Bourne to ride! Bicycle races are coming your way…

bournecicleCycling enthusiasts from far and wide will be excited to learn of the launch of a major new cycle road race to be staged in South Kesteven in 2019 – starting and finishing in Bourne.

The press launch of the “Bourne CiCLE Classic” will take place at Bourne Corn Exchange at 3pm on Thursday 1 November (This strikes me as an odd time to have a press event because it clashes with the SKDC Cabinet Meeting due to take place in Stamford on the same afternoon. It means that none of the Cabinet will be attending the launch or that they don’t regard Cabinet members as important).

The event completes the quartet of events in South Kesteven.  First, in 2013, came the bienniel Stamford Georgian Festival and the following year Grantham hosted the first bienniel Gravity Fields festival. In early 2016, Phil Dilks, Judy Stephens and I successfully argued for “Parity for the Deepings” and the Conservatives soon agreed to a bienniel Deepings Literary Festival. At the same time there were also some mumblings about Bourne. Continue reading

Jobs for the Boys (and Girls) policy at @Southkesteven.

Press Release – 26th July 2018

A recent Freedom of Information request by Independent SKDC Councillor Ashley Baxter has revealed that at least ten jobs have been recruited without the ‘normal’ competitive process of advertising and shortlisting for the roles.

In several cases the new recruits are former colleagues of senior Conservative Councillors at SKDC. Some of the direct recruitments have been for very senior roles.

Cllr Ashley Baxter comments: “This is a disgrace and a scandal. Nepotism and cronyism on this scale was supposed to have been eradicated with the Northcote Trevelyan Report of 1854 and is contrary to every rule of common sense in local government.”  Cllr Baxter is keen to point out that his opposition to the recruitments is not related to the nominated individuals, most of who he has never met, but to the principles of transparency, due process, fairness and equality.

Cllr Baxter has made a formal complaint to the council about the number of appointments. He believes that most, if not all, of the appointments might be illegal and in contravention of the Equalities Act 2010 and the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.

Excerpt from Local Govt and Housing Act 1989

The full list of directly recruited posts is as follows: Continue reading

Graham Norton provides inspiration for Lincolnshire hedgehogs… @grahnort

Press Release

Graham Norton provides inspiration for Lincolnshire hedgehogs…

The BBC Radio 2 Graham Norton Show has, inadvertently, resulted in a concerted campaign to protect hedgehogs in South Kesteven.

Coun Ashley Baxter (Ind), who represents the Market and West Deeping Ward was listening to BBC Radio 2 while driving his daughter home from a music lesson when he heard Graham Norton interviewing the much-loved poet, Pam Ayres MBE, about her new book called “The Last Hedgehog”.

Pam Ayres informed Mr Norton, and a listening nation, that hedgehog numbers have fallen by 50 per cent since 2000 and there are now fewer than a million of the prickly population left in the UK.

Coun Baxter was keen for South Kesteven to take action and requested the South Kesteven Communications Team send out information to residents about the issue. He comments: “I was hoping that the PR team would be able to use the council newsletter, SK Today, and our wider media network to explain the importance of leaving out shallow dishes of water and leaving gaps under fences to allow hedgehogs to roam freely in search of food and other hedgehogs. I’m sure it’s difficult enough for hedgehogs to mate without the trouble of being separated by a six foot garden fence.”

The communications team immediately published information to coincide with National Hedgehog Awareness Week but also discussed the issue with colleagues in other council departments. It was decided that the Council’s grounds maintenance staff should be involved and stickers were put onto the Councils strimmers and mowers to remind staff of the importance of checking for hedgehogs before cutting long grass and hedges.

Coun Baxter continues: “I am delighted the council has adopted this campaign with such enthusiasm. It ties in well with the recent decision to bring grounds maintenance back in-house. I am sure next year we will be able to put in place many more initiatives to protect hedgehogs, hares, foxes and other wildlife.”

An unnamed council spokesperson commented “It’s a great campaign. Let’s hope our more prickly residents will see the point!”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

  • More details about hedgehogs can be obtained from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/
  • Pam Ayres’ book – The Last Hedgehog – is published from Pan Macmillan for £6.99.

@SouthKesteven Communications Guru is paid more than a Cabinet Minister!

South Kesteven District Council has been paying an external consultancy more than £10,000 a month for advice on its communication strategy. Since June last year, Adrian Smith of Emulus Communications Limited has been engaged in the role as Head of Communications for the Conservative-led local authority. It is believed that the consultancy contract was originally established at the instruction of the Coun Matthew Lee who took over as Leader of the South Kesteven Conservatives two months earlier (April 2017). The two men have previously worked together in 2010 when Coun Lee was a Council Cabinet Member in Peterborough.

Independent Member for Market and West Deeping ward, Coun Ashley Baxter is alarmed: “I was shocked to discover that we are paying over £140,000 a year to an external consultant for work which should rightly be carried out by Council staff. During the last 12 months, I have communicated with Mr Smith several times about the lack of publicity for events and projects in the South of the District. When I met him at the end of March to discuss the problem, I was disappointed to learn that in nine months at the Council he had not even visited Market Deeping. Anyone being paid £10,000 to promote the District should make it their business to know every corner of their patch. The situation has improved recently but I can’t believe we’re paying more than a salary higher than that of a Government Minister for Mr Smith’s services.” Continue reading

The England bandwagon

This is the text of a letter about Nick Boles latest campaign that I sent to the Stamford Mercury earlier this week…

Dear Editor

Nobody is surprised to hear Nick Boles MP calling for people to fly England flags. He is famous for leaping aboard every passing bandwagon so why not the world cup? It is a convenient distraction from the Tories ongoing imbroglio over Brexit. However, I am surprised Mr Boles chose to be photographed with a tourist flag embellished with words, a crest and an inexplicable star rather than a proper England flag. The latter is a plain red cross on a plain white background known as the St George’s cross and named after a roman soldier who became a Christian martyr but never set foot in our green and pleasant land. A true patriot would surely be aware of that! Come on, England!

Yours etc,

Ashley Baxter

Nick Boles MP partially hidden behind a flag based loosely on the design of the England flag.

@MakeVotesMatter in Stamford during ‘National Democracy Week’

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PRESS RELEASE
Release Date: 3rd July 2018

The Government has declared “National Democracy Week” between 2nd and 8th July but campaigners have taken to the streets of Stamford to explain why they feel the UK electoral system is in dire need of an overhaul.

Coun Ashley Baxter (Ind) who represents the Market and West Deeping ward of South Kesteven District Council explains:

“Many people in Lincolnshire are frustrated that although only around half of voters vote Conservatives, that particular party always wins the vast majority of the available council seats at District, County and even Parliamentary level. It is no wonder so many people feel disenfranchised and disillusioned and have given up voting completely. At the street stall in Stamford many people agreed with us that a more effective system of elections is not only possible but essential.”

Stamford Town Councillor Steve Carroll (IND) and Little Bytham Parish Councillor Gerhard Lohmann-Bond (Green) were also involved in the organisation of the event.

The stall was one of more than 60 across the country as part of a national day of action co-ordinated by the Make Votes Matter campaign. People who wish to know more about proportional representation or would like to sign the petition for electoral reform should visit the makevotesmatter.org.uk website.

ENDS

#TakingBackControl of our Grounds Maintenance!

PRESS RELEASE

Release date: Immediate

Council to consider creating Grounds Maintenance company.

South Kesteven District Council has decided to investigate forming a grounds maintenance company to take care of grass cutting, hedge trimming and maintenance of flower beds. The proposed local authority controlled company would look after all the council’s parks and municipal open spaces and is also expected to take on similar work for other organisations including town and parish councils.

The preferred option was chosen from four alternatives presented to the Council’s Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee which was held at the Council’s depot in Grantham on Wednesday 20th June. The other options included a competitive tender, setting up a partnership with another local authority or taking the grounds maintenance work completely in-house. Continue reading

SKDC Press Release: Young traders to breathe new life into Grantham Market

A Teenage Market will be helping South Kesteven District Council re-launch its traditional Saturday market on 7 July.

Young traders from 12 to 18 years-old will be running stalls alongside regular traders amidst a food court with hog roast, a pop-up vintage tea room and a cookery demonstration using produce from the market.

Fairground rides and musical entertainment will enliven the market on Westgate and the Market Square, including choirs, a solo singer and a jazz ensemble. Continue reading

Stamford electors choose ‘None of the Above’

Here is the text of a letter I sent to Stamford Mercury this week concerning the recent low turnout in the two Stamford by-elections in St John’s Ward (20.8%) and St George’s Ward (17.2%) …

“Dear Editor

Congratulations to Rachael Cooke and David Taylor on winning the Stamford by-elections last week. I genuinely hope they make a positive difference to the quality of representation at South Kesteven District Council.

Sadly, their mandate has already been undermined by most people in Stamford. Despite the recent hyperbole about taking back control and the importance of a centenary of women’s suffrage, fewer than twenty percent of eligible voters turned out last week and fewer than one in ten residents expressed a preference for either of the aforementioned candidates.

I can understand why people are disillusioned with the current archaic electoral system.  Due to absence of proportional representation, most people do not get the person or party we voted for at either local or national level. At last year’s Lincolnshire County elections the Conservatives gained 54 percent of the vote but collected over 80 per cent of the seats. This situation cannot be accurately described as representative democracy.

Another reason for public disengagement is the mostly unfair portrayal of politicians by the media as being self-interested, corrupt and disconnected. Anyone who witnesses the passion, patience and attention to detail displayed by Councillors at almost any meeting will understand local politics is not about fame or fortune.

Finally, people don’t vote because they don’t think it makes any difference. Recent high profile planning cases such as Kettering Road where inspectors have over-ruled the decisions of councillors do cause one to wonder but there are plenty of sensible planning decisions which are upheld on appeal and consequently do not attract attention in the press. Furthermore, even a lowly backbench Independent like me can influence decision making and occasionally put forward and win an argument for change.

Come on, Stamford! If you are unhappy with the hegemony of the Lincolnshire Tories then get involved. Turn up to the meetings, write to your Councillors, even stand for election if you like, but most importantly make sure you vote. Every Councillor does make a difference for better or for worse and voter apathy can cost lives.

Yours faithfully,

Cllr Ashley Baxter (Ind)
Market & West Deeping Ward”