South Fylde continues to pull in major stars and big events. Gareth Vickers talks to Fylde Council’s chief executive Allan Oldfield about how the coast needs to think big.
Madonna and Beyonce on Lytham Green in the years to come? For Allan Oldfield it is not as strange as you might think.
I’ve been sat in the office of Fylde Council’s chief executive for more than an hour when we start discussing the future for Lytham Proms – now known as the Lytham Festival.
Atop Fylde Town Hall, enjoying a stunning view overlooking the beach and St Annes Pier, a smile breaks out as he tells of his delight at the event’s expansion in recent years – one of many which is helping south Fylde to retain its title as the jewel of the North West.
“The council has an approach to support and encourage,” he adds.
“I had one councillor complain the festival organisers Cuffe and Taylor make money – my conversation with them was we should encourage them to make as much money as possible – because they will get bigger and bigger.
“Next minute you could have Madonna or Beyonce – and it’s not unrealistic.
“You should be advocating they make as much money as possible.”
Answerable to more than 50 councillors, 260 employees and more than 76,000 residents, Mr Oldfield’s role can be unpredictable in nature.
Whether it be dealing with the change from a cabinet to committee system of government, or communicating with staff – “my door is always open” – he tells of a role which continues to challenge – close to three years on from first starting in January 2012.
He says: “It is unpredictable – you will have series of plans and meetings but something will always come up.
“It is a strange day if it runs smoothly – I can never be sure when I will be back for tea – it is unpredictable.
“I keep on top of day to day communication – it is very easy to lose track of keeping the organisation informed.
“If you let it lapse it will give you so many more problems.
“I am accessible – if you ring my direct number I’ll answer – touchwood it is not abused.
“If I don’t answer I can pick up the voicemails – I’m not sure every chief executive would do that.”
Having started life working in customer services for pub, hotel and restaurant group Cynergy, the business administration graduate began in the public sector with South Ribble Council 15 years ago before moving to Fylde – where he has remained for the last 13 years.
It is clear from our discussion he has a drive for excellence and wanting to be the best – an attitude he admits would have been anathema in local government decades ago.
“I came from an environment where if I did not hit targets I would not get paid.
“I went into customer services roles and the biggest thing, the biggest kick I got, was people working under me who progressed.”
After moving up the ranks, Mr Oldfield was named as Fylde Council’s chief executive in September 2011.
For the 49-year-old – 50 next October – it is all about pushing the boundaries in the face of the ongoing challenges local authorities face across the country.
“We get a lot of grief from people and sometimes rightly so, but for every £100 of council tax we keep £11.
“£7 to police, £2 to fire and the rest to county council but people come to us for accountability – that is confusing for people.
“But does Lancashire need 15 chief executives, 15 councils, 15 accounts departments?
It is a topical question.
Just months ago councils in Greater Manchester decided to join forces.
Is it a move which could happen on the Fylde coast? Would an elected mayor help to improve local services?
It is an idea Mr Oldfield does not dismiss.
“It is a big debate – one of the things at the moment is the combined authority like Greater Manchester,” he adds.
“My personal view is I think it is more accountable.
“In America certain positions are set up for accountability – police, fire, sanitation – jobs are up for grabs every four years – it keeps you on your toes.”
In recent years the coast has started to bounce back with the return of various festivals, shows and popular events helping to increase visitor numbers.
Whether it be Lytham Festival (this year’s main Saturday night headliner is still to be announced), the kite fesitval or the Open Golf Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 2012 – the Fylde coast continues to punch above its weight.
Mr Oldfield added: “The Open golf went really well. They (organisers The Royal and Ancient) do not like to be too open but I know they have not had an experience as good as ours since.
“Lytham Green is an asset, as is Lytham Hall.
“There are some officers who want much more on Lytham Green.
“We have car rallies and the 1940s weekend but I think there is room for more events.
“We have the Proms – we could have up to five assets.
“We need to encourage and support more events.”