That’s the way the money goes…
And this graph shows where it goes in South Kesteven:
That’s the way the money goes…
And this graph shows where it goes in South Kesteven:
Not very long ago, one of my constituents had her green bin refused because it had an onion in it and I had to go and investigate why.
After speaking to SKDC, then LCC, then the recycling plant at Langar, I finally got a clear answer from WRAP.
To save your phone bill and all the tedium of doing this yourself, I’ll tell you that, in the eyes of the Food Hygiene industry, anything that has been into a kitchen could theoretically have been in contact with a chopping board or knife infected by rotten meat or E-coli or whatever. As no-one can tell whether a particular apple has visited a kitchen we have to assume they are all dangerous.
It sounds ridiculous but it is the law and, like any organisation, South Kesteven always has to abide by the law.
The best thing to do with uncooked fruit is to put it on your compost heap.
Regular readers will have seen recent revelations relating to my research of remuneration, recruitment and redundancy at South Kesteven District Council (SKDC).
It came as no surprise that last week the Council announced the appointment of Steve Bowyer as CEO of the newly incorporated InvestSK Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of SKDC. Once again the appointment has been made by the Leader, Cllr Matthew Lee, and the Chief Exec of SKDC, without any attempt to advertise the post or undertake any kind of competitive interview process.
InvestSK is an imitation of Opportunity Peterborough which is the long established economic development arm of Peterborough City Council. It is argued that a free-standing company can have more impact on potential investors and employers than a department of the Council. Since last year’s coup d’etat within the SKDC Tory group, the Council has been paying Opportunity Peterborough over £200,000 for vaguely defined consultancy services. Now that the consultants have their feet under the table, a decision has been made to poach their Chief Executive, Steve Bowyer. He will paid a salary ‘commensurate with the role’ which we can assume is well over £100,000 (I have requested the actual figure but I’ve been informed the information is exempt from publication under FoI).
Like so many other recent recruitments, Mr Bowyer is a former colleague of Cllr Lee who was a Director of Opportunity Peterborough from 2010 to 2013. Mr Bowyer does not live in Peterborough or South Kesteven but I am informed that Grantham is closer to his Leicestershire home. Continue reading
A resident of Market Deeping recently got in touch with me about the tree in a neighbouring property. He told me it was very tall and was worried out the potential impact on his house if it continued growing or, perhaps worse still, if it fell down.
This post outlines what advice I offered and I share it in the hope that it might be useful to people with tree concerns either in Market and West Deeping or elsewhere.
I’ve started by looking for the tree on Google Maps to try to identify at which property it was located. By knowing the exact location of the tree I could try and work out who had responsibility for the tree.
The location also helped me to determine whether or not the tree was subject to TPO (Tree Preservation Order) and whether or not it was in a Conservation Area. All works to trees with TPOs and/or in Conservation Areas has to have prior consent from the planning authority (in our case, SKDC). If anyone decides to do works to a tree it is worth double-checking this information so that no-one ends up getting fined.
Having established the identity of the tree and the likely owner, and if you are worried that the tree might be a danger to your house there are various things you can do:
Pollarding a tree is one of those jobs that easily gets put off. He/she might be in just as much danger as you are and a friendly word of concern from you might be the prompt they need to take action. This doesn’t have to be a confrontation and obviously I have no idea what kind of relationship you have with this neighbour, if any.
Some of my own neighbours once spoke to me about a tree in my own garden. It kept growing without me noticing. The first time I cut it down to half its size and the second or third time I had it removed completely. It wasn’t a very precious tree and I valued the good will of my neighbours more than I valued the tree.
In the right conditions, trees can last for hundreds of years. Is there a particular reason why you think all or part of this tree is likely to be is in danger of falling or breaking? A professional tree expert (arboriculturalist) will give you guidance on the health and condition of the tree and how likely it is to fall. I can put you in touch with an arboriculturalist who lives in my ward but there are two potential drawbacks to this approach: a) she might charge; and b) she might need access to the base of the tree.
Perhaps you might persuade your neighbour that the tree should be inspected.
If your neighbour isn’t convinced by a friendly chat they might be more persuaded by the idea that they could be responsible for the costs of damage to your property (and indeed their own). The likelihood of the tree falling down in a storm is only one aspect. There may be other reasons why your insurance is affected e.g. by root damage to foundations, drainage and water courses.
I have put this option last because I think it is the least likely to have any effect. The Council’s tree consultant tends to spend his limited time protecting trees from damage and development. If there was reason to believe the tree was an immediate or imminent danger to life or property then the Council might intervene but I have only heard of this happening once and that was a rotten oak in a school field near Nottingham.
If there are branches of the tree that overhang your property I think you have some rights to trim them back as far as your own perimeter (assuming there is no issue with TPO or Conservation Area) but it is worth trying to speak to your neighbour about it first.
Finally, I would say that, generally speaking, everyone like trees. They don’t answer back nor set out to cause arguments. They provide shade and encourage wildlife etc. If it is the height of the tree which is a problem then it might be easier to persuade your neighbour to pollard the tree by a few metres than to have it cut down completely.
I hope this is useful. Please let me know if you have any other thoughts on trees, especially in the Deepings.
Last week, SKDC had a corporate sense of deja vu. Lots of concern about alleged golden handshakes given to senior staff unexpectedly leaving.
Back in 2009, there was a difference of opinion between the Leader of South Kesteven District Council, Cllr Linda Neal and her Chief Executive, Duncan Kerr, about whether he should be allowed an extended period of leave to go on a cycle ride across Europe. The end result was that Mr Kerr was given unlimited leave, or rather, he was told to leave and never come back.
Thanks to years of whining from those pesky trade unions, a Council can’t just sack senior staff on the spot without any evidence of Gross Misconduct and so Mr Kerr was ‘encouraged’ to leave with the help of a financial settlement. It is believed to have been over £100.000 but I don’t think the figures were ever made public so we don’t really know, (even though Cllr Phil Dilks (Lab) tried every trick in the book to try to get the figures public.
Almost a decade later, last November, another Senior Manager of SKDC was made an offer he couldn’t refuse. He was working there for years quite happily, and all of a sudden there was a new Tory administration and it was decided he had to go in a hurry. For legal reasons we are not supposed to say how much the staff member was paid in compensation of his swift departure. I mentioned at Full Council last week that it was over £100,000 and I was tacitly accused of breaking confidentiality. I don’t see how I could break confidentiality when I wasn’t told the information in the first place, I had just put two and two together. Anyway, I won’t risk breaking confidentiality again but I will just draw readers attention to a couple of lines from the agenda pack for the Governance and Audit Committee of 21st June which have been in the public domain for several weeks.
Page 180 of this publicly available report states:
Press Release – 26th July 2018
A recent Freedom of Information request by Independent SKDC Councillor Ashley Baxter has revealed that at least ten jobs have been recruited without the ‘normal’ competitive process of advertising and shortlisting for the roles.
In several cases the new recruits are former colleagues of senior Conservative Councillors at SKDC. Some of the direct recruitments have been for very senior roles.
Cllr Ashley Baxter comments: “This is a disgrace and a scandal. Nepotism and cronyism on this scale was supposed to have been eradicated with the Northcote Trevelyan Report of 1854 and is contrary to every rule of common sense in local government.” Cllr Baxter is keen to point out that his opposition to the recruitments is not related to the nominated individuals, most of who he has never met, but to the principles of transparency, due process, fairness and equality.
Cllr Baxter has made a formal complaint to the council about the number of appointments. He believes that most, if not all, of the appointments might be illegal and in contravention of the Equalities Act 2010 and the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.
The full list of directly recruited posts is as follows: Continue reading
For Councillors in Grantham, the historic Wyndham Park is the jewel in the crown of South Kesteven. Most people in the Deepings have never heard of Wyndham Park, let alone visit the park, and I suspect they would be surprised to hear how much attention the park is given by the communications team at SKDC.
Please fill in the online Wyndham Park survey, regardless of how much you know about the park. It presents an opportunity to feedback to SKDC about open spaces in general and to suggest they might be able to give more attention to green spaces in Bourne, Stamford and the Deepings.
In the last 18 months, there have been around 20 press releases relating to events and activities at Wyndham Park including two relating to surveys relating to people’s views about the park. A survey was carried out in July 2017 and another is being carried out this month (July 2018). It is no surprise that no survey has been undertaken regarding the council’s green and open spaces around the rest of the district including Jubilee Park in Deeping St James and Greenlands in Market Deeping which are both owned and managed by SKDC.
Wyndham Park has been awarded Green Flag status, it has had a series of public events including forest schools, easter egg hunts, May pole dancing etc.
Longstanding Parish and District Councillor, Cllr Judy Stevens has decided that she would be better off entering next year’s elections as a Conservative.
Cllr Stevens is well-known as a tireless community activist involved in many organisations and initiatives in the village of Deeping St James. She was at the forefront of the Deeping St James in Bloom campaign and can still be seen regularly weeding, tending plants and picking litter.
Fellow Deepings Councillor, Ashley Baxter, who is still Independent, comments “Judy has clearly been seduced by the flattery and empty promises of the SKDC Tory Leadership. One can only assume that she has been promised a Special Responsibility Allowance next year as a Committee Chair or Cabinet Member. While I am disappointed that Judy Stevens has abandoned her independent status I guess it would be better to have someone in such positions of authority who have a track record of speaking up for residents and being practically involved in the community rather than some of the Tory yes-men who turn up just to collect the allowances and make up the numbers e.g. one of the existing DSJ Tory Councillors now lives on the other side of Peterborough and was until recently a Vice-Chair of a Committee.
The best outcome next May would be for more Independent candidates to stand and win so the Tories lose their majority. Failing that I hope that Judy can cause havoc among the already divided Tory group.
The SKDC Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee of 25th July will discuss the Council’s financial performance for 2017/18. I would like to say it makes interesting reading but I might be accused of mis-selling. Any report entitled ‘Q4 Financial Outturn 2017/18‘ is not going to reach the Waterstone’s Top 20, take my word for it. However, the report does have snippets of info which might raise eyebrows… well maybe one eyebrow, a bit.
The SKDC budget meeting of March 2017 was quite historic in that it was passed ‘unanimously’ by the Full Council. No-one could remember such a seemingly harmonious decision on the Council’s annual plans. Much later I discovered that at least one Tory, Cllr Adam Stokes, left the room to avoid the recorded vote allegedly because he was firmly opposed to the proposed rise in Council Tax but didn’t want to defy the whip, sorry, spoil the moment.
A few months later and the party was over… not the ‘Conservative Party’, that would be too much to hope for, I mean the general feeling of togetherness and unity across the chamber. The bubble was burst when the disgruntled Tory backbenchers launched another coup attempt and won. The new administration led by Cllr Matthew Lee promised important changes which were ‘long overdue’. I listened carefully to hear what these changes would be and I remember hearing an impassioned plea for new office carpets and whether I had somehow missed the public outrage about the state of SKDC floor coverings.
The very first change was the augmentation of the Council cabinet and committee structure. This immediately meant there were about 7 new posts for former backbench Conservatives which came with responsibility, status and money in the form of Special Responsibility Allowances. ‘What price democracy?’ I hear you ask. Well, the Financial Outturn Statement answers “The restructuring of the democratic arrangements has resulted in an overspend of £24K.”
The next important decision was to change the name of the ‘Executive’ to ‘Cabinet’. This came as a surprise to me because it was only just over a year earlier that the same Tories voted to change the name of the ‘Cabinet’ to ‘Executive’!
As the rubber hit the road, there were some early changes. Firstly, Beverley Agass resigned as Chief Executive (coincidentally I think) to take a job as CEO of South Cambridgeshire Council. A new CEO, Aidan Rave, was appointed along with some other bushy-tailed staff and consultants. Later in the year, one of the Council’s very senior managers left quite suddenly and unexpectedly and the lower ranks asked themselves ‘Did he jump or was he pushed?’. Now that the have Q4 outturn report we can see that ‘one-off costs arising from changes to the Corporate Management Structure’ were £125,000 higher than anticipated. My guess is that there’s a redundancy payment or Compromise Agreement tied up with that somehow (I’ll bring you more on that in a later post) Continue reading
When Local Government was reformed in 1974, Grantham Town Council was abolished leaving only a committee of Charter Trustees. The power of the Trustees doesn’t extend far beyond electing a Mayor and paying for his/her petrol. This leaves a democratic deficit in Grantham because other towns and villages have a Town or Parish Council to make representations about planning applications etc while there is no equivalent voice for the people of Grantham.
At the May meeting of SKDC Full Council I proposed that there should be a Community Governance Review for Grantham to decide whether the Charter Trustees should be replaced by a proper Town Council. Here is the text of the speech I prepared and used in proposing the motion:
“Grantham needs a Town Council.
It is one of only a very few towns in Lincolnshire that does not have a Town or Parish Council. This leaves a democratic gap where there is no unique town body to formally speak for Grantham residents.
As Cllr Ray Wootten said back in 2017, “it is vital that a town Council for Grantham is created to ensure that local people have control over their own destiny.”
I first submitted a motion on this subject ahead of the November meeting. However, a similar motion was then submitted by another Member so I gave way at that time.
Unfortunately, on the day of the meeting, the motion was withdrawn. Six months later it hasn’t come back and this debate is long overdue.
The creation of a Grantham Town Council will provide an alternative and more appropriate forum for Grantham Councillors to consider Grantham events.
In the Deepings, we have Town and Parish Councils to speak with authority and with a coherent voice in response to the various initiatives proposed by the District and County Council officers in their far away offices.
When the Development Management Committee considers planning applications concerning the smaller towns and the villages, we usually hear thoughtful representations from town and parish councils. When considering planning applications for Grantham, we don’t get any such information.
For these reasons, and others, I think it is time to ask Grantham residents how they feel about the role of the Charter Trustees and whether or not they would like to see a more effective Council in their town.
I suspect some Councillors might tease me for proposing a Grantham Town Council when I don’t live in Grantham. – Some people will always find it easier to play the man rather than play the ball. – I say to those people, if you don’t like the idea of someone thirty miles away telling you what’s best for your community, then ‘Welcome to my world!’
Grantham, you have outsiders telling you what to do all the time. Only two of the SKDC Cabinet members live in Grantham.
In the Deepings we’ve had people from across Lincolnshire selling our youth centre, trying to pull the rug from under our library and last week organising a ‘community listening event’ in order to tell us why we should build houses on the popular Mill Field recreation area. But in the Deepings we’re organised.
Grantham, if you listen, you could learn a lot from the Deepings.
It’s time to express your independence. It’s time to Take Back Control!
Getting yourself a Town Council is the first step to freedom!”
More details of the outcome of the debate are listed in an earlier blog post.