Report to MDTC Full Council 12th February, 2020
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.
Deeping Shorts – Film Festival
‘Deeping Shorts’ – a short festival of short films – has held two Saturday evening cinema screenings with two more to go (15th and 22nd February). The screenings have been well attended and well received. Tickets are £5 from Stamford Arts Centre or at Open Door Baptist Church on the night.
Leisure Centre / All Weather Pitch
News about the proposed Deepings Leisure Centre and the future of the condemned All Weather Pitch has failed to yield any concrete proposals (nor proposals for concrete). At Full Council, the new Portfolio Holder, Cllr Barry Dobson stated that a Working Party would be formed with representation from the 3 Deepings Independent Councillors. By the time of the Finance Committee a week later, this Working Party had been extended to include two Deeping Conservatives. A few minutes later, it was explained that the Working Party would be an overarching group for all Leisure Facilities in South Kesteven. When I asked for clarification, the Finance Committee was told there will be more than one Working Party. I later asked Cllr Dobson for written clarification of the roles, purpose and composition of the working party (or parties). A week later and I am still waiting.
Cllr Dobson also mentioned that nothing would be decided about Leisure Centres until he had visited the sites personally to see what was needed. This is slightly confusing given that the council has commissioned leisure professionals an architects to conduct feasibility studies at a cost of more than £250,000.
Lots of talk about the Conservative’s Pie-in-the-Sky thinking for next year’s expenditure.
I am pleased to say the Communities Committee agreed to implement some of the measures recommended by the ‘Stop the Knock’ campaign which I had brought to their attention.
I am less pleased to say that they rubber-stamped proposals to ‘rationalise the face-to-face customer service provision’ in Stamford and the Deepings. This effectively means closing the SKDC offices at the Deepings Community Centre and at Maiden Lane in Stamford.
There is a consultation about the plans to close the Stamford and Deeping SKDC offices. The deadline is 20th February.
The Council meeting began with a silence in respectful memory of former Chair of SKDC, Cllr Peter Speigl and former Chair of the world’s longest running radio panel show and much-loved Grantham born entertainer, Nicholas Parsons CBE. The silence was, suitably, just a minute. It would have been great if all the afternoon’s debate could have been conducted without hesitation, repetition or deviation but this was unlikely from the outset.
Boxing Day Hunt
The Chairman of the Council, Jacky Smith (Con) published her usual list of monthly engagements. The list failed to include her attendance at the controversial Boxing Day meeting of the Belvoir Hunt. I drew the Council’s attention to this omission which, it was claimed, was a ‘mistake’. I understand that, since Boxing Day, members of the Belvoir Hunt has killed at least one fox; this was also supposedly a ‘mistake’.
New Chief Executive
The Council approved the appointment of Karen Bradford as its new Chief Executive. Karen was formally CEO of Gedling BC and Deputy CEO of North Kesteven DC.
During the debate I requested the Council think carefully before sending the new Chief Executive on any expensive leadership courses as the previous CEO had been on a course costing over £5,000 which included a flight to Boston USA just months before he was asked to leave his employment. The Leader insisted that the £5,000 had been money well spent.
The rumours of a SKDC Cabinet reshuffle were accurate. Cllr Helen Goral (Con) and Cllr Nick Robins (Con) have both retired to the back benches. Cllr Annie Mason (Con) has been promoted to the Cabinet and the portfolios have been reallocated.
Late last year, Cllr Hannah Westropp also left the Cabinet and was not replaced. This means that the number of Cabinet Members has fallen by two which means a saving to the Council of over £20,000!
There were 13 questions asked during ‘Members Open Questions’. 11 were from Independent Councillors and 2 were from Conservatives. The second Conservative question was from a Bourne Councillor and was a repetition of similar questions asked earlier by Independents from Bourne about the uncertain future of the Bourne Cicle Festival which was launched in a blaze of publicity last summer but now appears to have been abandoned.
Motion on Grantham A & E
After much oration, the Council agreed unanimously that the government ought to do something about re-opening Grantham A & E which was closed overnight by the Tories more than three years ago.
Gypsy Traveller sites
A Labour motion to ensure the Council fulfil its legal obligations to the gypsy and traveller communities was somehow rejected although this does not mean the Council does not intend to fulfil its legal obligations.
I proposed a motion on Textiles Recycling. The 14 opposition Councillors in the room all voted in favour but the money-saving initiative was defeated by the 23 Conservative Councillors who had bothered to stay for the whole meeting (with 1 Conservative abstention).
Opposition to Hatred
The meeting concluded with a motion from the Council Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) on the subject of anti-semitism. To put this into context it is worth noting that the 2001 census records 101 people in South Kesteven as adherents of Judaism (out of a total population of more than 130,000).
In proposing the motion, the Leader boldly declared that he would not allow his motion to be watered down by any amendment. However, when Cllr Amanda Wheeler (Lib-Dem) proposed adding a clause about Islamophobia, Cllr Cooke relented and in fact accepted a further amendment agreeing that SKDC should be opposed to anti-semitism, Islamophobia and ‘all forms of hatred’ which is pretty much in line with current council policies and, indeed, legal obligations. I suspect Cllr Cooke’s change of attitude to opposition amendments may have been influenced by the fact that only around 16 Tories were left in the room compared with 14 on the opposition benches as well as the fact that it was getting near tea-time.
04/02/2020 Companies Committee
This meeting was much shorter than expected because the Chair, Cllr Graham Jeal (Con) and the Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) agreed that effective scrutiny of two of the Council’s wholly-owned companies, including Gravitas Housing Ltd, was impossible due to the lack of meaningful background papers, e.g. the Gravitas business plan was only forwarded to the Chair a few days before the meeting and it was three years out of date. Consequently the Committee has to meet again on another day.
A lot of the information about InvestSK requested at the last meeting was also unavailable, e.g. the minutes of the InvestSK AGM were not provided because they had not been ratified by the Board. By this process, the Companies Committee would only ever see Board minutes which were more than a year old. It was agreed to circulate the draft minutes. It is also hoped that a revised business plan will be available before the Committee meeting in April.
As ever, if you require any further information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward
The text of this month’s report is slightly amended from the version presented to MDTC because there were a couple of bits I’d forgotten to include.