“A happy ending to an untidy story!” – South Kesteven finally gets serious about trees.

A year ago, in October 2018, a group of workmen arrived unexpectedly at the Deepings Leisure Centre to cut down the mature tree which had dominated the car park since the centre was built.

Neither the Leisure Centre staff nor the staff of the Deepings School which shares the car park had been made aware that the tree had been condemned and neither had any of the ward councillors. As a frequent visitor to the leisure centre (and its car park) I was dismayed that what seemed likely a healthy tree had been destroyed.

This is part of the reason why, on 10th June, I wrote to the Chair of SKDC’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee asking that the topic of “Tree Stategy” be added to the workplan of that committee. When the draft workplan was published without any reference to trees, I wrote to the Chief Executive tabling a motion to Full Council that SKDC should develop a tree strategy to protect, improve and enhance the number and quality of trees in the District adopt the Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees.

During the debate it became clear that the Tories couldn’t stomach the idea that an Independent might successfully propose such an initiative and sure enough not a single Tory voted in favour of it (although 8 were brave enough to abstain).

A few days after the meeting, the relevant Portfolio Holder, Cllr Peter Moseley (Con), appeared in the Stamford Mercury holding a copy of the Woodland Trust Charter which he and his colleagues had voted against.

Fast forward a few months and we skip to the good bit…

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SOUTH KESTEVEN BEST KEPT VILLAGE COMPETITION 2019

Cllr Andrew Bowell

I am pleased to announce that Deeping St James is the winner of South Kesteven Best Kept Community Award for 2019.

Organised by The Lincolnshire Branch CPRE, the competition is judged by volunteer judges.

The Judges visited the village twice, without any announcement, and on each occasion had a maximum of 150 points available to award across the following criteria:-

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• Overall appearance and condition – Absence of litter, unauthorised / unsightly refuse, absence of graffiti / vandalism, dumps on verges, general condition of roads and paths.
• Green Spaces – Provision for wildlife (such as bird boxes / feeders, bat boxes) and wildflowers. The general appearance of public greens, trees, ponds, streams, dykes, parks, nature areas, hedges, gardens, and allotments, as well as the condition of footpaths, stiles, field gates, signposting and children’s play areas.
• Public Premises – The condition of town halls, community centres, public halls…

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£5,000 for a “Future Visioning Programme” turns out to be a waste of money!

On 17th July, it was announced that the SKDC Chief Executive, Aidan Rave, was leaving the council to ‘pursue new ventures’. According to the blurb, Aidan had been with the council for two years and steered the authority through a period of significant change. Like so many other senior officers at Lincolnshire councils he was helped on his way with a financial settlement. The value of the golden handshake has not been revealed but, according to the Stamford Mercury, a cabinet member believed there was an ‘amicable settlement’ of around £75,000.

It is abundantly clear that Aidan didn’t spontaneously volunteer to ‘pursue new ventures’. We know this because just 8 months earlier he was participating in a ‘Future Visioning Programme’ which involved travel to Boston… I don’t mean Boston, Lincolnshire, I mean the other Boston in the USA.

The cost of the return flight to Boston was over £1,000. The cost of the course, which included 12 days of workshops or training, was a further £3,900. When the additional accommodation and mileage is added in, it can be shown that the total cost of this ‘Future Visioning’ was over £5,000.

I think it’s great that a local authority is prepared to invest in the personal development of its staff and it’s not uncommon. Back in the ’90s, as a relatively junior member of staff I was sponsored by my local authority employer to study an MSc. At the time, my study was subject to ‘golden handcuffs’ meaning that if I left local government within a specified period I would have to pay back some or all of the costs of my training.

Given the stories in the Grantham Journal that Aidan Rave’s sudden departure was due to a “clash of personalities” and a “big row” between him and the then leader of the council, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con), somehow I doubt if anyone will have asked Mr Rave for a refund.

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – October 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council  9th October 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Meetings Attended (and Not Attended!)

17/09/2019   Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee  

This was a meeting where we discussed the Council’s approach to Climate Change. I had already proposed a Climate Emergency motion to Full Council (see below) but Cllr Peter Moseley (Con) also proposed a similar idea. The OSC discussed the idea of setting up a ‘Task and Finish’ group on Climate Change. This is definitely a different forum to the ongoing secret workshops on climate change commissioned by the previous OSC meeting. It will have 6 Councillors, 5 Officers and, at my suggestion, 1 external expert to offer an alternative perspective.

At this meeting we also discussed and (almost) agreed a new protocol for informing District Councillors about trees in their respective wards. This should mean that we should at least be made aware of imminent felling of trees by the Council even if we might not be able to save them.

The Committee also proposed to recommend to Cabinet that SKDC adopts the Woodland Trust’s Local Authority Tree Charter. If this sounds familiar it is because it is very, very similar to the Woodland Trust’s other tree charter which most Conservative Councillors voted against when I presented it to Full Council a few months ago. Happily, we have now reached an acceptable form of words and, because it is now a Tory idea, we should be signed up very soon.

The OSC also discussed progress on some other issues including the Food Waste Collection pilot scheme which has apparently been applauded by DEFRA for its excellent participation rate although they haven’t yet gone so far as to offer the additional funding required to roll it out across the district, let alone the county or country.

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South Kesteven is recruiting a Climate Change Officer!

South Kesteven District Council is recruiting a Sustainability and Climate Change Officer to assist the authority in tackling Climate Change! The deadline for applications to this exciting job is 14th October 2019.

Who can hold back the tide in Market Deeping, Bourne, Stamford and Grantham?

The recruitment of this Officer is a direct result of the Council’s declaration of ‘Climate Emergency’ following a debate last month’s Full Council. I originally put the issue on the council agenda as a motion (submitted immediately after the previous Full Council meeting). However, in the intervening months, Cllr Peter Moseley (Con) presented a Climate Emergency report to Cabinet which also appeared on the agenda of Full Council. Cllr Moseley’s proposal included the establishment of a ‘Task and Finish Group’ to investigate how SKDC can address issues of Climate Change.

Our two separate proposals differed in terms of specific objectives and targets but happily I was able to meet with Cllr Moseley to discuss the differences between our two Climate Emergency proposals and to try and find a middle-ground.

It was agreed that I should propose an amendment to Cllr Moseley’s proposal which would include three key points:

  • Establish environmental performance indicators
  • Set a target of achieving ‘net zero’ emissions for the Council as early as possible before 2050
  • Set a target of reducing emissions from the Council by 30% by 2030.

We each took the draft compromise amendment to our respective Party groups and the proposal and the amendment were discussed by Council on 29th September.

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Trouble in paradise… Matthew Lee makes a resignation statement as outgoing leader of SKDC.

The dream team in happier days! Cllr Matthew Lee, Mr Aidan Rave and Cllr Kelham Cooke.

Loyal readers will remember that I posted a couple of months ago speculating as to the reasons for the sudden resignation of Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) as Leader of the SK Conservative group, and therefore as Leader of the whole Council.

At last Thursday’s Full Council meeting, Matthew had an opportunity to explain the reasons for his departure. Standing orders were suspended in order to allow him to deliver a ten-minute farewell speech (although he still continues as a Councillor on the backbenches – the Tories wouldn’t want to risk a by-election in his ward!).

There appeared to be no mention of the recent departure of the Chief Executive, nor the departure of the Council’s Monitoring Officer last November nor any mention of any health issues which colleagues had cited in the media as potential reasons for the resignation. In fact, the first seven minutes were devoted to celebrating the highlights of Cllr Lee’s two years at the top and how brilliantly he has been managing the ongoing projects and challenges that it faces. However, anyone hoping to understand why Cllr Lee chose to pack it all in so suddenly was only offered these next few lines:

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Finally, the site for Deepings’ new Leisure Centre has been announced!

South Kesteven District Council has unveiled the exisiting playing fields at Deepings School as the preferred site for a new leisure centre. The site is already the home of Deepings Rugby Club, Deeping United FC, the Deepings Rotary 10k and is used for a number of other competitive sports activities. In just two years time, it might also be home to a brand new swimming pool, all weather pitches and everything else one might expect of a modern ‘wet and dry’ leisure centre.

Deepings School Fields
Sunset over the Deepings School Fields.

As you may have read, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) announced in October 2017, and several times since then, that SKDC is planning to build a new Leisure Centre for the Deepings. This will replace the existing Leisure Centre which is well passed its sell by date and is literally falling apart at the seams with water often literally leaking through the roof above the pool area after heavy rainfall.

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Report to Market Deeping Town Council – September 2019

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 sensible appointment.

Nineteen days 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 helm.

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.

Meetings Attended

Since the July meeting of MDTC, I have attended a few formal Council meetings.

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Notes from the secret ‘informal’ South Kesteven Climate Change workshop

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

Climate Change Informal Workshop
30 July 2019 – Room 6
10:00am – 12:40pm

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InvestSK – Generously investing your money to good causes!

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.

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