South Kesteven District has been criticised for a prolonged delay in returning to its normal cycle of meetings. During the first seven weeks of lockdown, the Council held only one formal meeting which lasted less than ten minutes. Since then it has held it resumed some statutory meetings virtually but there are not even any confirmed dates for most of the Council’s committees.
Cllr Ashley Baxter (Ind) who represents the Market and West Deeping ward explains: “Everyone understands that we are living through ‘unprecedented times’ but this is no excuse for shutting down democracy. For the first few weeks of the lockdown it was understandable that the Council and its Officers would be focussed on implementing emergency plans and maintaining essential services. Unfortunately, even though the Council has found a new rhythm of ‘normal operations’, there is still no timetable for the public meetings which are necessary to hold the Conservatives to account”.
Cllr Baxter continues “Some of these meetings are farcical at the best of times, I recently attended a sequence of over a dozen meetings where we literally discussed whether or not to change lightbulbs! However, the Committees are the only opportunity where Councillors can publicly ask questions and offer constructive criticism of the work of the council. The fact that most of the Committee Chairs (all Conservatives) haven’t even published a date for their next meeting demonstrates how little they care about the ‘special responsibilities’ for which they are handsomely paid.”
The Leader of the Council, Kelham Cooke (Con) had previously promised the Independent group of Councillors a draft programme of meetings. This was sent to Councillors the day before the Full Council meeting which took place virtually on 14th May. It later became clear that the draft schedule, which indicated two meetings in the first week of June, had not been agreed with the relevant Committee Chairs and consequently was not published or adhered to.
At a time when the Council’s standards and procedures are under particular stress, one might imagine the Constitution Committee would be particularly busy but the Chair, Cllr Linda Wootten (Con) has not called a meeting since before Christmas and there is no published date for its next meeting. Similarly, Cllr Wootten’s husband, Cllr Ray Wootten (Con), Chairs the Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee which has not met since 20th February and has not published a date for its next meeting.