Up to 15 minutes are allowed for public participation. Participants are restricted to 3 minutes each.
A total of six questions had been received.
The Chairman welcomed Mrs Mallen, Mr Enever and Mrs Grocock to the meeting. Before inviting them to put their 5 questions to the Committee, the meeting were reminded that the questions would be put and a response would be given. There would be no debate.
Mr Enever posed the first question as follows: -
"I presented a petition in April to Full Council – this was rejected. A Member briefing was issued to defend the Council’s position against this well supported petition. Reading the briefing has led me to ask the question, as reading the business plan there are a number of items within the business plan that are a cause for concern and in a normal commercial environment would not pass a muster or a lender. It’s talk of the health & wellbeing hub development links with the PCT, which ceased to exist in 2013. The diabetes protection contract for Lincs was awarded 2 years ago and is already rolled out across the county. The whole decision was based on a flawed business plan that you were told would bring 200,000 more visitors per year to the re-developed bowls hall. That means that over a 10 hour period each day, there would be 55 people per hour coming through the door. A constant stream, without break every single day of the year. On that basis you were convinced that the new scheme would bring money into the coffers of WLDC. Do you still really believe that will happen, every day of the year, for 10 hours a day? We were told that these people flowing through the door constantly would be coming for cardio rehabilitation, diabetes prevention and improvement and weight reduction. Which in anyone’s book are not leisure pursuits. Hopefully, they will be able to take part in leisure activities in due course, but it is not leisure by anyone’s description. However, the document highlights that the leisure centre land has a covenant upon it that says it must be used for community leisure purposes. Did anyone think to question if a breach on covenant had taken place, using a leisure facility for medical purposes? This all leads me to ask, what training and skills are provided to Members of the Committee, and all Councillors in fact, to assess critically and objectively a business proposition brought to them by Officers?"
The Chairman responded to the question as follows: -
“All Councillors are trained to ask challenging questions to assure themselves around the advice they are being given and the decisions they are being asked to make. It is the role of Officers to have the relevant technical skills to carry out the business of the Council and to make technical recommendations to Councillors in order to ensure that their policies are implemented.
In particular around commercial matters, there have been three specific training sessions held during the last 12 months which have focussed on commercial activity, the leisure contract and the implications of the award to Everyone Active. In addition a Member workshop was held at the start of the procurement process to set the desired outcomes for the leisure contract”.
Mrs Grocock posed the second question as follows: -
“Logic dictates that if WLDC has been spending £300k to subsidise some leisure activities. Why did it target an admitted non-burdensome, self-financing activity for closure in order to subsidise these unprofitable areas? What in depth assessment was made of all areas within the WL Leisure Centre to compare and contrast effective use of all these areas before this proposal was accepted?
In the briefing document, mentioned earlier, the author admits that consultation was not undertaken as they knew what the outcome would be. There are other areas in the Centre that are costing money and may well continue to be loss making. We have asked on a number of occasions to see an assessment of all areas to justify why an already admitted no cost area was targeted and this not been forthcoming. Was it because the bowls club was seen as easy to get rid of? Or was it trying to get hold of a room refurbished only 7 years ago? The State of the District Review in 2017 shows increasing attendance at the Leisure Centre, but no evidence has been provided of any market research into either the existing activities in the Leisure Centre – and more importantly the potential of the new Health & Wellbeing Hub. It therefore leads me to ask in committee, just what objective assessment was done, if any?”
The Chairman responded as follows: -
“At the start of the procurement process the decision was made by Councillors that a future contract should remove the need to subsidise the leisure service, provide an income for the Council, align the leisure service to improving health outcomes in the District (through increasing participation rates) and significantly increase the reach of the leisure service across the District. The new contract achieves this.
In order to award the contract the Council went through an OJEU procurement exercise and as part of this contractors were asked how the facility in Gainsborough could be re-configured to significantly increase its usage and commercial viability to meet the objectives set by the Council.
Leisure contractors submitted their proposals which were then evaluated in December 2017. The proposal by Everyone Active was judged to provide the most advantageous solution for the Council and subsequently Everyone Active were awarded the contract.
Independent in depth assessments of the areas within the leisure centre were therefore conducted (in accordance with the objectives set by the Council) by the contractors submitting the proposals. Councillors and Officers were supported in their evaluation of tenders by an independent leisure procurement specialist and by Procurement Lincolnshire.”
Councillor Young raised a Point of Information, advising that the question had not been responded to.
The public gallery indicated their discontent, resulting in the Chairman reminding the meeting that this was not a matter for debate, and the gallery of the rules of attendance.
Councillor Young again challenged the Chairman’s ruling. The Chairman advised the question, which had been submitted in advance, had been responded to. The procedure rules regarding this item had been clearly laid out and the meeting was again reminded these would be adhered to by all in attendance.
Mrs Mallen posed the third question as follows: -
“As a self-proclaimed “Entrepreneurial Council” driven by the Prosperous Communities Committee, does the Committee accept that it will have failures and is now faced with a badly conceived plan for the Leisure Centre evidenced by our MP Sir Edward Leigh who has rightly observed that the council was not prepared for the amount of local objections at the destruction of the Bowls Hall. Most entrepreneurs, like Sir Richard Branson, know when to admit they have got their figures wrong or misjudged a situation. Will the committee now admit they got it wrong and make real strenuous efforts to right that wrong by considering every option even it is costly in the short term? ”.
The Chairman responded as follows: -
“The comment made by the local Member of Parliament, whilst respected, is a matter for him and is not the view of this Council.
The Council has carried out a robust analysis of the social and financial impacts of the leisure contract award and the objectives set at the start of the process for the contract have been achieved. The Council is confident that during the course of the delivery of the contract the objectives which have been set around, income, participation rates, health outcomes and outreach will be achieved. In this respect the delivery of the contract is good for the Council Tax payers in the District and will be a good thing for the overall health of people living in West Lindsey. It is therefore not, in my view, a misjudgement on the part of the Council to have entered into this contract.”
Mrs Grocock posed the fourth question as follows: -
“When and why did Council decide to provide an indoor bowls facility at the Leisure Centre, and what has happened now that demand is potentially due to increase in coming years?
This morning on Radio 4, it was reported that 70% of people feel they have no influence over the decisions that are made in their neighbourhood and that is felt mostly in parts of Lincolnshire. That is exactly how the people of West Lindsey feel regarding the closure of the bowls hall – probably nearer 100% to be honest. Even Councillors here feel that way, some are told. Back in the late 80’s it was a caring Council, who responded to a need and even 7 years ago it was proudly trumpeted in the local press that the Council had spent £50K to upgrade the bowls hall to make it one of the best in the area. I have the press cutting here. The Council were pleased to say they had worked together with members of the Bowls Club to refurbish and improve the facility with new lighting and heating …. We worked together. But tomorrow that £50K and more is going to be thrown in the fire, based on a flawed business plan. What happened to working with the community? The population in the area is getting older and just at that time you are reducing what was acknowledged by sports consultants to be a good starting point for indoor sports development. You are now making West Lindsey the worst in Lincolnshire and probably the East Midlands. Is that something you wish to trumpet in the press this time? Or are you now actually embarrassed by it? As one Councillor we were told has said recently”
The Chairman responded as follows:-
“Getting back to the question you submitted, the original decision to provide a bowls hall has no relevance on current leisure provision, things do change.
During the last three years the membership of West Lindsey Bowls Club has decreased each year as follows:
2015 220 members
2016 206 members
2017 172 members.
This is why the area currently occupied by the Bowls Club is needed to help assist the Council in achieving one of its contract objectives and that is to increase participation rates in sport across the District.”
Councillor Rollings interjected the Chaiman and raised a Point of Information advising there had been no consultation with the bowls club over this matter, they had been given no opportunity to put a plan in place to develop the club and raise those figures. She considered it was completely unfair and inappropriate to use the figures quoted in that way
Councillor Rollings was reminded about her conduct having ignored the Chairman’s ruling.
It was suggested Councillor Rollings consider whose responsibility it was to increase the Membership of the Bowls Club as it was not the responsibility of the Councillors around the table.
The Chairman’s response and ruling was again challenged. Following continued interjections a final conduct reminder was issued to Councillor Rollings with the Chairman indicating she would reluctantly use Council Procedure Rule 18.3 if the behaviour continued.
The public gallery again indicated their discontent.
Mrs Mallen posed the fifth question as follows:-
“It is understood that Council are working with SLM to ensure that arrangements previously discussed, and agreed as part of the contract negotiations, is the provision of “short mat bowling”. This to be done now by providing 33 metre mats (on a roll out/roll up basis) at an "appropriate location" within the redeveloped Centre.
These mats, are in fact very similar in size and number to the existing indoor bowls facility and if these are to be provided to accommodate all the bowls club and other groups of bowlers, three mats will be required.
The use of these, on a rollout/roll up basis to free up space for other activities when not in use, is not practical. – and this was evidenced by an email from the contractor to the SLM Manager saying that a rolled up single rink would need a health & safety assessment because it is so heavy.
Each mat will take at least 30 minutes to roll out/roll up leaving no time in the interval with existing bowls user needs. It will take too much time to free up space and the result will be that the three mats of 33 metres will be set down in a dedicated space in the Leisure Centre for most of the year.
This does not even take into consideration the need for vastly improved lighting and heating in the "appropriate location" such as was provided by this Council only 7 years ago at the cost of £50k.
As this is within the negotiable contract between Council and SLM and highly unlikely to affect the capital or revenue streams of either party, would it now be a more appropriate and acceptable solution to all, to now leave the indoor bowls facility where it is and revise the location of the well-being hub elsewhere in the Leisure Centre?”
The Chairman responded as follows:-
“The contract has been signed with Everyone Active and the refurbishment of the leisure centre has commenced.
To-date the bowls club have not confirmed that they would like the opportunity to continue to bowl within the leisure centre using short or long mats.
However, as part of the refurbishment a dedicated short mat area is being provided within the leisure centre as part of the Active Seniors hub. Feedback has been received from other areas of the community that this is a valued addition to the centre.
The offers made by the Council and Everyone Active still stand if the bowls club is willing to pursue these opportunities positively. For clarity these are:
· The offer to provide transport to visit the indoor bowls facilities in Scunthorpe and Dunholme
· The opportunity to play short mat bowls in a dedicated area within the leisure centre
· The opportunity to play bowls on the longer mats within the sports hall
· Free use for one year for existing bowls club users”
The questioners were thanked for their attendance. There was again discontent from the gallery. The public were reminded that they were welcome to stay subject to abiding by the rules of attendance but the meeting would be moving on to the next agenda item.
Following continued disregard for the Chairman’s ruling from the gallery the meeting was adjourned for 5 minutes.
The meeting resumed at 6.57 pm.
The Chairman welcomed Mr Robert Wall, Chairman of the Fiskerton Neighbourhood Plan Group, to the meeting and invited him to put his question to Committee, as follows: -
“Chairman. Can you explain why WLDC, which is nationally well known to positively support Neighbourhood Development Plans, is not supporting Fiskerton Neighbourhood Development Plan? We received valued support during 2014-16 but in 2017-18 the support appears to have tailed off. Is there a reason for this reduced support? Is it because Fiskerton's local Councillor is totally opposing all aspects of our NDP and supporting a group that openly wants to stop the plan?
Councillor England, Member Champion for Neighbourhood Planning responded on behalf of the Chairman as follows: -
“Councillor Wall thank you for your question. You are quite right in stating that West Lindsey are nationally recognised for their support of neighbourhood planning, which we regard as a vital contribution to our vision for a sustainable future for the district as a whole. The support we provide goes far beyond any statutory duty we have under the neighbourhood planning regulations.
However there is a limit to our resources, and as such we do at times, given the high number of plans underway in West Lindsey, prioritise where that support goes. Let me assure you now that the Fiskerton Neighbourhood Plan is high on that list of priorities, and we are, and remain committed to assisting both the group and parish council in achieving a positive outcome.
I fully understand the frustration that has led to your question, in my six years of being involved in neighbourhood planning I have never encountered such a level of criticism, much of it based on misinformation and misunderstanding, that has led to your plan being constantly held back and delayed.
The neighbourhood planning process is above all community led and throughout the process all members of the community, and that includes ward members, have the opportunity to be involved and contribute in a constructive and positive way toward the plans development.
Most importantly the neighbourhood planning process is the most democratic and far sighted piece of legislation any council partakes in. Not only is there extensive public consultation but a plan is subject to a rigorous independent examination at which all stakeholders including residents can submit evidence either in support or opposition. The examiner will consider if these representations are valid before deciding if a plan is fit for purpose. If the plan satisfies the examiner then it will be recommended to go forward to a referendum.
This is the ultimate and final test for any plan in which the residents, and they alone decide in a ballot, on the basis of a simple question whether they want the plan adopted by the district council as a part of the overall development plan. Both those who support or oppose a particular plan must agree there can be a no more open and fair system than this.
I hope you feel reassured by my answer”.
Councillor Darcel requested the right to reply but was reminded that public questions were not a matter for debate and the right to reply was not part of the public participation procedure.