what Cllr Collins was getting at.
The argument *for* exemption was that there was a theoretical possibility that offered councillors the (in our view ludicrous) option of taking-on the Charity Commission and the Government's lawyers in a legal challenge - by voting to refuse to register the Institute as a Charitable Trust.
What we think you see here dear reader is a Conservative hierarchy still clinging to the false perception that they own the Institute as a
corporate asset which they can dispose of at will; not that they are - and have always been - holding it in trust for the people of Lytham and surrounding areas.
Cllr Collins took the view that, if there was to be no legal action, then there could be no claim to 'legal professional privilege' to justify exempting the report and its debate.
We knew that precedent also sided with Cllr Collins - because in an uncanny parallel when Lowther Gardens was declared to be a Charitable Trust, the report (by the same officer but on 28 Sept 2005), about impending registration of Lowther Gardens was not recommended to be exempt. It was published for all to read, and the debate on it took place with the press and public present.
We struggle to see how Fylde's 2005 decision to be open and transparent - to publish the agenda and let the press and public into the meeting, could differ from this
2019 meeting - that was held in secret with press and public excluded - when both matters dealt with the same subject.
Having set the scene, we will now give our take on what happened at the meeting, leaving readers to form their own view from the transcript.
After Cllr Collins moved that the press and public should not be excluded, the conduct of the meeting was not only awful, in our view it became improper.
We believe the process of managing the meeting amounted to maladministration by the Chairman and, by her actions and inactions, she brought the Council and her office of Chairman into disrepute.
The Chairman moved no proposition from the Chair when introducing Item 4.
This left Cllr Collins free to make his proposition not to exempt the item.
There followed an interchange between the Chairman and Cllr Collins where Cllr Collins sought to explain why he was proposing it should not be exempt.
Several times, the Chairman tried to stop him from doing so, but eventually he did complete his argument.
Instead of asking for a seconder to Cllr Collins' proposition (as she should have done), the Chairman called Cllr Redcliffe to speak.
He (probably mistakenly) thought the Chairman herself had made a proposition (but she had not done so) and his concluding remark was
"so I'd like to second the proposal"
In effect, a hapless Cllr Redcliffe had (probably unwittingly on this occasion) actually seconded Cllr Collins proposal - because only Cllr Collins proposal existed at that time.
The Chairman, (continuing to ignore the proposition from Cllr Collins) told Cllr Redcliffe....
"We haven't formally moved it"
Here we can only assume she meant 'we the Conservatives' haven't moved it yet.
And Cllr Redcliffe had to agree that was the case.
Eventually after some prompting from the Chairman, Cllr Redcliffe said he had not intended to second what Cllr Collins had proposed, and he began to say what he had intended to second
- but, of course, he had to stop in mid sentence when he realised there was no other proposition he could have seconded!
Then, prompted by the Chairman to do so, he withdrew his seconding of Cllr Collins proposition.
The chairman then tried to pretend that Cllr Collins had moved an amendment not a proposition.
This of course this was impossible. There could be no amendment unless someone proposed an amendment to his proposition and, by definition, that would have meant accepting his proposition as what they were debating!
There was further confusion when Conservative councillor John Singleton who, either failing, or refusing, to recognise they should have been debating Cllr Collins proposition, tried to sidestep the process by saying
"I propose the recommendation"
Procedurally, this was wholly improper and should have been ruled out of order either by the Chairman or (if she failed to do so), by the Chief Executive who was sitting next to her.
But in their fluster to ensure Cllr Collins' perfectly proper proposition was not debated, the Chairman quite improperly accepted this second proposition from Cllr Singleton without first disposing of
the one from Cllr Collins, and she asked for a seconder for it.
By this move, the Chairman had flouted convention. She had put the committee in the impossible position of having two contradictory propositions in play at the same time.
She then went on to improperly force Cllr Collins to reclassify his proposition as an amendment, after which it was duly voted down by the Conservative group, and Cllr Singleton's proposition of the 'recommendation' was voted through as the
decision of the Committee in this matter.
But there was yet to be more to this procedurally disastrous meeting.
The Press And Public Are Improperly Excluded
The proposition that had just been voted through was actually the officers Recommendation.
And, as our sharper readers will have noted, the wording of that simply invited the Committee to CONSIDER excluding the press and public.
No one had moved a proposition to actually exclude us.
No proper vote had been taken to do so, and therefore Cllr Buckley had no authority to ask us - or any other members of the public to leave the meeting.
But that is what she did.
We believe her decision to ask the public to leave was thus 'ultra vires' - it was outside her power.
When she called on us (and others) to leave, we stood up as if to leave, but waited for a time, pondering whether to be pedantic and to refuse to leave until a valid resolution to exclude us had been passed.
But we came to the view that neither she, nor the officer beside her was prepared to rectify the situation, so we left the meeting, turning back only once to register the 'Cheshire Cat' expression being worn by the Chief Executive as we did so.
Failures By Fylde's Officers
Changing tack for a moment here, we want readers to consider the opening words of Fylde's Constitution which require the Council to ensure its decisions are
"efficient, transparent and accountable to local people".
Transparency and accountability were not ensured here - as we have shown.
It goes on to explain:
"The Council employs Officers whose duties are to give advice, implement decisions and manage the day-to-day delivery of the Council's services. Some Officers have a specific duty to ensure that the Council acts within the law and uses its resources wisely".
And paragraph 4.1 of the officer Code of Conduct says that.....
"Employees serve the Council as a whole, so they must serve all Councillors and not just those of the controlling group. They must ensure that the individual rights of all councillors are respected and that they do not compromise their political neutrality."
It was very disappointing to us that the officers present at that meeting failed in their duty to take action that would have prevented what we believe was maladministration from taking place by members of the controlling political group
- which was to the disadvantage of other councillors.
Good governance at Fylde depends on members and officers upholding proper high standards. That did not happen on this occasion and, sadly, we find it an increasing trend at Fylde.
We subsequently raised the matter of procedural failure at this meeting with the appropriate officer at Fylde.
In short, their view was that whilst there might have been some confusion, the intention of the decision remained clear.
We were also told that, so far as Fylde's Constitution is concerned, the normal rules of procedure that Govern debate do not apply to the operation of Committees.
The actual quote that attempted to justify this quite ridiculous state of affairs was....
'The procedural rules as to motions and amendments do not strictly apply to committee meetings'
Taken literally, that must mean that none of Fylde's Constitution's Standing Orders (specifically 2, 3, 10, 11.2, and Standing Order 12.1 onward) can apply to a committee.
That means there are no procedural rules in a Committee that authorise, require, or set the parameters for a motion to be moved, or seconded, or discussed, or amended. Nor is there any authority to alter or withdraw a motion or amendment.
It is an absolute nonsense.
The Council's Constitution requires its business is to be conducted in accordance with its Constitution - but without there being a specific authority setting the parameters of these matters in a committee meeting, it must be the case that some of the procedural requirements of a Council meeting *do* actually apply to committees
(but no one can know which of them does or does not apply because they are not set out as being so).
The only other possibility is that none of the Standing Orders mentioned above do apply, and the only parameter that may be imposed on a Committee is the catch-all 'committee' Standing Order 27a which gives the Chairman discretion as to what procedures the committee must follow.
Clearly this makes a complete nonsense of the accepted way of running a meeting and it needs to be changed (which is probably why Cllr Collins called for it to be reviewed by the Audit and Standards Committee)
In all our experience of local authorities, we have never seen such a disgraceful acceptance of an attempt to justify the bending of the rules of procedure as we saw in this meeting.
Nor have we seen such unwillingness by those officers who should be the guardians of fair treatment for both the public and all the elected members, to properly shoulder that role.
But one thing we can now do for our readers is to reproduce the report that was prevented from being published on the night, and was discussed without the press and public being present.
We can do that because after deciding not to take on the Charity Commission in a legal battle to stop the Institute being classified as a charity, Fylde had no justification
(as Cllr Collins had claimed at the start of the meeting) to maintain its secrecy.
Readers can follow this link to download a copy of the exempted report they were not allowed to see, and can judge for themselves how important it was to keep it secret.
APPLYING FOR REGISTRATION
On 07 August 2019 Fylde's legal officer wrote to the Charity Commission. His communication concluded....
"The governing document of the trust is presumably the 1917 assignment. I would imagine that the Commission would be keen to modernise the governance and trust objectives by making a scheme.
The council would welcome that, and the opportunity to meet with Commission advisers to talk through how this might happen and how the community could best be involved with and
benefited by the trust. This was what happened ten or so years ago, when the council registered another of what had been thought to be its assets as a charitable trust, and the close engagement with the Commission was very valuable.
Please let me know if you require anything further at this stage, and in particular, if you have any advice on how best to achieve the registration of the trust, so the other work streams can begin."
We think the Commission would almost certainly be happy to change the present Governance arrangements for the trust.
(They generally don't like councils being the sole trustee because councils often fail to appreciate that they are not free to deal with the property of a charity in the same way as they can deal with their corporate property held for statutory purposes. This can result in property being treated in a way which is inconsistent with the charitable trusts).
It is also the case that conflicts often arise between the interests of the local authorities and their council tax and rate payers on the one hand, and those of charities and their beneficiaries on the other hand
(Party political interests may even play a part in decisions made)
So we can see the Commission might want to review who the future trustees of Lytham Institute might be.
But we're much less sure it was right for the officer to imagine the Commission itself would want to modernise the Trust's objectives.
That's a matter for the beneficiaries (i.e. local people) and the Trustees to consider. First, to see if they need to be modernised, and if so, to approach the Commission with proposals which the Commission might then consider.
We understand the Commission replied to Fylde's request to apologise that a backlog of work for them meant it would be around five months before they could even consider Fylde's application to register Lytham Institute with the Commission.
So things at Fylde sat still for a while.
FRIENDS PUBLIC MEETING
In the meantime, on 17th September 2019, the Friends of Lytham Institute group held a public meeting in the Hewitt Lecture Room.
The main purpose of the meeting was to ask those attending what they wanted as the future of the Institute.
We attended to report what was said for our readers. The Chairman (Beverley Love at that time) introduced herself and welcomed everyone to the meeting, then drew attention to a selection of papers laid out on each of the chairs. One of these was a floor plan of the Institute itself showing it was much bigger than just the Hewitt Lecture Room we were in at that moment.
The second was a stock of 'suggestion sheets' for use later in (or after) the meeting and Beverley encouraged people to take some of these home and pass them on to family and friends / neighbours to complete and return.
There was also an agenda for the meeting.
She noted that Fylde had now recognised they did not own the Institute, but it belonged to the people of Lytham as it always had done, adding that Fylde had now applied to register the Institute as a charity.
She said the Friend's view was that the new Institute Trust should be open and transparent, and that we can all participate in how it is set up and run.
She noted that since the last Friends meeting there had been a change of some officers, with Janet Turner acting as Secretary, and a new Committee member who would arrive a little later, and was prepared to act as
She then introduced local historian Brian Turner who gave some insight into the history of the Institute. He began with what he called the Golden Age of the Institute around 1900, and went on to outline the people and groups that came together to form the Institute. He noted that
the Golden Age came to an end in the first world war as the Institute ran out of money because more and more were going to fight, and less and less were using the facilities.
So reluctantly, he said, in 1917, the Trustees handed the whole Institute and its contents, free of charge, to the Local Council (Lytham UDC) for safekeeping.
He noted that today's council now acknowledged they hold the institute in trust for the people. He referred to the 'spirit of the gift' of 1917 when it was gifted to a predecessor council to Fylde, and said in his view, the new trust should follow the original aims as closely as possible.
There followed a wide ranging discussion with lots of people contributing ideas, suggestions and thoughts for the future of the Institute.
Most were ideas for what people wanted to see taking place there. There seemed to us to be quite a bit of discussion about whether it would need to generate funding to operate the services people were asking for.
A few of the comments struck us as worth reproducing. In particular one chap who said:
"The way the process is going with Fylde Borough Council at the moment is they have applied - and I actually spoke to the legal department yesterday - they've got a five month backlog. You have got an opportunity here for five months where it's going to be a state of flux with the Council, because they're not prepared to do anything, because until they get a scheme sorted out, they can't actually do
So you've got five months to really get your act together, to actually say what do you want this to be.
Fylde Borough Council will look for it to wash its face in terms of finance. They don't want the burden. You've got a whole bunch of councillors there who have already said in a particular meeting - which was a closed meeting - where they
actually turned round and said 'Can we not have a Lytham Town Council to take this off our hands. So they don't want it don't Fylde Borough Council, but if you can get it through to a position where it can be managed properly, with the right things going on, you know, youth clubs, get some vibrancy back.....
We thought this chap probably had some sort of insight into the Council and his view that Fylde 'didn't want to be encumbered with it' was probably the real situation that Fylde would not admit in public, but it was also a damning indictment on a body whose role is
(or at least should be) exactly to provide public services - including leisure and cultural services like those people had been asking for - funded by taxation.
The fundamental (and founding) purpose of a council is to precept for taxation to provide the services that are beyond the scope of individuals and families, but are necessary for the collective good of society. Roads are an obvious example, but cultural and leisure services are also important to contribute to the health and wellbeing needs that today's Councils have as a specific duty
The Friends meeting culminated by collecting the suggestion slips that individuals had completed, and made arrangements for others to return the slips they took away with them.
We understand that since the public meeting, officials of the Friends group have been meeting regularly and have been calling in the advice and support of experts who can further their cause.
LYTHAM INSTITUTE WORKING GROUP
Also during this time, a different group - calling themselves the 'Lytham Institute Working Group' (LIWG) - have also been devising their own plans for the Institute.
They are wholly separate from the Friends of Lytham Institute and do not hold public meetings nor seek public opinion.
Their meetings are in private, as are their agenda and minutes, so it's not easy to shed light on what they are planning.
From a letter published in the local paper, we know this group is actually an offshoot of Lytham Town Trust who operate the Assembly Rooms.
The letter to the Express said that the Town Trust’s Chairman had written to a prospective member about the possibility of forming such a working group on 7th September 2018 saying
"This is a matter that would need to go before our board and the meeting is not until the 18th.”
Then on 20th September the Chairman wrote,
“I am pleased to report that our board confirmed that they are happy for me to work with you to set up a working group and to engage with Lancashire County Council and Fylde Borough Council.”
Generally they seem to us to have a more 'commercial' and probably less 'community' approach to the future of the Institute than the Friends.
But despite the secrecy, we have seen some leakage of information from them, and we do know they have spoken with the Regional Director of the Heritage Lottery Fund about the Institute, and how to go about submitting an application for funding.
We also know they have been considering alternative corporate structures (eg Charity, Community Interest Company, Association etc) for the future.
We also heard they had been advised of a third party proposal from a developer.
This apparently involved the creation of residential apartments for sale and the retention of only the Hewitt Room (and one room for the archives) for community use.
We understand this group's own plans to date have included inviting a company called 'Society 1' (who have an operation in Preston) to look around the Institute
Society 1 explained their need for a variety of spaces from individual offices to large rooms suitable for events. In particular rooms that can hold 50 people or more were
said to be extremely valuable because there was said to be great demand for such spaces which can provide a good income.
Their business model seems to us to create spaces where their customers can mingle and interact, so they need a mix of offices, meeting rooms, kitchen facilities, breakout spaces and lecture/ training rooms to provide a mix that will be financially viable.
It seems to us to be mostly a sort of buzzing business hub for startup and small companies.
Whilst it's never a bad thing to help small businesses come into being, it's nowhere near what the founding trusts set out and call for in the 1917 assignment of the property to the local authority of the day,
(and which is now the Governing document for Fylde).
The promotional stuff on Society1's website for Preston says it is
".... a brand new coworking space, now open in the heart of Preston. It’s a fully flexible work space available to use, whenever and however you need it. Packed with everything you need
This is a state of the art, stylish office space at low rates. No contracts, no bills, no fees, no office logistics. We offer simple flexible price plans that include everything you need to create your ultimate business solution. And we have great coffee, always fresh…"
From what we understand, the visitors from Society1 thought the Institute did hold the sort of mix of rooms they would need
And the LIWG saw potential in this possibility with Society1, but remained concerned about
'the minefield of administrative complexities with FBC and The Charities Commission and possibly the Lottery Fund.'
However, in early August, the LIWG issued a press statement that was said to reveal
'....its vision for the building hosting community space alongside facilities for arts, creative industries and heritage' and noting that '.... the group’s plan will be presented to members of the public and the Council as soon as the opportunity arises as part of an open public consultation process.' Readers can follow this link to download a full copy of the LIWG press statement.
This looked to us like 'powder being kept dry' until then.
Their press statement provoked a deal of controversy.
We know it led to exchanges of correspondence that resulted in a serious complaint being made to the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The press statement also
produced a strongly worded rebuttal (and further exchanges) by Lytham Independent councillors which can still be seen on Facebook.
Readers can follow this link to access it
Since then we've not heard anything further about the 'Lytham Institute Working Group.'
'SURPLUS TO SERVICE DELIVERY REQUIREMENTS'
We've no doubt readers will wonder how it could ever be the case that the Institute could come to be described by Fylde as being 'surplus to service delivery requirements'
But that is the case if you believe what the Chief Executive has written.
Although they have not always recognised it, Fylde has, in fact, always been the Trustee of Lytham Institute (never the corporate owner). That's because since it was gifted to a predecessor council, the status of the building and its use was always that of a charitable trust.
The problem has been that somewhere along the line, that status got forgotten and councillors (and probably officers) began to view it as corporate property.
To be fair to Fylde, once that happened, it's hard for both councillors and officers to change their mindset, and we can see Fylde is having great difficulty here.
But they do have to change that mindset.
Fylde came to view the Institute as their corporate property (that they could dispose of at will) not least because they had their own fairly recent barrister's opinion that said so.
Fylde has never had the authority of an explicit decision by the Council that it was surplus to Fylde's requirements, but the perception was allowed to grow within the Council that it was no longer necessary or required.
This happened just as easily as they had forgotten they were its Trustees rather than its owners.
It must have been the case that some people within the Council came to believe that the purposes for which they held the building (a Public Library, Schools for Art and Science, an Art Gallery, Lecture Halls, a Public Museum and a gymnasium) were no longer relevant today, and the Institute could
(and should) be disposed of.
This is the sort of thing that can happen when those running the Council fail to treat procedure, committees and councillors with proper respect; when informality is introduced to the Councils business, and proper procedure is first deprecated, then sidestepped or abandoned.
This looks to be what has happened to the Institute as far as we can see.
Our readers should ask themselves why it might have been that, as long ago as 2012, Fylde's officers suddenly decided to seek a legal opinion on the status of the Institute
if it was not a prelude to disposal.
That decision could not have been connected with the County Council's decision to close the Library, because that did happen until 2016, (and the first inkling of the library closure had been only a year earlier in 2015).
But Fylde's Chief Executive had decided that was the case in October 2017 - because speaking about the move of the library from the Institute to Lytham Assembly Rooms, Fylde's Chief Executive wrote:
"......Whilst both assets are owned by Fylde Council they are surplus to service delivery requirements, the Assembly Rooms are under a long term lease arrangement with Lytham Town Trust and the former library building is a financial liability that the Council is must
[sic] address under the legal requirement to deliver best value for the tax payer. A change from the current situation is something that Fylde has been proposing for over five years."
He appears to have been correct in that sometime in 2012, the perception grew informally and in private within the Council that they no longer wanted to use the Institute to deliver the services they held under Trust and should have been operating.
Once this got into Fylde's mindset (so far as we can tell without any item being placed before councillors to debate it), it became lodged.
We tested this perception by using the Public Platform at a recent Fylde Council meeting.
We explained to Councillors that Lytham Institute's 'User Rights Agreement' stipulated the County should give Fylde "twelve months notice in writing" to end its occupation of Lytham Institute.
And on 19 July 2019, LCC gave written notice to end its occupation. But Fylde's officers had apparently used delegated powers to decide that just two, (not twelve) months notice was needed by LCC, and in doing so they forfeited income in the region of £15,000 that LCC were contractually obliged to pay.
We have an issue with them doing this without first securing the explicit approval of a committee of elected councillors.
Secondly we did not believe that a decision to forego income of £15,000 was within the delegated powers granted to the officer who took the decision.
And thirdly, there is a serious question about which hat the Council was wearing when this decision was taken.
We've no doubt it was (and should have been) wearing its Trustee hat, and if that was the case there existed no decision by the Trustees to delegate to Fylde's officers any decision forego income of £15,000.
Fylde on the other hand, maintains it was wearing its Council hat, and it didn't need to explicitly delegate the decision to officers because they (in our view wrongly) believed that a raft of delegated powers already given 'en bloc' to officers gave them the power to take such a
We fundamentally disagree with this view.
We hold our view because, Fylde as *the Trustee* did not pass a resolution to delegate such powers to Fylde's officers and, furthermore, even if Fylde is correct (which we don't think they are)
and the 'en-bloc' authorisation were to apply, then the powers delegated to the officer concerned do not include forfeiture of income due.
So we used Fylde's Public Platform to ask whether the Council Leader thought that delegated powers actually applied to the County Council's 'User Agreement' (as opposed to a lease or concession which are within the parameters of officer delegated powers)
and whether, as the Trustee of the Institute, Fylde could lawfully delegate the Trust's decision-taking powers to officers - especially when doing so
forfeited £15,000 of income that ought to have been paid to the Trust?
And that's the key point here... it was the Trust's money that officers were giving away, not the Council's.
After a moment's hesitation (perhaps as the reality of what we had said dawned on her), the Council leader said she had been told it was all perfectly OK.
We don't agree. But what this little side-example shows is what can happen when Council confuse their role a councillors with their role as Trustees.
Where that's genuine confusion, it's forgivable, but so often with Fylde we see the arrogance of untrammelled power that cares not a jot for proper procedure, and simply stonewalls it out until someone comes along with the funds to test their arrogance in law.
And that's exactly what the LSA Civic Society did by funding their own barrister's opinion of Charitable status for the Institute.
That brought Fylde up sharp with a jolt, and reminded them they did not hold the Institute as a corporate property to dispose of as they wished. They held it in trust for the people of Lytham and surrounding areas.
This reaffirmation of the Institute's status has produced two matters that now need to be addressed.
Firstly the condition and future of the building, and secondly the need for the public services that the building was created to provide.
The first of these is now settled because the ownership of (i.e. the official Title to) the Institute, will shortly pass into the hands of the Official Custodian (part of the Charity Commission), So the existence of the structure of the building is now pretty clear for the future. Yes, there will be arguments about repairing and maintaining it and how that will be paid for, but it will have to be done.
What's less clear at present is what Fylde will decide about the need for the services that the building was created to house, and that's where - if Fylde continues to deny that such services are needed - the future battle lines will be drawn.
Thankfully, the Charity Commission now has the upper hand, and by all accounts they will require Fylde to take proper and serious notice of what local people want for what is, in fact, THEIR Institute in the future.
As if to provide further evidence of confusion between its role as the Council and its role as the Trustee, Fylde has carried on regardless by officers commissioning a structural survey of the building without elected councillors taking a
decision to authorise this action.
The cost of this will undoubtedly be charged to the Trust, but the decision to incur the cost came from Council officers, and Fylde council officers are not Trustees of the Institute and we do not believe they had authority to take the
decision to incur spending on its behalf.
[*** Fylde really must get used to the idea that the Trust and the Council are separate legal entities with their own separate governance requirements].
*** This statement may not be correct for all forms of charities. Please see the update at the end of this article.
We've heard some folk suggest this survey was ordered in support of the plan being prepared by the Lytham Institute Working Group, to avoid them having to undertake one themselves.
We don't know whether that is the case or not, but we do know that LIWG appear to have the Council's ear at the moment.
That said, the survey was an appropriate thing to do anyway - not least because it will provide an independent view that we expected to highlight disgraceful lack of maintenance and investment by the Council over recent years.
We checked Fylde's accounts for this building for the last six years and (excluding the routine matters like cutting the grass and cleaning the windows) the whole year spending on the building and its decorations was
|2018/19 (to date)
Quite frankly, for a large public building, this level and pattern of maintenance spending suggests a reactive 'firefighting' approach has been adopted, with something particular going wrong around 2015/16 .
There appears not to have been pre-planned preventative maintenance and replacement taking place, and the impression we get is that Fylde have been spending as little as possible and running the building down. That's easily confirmed by a look around the inside.
So we're pleased there has been a survey showing what Fylde has not done and now needs to correct.
After all, when Fylde can afford to set aside £1m to put towards a road they have absolutely no responsibility to fund, one would have thought they can find a few bob to correct their neglect and bring an important Grade II Listed building that they
ARE responsible for back up to a good standard.
But whilst we're happy there has been a survey, we do fundamentally object to the way it was undertaken.
From what we can see there was no competitive tendering seeking quotations for this work, (not even competing estimates), Fylde seem to have simply chosen someone and gave them the job.
We managed to get a copy of the brief for the work that Fylde issued, and readers can follow this link to download a copy of Fylde's Brief.
it provides an appalling litany of things that even Fylde know is wrong with the building (due to their failure to properly look after it), and the tone of the brief suggests to us they
now wanted the surveyor to 'gold plate' it - which makes us wonder whether they're intentionally trying to create an
enormous cost to bring it back into order.
Secondly, we have no doubt that this Survey (reputedly costing around £15,000), will have to be funded from the Trust. In our view, the Trust is currently ALL the councillors at Fylde,
but as we have already
said, no meeting of the Trustees was called to authorise this expenditure and, as far as we can tell, it was another decision taken by the Council's officers.
What we think we see here is a slow, growing, and very worrying trend for the Conservative majority party to be influencing officers to avoid the inclusion of items on the committee agendas, and to deal with them as though they have delegated powers to do so.
That seems to us to be part of a wider move to circumvent the proper role of committees - and that's a very worrying trend.
SO WHAT DID THE SURVEY SAY?
Just before we get to that, we note that the survey carries a copyright notice, and we understand that Councillors who have asked to see it are being explicitly told that it is copyrighted.
Readers might wonder why Fylde's officers considered it necessary to specifically remind Councillors about the copyright on this document, and not on any of the other copyrighted documents they have
circulated from time to time.
We think it would be ironic if they were to try to claim to have done so because this time it is the property of the Trustees (and not the Council) when, as we believe, those same officers cannot take
decisions on behalf of the Trust anyway!
We are aware of some of the report's content. We are also aware that the provisions of UK copyright law permit what's commonly known as 'fair use' of copyrighted material.
The idea behind this is that if copyright laws are too restrictive, they will stifle free speech, news reporting, or result in disproportionate penalties for consequential or accidental inclusion of copyrighted content.
So given that the fair use exclusion includes news reporting, we intend report in summary what it says.
It's been produced by a large and well respected company called Jacobs U.K. Limited and run from their Manchester office.
It looks to have gone through four earlier draft versions before the final one on 16 December this year.
It's not clear whether Fylde was consulted on the wording of any earlier drafts.
The report's introduction says
"The brief provided by Fylde Council states:
The council have a property which is effectively vacant and surplus to its functional requirements. The building is a little over 100 years old and is Grade II listed. It sits on a prominent corner in the main street in Lytham, Clifton Street......."
In fact this is not correct. As readers will see from the download we provided earlier,
the brief issued by the Council did not say the building was surplus to Fylde's functional requirements.
But equally, we can't imagine that Jacobs would have 'invented' that comment - themselves, so it looks to us as thought they have been told that it was no longer needed by Fylde's officers at some point after the brief for the survey was issued.
We can't imagine the Charity Commission being delighted that Fylde (as the newly registered Trustee of the Institute) doesn't really see any need to continue the functions for which they hold the building on trust, but that will
end up being a matter between Fylde and the Charity Commission.
Quite properly, the report notes that, as a Grade II listed building, any changes that would affect the character of the building may require formal listed building consent before being carried out.
So it looks to us as though any execution of what Jacobs recommend will still need to be tested
against its listed building status.
And of course, like any 'structural survey' you get these days, it is full of caveats such as 'A non-intrusive survey was conducted, and a condition assessment was made upon a visual inspection only' and that sort of thing.
More worrying for us was that Fylde had not provided Jacobs with documentary evidence of statutory compliance and testing certificates for the building, including the
fire risk assessment, and testing and certification documentation for:
- Gas boilers,
- Fire alarm system,
- Emergency lighting system,
- Fixed wiring,
- PAT testing,
- Lightning conductors.
That means there could be even more work needed than the survey found.
Structurally, the building seems not to have any cardinal faults. There is talk of leaky gutters and so on, with walls showing evidence of this, and internal damp because of it. It also refers to slipped roof slates and frost damaged brickwork with pointing having failed. There are also comments about most of the windows no longer opening for one reason or another.
These all seem to be chiefly failures of maintenance rather than fundamental structural problems.
Internally, the report picks up problems with old fire doors, some plasterwork cracking some of which is minor but others might be more serious.
It describes the general internal condition as being poor, with decoration, floors, and ceilings etc not having been subject to a planned maintenance regime and have now reached the stage where they need to attended to throughout.
Overall it speaks of the need for a full internal refurbishment.
Electrically, the report criticises the installation as being old and somewhat 'patchwork' in nature with some aspects seeming not to meet current statutory requirements. We don't think that description means anything is electrically unsafe, but nevertheless the report recommends a full redesign to bring the building up to modern electrical standards.
The report is very critical of the heating arrangements, describing them as 'inadequate' and suggesting that like for like replacement won't solve the problem.
We were a bit puzzled about the report's comments on the hot water system in particular. It refers to the use of individual hot water heaters at points around the building, and
(with a double negative) it notes that this is not incorrect, but goes on to say it is not ideal, and it ends up recommending a new centralised hot water system and a new cold water system as well.
We're puzzled about the hot water arrangements because they appear to be satisfactory already, but given that Fylde's brief said....
"....The heating system is not zoned and the radiators are presumably original and the lighting is not compliant with modern standards. If the Hewitt Room is booked for a session the whole building is heated for up to 3 hours prior to get it up to temperature!...."
then Jacobs' conclusion is perhaps understandable.
We mused as we read this part of the brief whether (unusually) there were no valves to turn off or restrict the flow through individual radiators in rooms where no heating was needed.
SO WHAT'S IT ALL GOING TO COST?
Well, we imagine that (as is usual in such circumstances) Jacobs will have used some sort of industry standard 'per square metre' costs to estimate the refurbish costs.
But with a listed building, as we
understand it, the highest likely cost could be as much as 4 or 5 times the likely lowest cost.
In such circumstances, and for estimating purposes, it's not uncommon to take an average between the two, and we think that's what Jacobs have probably done to come up with an estimated cost of around £1.7 million, though we understand their calculated estimate
(perhaps based on what they saw in the building?) would see Fylde having to pay something a bit more than £1m, (with professional fees on top of that).
The point here is not the amount as such, its that this is quite big money for Fylde's budgeting.
And it would be an enormous millstone around the neck of the Trust if, as might be the case, FBC insists on the Trust funding such works, even when the cause of the need for the work is actually the years of neglect by the Council itself.
At present we're not clear and we don't understand why Fylde wanted the results of this survey to be so costly (with a new heating and water system, the most up do date insulation and so on),
but we expect their logic to become more clear in the coming months.
THE CHARITY IS REGISTERED
Finally, after months of waiting, we understand the Charity Commission has now formally registered Lytham Institute as a charity. It's registration number is 5146700.
It is now formally and legally a Trust with (currently) Fylde Borough Council as its sole trustee, and whose operation and governing document is set out by the wording of the1917 assignment of the Institute to the local authority of the day.
It is the trustees' duty to operate their charity for the public benefit.
Registration will automatically trigger four things:
1 It is the date from which the Trust will not have to pay at least 80% of the commercial rates that the Council has been paying, (and if they chose to do so, Fylde could voluntarily make that up to 100% rate free). That 80% mandatory rate relief means the cost of operating the Institute will drop from around £21,000 for a full year, to only around £4,000 a year.
2 It will require the transfer of the Title (i.e. ownership of the Institute) to the 'Official Custodian' (who is part of the Charity Commission).
3 It will require Fylde Council (if they have not done so already) to establish a separate bank account for Lytham Institute, so as to wholly separate and differentiate its spending and income from any monies in Fylde Council's accounts.
4 It means Fylde will now need to identify whether it considers any changes to the present Governing Document ought to be made, and, as we understand it, this process will require Fylde to consult with the beneficiaries of the Trust
(i.e. people in Lytham and the surrounding area) to see what, if any, changes ought to be made to the Governing document.
The process to do this is actually under the control of the Charity Commission who, (if they are satisfied that local people support a change), will devise what they call
'A Scheme' that will create a new 'Governing Document' by modifying the Trusts for which the Institute was created and handed to the Council of the day for safekeeping in 1917.
Once drafted, and confirmed by the Commission, that Scheme might involve a further public consultation, (but this time by the Charity Commission not FBC), and the eventually agreed version will become the rules under which the Trust operates in the future.
It's likely that this process will become the focus of matters affecting the Institute for the near future.
There are also a few more things that will flow from the process of registration, one of which is that the sums Fylde has charges to the Institute up to now as 'Supplies and Services'
totalling almost £14,000 for the current year) will be more difficult for Fylde to justify going forward.
These are what businesses might see as 'centrally re-charged overheads', but in fact they are the sum of individual officers time estimates that they spend dealing with the
Institute each year and (although it might be different today), in the times we knew better at Fylde, they were pretty arbitrarily allocated.
When Lowther Gardens became a charity, Fylde stopped these recharges to the Charity altogether, so perhaps that will happen again here.
In summary, and given its approach to the Institute so far, we expect Fylde's ruling group to do a passable impression of a swan in this matter.
They will want to do everything 'behind the scenes'.
They will want to appear to be slow, serene and confident on the surface, but below that there will be furious paddling going on to ensure - as they will see it - that they stay ahead of everyone else and get their own way on this matter and divest themselves of the Institute if, as seems likely, that remains their underlying
and publicly unstated aim.
COUNCIL OR TRUSTEE?
To do this, we think they will attempt to confuse Councillors about the roles they have as Councillors and the roles they now have as Trustees.
We think Fylde will try to make it appear that 'The Council' of elected members is not the body to take decisions.
Instead, they will argue the officers employed by the Council to administer its decisions will be in charge of the process from now on.
[*** We contend that the Trust is now formally a separate legal entity from the Council, and Fylde's officers are wrong if they try to claim that - in this context - 'the council' is not the 51 people we elected,
rather it is the officers working on their behalf]. *** This statement may not be correct for all forms of charities. Please see the update at the end
of this article.
Fylde will probably want the public and elected Councillors to believe that officers will control the process going forward.
We fundamentally disagree with this view.
We believe in terms of charity law, 'the council' is all the elected councillors, acting as Trustees, (not as Councillors), and it is certainly not any of the officers (who are definitely not Trustees) who are the only people authorised to take
decisions on behalf of the Lytham Institute Trust.
We think that's why the letter from the Charity Commission to FBC advising Fylde of its responsibilities and the next steps when the Charity was registered included the words:
"....What to do now: Please ensure all of the trustees read this email...."
But from what we can ascertain, this instruction from the Charity Commission was not executed by Fylde.
They only circulated the 'next steps' email they received from the Charity Commission to officers, political group leaders, and to SOME (not even all) of the Lytham councillors.
Clearly Fylde has not yet grasped (or intends not to grasp) their changed role.
We also think Fylde's current approach is wrong because of its own precedent in such matters.
In March 2007 Lowther Gardens had also just been registered as a charity.
In that sense it was in exactly the same situation as the Institute is now.
And at that time, Fylde's officers reported to and sought the decision of the relevant decision-taking body of the day (the Cabinet at that time).
They recommended that the Cabinet, [acting as the Council] should:
- "Establish of a small member/officer working group to consider an appropriate management structure and constitution for the Lowther Gardens trust and report on its proposals to a future meeting.
- Apply to the Charity Commission for a scheme to modernise the terms of the trusts under which Lowther Gardens is held.
- Confirm that the Council will continue as the sole trustee of Lowther Gardens for the time being."
This properly left our elected councillors in overall charge of the process.
In fact, the officer report went on to explain
"The proposed body would have to be a working group rather than a committee since legislation does not allow officers to be members of a committee."
The Finance officers also said (in the same report)
"Charitable trust status does not provide a way for the council to release itself from its financial commitment to Lowther Gardens, at least in the short term. As long as the council continues as sole trustee, it will be obliged to maintain the Gardens in a suitable state for use as a park or pleasure ground."
And we don't see much by way of reason that situation ought to be any different for Lytham Institute (unless there is clear evidence that all the trusts under which the Institute is held (not just the library) are no longer relevant and required.
-and we'll address this a bit later).
So in our view, it is ALL the Councillors acting as Trustees that must now be taking the key decisions about the future of the Institute, just as happened at Lowther
And this strategic decision about who decides could well be the first conflict in what now looks set to become a longer-running dispute if Fylde follow their current path.
The saving grace here ought to be the Charity Commission, who have pretty tight requirements about Trustees consulting and implementing the wishes of local people.
FRIENDS 'POSSIBLE FUTURE USES' REPORT
With something approaching perfect timing, the Friends of Lytham Library have just published a report setting out possible future uses for Lytham Institute.
The Friends - in one incarnation or another - have been trying to ensure the Institute remains a building for use by the local community.
They really wanted to keep the Library there, but sadly that was spirited away from its proper and traditional home (a library was part of the reason the Institute came into being).
Over the years, they have held several public open meetings, had a pavement stall outside the main entrance, had 4,000 people sign petitions and had a 'Protest March' through Lytham town centre.
One thing you can say about them is that they are very close to the community, and they have consistently sought to reflect not what they want for the Institute, but what local people want for it.
To that end they have assembled paperwork with all the views and opinion that people have provided to them, categorised this into broad groups, and provided an indication of the approximate number of times each was mentioned, so as to give a good feel of what the local community wants from its
Readers can follow this link to download a copy of the full 'Possible Future Uses' report, but we provide our own synopsis of it below.
Described as 'A preliminary survey of residents proposals for their Institute', the report is 25 pages, which comprises
||A one page summary
||About the Friends
||A plan of the building
||Some historic and background information
||Some Charity Commission guidance on how consultations should be undertaken
||A poster advertising their most recent Public Meeting
||A method statement setting out how the information has been compiled
||A summary of local people’s views
||The people's ideas and proposals in more detail
||A copy of the Barrister’s Opinion that forced Fylde to register the Institute as a Charitable Trust.
So What Are The Findings?
The data is aggregated in two ways . The first sets it out by grouping similar sorts of uses that people said they wanted to see.
The second sets it out under the broad headings of
- Potential for income generation
- Educational uses
- Social uses
- Recreational uses
In Broad Terms....
It's clear from even a cursory examination that the Institute's original purpose to educate and inform is still top of the list today.
It's also the case that socially focused (and today health-related) services remain important, with recreational uses also strongly in evidence.
The surprising part for us were the suggestions people made for generating income in the Institute.
There appears to be significant potential for making part of the Institute's programming available for existing 'state' organisations to run outreach services - for example the suggestion of holding 'Driver Awareness Courses'
(we assume this means by the police as an option instead of prosecution) where the force would pay for the use of the building for such courses.
Likewise there were several health and social related issues where outreach work by the health service in one guise or another might be willing to pay to use the building.
The report left us with the clear impression that what the Institute needs is someone with a willingness and commitment to proactively seek 'outside the box' uses from third party organisations like this; organisations that fit within the overall purpose of the building, but which can generate an income to supplement whatever income can be derived from the more traditional sources such as a cafe and so on.
In terms of specific uses that were popular, a cafe is very high on the agenda, as were computer related uses (public access terminals, family history, training to use, and so on)
Recreationally, a specific use for which the building was provided is snooker and that, along with youth club type facilities was requested.
We're puzzling to remember what happened to the snooker table(s) that used to be in Lytham Institute. We've half a feeling that one might have been taken to Lytham Hall, and if any of our readers can remember what
happened to them we'd be pleased to hear it.
We were also surprised by the extent of current users who hire the building - and we made further inquiries which, despite Fylde CE's statement of it being surplus to Fylde's operational requirements - shows a healthy and diverse set of existing users.
We have been told that the existing users were happy to continue their current use, and some appeared willing to expand their services. The current uses are:
- Monday: Yoga 6-9pm
- Wednesday Judo 4:30-8:30
- Wednesday 1pm - 4pm Lytham Heritage Group
- Thursday Aft - Musical Appreciation Society 2:00-4:00pm AND Evening - Dog training classes 6pm-10pm
- Friday Dog training classes 6pm-10pm
- Saturday: Judo 9am-12 noon
And those uses are now taking place despite Fylde doing nothing in terms of promoting the availability of the building.
As far as we can tell, there's not even a leaflet setting out the hiring (or even contact!) details, let alone an officer charged with actively marketing the hire of the property to potential user groups.
The final part of the Friends' report notes the particular importance of the very much under-rated archive of local history material housed and managed by a dedicated team of volunteers
(Lytham Heritage Group). We've had cause to use this facility on occasions and it holds a wealth of important local history.
We believe there is scope to build on this resource, perhaps by associating a local family history centre with it, together with a community-run reference library, putting Lytham's history and heritage sustainably located in the heart of town.
SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Well, Fylde is standing at a crossroads and could go one of two ways.
Unless they change their mind about the building (and the purposes for which it was established) being surplus to their requirements, we think we're heading for further conflict over the building.
If they don't change tack, and they maintain their claim that it is no longer required, then the most likely course of action we can see is the Council will try to dispose of the Institute to another charity.
That won't change the charitable trusts under which the building is held of course, so first (to make a transfer more palatable to prospective new Trustees), Fylde will want to ask the Charity Commission for a 'Scheme' to change the purpose of the building.
Fortunately, that process will be under the supervision of the Charity Commission and we'll return to it shortly.
Fylde's request for a new 'Scheme' is likely to be dressed up as 'modernising' and bringing the Trust's purpose 'up to date'. But in reality and behind the scenes, it's much more likely that Fylde will see it as a device to create the opening for a much more commercial approach to the Institute than that which the people of Lytham have told the Friends group they want to see.
The most financially advantageous plan would have been to redevelop the Institute as town centre flats, but we can't see that being at all acceptable to the Charity Commission.
So we think that's probably ruled out.
Next in line for income generation would be some sort of commercial tenancy (probably not retail, but we could imagine office accommodation) and that's where we see this going if Fylde continue their stance that it is 'no longer needed'.
That said, the use of some parts of the building for income generating uses (for example some areas on the first floor) may not be an entirely bad thing, especially if that use is consistent with the founding purposes (education, information, health and fitness etc for local people).
But if the use is not consistent with the founding purposes, then the arguments will be about the extent of the area that remains in public use versus the area of more commercial use.
But all of that applies only if the Council continue to say the Institute is no longer needed for the purposes for which it was created.
And that's most definitely not the view they took (for example) when Lowther Gardens was registered as a charity.
They did not try to say the bowling greens and the play area and the lawns and the flower beds and so on were 'surplus to their operating requirements.'
They quite properly continued to provide the gardens as a public good funded by the Council tax they raise form us.
Fylde's Tourism and Leisure Committee is responsible for providing and funding parks and gardens, and it does so at Lowther by using taxation to generate funds to provide a grant to Lowther Gardens Trust that is equal to the cost of the services they want Lowther Gardens to continue to provide for the community.
These days, they now mostly provide smaller parks and open spaces using something called 'Special Expenses.'
This appears separately on our Council Tax Bills, and is a charge that varies from area to area.
The purpose of this facility is to fund services that are said to apply only in part of the Council's area, so the people of, say, Kirkham, should not be expected to have to pay for things in Lytham and so on.
We could see that possibility coming into play as this situation evolves.
But Fylde's Tourism and Leisure Committee's Terms of Reference also require them to consider and evaluate needs other than parks and gardens.
(Readers can follow this link to download a copy of the Committee's Terms of Reference).
These include the cultural, recreational, arts, heritage, leisure and community development needs of Fylde residents.
It is, frankly, a disgrace that this Committee has, so far, failed to
discharge that responsibility in respect of the Institute. They failed to
consider it when the Library closure was announced, and they have continued
to fail to do so since the removal of the library and the Institute's
registration as a charity.
Fylde's Constitution specifically allocates this role to the Tourism and Leisure Committee, and the Committee absolutely ought to take a position.
We have no doubt that the Committee should now urgently commission survey evidence that will enable the Committee to consider and debate the cultural, recreational, arts, heritage, leisure and community development needs of people in Lytham and surrounding areas, in order to be able to advise the Council of the extent to which the Institute is, or is not, still required, and whether and to what extent the Council should fund the Trust to provide such services - just as they provide parks and gardens at Lowther.
Furthermore, in our view, and on behalf of local people, the Tourism and Leisure Committee will need that information to make proper representations to Fylde Council (as the Trustee) as part of what will soon become the Trustee's consultation prior to preparing a scheme to change the Trusts under which the Institute may operate in the future.
It is undoubtedly the Committee's job to acquire and debate the evidence under which such a decision needs to be taken.
But we don't expect it happening anytime soon if Fylde persist in wanting to rid themselves of the Institute.
However, getting rid of the Institute might not be as easy as they think. That's because as we said earlier, the Charity Commission now has the whip hand, and they will want to ensure that any changes to the 'Governing Document' Fylde want to make is consistent with what the beneficiaries of the Trust (local people) want.
So whilst we think in their own mind's eye, Fylde's officers probably expect they can simply discuss or negotiate with the Charity Commission to agree a new scheme for the
Institute, we also think the Commission will want to see Fylde (as the Trustee) holding some proper, open and transparent public consultations, and to formulate their ideas for a scheme based on what the beneficiaries (for whom they hold the Institute in trust) want.
That's why we think the just released Friend's 'Possible Future Uses Report' is so important, and why the Friends
group will become even more important as this matter progresses.
One thing is for certain, there's a lot more to come on this.....
UPDATE 21 JANUARY 2020
The statements we made about the Council and the Trustees being separate legal entities only apply to certain forms of charity, and at present this might not be the case at
This is a very complex subject which we are still investigating, and will clarify in a future article.
In the meantime we have added this update and linked it from the two places in the article where the information we provided might not be factually correct in respect of the
current format of the Lytham Institute charity.
As ever, if we do say something that is factually inaccurate, we will always publish an update and, if appropriate, a correction
Dated: 10 January 2020