Report to Market Deeping Town Council – July 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 12th July 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, one of the ten Councillors forming the Independent Group at SKDC.

I am pleased to report that, less than two months after the elections, one of the Conservatives has resigned the whip and become ‘Independent unaligned’. This means there are now 17 opposition councillors compared to 39 Tories. We just need 11 more defections and the Council will be on a knife-edge!

Meetings Attended

I have attended four formal Council meetings during the lastmonth.

14/06/2019   Finance, Economic Development and Corporate ServicesOverview and Scrutiny Committee          

This meeting was held to consider the call-in request that I had organised before the election in light of a decision by Cllr Adam Stokes (Con) to allocate money from the new Invest-to-save fund. Before the meeting I had submitted more than 20 written questions and I was pleased to discover that newly-elected Cllr Whittington (Con) had submitted some of his own. Continue reading

Talking of trees…

On 27th June, I proposed a motion that South Kesteven District Council should adopt the Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees and develop a tree strategy to protect, improve and enhance the number and quality of trees in the District. Conservatives at South Kesteven tied themselves up in knots in order to prevent an Independent-led proposal from being passed.

The Tree Charter can be signed by individuals and also by organisations. More than 70 organisations and 300 local community groups have signed up to the Charter including at least two Parish Councils in the South Kesteven area have already signed up (Deeping St James and Barkston and Syston). However, meaning no disrespect to the Woodland Trust and their partners, the Charter for Trees is a relatively bland statement of commitment to protecting and promoting trees, forest and hedgerows, in fact one of my Independent colleagues described parts of it as ‘airy-fairy’. It is more a statement of attitude and intent rather than a detailed program of actions.

I argued that signing up to the Charter would demonstrate the Council’s commitment to trees, biodiversity and also to the Woodland Trust which is the leading national charity on this issue and is based in Grantham.

I was gobsmacked when the SKDC Cabinet Member responsible for Environment, Cllr Peter Moseley (Con) decided to oppose the motion. He suggested three reasons why Councillors should vote against it, all of which were spurious. Continue reading

The times they are a-changing…

South Kesteven Council descended into chaos yesterday when the Chairman and Deputy Leader failed to give direct answers to a simple question about the time of the meeting. The consequent debate lasted a full 10 minutes purely because a decision had been taken by the Conservative group without any consultation with the rest of the Council.

Cllr Lee Steptoe (Lab) (LS) raised the original question with the Deputy Leader of the Council, Coun Kelham Cooke (Con) (KC) because the Leader, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) had decided to take a holiday which prevented him from attending Full Council.

Here’s what was said:

LS: “I believe that the meeting times for Full Council were changed after the last meeting. Historically I believe that meetings have always started at 2pm. That has now been moved forward to 1pm. Can I ask what consultation within the Council and the public was made on this issue? Members of the public do attend. Some of us work full-time as well as being elected members and it’s a lot of hassle quite frankly to book time off and so on. It is a personal inconvenience – I’m sure I’ll get over it – but what consultation took place with elected members and with the public before this decision was arrived at?

KC: “Thank you Madam Chairman and thank you Cllr Steptoe. Obviously it is not for me to dictate to any Chairman of any Committee or even to this Council as to what time they meet. The Chairman, Cllr Jacky Smith (JS), took the decision to move that meeting to 1pm. Personally, I also work full-time and I know that a number of people in this room also have young families and children so it gives them the ability to pick their children up from school. But it is ultimately up to the Chairman.

Cllr Baxter (AB): “Thank you Madam Chairman, may I ask the same question to the Chair of the Council?

JS: “Yes there were some discussions and it was agreed that we would try it to see how it went. There was quite a feeling that we ought to move the meeting People do have to go and collect children from school. It is to try to ensure that we get the maximum number of people attending the Council meeting.

(AB): “Madam Chairman, the question was “Who was consulted and when?” because I wasn’t consulted and I don’t think Cllr Steptoe was consulted either?

(Long pause)

JS: Any other questions?

Cllr Knowles (PK): Can we have an answer to the last question, please?

JS: “The question has been put and I have answered it to the best of my abilities…

(Loud mutterings of “really?” from the floor)

PK: Who was consulted, Madam Chairman?

JS: “The question has been put and I have answered it. It was discussed among a number of people and it was agreed to move the time.

There then followed a number of interventions including from Cllr Bosworth (Con) who said she supported the change of time and from last year’s Chair, Cllr Stevens Con) who begged to differ with Cllr Bosworth and suggested the whole Council should be consulted. The Chair then continued:

 JS: “It was discussed. We had quite a few comments about having it at a different time. I know the Leader of the Council was involved in the discussions and a number of other people were involved. (Cries of “Who?”) It is also the Chairman’s decision. I agreed, because there were a number of requests for it, to try it. Now we can have further discussions, we can take more soundings. There were Council members who were involved (Cries of “Who?”). I think what this is indicating that we need to do, with the leader and deputy leader, is to set up some method of having further discussions but we can’t at any time please everyone.

There then followed further comments and chaotic discussion about whether the issue should be referred to Constitution Committee, whether the Council had become an autocracy and one Councillor claimed that members were being disrespectful to the Chair.

It was then asserted that the decision to move the time of the meeting had already been discussed and decided by Full Council. This was disputed.

The Chair concluded the debate by proposing that the 1pm start would be retained for a year in order to establish the impact on attendance and then the decision should be reviewed next year.

The purpose of this post is to inform, educate and entertain. If you find this kind of post interesting, please hit the like button or share it on social media. This will give me an indication of whether such detailed feedback from Council meetings is useful. It is quite time-consuming but I have only related this particular incident because I am still so upset about the attitude and conduct of senior Conservatives in relation to the very next item on the agenda which was “Charter for Trees”. Another blogpost coming soon!

VOTE FOR THE DEEPINGS! – In the Ramblers ‘Best British Walking Neighbourhood’ awards.

The friendly Deepings has been shortlisted in the search to find Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood 2019. I hope you will vote at ramblers.org.uk/vote
The Ramblers nominated the area because of the Deepings Green Walk which was developed during the Deepings First Neighbourhood Planning process supported by Market Deeping Town Council and Deeping St James Parish Council which aims for all new developments to include “safe, accessible, attractive, linked” footpaths.

The annual award celebrates areas which create green and welcoming walkable neighbourhoods, supporting increased physical activity, as well as the health, social, economic and environmental benefits that brings to people and their communities. Last year’s winner was Hastings Old Town.

Announcing the finalists, The Ramblers recognised the local councils’ plan to create The Deepings Green Walk, a 15km circuit to link local facilities, housing and green spaces. It is a key part of The Deepings Neighbourhood Plan which all new development will be expected to support.

Mrs Pam Byrd, of the Deepings First Neighbourhood Plan group, said: “This came from the Neighbourhood Plan process, where instead of deciding where housing and industry should go, we looked at the green space and pathways first, the environment and the community, and then worked other things around that.

“I would encourage everyone to give The Deepings the best chance to win by encouraging their friends and family to get online and vote.”

Local rambler Peter Jackson said: “I’ve done walks around the Deepings and it is a beautiful place to walk around, with a lot of different environments. It’s very calm, very safe, and there are some beautiful views to be seen and paths to tread.”

The winner will be decided by an online public vote which closes on 30 June.†

The Deepings
https://www.ramblers.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/walking-neighbourhoods/britains-best-walking-neighbourhood-award/the-deepings.aspx

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – June 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 13th June 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, one of the three Independent District Councillors serving the Deepings.

Meetings Attended

23/05/2019   Council ,23/05/2019                           

The first Full Council of the new administration was relatively long-winded mainly because of an ‘argument’ over Chairs and Vice-Chairs of Committees.

The Conservatives gained 53% of the votes at Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) chose to allocate 100% of the positions of power to members of his own party. This includes not only all 9 members of the SKDC Cabinet, but also every Chair and Vice-Chair of the various regulatory and scrutiny committees. The Independents challenged this as being clearly unfair but, as it turns out, all these posts are awarded at the discretion of the Leader and there is nothing the Council can do to challenge his power except remove him from the position of Leader. This would require 29 out of 56 Councillors to vote against him. Given that almost thirty of those Councillors had just been put ‘on the payroll’, it is extremely unlikely that this would happen.

After discussion among the Independent Group I have been awarded a place on the Environment OSC, and the Governance and Audit Committees. I have also been appointed as one of two Deputy Leaders of the Group. I might also be offered a place on the Companies Committee which hasn’t yet been formal constituted.

Cllr Ian Selby (Independent, unaligned) complained again that he is discriminated against when it comes to committee purely because he doesn’t wish to join a political group (like all the rest of the Independents who have formed an ‘Independent Group’ in order to be allowed seats on Committees). In response, one of the Tory Councillors, Cllr Bob Broughton, who recently defected from the Independents, said that he sympathised with Cllr Selby’s predicament and consequently Cllr Selby was offered one of the Conservative seats on the Planning Committee which means he will now be called to nearly two meetings a month for no extra allowances.

In my own report to MDTC I neglected to mention the debate about policing, so here is an extract from Independent Cllr Virginia Moran’s written report to MDTC:

“Cllr Phil Dilks proposed a motion that the Council Leader lobby local MPs in order to try to obtain more funding for Lincolnshire Police. He quoted Police figures which showed a 69% increase in reported incidents in the Deepings wards and the reported shortfall in funding was currently £3.2m which would result in further cuts in officers. This was rebutted by Cllr Ray Wootton who announced that he had spoken to the Police Commissioner and Lincolnshire Police was to be granted a further £10m in funding. The motion was subsequently voted down by ALL Conservative members in light of this statement.  Since the meeting investigations appear to have shown that this may not be the case.”

29/05/2019   Planning Committee ,29/05/2019

I attended, as a substitute, the first planning meeting with a new Chair, Cllr Bob Adams (Con). It was quite positive and included further discussion of the outline application for bungalows on Broadgate Lane DSJ. I was the only person to vote against because most of the rest of the Committee having been persuaded that a condition to ensure the houses to the rear of the site were to be bungalows was sufficient reassurance that a detailed scheme would be acceptable.

11/06/2019 Cabinet

This was quite a short meeting. The biggest decision was to invest £200,000 in LED Street Lighting and to adopt the policy that I wrote over a year ago which commits the council to leaving streetlights on throughout the hours of darkness (unlike the Conservative County Council who turn many off when they are needed the most).

This decision has taken over two years and over 15 meetings but it’s now decided and it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Later in the meeting I asked questions firstly about the adoption of the roads, paths and open spaces on the Persimmon Estate; and secondly about the new leisure (still no more details available.

As ever, if you require any further information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – May 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 8th May 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, one of the three Independent District Councillors serving the Deepings.

Welcome to all new and returning Town and Parish Councillors in Market Deeping and West Deeping. I hope you enjoy your term of office and that, together, we will protect, improve and enhance the Deepings for all its residents and visitors.

At the count with Cllr Virginia Moran!

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the recent District Council elections, including all candidates and voters. The turnout in the Market & West Deeping ward was 33.9% – this means that only 1 in 3 people voted which is disappointing but not nearly as dismal as some wards in Grantham and Spalding where fewer than 1 in 5 people voted. Furthermore, some wards of South Kesteven had over 50 spoilt ballot papers; in Market and West Deeping ward there were only 4 spoilt papers.

I am really pleased to have topped the poll in Market & West Deeping with 1126 votes. Congratulations are also due to Cllr Broughton (Con) returned with 774 votes and Cllr Moran (Ind) elected for the first time with 766 votes. Commiserations to the other candidates for whom detailed results are available on the SKDC website.

Meetings Attended

Due to the recent elections, I have attended only one formal Council meeting during the last month. The next meeting will be Full Council on 23rd May.                                                                          

23/04/2019   Development Management Committee

The planning committee discussed some interesting applications including: a change of use of land from agricultural to a green burial site at Folkingham Farm (approved); and an outline application for the demolition of existing dwelling and erection of 4 dwellings at Broadgate Lane, Deeping St James (deferred).

I also attended some other meetings as follows:

23/04/2019 Annual Parish Meeting, Deeping St James

This event took place once again at the Deepings School. It included a musical performance by children of Linchfield School, presentations from various community groups as well as the presentation of the village’s ‘Making A Difference’ Awards by the Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, Toby Dennis.

5/5/2019   Early Morning Service at the Deepings Lakes

Churches Together in The Deepings organise this annual event which celebrates the beauty of the Deepings’ nature reserve while remembering the ‘breakfast on the beach’ episode recorded in John’s Gospel.

6/5/2019 Uffington Scarecrow Festival

The theme of this year’s festival was ‘Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales’. The whole village works together to present a great spectacle. I was particularly impressed by scarecrows of Robin Hood, Red Riding Hood (no relation) and the Loch Ness Monster.

7/5/2019  Deepings Neighbourhood Policing Forum

Although I was unable to attend the whole of this meeting, I did participate in the discussion of the funding crisis and staff shortages facing Lincolnshire Police as well as the increasing problems of anti-social behaviour in the Deepings, particularly in the vicinity of Tesco. It seems that Tesco have dispensed with their security guard and CCTV is monitored remotely from a location miles from Deepings.

The PCSO in attendance at the forum was able to report some good news e.g. regarding the arrest of suspects in connection with thefts from vehicles. However, she said the police in Deeping were limited by the lack of regular ‘intel’ from the community and urged that people continue to phone 101 with any reports of low level crime, ASB and/or suspicious behaviour.

7/5/2019 Launch of ‘Love Deepings’ and the Deeping Business Club Awards

An upbeat launch of a new community-led campaign was held at the Deeping Sports and Social Club on Towngate East drew hundreds of people who listened to details of the new initiative to promote the Deepings as a wonderful place to live, work and visit.  It was revealed that the funding allocated by Cllr Phil Dilks (Ind) and myself from our SKDC Ward Member Budgets has been invested in handy visitor maps of the Deepings as part of the ‘#LoveDeepings’ campaign.

8/5/19 Inaugural meeting of the new Independent Group of South Kesteven District Councillors

The Independent Group now consists of at least 10 Councillors and possibly more. The initial meeting was informal, friendly and positive that despite the Conservative majority at SKDC, we will be able to achieve meaning results for the people who voted Independent in their thousands.

13/5/19 Training for Members of Planning Committee

This session was attended by over 20 Councillors and was somewhat reminiscent of a Speed Awareness Course. Attendance was compulsory for anyone who wishes to participate in the deliberations of the Planning Committee either as a fully-fledged member or as an occasional or one-off substitute.

The course included an overview of the UK planning system, the process used to determine individual applications and how Councillors can assist the community in getting the best planning decisions. The slides could have included a few more pictures and the session would have benefitted from more diverse teaching methods but it was led by two former leading lights of the planning profession so it’s hard to quibble.

13/5/19 West Deeping Parish Council

I attended the APM and part of the AGM of WDPC along with Cllr Moran. It was a small but friendly gathering. The long-standing Chair of the Council retired and was presented with a token of the Council’s appreciation. It has been agreed that the role of Chair of the Council will be shared on a rotational bases by three of the Councillors.

As ever, if you require any further information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

La lucha continua, no terminara facilmente!

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward

Minutes of the May meeting of Market Deeping Council – Forty years on and ‘Plus ça change’!

I was recently given some ancient papers by a generous benefactor which include the minutes of the Market Deeping Parish Council (as it was then known) from exactly 40 years ago this month (May 1979).

At that time, the Council spent its time discussing the poor state of the roads, the overgrown verges, youths causing damage and creating a nuisance, the lack of a visible police presence, inconsiderate parking, and grants to the youth club.

Nothing at all like nowadays, eh?

Last night was the first meeting of the new Market Deeping Town Council. It is much the same as the old Market Deeping Town Council as before the election except for the two people who have retired (Thanks very much, Roy Stephenson and Colin Gamble) and the one person who has joined (Best of British to you, Brian Hembrow)!

I circulated my monthly written report before the meeting started but unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the election of Mayor (Congratulations Xan Collins) or the other exciting agenda items.

Being a Town (or Parish) Councillor is an unpaid, often thankless task and an uphill struggle. Please keep them on their toes but at the same time give them your support and the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes it can take a very long time to get stuff done!

Seriously? Are @SouthKesteven Conservatives really planning to procure services from a non-existent company?

Last year, the Conservative cabinet at South Kesteven had a good idea of designating a fund for ‘Invest-to-Save’ activities. It’s hard to argue with the principle of such an initiative especially when I have been arguing for years that the Council should invest in energy efficient lighting which typically has a financial payback of less than three years (slightly more complicated with street-lighting projects but it would still be worthwhile.

Last month, the Portfolio Holder for Finance, announced the first decision about the first ‘ project to use the ‘Invest to Save’ Reserve.

The ‘project’ decision was an amalgam of three initiatives. The first is a review of Council Financial Procedures. It is hoped it will result in efficiencies and savings (hopefully no involuntary redundancies but I always get nervous when Tories mention ‘efficiency savings’). The review will be undertaken by an external partner whom the report states has already been identified although the name of the partner is not mentioned in the report.

The second part concerns the ‘Internet of Things’. Again, the proposal is to work with an external partner but the partner has not been named.
“The initial area is to develop is intelligent street lighting across the district. The proposal is to combine an LED lamp with Internet of Things sensors. This will create saving on the power with LED and also allow proactive monitoring of use, condition and other factors such as footfall monitoring and air quality.The proposal will also see the implementation of an IoT network which can then be utilised for future initiatives.”

This sounds spectacular. At face value it could revolutionise street-lighting across the UK and possibly the world. The investment at this stage is only £10,000 which, in my experience of R&D, doesn’t usually pay for a lot of research or development. Regular readers will know that I have attended dozens of meetings about SKDC street lights and the cost of replacing or adapting all 3,000 of them to LED is likely to be over £300,000 so I’m fascinated to know what the anonymous partner is offering the council for £10,000. I suspect it might be non-existent technology but I am genuinely trying to curb my cynicism so let’s wait and see.

The third and final part of the report concerns advertising and sponsorship. It begins: “South Kesteven District Council has worked with Publitas Consulting to complete an audit of advertising income received by the Council and the potential extent of opportunity within the local market”.

It goes on to recommend that we spend a further £40,000 with Publitas Consulting to manage a procurement process on our behalf to generate additional advertising revenue.

I have a few problems with this proposal. The main one being that Publitas Consulting does not exist! A simple check of Companies House website reveals that there used to be an organisation called Publitas Consulting LLP but it was dissolved three years ago.

Looking for more evidence of Publitas Consulting I discovered a website consisting of a single page with a backdrop of a River Thames skyscape but no address or contact details other than a mobile phone number. I phoned the mobile number for more information and was greeted by an answerphone message stating I could leave messages for Swedish Interior Design Ltd and also Publitas Consulting. Now, to give them the benefit of the doubt, we’re all busy people and lots of us have roles in more than one organisation. Publitas Consulting might be the best in the business for income generation and just want to keep a low-profile but surely, if a Local Authority wants to spend money with an external partner company, then it is basic due diligence to make sure the company exists!

The decision was originally planned for 9th April 2019. Before then I did ask for more details from the relevant Portfolio Holder but I received no reply. When the decision was delayed I was hopeful that someone had looked a bit more closely at the credentials of Publitas. Unfortunately, the Decision was taken a few days later and consequently I have asked for it to be ‘Called In’. This should mean that a special meeting of the Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be called and the details of the three sub-projects will be looked at properly.

A ‘call-in’ request requires five Councillors to agree that the decision needs more scrutiny. This is one of the reasons we need more Independent and opposition Councillors. A massive majority for the Conservatives (or any other party) is not good for democracy and accountability.