Eighteen months ago, South Kesteven organised a meeting in the middle of the summer holidays to discuss the Conservative’s latest bright idea, namely “DeliverSK”. Despite scepticism and reservations from me and other opposition members, it was decreed that DeliverSK would be essential to delivering investment opportunities for the council. In a nutshell, the council would enter into a strategic partnership with an investment company and then form subsidiary companies, aka Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), for each of the council’s bold ambitions. These might include LeisureSK, HomesSK, OfficeSpaceSK, EmptyTheBinsSK etc.
When I say that the opposition offered scepticism and reservations, I am not being fair to myself. What we actually brought was scrutiny and constructive criticism. I literally prepared 20 questions which were circulated prior to the meeting and effectively became the agenda when the committee met. The questions were along the lines of “What is DeliverSK?”, “How will it work?”, “Is it legal?” etc.
The meeting was attended by a Legal Advisor from Pinsent Masons, a firm with whom the Council has spent in excess of £40,000 on legal advice, including a significant amount in connection with the establishment of DeliverSK.
About six months later, the council revealed the private sector partner with whom it hopes to deliver the new capital projects and SPVs. Guernsey-based fund managers IAG services were expected to take 50% of the risk and investment and then crack on with the projects.
“DeliverSK will create a pipeline of development and regeneration projects and take them from the concept stage through to completion”SK Today, Spring 2019
Incidentally, the 50:50 arrangement is significant because it conveniently exempts the partnership from ‘Freedom of Information’ requests which might normally be used to scrutinise projects where the Council is the majority stakeholder. Furthermore, the joint venture arrangement is significant because it means that the choice of the private sector partner is not subject to the rigorous procurement processes that normally apply to the purchase of goods and services contracts.
Another year has now passed, with an election in May 2019 and a new Companies Committee was invented. The first meeting on 19 November 2019 concentrated on InvestSK Ltd which is a story in itself but there was a short holding report on DeliverSK which appeared to show the ambitions had been reined in somewhat with only key milestone in site (the Barnack Road Cummins’ site aka ‘St Martin’s Park’). This is probably just as well because the report also confirmed that DeliverSK doesn’t even exist yet as a formal entity.
The meeting of the Companies Committee on 7 January 2020 agreed to discuss DeliverSK in more detail on 4 February 2020. Sadly, the February agenda presents a workplan which suggests kicking the can down the road again until 28 Apr 2020. A seperate agenda item concerning St Martin’s Park explains that “Deliver SK becoming involved in bringing forward this site remains possible but cannot be considered fully at the present time as DSK is not yet incorporated as a company“.
So far, so typical – Yet another failure by South Kesteven Conservatives to deliver what they have promised! But why does it matter to people in the Deepings? Well, at the very first fanfare of DeliverSK, the then Leader promised
“Early on, DeliverSK will also develop a leisure provision investment plan to outline the programme to provide new, refurbished and enhanced leisure facilities across the district…”Cllr Matthew Lee (Con), Leader of SKDC from 2017-2019
DeliverSK was supposed to be an innovative funding mechanism by which new Leisure Centres at the Deepings and Stamford could be delivered, so if it hasn’t even been incorporated yet, how on earth are the Council now expecting to pay for these long overdue facilities? When I asked about the Deepings facilities at Full Council last week, the newly appointed Cabinet Member, Cllr Barry Dobson (Con), offered conjecture about working parties and feasibility studies but in terms of firm and tangible plans I don’t think anyone is holding their breath!