December 2017 – Report to Market Deeping Town Council

A very busy few weeks has prompted a bumper ‘Christmas’ issue of my monthly report.

Councillors’ Briefing on ‘InvestSK’ – 20th November

I drove to Grantham for a one-hour briefing regarding the new SKInvest initiative aimed at levering funding into the South Kesteven District to support businesses and communities. More details can be found on the website:  http://investsk.co.uk/

SKDC Full Council meeting 23rd November

Regular readers will remember that the only decision the Councillors had to make in September was to approve the minutes of the previous meeting. I am pleased to report that November’s meeting was more interesting.

Appointment of Section 151 Officer

The Council was required to approve the appointment of a Finance Officer based at Rutland County Council to act as our Section 151 Officer. It is illegal for any local authority to operate a ‘151’ Officer in post. The approval was hurried through due to the sudden and unexplained departure of the Council’s incumbent 151 Officer, Daren Turner.

Members Expenses

The Council debated whether or not to accept the recommendation of an Independent Remuneration Panel to increase District Councillors’ expenses by almost 20%. I proposed an amendment to delay any increase until after the next District Council election. This would have saved £100,000 of ratepayers money but the amendment was defeated and the increase in expenses will be backdated to September. I voted against the increase in expenses because, although many Councillors work very hard, I think awarding ourselves a significant payrise at a time when public services are under such financial pressure sends out the wrong message. The vote was carried by 30 votes to 9 against with 6 abstentions (11 Councillors were absent from the meeting). More details can be found in the Grantham Journal

Budget Amendments

Back in February, the Council’s budget for the 2017/18 financial year was passed unanimously. In June, it was amended to enable £800,000 to be committed to the BigClean campaign. This month, budget amendments were made to transfer money from the Council’s reserves to allow additional spending in this financial year:
a) £3m for the purchase of an investment property near Lincoln;
b) £0.3m to kick-start the InvestSK scheme;
c) £0.5m for feasibility works concerning the SK offices at St Peter’s Hill Grantham
and d) the increase in Members’ expenses mentioned above.

Questions at Development Control

After some discussion, the Council voted to preclude elected councillors from asking questions of members of the public who come to Grantham to comment on planning applications. It was suggested that people who feel strongly enough about planning issues that they drive to Grantham to make a three minute speech in front of the Council chamber would feel intimidated if they were asked a question about what they had said. This is a ridiculous notion and it seems obvious that the proposed changes are entirely for the convenience of the Chair of the Development Committee. Nevertheless, the proposal was accepted and will be trialled for six months.

Motion 1 – Grantham Town Council

This motion to explore the possibility of creating a Grantham Town Council had been proposed by Cllr Charmaine Morgan (Lab) but was withdrawn in order to enable a similar cross-party motion to be submitted next month.

Motion 2 – SKDC on Tour

I proposed a motion to force the Council to hold at least one formal meeting of its sub-committees each year in the smaller towns (i.e. Stamford, Bourne and the Deepings).  The Leader, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) proposed a ‘watering-down’ amendment to suggest that the Council encourages the Chairs of each committee to consider holding a meeting outside Grantham. I agreed to the amendment with the proviso that if meetings do not take place outside Grantham then I will return with the original motion.

Motion 3 – Gambling Consultation

My proposal that SKDC should respond to the current DCMS consultation to support a reduction in maximum stakes on FOBT (aka fruit machines) from £100 down to £2 was accepted without amendment.

Motion 3 – Fairer Funding for Lincolnshire

Cllr Lee’s motion to support the ongoing lobbying of the Tory Government in order to try and get a fairer funding settlement for Lincolnshire was approved by the 29 Councillors who had stayed to the end of the meeting.

Rural Overview and Scrutiny Committee visit to the Deepings – 27th November

The tour was organised at the request of the Chair of the District Council, Coun Bob Sampson (Ind). He was accompanied by members of the Committee. While visiting diverse areas of the Deepings, the Councillors gained an understanding of various local issues including public open spaces, leisure facilities, traffic and the local economy. It is hoped that the visit, which is one of a number taking place across the District, will help inform decision-making about services the Council provides.

Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee 1st December

This was a special meeting convened to discuss the decision by the Portfolio Holder for Finance, Cllr Adam Stokes (Con), to spend £3m on an investment property on the outskirts of Lincoln. The decision was ‘called in’ by five Councillors including me. The discussion took place mostly ‘in camera’ due to the commercial sensitivity of the decision. Earlier in the year, Cllr Stokes had himself ‘called in’ a very similar decision made by his predecessor.

Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee – 5th December

I had asked some time ago for the issue of Street-lighting to be put on this agenda as it had been mentioned earlier in the year and then continually kicked into the long grass. When the agenda was released, the Chairman Cllr Mike Exton (Con) issued a report outlining four options, all of which suggested turning the Council’s 3,000+ street-lights off overnight. Before the meeting I produced an alternative suggestion which illustrated how the Council could save money by investing in modern LED streetlights without turning them off overnight. When the matter came before the committee the Chairman tried to circumvent public debate on his report by referring the matter to a ‘members’ workshop which will take place behind closed doors on 16th January. More details are in the Grantham Journal who described the meeting as ‘farcical’.

Later in the meeting, we discussed the Glendale grounds maintenance contract and agreed to extend it for 12 months.

Development Management Committee – 12th December

Having been formally trained on Development Control matters earlier in the month, I am now able to substitute for Development Management committee members when they cannot attend. My first meeting included a decision on proposals for: a Designer Outlet Village on the A1; a travellers’ site near Harrowby; and a block of 8 flats between two terraced streets in Grantham.

The meeting also included discussion of the Towngate Inn application. While I share residents’ concerns about traffic and parking issues, I voted in favour of the development because it so much better than the previous application which would have been far more unsightly and would have impeded the line of site for motorists turning from Towngate towards Langtoft.

LGA Independent Group Conference – 1st December

I attended the annual conference of the Independent Councillors group where I heard from Lord Porter of Spalding about the various issues facing local government as well as other speakers on the recent budget, devolution and the ubiquitous Brexit.

Deepings Community Centre AGM – 1st December

I attended this meeting to deliver my report as Treasurer of the Deepings Community Trust. At the AGM I retired from the management committee leaving the centre in a much better financial position than it was five years ago. The centre is run almost entirely by dozens of volunteers who run a very efficient organisation.

Since the last report to Market Deeping Full Council I have also: met the manager of the Deepings Leisure Centre a couple of times; attended a meeting with some residents of the Persimmon Estate; and I made my Christmas market stage debut with some friends from Open Door church. If anybody missed this musical treat they might like to attend the Deepings Library on Saturday where I will be joining in with the carol singing at midday.

Merry Christmas to everyone in the Deepings and beyond!

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Independent District Councillor
for Market and West Deeping

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