WLDC - Council need business sense

I do enjoy reading your paper but as an Independent West Lindsey District Councillor for Fiskerton and Langworth, I sometimes feel the “pictures” printed are not always as I see them first hand.

These different perspectives make me realise what a privilege and responsibility it is to be an “Independent” member. Being old fashioned, I grew up thinking councillors were there to represent the residents in the ward and it came as quite a shock to see whipped decisions made in the council chamber and the spin put on press releases.

So last week’s edition was a delight. I was able to whole heartedly agree with Cllr Summers- the Lincolnshire District Councils are all big enough to operate as Unitary Authorities and we could do away with the County Council. But I have two provisos

1) major roads such as the A15, A46, A57, A158 and A631 are taken over by the Highways Agency and

2) a completely different top management structure is put in place. Neither the County Council nor the District Council have sufficient business experience in house to manage affairs effectively now, so expanding the role of the district council without change would be financial dynamite.

I will come back to my reasoning later.

Three other articles, one on neighbourhood plans, one on the Council gambling with Council Tax Payers money and one on Planning Enforcement tell a different story to my perception. But these will keep for another day.

Back to corporate management, should we go Unitary: I do have a solution.

I would like to see an old fashioned Managing Director clock in at 8am every morning. By 10.30 am he or she should be satisfied that all the department heads have their daily work schedules under control. From say 11am to 1pm the diary should be free for Councillors and staff to talk through their more difficult ward problems.

The Managing Director’s team would likely include one Financial Director, one Production Director and the department heads. The team could share the afternoons for management meetings and business improvement sessions and how best they could introduce a paperless Kanban system.

On the Councillor side there will be a problem. Politics, whips and pecking orders and a lack of business experience allowed the County Council to over staff its management by some 30% and this lack of control would need to be avoided.

Most councillors have risen high in their chosen professions but experience in running a business, balancing the books and good house keeping is in short supply.

Seeing the huge extra commitment in time running a Unitary Authority would require there would need to be a rethink on Councillor involvement. Councillors should just set the course of the ship and leave the day today decisions to the management team. This happens in business. But in business Board Members are given far more detailed financial and management information. This enables those who understand the business process to make the necessary noises when the ship veers off course.

This business experience is important: Four weeks ago the Conservatives stated they would fight the local election on their past financial record. That they had hardly increased the WLDC Council Tax in the last four years was credit to their competent financial management. At first sight they are right: if only it was true.

Had they understood business better, they would have realised life is not quite so simple. In the same four years our debt has grown and potential income from CILs has been lost through not getting the Local Plan right first time.

The amount is huge. The pension fund deficit has escalated up to £26m. The Tax Payers’ Alliance stated that West Lindsey, was for its size, one of the worse performing districts in the country. Next we have the £11m commitment made in 2011 to Lincolnshire County Council for building the Lincoln Bypass and cutting Hawthorn Rd, Cherry Willingham, in half. I have not seen this on our books and only discovered the commitment by chance when protesting against the road closure.

Our liabilities have shot up. My guess would be between by over £25m in the four year period. A vast amount of money for an organisation with an operating budget of £10m.

With 45,000 households in the district it adds up to £555 per household or over £125 per household per year. A Band D house pays about £1750 council tax per annum, of which approximately £250 per year goes to West Lindsey. The extra £125 per year liability represents a 50% over spend on each £1 taken in by the district council. It is money which will have to be found one day.

If any of your readers are accountants I would be delighted to hear their views.

If you have recently retired and are looking for a new interest, being a district councillor is an excellent way of ”putting something back” into the community. It is an occupation heavy on time and there is always something new to learn so it is not an occupation I would recommend for someone building a business or with a full time professional career to pursue. But for someone with years of experience in the UoL and a bit of free time being a Councillor can become addictive hobby.

With the present disaffection for ALL the Political Parties this must be the best time ever for anyone thinking of standing as an Independent Candidate. If you do not wish to be alone consider joining the Lincolnshire Independent Group of Councillors. We have no Whip but you will have friends. The group has a wealth of information and experience to offer and operates County wide. I have found other members eager to help when I come across issues outside my field of experience. Please look at the web site lincolnshireindependents.org for details. or phone me on 01522 750411 or email chris.darcel1@gmail.com for details.

Chris Darcel

By email