Report to MDTC Full Council 11th September 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.
Greetings to all Town Councillors! I
hope you enjoyed your summer break. Here are some SKDC highlights from the
summer of 2019…
Resignations and Appointments
In July, the SKDC Chief Executive,
Aidan Rave, resigned from his post “to pursue new ventures”. Sources told the Grantham
Journal that there was a “clash of personalities” between him and
leader of the council, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) which led to a “big row”.
The Council has
appointed Paul Thomas as an interim Chief Executive. Mr Thomas has been with
the Council for several years and, for what it’s worth, I think he is a
later, Cllr Matthew Lee resigned himself as Leader of the Conservatives and de
facto Leader of the Council. He did not publish any statement so we
can only speculate why he threw in the towel after just two years at the
Conservatives met on 2nd September to elect a new leader. Deputy Council
Leader Kelham Cooke competed with former Council Leader Bob Adams for the ‘honour’
and Cllr Cooke won the day. He is now almost certain to be formally elected as
Leader of the Council later this month. He has promised a new
more collaborative approach which would be most welcome.
Since the July meeting of MDTC, I have attended a few formal Council meetings.
The minutes of the formal SKDC Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee of 18th June, 2019 record that: “it was suggested that perhaps a series of workshops be held to gather evidence and explore what direction the Committee wished to take, what priorities they wanted to take forward.”
“Some Members felt that workshops should be open. Caution was stressed in relation to having open workshops as this could stifle debate as Members may feel unable to express all their opinions.”
In my opinion, one of the most important roles of an elected District Councillor is to express your opinions and those of the people you represent. Unfortunately, the Conservatives appear to hold a different view which is reflected at almost every Full Council meeting where backbench Tories rarely speak except to sycophantically applaud their front-bench colleagues.
The so-called ‘informal workshop’ took place at the end of July and supposedly does not form part of the Council’s decision-making process. Councillors who do not serve on the Environment OSC were not invited to the meeting (except perhaps the portfolio-holder Cllr Moseley (Con)). The details of the meeting were not published and members of the public were not allowed in. The notes will not be presented to the forthcoming 17th September meeting of the Environment OSC so I am sharing them here instead. The notes below are exactly as circulated to Committee Members except for the bits I have added in italics and parenthesis. NB These are the notes circulated by the Council. They do not exactly match my own recollection of the meeting but I have not commented on the accuracy because I was at the end of a skype-line which was not 100% reliable
Earlier this year, South Kesteven District Council handed over funding of over £1.3million to its wholly-owned subsidiary company, InvestSK Ltd. You might be wondering what this money is being spent on. If so, you are not alone. There is currently no formal mechanism for interrogating the company’s expenditure other than submitting lots of Freedom of Information requests or waiting for its Year End accounts.
The original plan was that InvestSK activities and spending would be scrutinised by a ‘Companies Committee’ formed of Councillors. Unfortunately, almost two years after the creation of InvestSK Ltd, this Committee has not yet been constituted or established by the Council.
Despite the boasts of high recycling rates on Conservative election leaflets, recycling rates in Lincolnshire have plummeted since 2010 according to national recycling league tables.
In the County of Lincolnshire, the total rate of waste diverted from landfill has fallen every year for seven years from 53% in 2010 to 43% in 2018. The rate in South Kesteven has fallen every year resulting in a similar 10% reduction in overall rates which includes recycling through the silver and green bins.
The figure for 2017/18 has not yet been formally published but information data published by SKDC under a freedom of information request suggests that the percentage has now fallen to significantly below 40% (38.57% to be precise).
The main cause of the falling rates is the Conservative austerity measures which have had a massive impact on Council funding especially at Lincolnshire where local Tories decided to withdraw Recycling Credits which removed the incentive for many organisations to recycle.
In the Open Forum it was reported that SKDC Culture Committee is working at opening up the festivals held in the four towns to a wider audience. Also SKDC continues to hold a healthy level of reserves of £28 million as at 31 March 2019, for the General Fund. Within this figure is a specific allocation of £1.5 million to deal with any unforeseen fluctuations in annual expenditure. In terms of the annual accounts audit inspection, the council received a positive opinion for the last financial year, and fully expect a positive value for money opinion to be presented to the next Governance and Audit Committee meeting on 25 September.
Following the heavy storms and recent flooding members were pleased to be told that local flood defences are designed to protect the area for the next 100 years.
After many months of hard work a “Four Year Strategic Plan,” was…
Recycling efforts in South Kesteven are being undermined by increasing levels of contamination of the weekly silver bin recycling system. Recently released figures reveal that, since 2016, contamination rates have gradually increased from 20% to over 30% meaning that almost a third of so-called ‘recycling’ ends up in landfill.
There are a number of factors causing the contamination including:
A few days before the SKDC Full Council meeting of 25th July, I heard rumours that the knives were out for the Leader of the Council, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con). On the day it seemed that Cllr Lee had survived the alleged insurgency and all of the Conservatives were extremely well-behaved. In fact, I don’t think a single Conservative, other than Cabinet Members made any comment or question during the meeting except in response to specific questions[i].
However, just 10 days after the meeting it was announced ‘out
of the blue’ that Cllr Lee had resigned
as Leader of the Council. Independent
Councillors received no notification, let alone explanation, from Cllr Lee
himself but opposition group leaders received a cursory note from the Deputy
Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) as follows:
“I am writing to you today to inform you that Matthew has resigned with immediate effect as Leader of the Conservative Group. As per the Conservative Group Constitution, I am now Acting Group Leader…”[ii]
Here are some of the reasons why Cllr Lee might have chosen to resign. They are pure speculation on my part but in the absence of any detailed explanation from either the Council, the Conservative Group or Cllr Lee himself, it’s the best I can offer.
Regular readers will know that I have previously been critical of the Council circumventing proper recruitment procedures by shoulder-tapping individuals and handing them jobs without formal advertising or competitive interview.
I am pleased to confirm that the recent appointment of a position of “Strategic Communications and Policy Lead (Housing)” was recruited by a formal process. Remuneration for the post is £54,468 per annum (pro rata) with excellent benefits .
The initial staff requisition was signed off by the relevant
Cabinet Member for Housing who was subsequently defeated in the District
Council elections in May.
The role was advertised on three external jobs websites as well as the Council’s own website. The advert was first published in the public domain on Friday 12th April and the closing date for applications was Tuesday 23rd April which allowed a full seven working days for people to apply for the position (assuming they found it within the timescale which fell amid the season of election campaigning).
Given the level of remuneration (over £50k plus benefits), it is perhaps surprising that only two people applied for the role and only one was shortlisted for interview.
By contrast, a recent recruitment for a ‘Head of Leisure’ at SKDC attracted nearly 20 applications although this was via a recruitment consultancy and the post was advertised for almost a month.
Nevertheless, congratulations are due to the successful applicant who has previous experience of working in the Communications Team at South Kesteven albeit as an external consultant with Emulus Communications Ltd. Small world though, innit!?