Night of the long knives at Deepings Youth Club secret AGM.

Disputed elections are not just a recent American phenomena. Last night, the management of Deepings Youth Group (DYG) attracted criticism when two long-standing members of the youth club’s governing body were virtually defenestrated as power over the funds and activities of the organisation was further consolidated into the hands of a small cadre following a coup two years ago.

Members of the public were neither invited nor welcome at the Annual General Meeting which followed recent public controversy over the group’s funding.. This year, DYG will receive around £15,000 from the Parish and Town which represents about 80% of the group’s total income.

[Author’s note: I wouldn’t usually write about the internal machinations of a community group but the recent decision by Market Deeping Town Council to temporarily withhold grant funding from DYG demonstrated that people are particularly interested in how the youth club is managed].

The meeting was preceded by a kind of postal election in which each of the Trustees were given the opportunity to vote for against) each other. Anyone who achieved 50% of the votes was declared elected but those who failed to win the approval of their colleagues were unceremoniously removed from the Board. No votes were cast other than by the existing Trustees and there were no new nominees (other than those people co-opted by the Board since the previous meeting).

A few days prior to the meeting, Cllr Phil Dilks requested an up-to-date copy of the DYG constitution in order to ascertain whether the procedures for the AGM, including the election of Trustees, were being followed correctly. No copy was supplied to him. Nevertheless, it seems highly unlikely that the Youth Club was paying attention to its own rules because according to the Minutes of Market Deeping Town and Deeping St James Parish Councils, several were originally appointed directly by those Councils.

The meeting took place via Zoom yesterday evening and was Chaired by Jayne Reed who, at the beginning of the meeting immediately requested permission to vary the agenda which she had sent out the previous week. Miss Reed said she thought it was appropriate to bring forward the declaration of the results of the vote to the top of the agenda. She did not explain her reasons but the Committee agreed and the results were announced. The two Trustees who failed to gain 50% support were Parish Councillor Andrew Bowell (Ind) and Parish and District Councillor Phil Dilks (Ind). The Chair then asked them to leave the meeting and a few moments later they were disconnected by the meeting administrator.

Cllr Dilks had perhaps made himself unpopular with the rest of the board by stating publicly that he disassociated himself from the comments, social media posts and petitions which had been published when the October meeting of Market DeepingTown Council decided to postpone payment of a grant which had been earmarked for DYG.

At the time, the Council had a number of concerns about the financial stability of DYG and asked for clarification of some of figures which had been mentioned in the accounting statements provided by the group. Market Deeping Town Council’s representative on the DYG Trustees, Cllr Xan Collins (Con), chose not to answer any questions about the Youth Club at that meeting insisting that the Council had earmarked £7,000 for DYG and the group was therefore entitled to a grants for that amount. The decision to delay the second of two grant payments was voted on with the result 3 in favour, 3 against and 4 abstentions. The Deputy Mayor, Cllr Virginia Moran (Ind) used her casting vote to delay the payment.

After that decision, representatives of the DYG Board were invited to speak to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor at a meeting which held answer the questions but not before the Town Council, and Cllr Moran in particular, had been villified on social media.

Later that month, the DYG Trustees met, virtually, for the first time since Lockdown and Paul Hanson resigned as Chair. Mr Hanson had been elected as a Town Councillor in May 2019 but resigned unexpectedly in May 2020. He is the partner of a Conservative SKDC Councillor who is also a Trustee of DYG.

Jayne Reed stepped into the breach and took on the role of Chair. Miss Reed is also familiar with the role of a Town Councillor having been served on the Council on more than one occasion and having resigned in 2017 causing a by-election which was successfully contested by Cllr Moran.

At the November meeting of Market Deeping Town Council, the councillors voted on the DYG funding once again. This time there were 5votes in favour of awarding the grant, 1 against and 4 abstentions. One of the Councillors expressed the view that he had previously been in favour of awarding the grant but after seeing the vociferous social media attacks after the previous meeting he was now concerned about the suitability of the Trustees. This view resonated with the personal comments made by Cllr Dilks during the public open forum before the meeting,

At the time of the October meeting, at least one trustee accused Cllr Moran of holding a personal vendetta. It now seems that there is indeed a personal vendetta, but it is not the one we were warned about!

The reasons why Cllr Bowell was not re-elected are less obvious. Certainly, he is not hesitant to ask questions or express his opinions but surely those are good qualities for a Trustee? Until March this year, Cllr Bowell, a former bank manager, was the Treasurer of DYG but he resigned as Treasurer I think because of differences of opinion with the Chair at the time. Whatever the reasons for their removal from the Board, their early removal from the meeting meant that neither Cllr Dilks nor Cllr Bowell could ask questions about the Chair’s report to the AGM, nor the Treasurers report to the AGM, the first of which would likely be “Who is currently the Treasurer of DYG?”.

Miss Reed believes that the Trustees are not obliged to hold an AGM, let alone allow members of the public to attend. Consequently, when I asked if I could attend the virtual AGM I was told I could not and that only Trustees had been invited. Procedurally, there might not be an obligation to allow members of the public, funding bodies, local councillors like me, members of the press, parents of youth club users or even the many young people who allegedly use the service. The organisations that my teenage children are involved in are usually very keen to encourage parents and potential sponsors to get involved. Given all the recent public hoo-hah over the funding of the Youth Club you might have thought the Trustees would be only too keen to open the doors. You have to wonder why DYG are so reluctant to allow people to see what’s happening!

Footnote 1: As explained above, I wasn’t allowed to attend the DYG but I am confident that the information above is all factually correct. If anyone points out any mistakes; inaccuracies or even typos, I will be happy to edit accordingly.

Footnote 2: For avoidance of doubt: I am not criticising the Youth Club; not its staff members or the people who use the Youth Club; I have no problem with the aims and objectives of the DYG. If I have a criticism of DYG it is limited to the lack of transparency of its operations and the manner in which the AGM was conducted.

Housing Issues in South Kesteven – (Nov 20 Report to MDTC #2 of 3)

Report to MDTC Full Council  11th November 2020
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Continued from previous post

Housing Matters

Last week, District Councillors were invited to a secret briefing about a recent auditor’s report into the awful state of the SKDC Housing Department. The report contains a litany of underperformance and compliance failures over more than a decade (Incidentally, the briefing was attended by all three of the Deepings Independent SKDC Councillors but none of the three Deepings Conservative SKDC Councillors)

The failures include the lack of an up-to-date Stock Condition Survey and the lack of up-to-date electrical and fire safety reports.

In June this year, in response to comments from Market Deeping residents, I personally requested details of the Council’s ‘Void Policy’, i.e. the system for ensuring that Council Houses which become vacant are quickly checked for problems; repaired; and made fit for the next occupants in a timely fashion. In June I was promised that a new Senior Officer was working on a new Voids Policy which should be implemented by November 2020. Surprise, surprise, there is not yet any sign of even a draft Voids Policy.

The Council also claims to have a rolling target (and budget) for delivering 500 new homes over 5 years. In reality, the Council built only 60 houses between 2014 and 2017 and ZERO new council houses since then until earlier this year when 14 single-bed modular build dwellings were completed in Grantham.

The SKDC spin-doctors will claim that the Council did build houses via its wholly-owned subsidiary company Gravitas Housing Ltd which was established to ‘disrupt the market place’. In four years, Gravitas has only completed a single project of 25 homes at Wherry’s Lane in Bourne, most of which remain unsold.

In January this year, Cllr Barry Dobson (Con) presented a report to the Companies Committee outlining proposals to find a strategic partner to support the delivery of new homes as part of the Council’s “strategic ambitions for housing growth and delivery in the District”

The prefaces from 2017 and the 2020 SK Housing Strategies. The text is identical.

Two weeks ago, Cllr Dobson returned to the Companies Committee with a report explaining why a housing partnership will not be pursued at this time but might be considered in the future.

Some of the staff responsible for this mess have now left the authority but some of the Conservative Councillors who presided over this clear dereliction of duty are still in office, for example Cllr Dobson held the Portfolio for Housing between May 2019 and January 2020 and is now the Deputy Leader and responsible for the delivery of the famous new Deepings Leisure Centre.

Hats off to the relatively new Chief Executive, Karen Bradford, and the new Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Robert Reid (Con) for grasping the nettle and self-referring the Council to Housing Regulator.

For ease of reading, my November report to Market Deeping Town Council is split into three. Here are links to the other parts:

SKDC Planning issues including details of the recent shocking audit report

SKDC Leisure issues including a brief explanation of what’s happening with the Leisure Centre


Footnote:
The Auditors identified the following 16 findings where management actions were agreed:

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Report to Market Deeping Town Council – June 2020

Report to MDTC Full Council 10th June, 2020
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Leisure Centre / All Weather Pitch

Despite various SKDC committee meetings in February deciding to set up Members Working Group(s) to keep abreast of progress towards the Leisure Transformation strategy, no meetings have taken place. Cabinet Member, Cllr Barry Dobson (Con) reported in April (to DSJ PC) the plan for the new Leisure Centre in the Deepings is progressing well and that two options are currently being drawn up and priced. Unfortunately, the plans haven’t progressed far enough for any detailed plans, proposals or costs to be shared with anyone outside the Conservative cabinet.

What I have discovered is that leisure consultants Mace have been paid £284,000 for a report which has yet to be published. Evidently it did not deliver the detailed business plans which were promised because the Council has now engaged a new, thankfully much cheaper consultant, to make sense of the findings of the first consultant.

Next week’s Cabinet meeting includes draft workplan with an aspiration to consider Leisure Centre investment at the September Cabinet meeting. It is one of no fewer than twelve proposed agenda items for that particular Cabinet meeting so don’t hold your breath!

14/05/2020  Full Council

The first meeting of the Full Council was little more than a PR stunt and a rubber-stamping exercise. Motions from Councillors were not allowed and neither were open questions from Councillors and members of the public. Large chunks of the meeting were taken up with voting because every decision, even including approval of the previous minutes, required a roll-call of all 55 councillors in attendance.

During one of the votes, despite a quite labourious explanation by the Chief Executive, the Chair of the Council inadvertently voted against her own party and consequently the voting had to start all over again.

26/05/2020  Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee

The Finance meeting spent most of its time speculating the likely impact of Covid19 on the Council’s finances. Unsurprisingly the general consensus was a pessimistic outlook. Income from arts centres; car parks, businesses rates and other areas have reduced virtually to zero while waste collection costs have risen. There are some unknowns including: the extent to which the Government will bail out Local Authorities; and whether or not the leisure provider, 1Life, will succeed with a legal claim it has submitted to the council for financial losses (the council is obviously disputing the claim).

04/06/2020  Governance and Audit Committee

The Governance and Audit Committee almost took place on 24th May but just after it started I pointed out that no access details had been provided to members of the public and officers confirmed that the meeting could not proceed if it was inaccessible.

The reconvened meeting discussed external audit reports which were critical of the Council’s medium term financial strategy and lack of a meaningful corporate strategy. The meeting discussed internal audit reports which were highly critical of the council’s failure to consistently follow its own procurement rules as well as various shortcomings of the council’s homelessness function. Thankfully some of the issues have been addressed between the Internal Audit visit and their presentation to the G&A Committee.

04/06/2020  Planning

This morning’s Planning Committee meeting was supposed to discuss plans for a waterski and touring caravan facility in Tallington. Unfortunately, at the very last moment, it was decided to defer the item until after a site visit could take place.

Other News

Many, many thanks are due to all the volunteers and organisations who are supporting local residents and businesses through Covid lockdown. The Deepings Round Table deserve a special mention and I am happy to be one of three Deepings Councillors who have allocated a total a thousand pounds from SKDC Community Funds towards their ongoing costs.

Finally, it is sadness that I report the passing of my friend, and former Town Councillor Roy Bell. Roy was Deputy Mayor in 2010-11 and did loads of work with the Council’s Summer Playscheme. He passed on yesterday after a long struggle with cancer. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward



Report to Market Deeping Town Council – February 2020

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.

14/01/2020         Budget – Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee            

Lots of talk about the Conservative’s Pie-in-the-Sky thinking for next year’s expenditure.

16/01/2020   Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee

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.

30/01/2020   Council

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.

Grantham favourite child – Nicholas Parsons
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Report to Market Deeping Town Council – January 2020

Report to MDTC Full Council  15th January 2020
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Happy New Year to all Town and Parish Councillors, residents of the Deepings anyone else who is takin the time to read this. I hope your 2020 is splendid!

Climate Emergency

Regular readers will know that the Council (SKDC) declared a climate emergency in September 2019. SKDC has now appointed a Climate Change Officer and have also begun a set of ‘Task and Finish’ workshops and engaged the Carbon Trust to assist with compiling baseline data to ensure a meaningful Action Plan is delivered.

Saturday Market

The market which was launched with much fanfare by InvestSK at Easter last year has struggled against inclement weather and lack of budget which has led to a spiral of decline with few stalls leading to few customers and vice versa. The last stall threw in the towel just before Christmas (and hats off to the Brown Bread stall for sticking it out for so long) and, in light of the lack of any traders, SKDC have decided to cease trading until later this year. It is not clear whether the Spring will bring a revived Saturday market or a relocation of the ongoing Wednesday market, or neither, or both.

Deeping Shorts – Film Festival

The Open Door Baptist Church is hosting ‘Deeping Shorts’ – a short festival of short films – on the first four Saturday evenings in February. It has been organised in association with the help and support of InvestSK/SKDC and will make use of the cinema screen originally purchased for the Deepings Arts Group. The films have been collated from 17 different countries and include a range of comedies, animations and thought provoking works. Many have won awards. Tickets are £5 from Stamford Arts Centre or at ODBC on the night. Here’s an excerpt from one of the films…

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