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

@LincsTories’ rearranging the furniture results in overspending

The SKDC Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee of 25th July will discuss the Council’s financial performance for 2017/18. I would like to say it makes interesting reading but I might be accused of mis-selling. Any report entitled ‘Q4 Financial Outturn 2017/18‘ is not going to reach the Waterstone’s Top 20, take my word for it. However, the report does have snippets of info which might raise eyebrows… well maybe one eyebrow, a bit.

The SKDC budget meeting of March 2017 was quite historic in that it was passed ‘unanimously’ by the Full Council. No-one could remember such a seemingly harmonious decision on the Council’s annual plans. Much later I discovered that at least one Tory, Cllr Adam Stokes, left the room to avoid the recorded vote allegedly because he was firmly opposed to the proposed rise in Council Tax but didn’t want to defy the whip, sorry, spoil the moment.

A few months later and the party was over… not the ‘Conservative Party’, that would be too much to hope for, I mean the general feeling of togetherness and unity across the chamber. The bubble was burst when the disgruntled Tory backbenchers launched another coup attempt and won. The new administration led by Cllr Matthew Lee promised important changes which were ‘long overdue’. I listened carefully to hear what these changes would be and I remember hearing an impassioned plea for new office carpets and whether I had somehow missed the public outrage about the state of SKDC floor coverings.

The very first change was the augmentation of the Council cabinet and committee structure. This immediately meant there were about 7 new posts for former backbench Conservatives which came with responsibility, status and money in the form of Special Responsibility Allowances. ‘What price democracy?’ I hear you ask. Well, the Financial Outturn Statement answers “The restructuring of the democratic arrangements has resulted in an overspend of £24K.”

The next important decision was to change the name of the ‘Executive’ to ‘Cabinet’. This came as a surprise to me because it was only just over a year earlier that the same Tories voted to change the name of the ‘Cabinet’ to ‘Executive’!

As the rubber hit the road, there were some early changes. Firstly, Beverley Agass resigned as Chief Executive (coincidentally I think) to take a job as CEO of South Cambridgeshire Council. A new CEO, Aidan Rave, was appointed along with some other bushy-tailed staff and consultants. Later in the year, one of the Council’s very senior managers left quite suddenly and unexpectedly and the lower ranks asked themselves ‘Did he jump or was he pushed?’. Now that the have Q4 outturn report we can see that ‘one-off costs arising from changes to the Corporate Management Structure’ were £125,000 higher than anticipated. My guess is that there’s a redundancy payment or Compromise Agreement tied up with that somehow (I’ll bring you more on that in a later post) Continue reading

@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

July 2018 – Report to Market Deeping Town Council

Report to Market Deeping Full Council – July 11th 2018

Apart from watching World Cup football, I’ve had another busy month. Here are the edited highlights:

Friends of Mill Field

Since my last report, Friends of Mill Field have heard news from the Independent arbiter of the Village Green application. There will be a public inquiry into the application which will probably take place in November.

In an attempt to ‘lock the stable door’, the County Council has taken the gormless decision to register a landowner deposit to declare that they wish to put an end to the recreational use of the land.

I am trying to find out how many people responded to the so-called consultation about potential development on the land.

Town Centre

SKDC’s new Head of Town Centres, Paul Allen, contacted me for a meeting about growing the town’s economy, including an update on the Saturday market. I invited Cllr Virginia Moran to join me the meeting as I know she has done a significant amount of work planning this year’s Christmas market as well as acting as liaison with SKDC regarding the proposed Saturday market. We gave Mr Allen a short tour of Market Deeping explaining the key issues faced by retailers, residents and visitors.

Saturday Market

Over 500 people responded to the recent SKDC consultation regarding a weekly market in the old market place. More than 85% of the responses were positive and the County Council is now being consulted because they are technically responsible for the market place. Assuming the County Council don’t drag their feet, the market could be launched in the autumn. Continue reading

Grantham needs a Town Council.

At the last Full Meeting of South Kesteven District Council I proposed a motion that Grantham should have a Community Governance Review to enable residents of the town to choose whether they wish to have a town council. My proposal was criticised with a succession of weak arguments along the lines of: ‘we once held a couple of meetings a few years ago but no-one turned up’; ‘we think it might cost a lot’; and ‘you live in the Deepings so what’s it got to do with you?’ (I’m paraphrasing!)

The conclusion of the debate was the passing of wrecking amendment put forward by Coun Ray Wootten (Con)  to say the Council would have hold a review only if they were legally obliged to or if SKDC ceased to exist. So, the Tories were able to say they were not against a Town Council in principle but would only vote for it in specific circumstances (and those circumstances would be if they had no other choice).

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Coun Ray Wootten (Con) and his wife Coun Linda Wootten (Con) pictured in 2016 with mayor’s hat, chain and ermine but no Town Council to preside over.

I’m pleased to read that this week’s Grantham Journal proves at least one resident supports the idea of replacing the Charter Trustees with a proper town council by publishing the following letter from Ann Wright: Continue reading

Defying Gravitas – Why is the Wherry’s Lane project in Bourne delayed?

Last week I blogged that Gravitas Housing Ltd has been planning to build houses in Bourne and that there are no definitive public evidence that South Kesteven’s Local Authority Controlled Company (LACC) is planning anything else.

On 10th January, the Deputy Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke, decided formally to sell the Wherry’s Lane site to Gravitas Housing Ltd. If I have understood correctly, the council also agreed to lend £250,000 to Gravitas in order that they could afford to buy the land.

So, after securing the land and almost a year of Shareholder Meetings held behind closed doors, the Gravitas Directors (who are all employed by SKDC) decided to request planning permission for the erection of 25 dwellings on Wherry’s Lane in Bourne. A valid application was received by SKDC planning department on 27th March 2018 (which had been prepared by a consultancy in Louth!). Continue reading

#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

There’s no such thing as waste…

There’s no such thing as waste;
only stuff in the wrong place!


Lincolnshire County Council is currently conducting a two-month consultation on the JOINT MUNICIPAL WASTE MANAGEMENT STRATEGY for the County. For convenience, the waste strategy is abbreviated to the catchy acronym of JMWMS. Unfortunately, the consultation concludes next Monday 2nd July so if you want to participate you will need to get your skates on.

For many people, the most important value, vision and target of a County-wide municipal waste strategy can be summarised as “Make sure my bins get emptied every Thursday” but the consultation assumes all consultees will be diligent in reading the various documents associated with the Draft JMWMS (a summary is available) and the Environmental Report, The first is 54 pages long (or 66 including appendices) while the latter is a technical document of 38 pages (or 116 including appendices).

I have already submitted my response. If you want to use my answers to inform your own response you are most welcome. I have already shared them with SKDC who apparently considered them as part of their workshop on the issue. (This was a another closed Members’ workshop without any external invitees. It was attended by three councillors and a few council officers. The response drafted by the workshop has been circulated to other members of the Enviroment OSC but will not be published in any committee report).

Here are my own responses. NB. I have only put the answers. If you want to see what the questions are, you will have to follow the link to the JMWMC consultation, which is kinda the point of this whole blogpost. Anyway, here goes: Continue reading

Gravitas – Is something LACC-ing?

Gravitas Housing Ltd is a company established and wholly owned by South Kesteven District Council.Wherry

What is a LACC?

In order to become more agile, flexible and able to generate revenue, many Council’s have chosen to establish Local Authority Controlled Companies (LACCs or sometimes pronounced ‘Lac-Co’).

Some LACCs have been very successful, for example Norfolk Property Services (NPS) which now has a group structure and trades as Norse Commercial Services delivering services to the public in many local authority areas (geographic areas and service areas).

Other Local Authority commercial ventures have been a nightmare, e.g. Solutions SK which was described as a ‘Four-Star shambles‘ when it lost £4.7million pounds in a year. When I say ‘lost’ I mean they couldn’t find it. The highly paid Directors employed for their commercial acumen couldn’t explain where it had gone. There was no question of fraud, only incompetence on a grand scale. I happy to report that the ‘SK’ in ‘Solutions SK’ refers to Stockport not South Kesteven. Presumably they couldn’t even spell Stockport Council when they set up the LACC.

Gravitas slowly takes off

Back in 2015, South Kesteven Councillors decided that the LACC vehicle was a band-wagon worth jumping on to and so a Shareholders Committee was formed. This is an advisory group to keep the company directors on track. Due to the need for political balance, the membership consists of four Tories and one Independent (which is me).

The first meeting was scheduled 4th July 2016 but this was cancelled. Another date was set for 6th September 2016 but this was also cancelled. The Shareholder Committee finally met for the first time on 3rd October 2016 Continue reading