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.

25/09/2019   Governance and Audit Committee

I was supposed to attend this meeting but I didn’t. I was on my way to Grantham via Stamford and was right at the front of the queue at Tallington Crossing just after 9am.  I turned off my engine (to save fuel and the planet) but when I tried to turn it back on it wouldn’t start.  The people in the queue behind me tried to encourage me by various means but to no avail.  Some friendly folk helped me to get out of the way and diagnose the fault (fuel pump, if you were wondering) and I had little choice but to sit in the Whistle Stop pub all morning waiting for the RAC. I have to tell you that it is a friendly and comfortable place to take refuge and they have a regular quiz night (but unfortunately not on a Wednesday morning).  Many thanks to everyone who helped me that morning and apologies to those who were inconvenienced.

This is the first scheduled SKDC meeting to which I have had to send apologies since July 2015 and so I have been knocked off the top of the attendance register.

In my absence, the Chair rattled through the meeting in just 34 minutes!

26/09/2019   Council ,  

This was the first meeting back in the Council chamber which is now part of a building separated from the rest of the Council offices and renamed “South Kesteven House”.

The meeting began with some questions from the public, mostly about the Belvoir Hunt. These were followed by a statement from the Leader who was formally resigning although, despite a rambling speech, no-one was really sure of his reasons.

This was followed by the election of a new Council Leader and as predicted last month, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) was formally elected. During another rambling speech (over 15 minutes) he promised more transparency, more progress and a new more collaborative approach which would be most welcome.

How will this new collaborative approach be fostered? Well, certainly not by the sharing of money and power.

Cllr Cooke has promoted his ward buddy, Cllr Trollope-Bellew (Con) to the position of Cabinet Member for Culture.  She is replaced as Chair of the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) by freshman Councillor Chris Benn (Con) who was only elected in May this year.

The opposition councillors who make up 30% of the Council have been granted only one position of Special Responsibility which the not-exactly-high-profile role of Vice Chair of the Governance and Audit Committee.  The Special Responsibility positions give the appointees the power to set agendas and control committee debates.  The SRA roles also bring nearly £150,000 of allowances so perhaps it’s no surprise that Cllr Cooke has kept them almost exclusively to the his Conservative buddies. 

Later in the meeting the Council agreed to declare a Climate Emergency and take tangible actions to prevent and mitigate the effects of Climate Change. Most of the content of the motion was passed unanimously although there were two dissenting Tories who didn’t think it would be appropriate to spend any public money in response to the existentialist crisis facing our planet.

During questions I asked for an update on the Deepings Leisure Centre (again) and this time got a sensible answer in the form a prepared statement from Cllr Helen Goral who announced, among other things, that a detailed feasibility study and community consultation is to be undertaken regarding a possible new-build wet and dry leisure centre on the Deepings School site, North of Spalding Road.

Towards the end of a sometimes chaotic meeting, there were three motions submitted.

The first was the one I had submitted concerning Climate Change but I withdrew it in light of the agreement reached earlier in the meeting.

The second concerned Brexit. It was agreed that a report for Councillors would be produced by 11th October and that Councillors would be invited to a briefing before the end of October.

The final, and most contentious, motion concerned the withdrawal of non-statutory support to the Belvoir Hunt. It featured a robust debate with some unfamiliar voices speaking up in the chamber. Clearly, the motion had touched a nerve with several Councillors who have associations with local hunts although nobody declared an interest. The vote was taken by secret ballot due to alleged threats against Councillors and the result was 12 in favour (including me) with 22 against and 2 abstentions (revealing that 18 people had either gone home early or not turned up in the first place).

As ever, if you require any further information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward

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