Another year of fantasy budgeting for South Kesteven…

Last Tuesday’s meeting of the Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee (let’s call it FEDex for short) reviewed the Q3 Financial out-turn report for South Kesteven.

Around two years ago, I was arguing at Full Council that the budget proposals being presented by Cllr Adam Stokes (Con) on behalf of the ‘new’ Tory Cabinet led by Cllr Matthew Lee (Con). I stated at the time that they were over-ambitious and unachievable. They included, for example,

Another ‘saving’ of £30,000 was predicted from corporate consultancy. This was not acheived either.

  • A forecast of £250,000 additional income from car parks even though a planned increase in tariffs was abandoned. Surprise, surprise, the income never materialised.
  • Another ‘saving’ of £30,000 was predicted from corporate consultancy. This was not acheived either.
  • Cllr Cooke (Deputy Leader at the time) had his name against a raft of measures including £50,000 anticipated savings in utilties expenditure. The following year’s out-turn report admintted that these savings were never deliverable.
  • Cllr Cooke also had responsibility for £150,000 recurrent annual savings from ‘delivery of 3 specific shared service opportunities at £50,000 each. At the end of the year it was admitted that additional opportunities to share had been discounted resulting in the income target not being met.

The list continues of unmet targets for 2018-19 continues but this blogpost is about the unmet targets for 2019-20. Surely this year, some lessons would have been learned?

Sadly, the most recent meeting of the FEDetc Committee received a report showing an awful lot of variance between what was forecast and what has been delivered.

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Tories put Party tribalism ahead of environmental action.

Before last May’s election, lots of recent converts to the Conservative Party made assurances that they would respond to individual issues on the own merits and they would not be afraid to vote against the party. Sadly, there is very little evidence of any of this maverick attitude within the council chamber.

Despite declaring a ‘Climate Emergency’ last year, Conservative leaders at South Kesteven recently imposed a whip on their councillors in order to reject a charity textiles bank initiative because it was not their idea. The decision was clearly party political.

The following SKDC councillors voted in favour of textiles recycling banks.

Baxter (Ind)Hansen (Ind)Morgan (Lab)
Bisnauthsing (L/D)Kelly (Ind)Steptoe (Lab)
Clack (Lab)Knowles (Ind)Wheeler (L/D)
Dilks (Ind)Milnes (Ind)Wood (Ind)
Fellows (Ind)Moran (Ind)Total: 14

The following SKDC councillors voted against textile recycling banks:

Benn (Con)Johnson (Con)Stokes Jnr (Con)
Bosworth (Con)Lee (Con)Thomas (Con)
Cooke (Con)Manterfield (Con)Trollope-Bellew (Con)
Crawford (Con)Mason (Con)Westropp Snr (Con)
Dawson (Con)Reid (Con)Whittington (Con)
Dobson (Con)Jacky Smith (Con)L Wootten (Con)
Exton (Con)Judy Smith (Con)R Wootten (Con)
Griffin (Con)Stevens (Con)Total: 23
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DeliverSK: Joint venture idea fails to deliver for South Kesteven.

Eighteen months ago, South Kesteven organised a meeting in the middle of the summer holidays to discuss the Conservative’s latest bright idea, namely “DeliverSK”. Despite scepticism and reservations from me and other opposition members, it was decreed that DeliverSK would be essential to delivering investment opportunities for the council. In a nutshell, the council would enter into a strategic partnership with an investment company and then form subsidiary companies, aka Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), for each of the council’s bold ambitions. These might include LeisureSK, HomesSK, OfficeSpaceSK, EmptyTheBinsSK etc.

When I say that the opposition offered scepticism and reservations, I am not being fair to myself. What we actually brought was scrutiny and constructive criticism. I literally prepared 20 questions which were circulated prior to the meeting and effectively became the agenda when the committee met. The questions were along the lines of “What is DeliverSK?”, “How will it work?”, “Is it legal?” etc.

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SKDC Tories throw out textiles proposal

On Thursday 30th January, the Conservatives once again showed their true, narrow-minded, partisan colours by following the party whip to reject a modest proposal to improve recycling in South Kesteven. It’s pathetic that despite their empty rhetoric about putting politics aside, and caring about the Climate Emergency, South Kesteven Tories couldn’t bring themselves to support an opposition motion aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

Clothes recycling containers at Rushmere shopping centre, Craigavon, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland (wikimedia.org) [w800]

I had submitted a motion to the Full Council meeting suggesting that charitable organisations be given permission to put just four textile recycling banks on Council-owned sites across the District. This would generate a financial income for the council and the charity, it would give people additional places to donate old clothes and shoes to charity and it would reduce contamination in the silver wheelie bins (currently around 30%).

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Never mind inner cities, the decline of the high street is obvious in Tory heartlands like historic Spalding.

Never mind inner cities and the red-belt towns of the North, the decline of the high street is obvious even in Tory heartlands like historic Spalding. For all the ‘shop local’ campaigns, it is clear that the Tories are losing the battle to maintain town centres in traditionally Tory towns including Spalding and Grantham. I spent Sunday afternoon in Spalding and the number of boarded up properties and ‘to let’ signs’ was quite depressing.

The first was the black swan pub on New Road. It doesn’t look particularly salubrious and will have suffered stiff competition from the Wetherspoon’s that has opened just a few doors down. Pubs in England are still closing at an alarming rate due to a number of factors including high tax, high business rates, oppressive brewery chains and cheap supermarket alcohol. Who can afford to go out for a pint on a regular basis when a pint costs almost £5, and the same pint at home costs less than £2?

Driving past the edge-of-town supermarkets and back to Spalding Town Centre, I parked outside the old Johnson hospital immediately opposite the South Holland Council Offices. This Listed building was closed about 10 years ago and is now an eyesore with graffiti, boarded windows and lamps being stolen from right outside. The site is apparently owned by a company based in the British Virgin Islands who also own the former sorting office in Spalding which is in a similar state of disrepair.

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How voters changes in the 2019 General Election

What an excellent infographic!

News and political views

This graphic says a lot, but you have to know a bit to realise that losing 9 out of 41 voters, like Labour did, – or a 4.5% swing away – is towards an upper limit of what happens between General Elections.
It also doesn’t show explicitly enough what the non-voting number actually is; and completely misses how many people are not registered.
But perhaps Labour members are already forgetting.

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Report to Market Deeping Town Council – January 2020

Report to MDTC Full Council  15th January 2020
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Happy New Year to all Town and Parish Councillors, residents of the Deepings anyone else who is takin the time to read this. I hope your 2020 is splendid!

Climate Emergency

Regular readers will know that the Council (SKDC) declared a climate emergency in September 2019. SKDC has now appointed a Climate Change Officer and have also begun a set of ‘Task and Finish’ workshops and engaged the Carbon Trust to assist with compiling baseline data to ensure a meaningful Action Plan is delivered.

Saturday Market

The market which was launched with much fanfare by InvestSK at Easter last year has struggled against inclement weather and lack of budget which has led to a spiral of decline with few stalls leading to few customers and vice versa. The last stall threw in the towel just before Christmas (and hats off to the Brown Bread stall for sticking it out for so long) and, in light of the lack of any traders, SKDC have decided to cease trading until later this year. It is not clear whether the Spring will bring a revived Saturday market or a relocation of the ongoing Wednesday market, or neither, or both.

Deeping Shorts – Film Festival

The Open Door Baptist Church is hosting ‘Deeping Shorts’ – a short festival of short films – on the first four Saturday evenings in February. It has been organised in association with the help and support of InvestSK/SKDC and will make use of the cinema screen originally purchased for the Deepings Arts Group. The films have been collated from 17 different countries and include a range of comedies, animations and thought provoking works. Many have won awards. Tickets are £5 from Stamford Arts Centre or at ODBC on the night. Here’s an excerpt from one of the films…

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Report to Market Deeping Town Council – December 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council  11th December 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Christmas Market

Undoubtedly the highlight of the month. This year’s Market Deeping Christmas Market was the best ever. I was pleased to be involved, once again, in organising the entertainments. It was a bit scary to find, at 10am, that the stage hadn’t arrived but some nifty reversing by the driver meant the show could go on with just a couple of amendments to the schedule.  I was also delighted to be involved in planning the ‘pop-up nativity’ which integrated the traditional stories of Christmas with the town’s traditional celebration of Christmas.

Meetings Attended!

19/11/2019   Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee

A distinct feeling of déjà vu at this meeting when, yet again, the report of performance indicators were criticised for being presented without any context.

I really don’t understand the problem as I have been able to find the historic data relating to each of the KPIs. Here is a graph showing the increase in the numbers of households in temporary accommodation (aka homeless) in South Kesteven.

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The Deepings ‘Special Expense Area’ – £16,000 a year for inaccessible fields and a dangerous all-weather pitch!

This week’s news that the all weather sports facility at Deepings School has finally been condemned is the latest in a long-line of reduced services and broken promises by the District and County Councils.

The AWP (All Weather Pitches) commonly known as the ‘astroturf’ are part of the sports fields at the Deepings School. The fields are supposed to be a community facility but they have been turned into a cash cow for a private company (1Life) who care little about their upkeep. Worse still, the maintenance of the fields is paid for almost exclusively by residents of the Deepings who are no longer able to freely use the facilities.

Deepings All Weather Pitch

What is the Deepings Special Expense Area?

The Deepings SEA is an out-of-date tax levied only on residents of Market Deeping and Deeping St James. It is only about £3 per household each year which equates to a total revenue of about £16,000. This money can only be spent on grounds maintenance on the fields North of Spalding Road commonly known as ‘the school fields’ or ‘the rugby club’.

Over several years I have been complaining about the injustice of the Deepings SEA and this year I managed to get it on the agenda of the SKDC Finance Committee and the Cabinet Member is currently consulting Ward Members (including me) for views on it’s future. I have responded to say it should be abolished.

Who do the fields belong to?

The ownership of the field is split between Lincolnshire County Council and Deepings St James Parish Council.  The land, including the Astroturf, is supposed to be maintained by South Kesteven District Council.

Who controls the fields?

Access to the grass fields, the astroturf and the outdoor changing rooms is controlled by 1Life who currently hold the contract for managing the Deepings Leisure Centre. The contract, which has been held by 1Life for 10 years, is due to expire early next year.

1Life manage public bookings of the fields and the astroturf and they keep all the revenue.

Who uses the fields?

The fields used to be freely accessible to everyone.  About five years ago, the Deepings School put up a six foot fence around the perimeter of the fields which effectively prohibited any informal or unauthorised use of the grass fields or the AWP.

The Deepings School uses the fields for PE lessons and sports clubs.  The Deepings Rugby Club are allowed free use of the rugby fields in the North corner of the site.  Various other sports clubs including Bourne Deeping Hockey Club and Deepings Rangers have pay for use of the field and the AWP.

In the last 3 years, Deepings United Football Club has made increasing use of the AWP and the playing fields. DUFC is a real success story for promoting physical wellbeing among young people. From a standing start, the club now operates training for 270 people, mostly youngsters and have formed 8 competitive football teams.  Last year, the Deepings United paid over £5,000 to 1Life for pitch booking fees.  None of this money went back to either the SKDC or the school.  The additional management costs of the extra bookings were minimal, i.e. it is almost all unearned profit for 1Life.

What’s wrong with the All Weather Pitch?

If properly maintained, the facility has a shelf-life of around 20 years.  The Deepings facility has been in a shocking state for many years.  At a Deepings Local Forum meeting in 2010, Councillors were told that repairs were proposed for August that year which were “above and beyond patching and should prolong the life of the pitch for a further five years”.  That was nearly ten years ago and so it is not surprising that the pitch has now deteriorated even further to the point that it is a dangerous surface on which to play sport.  I don’t mean dangerous in the ‘nanny-state health and safety gone mad’ sense of the word, rather I mean that it is proper dangerous.  The Bourne Deeping hockey club gave up using it for competitive matches and adult training years ago after a number of incidents including a couple that involved the air ambulance.  They now reluctantly have to play and train in Peterborough and their Chairman has lobbied the Council for better facilities.  More recently, young footballers have been injured not just by the uneven playing surface but by a collapsing fence.

Did Councillors know about the problems with the All Weather Pitch?

Most Councillors are well aware of the issues with the AWP because, apart from anything else, Mr Peter Moisey of Bourne Deeping Hockey Club asked a question about it at the Full Council meeting in January of this year. His question included the following comments:

Having failed to oversee that those responsible ensure maintenance of the facility at Deepings Leisure Centre, its continual neglect and under investment has rendered the pitch condemned as to use for anything other than the basic of standards.

“As a result the decline of Bourne Hockey Club est 1926 and Deeping Hockey Club left them with no alternative but to merge. Now our club with 6 men’s teams, 3 ladies’ teams and a thriving junior section proudly representing Bourne and the Deepings has no alternative but to train and play its matches at AMVC in Cambridgeshire.

“Is it not time that the council seriously met the needs of its residents in the south of the county in provision of suitable playing surface along with the much required complimentary facilities to support the keenly followed sport of hockey in this area?”

But in these times of austerity, can we afford to fix it?

The cost of repairing or replacing the existing AWP would be about £200,000 which does sound like a lot of money.  However, until recently the pitch was booked frequently at a cost of £53 per booking.

Let’s assume that it was used 44 weeks each year (to allow for 8 weeks for holidays and inclement weather), and 20 hours each week with a booking fee of £50 per session. This would generate a revenue of £44,000.  Admittedly, some of this would need to be spent on minor repairs and staff but there should still be a healthy surplus to plough back into repairs and replacement of the equipment.

Add to this, the additional revenue which should accrue from the school which, as an academy, is a privately-run entity which, in the absence of a lease, has no more access to the fields than any other organisation.  I can confirm that there is no lease between the Deepings School and the landowners.  In 2012, the school claimed that a lease was an essential requirement for a transition to academy status yet, eight years on, no such lease has been signed.  This is apparently due to the lethargy of the County Council’s legal department.

What’s the solution?

In 2017, the incoming Leader of SKDC, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) promised a new Leisure Centre for the Deepings. Over two years later and we have only just identified the school fields as the preferred site. In the New Year we expect to have a consultation about some feasibility works which have been carried out.  I would expect the rest of the consultation, design and planning process will take at least a year and the building process will take another year more.  We can only hope that the new facility will be as brilliant as the posters claim

What have local Councillors done?

The Independent Councillors for the Deepings, i.e. Cllr Virginia Moran, Cllr Phil Dilks and myself have all been active in asking questions formally and informally at almost every meeting of Full Council and several times at Cabinet about the existing and proposed facilities for the Deepings.

Personally, I have been interested in the AWP for more than 10 years as my wife and children all used to play hockey on it.  More recently, I have been lobbying on behalf of the hockey club, the Deepings Swimming Club and Deepings United FC regarding the high charges and poor condition of the indoor and outdoor facilities. I have organised meetings between representatives of these clubs with relevant SKDC staff (DRUFC were invited but couldn’t make the dates).

On the Conservative leaflet for Deepings St James published prior to the election in May, one of the candidates claimed to be “working with SKDC, LCC and other stakeholders towards improving the all-weather sports facilities in Deeping St James”.  I did ask for specific details at the time but none were forthcoming. Since then, to the best of my knowledge, none of the Conservatives in the Deepings have asked any formal questions about sports facilities in the Deepings.

When all said and done it appears that, until now, the Conservative-run Council have failed to adequate plans for new facilities, failed to maintain the old facilities and failed to work in partnership with other councils and stakeholders to meet the needs of residents and sports team. The Deepings deserves better.

Deeping St James Parish Council Meeting – 28th November 2019 — Cllr Andrew Bowell

A delegation from Deepings Rotary spoke in the Open Forum in support of a grant application that had been submitted to help with funding the Annual Christmas Concert featuring The Grimesthorpe Colliery Band. This is a popular event in the local calendar, but increasing costs make it difficult to keep the ticket prices at a […]

Deeping St James Parish Council Meeting – 28th November 2019 — Cllr Andrew Bowell