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Breaking News, Cotterill on the Council, Uncategorized

Turmoil in West Lancashire as institutions of local democracy collapse – one councillor slightly hurt

11.21.08 | Comment?

Special guest report from our team on the streets of West Lancashire, scene of a major meltdown in political and constitutional legitimacy

Fears of rioting on the streets of West Lancashire grew last night, all police leave is said to have been cancelled and the army to have been put on stand by, as news emerged that a local councillor had ‘not been briefed’ by Council officers.  Latest unconfirmed reports suggest that the councillor may even have had his feelings ‘ever so slightly hurt’.

The dramatic turn of events came after a week of growing tension over the constitutional rights of opposition councillors to be briefed by Council officers on divisionally relevant matters. 

Speaking from a secret location near the kitchen, Paul Cotterill, the councillor at the centre of the storm said:

‘It all kicked off this weekend when it became clear that the proposals for the new Skelmersdale Town Centre, almost wholly dependent on private sector developer St Modwen Properties plc for its implementation, are to be signficantly delayed.  This was acknowledged in the local press later in the week, though I have to say suggesting that it’s suddenly all to with the Everton/Tesco application for  the rebuild of nearby Kirkby Town Centre is all a bit rich.  The Everton plans have been on the table for a long time now, and must have been considered in detail before St Modwen’s jumped into bed with the Council; the more accurate explanation is simply that St Modwen’s have got cold feet and won’t put their money, of which they have a lot, where their mouths are – so much for their boss’s statement that they are ‘committed to delivering the new vision for Skelmersdale town centre.’

I am Shadow Portfolio Holder for Leisure Services, so clearly at the forefront of my concerns is the delay to the proposed new ‘wet and dry’ leisure facility.  This was originally promised for January 2010, but is not going to be built anytime soon.  The Council put all its eggs in this one private sector basket; despite my consistent appeals both in Council session (item no. 27) and in the wider public domain, it has failed to come up with any contingency whatsoever for a long delay in building of the new facility.

The roof at Nye Bevan swimming pool is in a terrible state, and Digmoor Sports Centre has December 2009 as its ‘end of life’ point set out in the contract papers with private operator Serco. On this basis Serco and its Leisure Trust partners have refused point blank to undertake any substantive repairs, and the continued lack of remedial investment is quite simply a disgrace.  The people of West Lancashire should not have to put up with this.

Naturally enough, when the news about the long delay became official, I immediately contacted the relevant senior Council officers to ask for a briefing, making it clear in my email that I would like to review ‘contingencies’. 

It is my right as a councillor, under the Council’s own constitution (see para 4.1.), to get ‘such information, explanation and advice (about a Division’s functions) as (I) may reasonably need in order to assist them in discharging their role as members of the Council.  This can range from a request for general information about some aspect of a Division’s activities to a request for specific information on behalf of a constituent.’

Despite being refused briefings twice recently, I thought this request would be readily granted given the official change in circumstances.  I was shocked therefore to receive an email back stating that a special briefing on the matter could not be granted.

This, to my admittedly untrained and addled mind, looks like an unconstitutional act on the part of the Council.  I believe I made a reasonable request for a briefing, and it was turned down without good reason.  The Council is seeking to avoid legitimate scrutiny of its actions, because it knows its actions are indefensible to the wider public.  While ‘councillor does not receive briefing as required’ is hardly headline news, the story I set out here is, I’m sorry to say, all too reflective of a decline in honesty and transparency in Conservative-controlled West Lancashire District Council.’

Councillor Cotterill then went on to talk about some other dull gubbins about equality of access to information as an underlying principle of local and indeed national political democratic life, and how restrictions on information reflected underlying power relations inherent to the capitalist system of extra-economic control,  but it was last orders in the pub where we were holed up for our own safety, so we put the phone down.

Later, we took to the streets ourselves, bravely setting aside concerns for our own personal safety, seeking the thoughts of local people on the growing crisis.   Unfortunately, everyone had gone to bed.

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