Report to MDTC Full Council 12th July 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, one of the ten Councillors forming the Independent Group at SKDC.
I am pleased to report that, less than two months after the elections, one of the Conservatives has resigned the whip and become ‘Independent unaligned’. This means there are now 17 opposition councillors compared to 39 Tories. We just need 11 more defections and the Council will be on a knife-edge!
I have attended four formal Council meetings during the lastmonth.
This meeting was held to consider the call-in request that I had organised before the election in light of a decision by Cllr Adam Stokes (Con) to allocate money from the new Invest-to-save fund. Before the meeting I had submitted more than 20 written questions and I was pleased to discover that newly-elected Cllr Whittington (Con) had submitted some of his own.
It was very encouraging because there seemed to be genuine attempts at scrutiny by Conservative Councillors as well as opposition members. This didn’t happen very much before the election. The meeting examined three aspects of the decision:
Firstly, a review of Financial Services had been proposed.During the meeting it transpired that, despite the call-in request, Officers had gone ahead with the review which had now been completed. Officers were chastised but it was more-or-less accepted that the review had been necessary and useful.
Secondly, an explanation was given for the so-called ‘Internet of Things’ project which aims to work with a company called ‘Digital Catapult’ to develop ‘intelligent’ street-lighting. It was hoped that some street-lights could be adapted to collect data on footfall, temperature etc and perhaps be capable of self-reporting of faults. I suggested the existing Deepings Leisure Centre might be an appropriate site for a pilot scheme.
Finally, a long conversation took place regarding the proposed award of a contract of £40,000 to a company known as ‘Publitas Consulting’ in the hope of increasing advertising revenue. I pointed out that according to Companies House the company was dissolved three years ago. We were told that the company had already done some work for other authorities including Birmingham City Council, Brighton and Hove Council and Newark and Sherwood although there wasn’t much evidence of this and the organisations turnover as a micro-entity did not seem tally with the big-player reputation it hoped to portray. Furthermore the company’s single page website with a single mobile phone number as point of contact also gave reason for concern. Eventually, I proposed, and it was agreed, that the Chair and Vice Chair of the Committee should be given delegated authority to further investigate the partnership proposal offered by ‘Publitas’ and recommend how officers should act in light of their findings.
18/06/2019 Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee
This meeting was a bit of a shambles.The reports and paperwork had not been sent out with the agenda and an incorrect workplan had been issued days before the meeting which I challenged and this was replaced less than a day before the meeting by an updated work plan which still lacked some very basic details including timescales.
The new Chair, Cllr RosemaryTrollope-Bellew started the meeting by declaring that she wished to be addressed as either ‘Chairman’ or ‘Madam Chairman’. The committee then discussed the notes of the previous meeting which could not be understood without reference to confidential papers.
There followed updates on government consultations as well as the food waste pilot scheme which seems likely to be extended in duration, or number of houses, or both.
In discussing the workplan, it wasagreed that the committee would concentrate on the subject of climate change although there would still be time to discuss ‘Tree Guidelines’, textile banks, biodiversity and, by some bizarre quirk of bureaucracy, gambling.
The discussion of climate change will kick-off with a workshop for committee members on 20th July in thethe very large ballroom at Grantham Guildhall although it was hinted that this meeting might be closed to members of the public in order, perhaps, to allow councillors to express unpopular opinions.
I asked for some specific details of timescales to be added to the plan but this request was literally ignored by the Madam Chairman.
It was agreed to hold the November meeting of the Committee in Bourne Corn Exchange and it is hoped that at least two meetings a year will be held in alternative venues which, from my perspective, is long overdue and very welcome.
21/06/2019 Governance and Audit Committee
I had expected this meeting to be very dull but it turned out to be quite animated with lively discussion of issues as diverse as overdue boiler repairs and accident rates in Leisure Centres.
An awfulmeeting. The Leader, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) had booked a holiday and socouldn’t attend and so parliamentary hopeful, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) deputised for him.
Questions were asked about false information given to the Council by Cllr Ray Wootten atthe previous meeting but he was very late to the meeting and therefore unable to make a statement to explain his actions which was terribly unfortunate. Instead, Cllr Cooke explained that the incorrect figures of £10million extrafunding for Lincolnshire Police which had been quoted by Cllr Wootten had resulted from a miscommunication and that the PCC Marc Jones had written to theCouncil to apologise for his part in what had happened. There was no apology or statement from Cllr Wootten even when he arrived for a few minutes shortly before the end of the meeting.
During themeeting, the Council appointed a new Monitoring Officer to replace the person that was appointed as interim Monitoring Officer back in January. The new Monitoring Officer works part-time and via an agency but I have been assured that this is normal and above board.
Some questions were asked about the Councils programme for Leisure Centres includingwhy an additional £250,000 was requested for writing business cases, whether alternatives contractors had been able to bid for the aforementioned £250,000,and whether the Deepings decrepit Leisure Centre would be the first to bereplaced now that the report has started talking about relocating Leisure facilities in Grantham which was not part of the original plan.
Cllr Steptoe (Lab) asked a question about what consultation took place before the time of the Council meeting was altered from 2pm to 1pm. This led to a heated ten-minute exchange when both the Deputy Leader and the Chair of the Council failed to give a straight answer.
There were two motions for the Council. I had submitted the first motion which was that the Council should adopt the Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees. The proposal was dismissed by Cllr Moseley (Con) who had the temerity to suggest that I was trying to circumvent the Council’s scrutiny process. After encouraging everyone all his colleagues to vote against adopting the Charter for Trees he posed for a picture after the meeting saying that he ‘could not be more for” the Charter. I was encouraged that a handful of Conservatives abstained on the motion rather than voting against, including the three Conservatives from the Deepings, sadly none of the Conservatives had the bottle to vote against the tacit instructions of their Deputy Leader.
The meeting concluded with discussion of a motion requesting action for fairer funding forLincolnshire which was proposed by Cllr Jan Hansen. As with the motion on trees, the Conservatives did not appreciate the notion that opposition members could propose sensible ideas and so, en bloc, they approved an amendment that changed the substance of the motion.
In other news
Also this month the Deepings has suffered a mini-crime wave with well over 50 incidentsbeing phoned into 101 including theft, threatening behaviour and dangerous driving. This was related to a group of people visiting Deeping Gate, some ofwhom have been arrested and the rest of whom have now moved on. The episode serves as an illustration of why we deserve a better service from LincolnshirePolice across the County as a whole and in the Deepings in particular. It would be good if the Conservatives at SKDC could work on a cross party basis to approach the Home Office for more and adequate funding.
As ever, if you require any furtherinformation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward