When I was first elected to South Kesteven District Council eight years ago, my motivation was to improve services for residents, especially for the poor, the old, the young and the vulnerable, and also to improve and protect the global and local environment.
I had not expected to spend so much time trying to extract information which should rightly be in the public domain. Deliberate attempts to hide spending and obscure decision-making have made it difficult for councillors, or anyone else, to hold the Conservative Cabinet to account. Is is abundantly clear that they HATE scrutiny.
It’s not all bad news. During the last four years, SKDC have started recording meetings which has been invaluable in holding people to account for what they say (including me!). Mrs Thatcher would have approved because one of her first acts as a Member of Parliament was to introduce legislation to ensure the press and public had access to meetings; this is most ironic given the extent to which SKDC Tories use workshops and group meetings to try to avoid public scrutiny.
We will have a different council after the local elections on 4th May. Hopefully we will have far more Independents and a chance to change. Here are some ideas for how to improve scrutiny and decision-making at SKDC.
1. Ensure public questions are allowed at the start of all council meetings, committee meetings and workshops.
2. With the possible exception of Full Council meetings, allow members of the public to turn up to ask questions on the day, rather than having to submit them in writing the day before. This was the case until last year when the Conservatives decided to put barriers in the way of public questions. There was never a long queue of questions and the new rule was merely a means of protecting slow-witted councillors from embarrassing themselves by exposing their ignorance. Any pro-active Councillor should welcome questions about service provision even when they don’t have an immediate answer.
3. Supplementary questions from members of the public at Full Council were banned last year. They should be re-instated. People don’t want to drive 30 miles to be fobbed off with an answer prepared by an officer in advance of the meeting.
4. Open questions to Cabinet members at committees and council meetings should be encouraged not stifled.
5. Workshops should be open to attendance by members of the public (unless discussing commercial or personally sensitive information). I have recently been denied access to workshops as a councillor, let alone as a member of the public. On one occasion I was told that the workshop was ‘not a formal meeting’ even though it was set up at the behest of a council committee, held in a council office and attended by councillors and council officers!
6. Some meetings should be held in the evening to allow access to people who are not able to attend meetings during the day.
7. Some meetings should be held elsewhere than Grantham, especially if they are particular concern to a local community. When the Council was debating the future of the Deepings leisure centre, I asked for meetings to be held in the Deepings. This was considered ‘impossible’.
8. Workshops and committee meetings should occasionally invite expert witnesses to participate in deliberations. Sometimes, the Conservatives seem positively frightened at the prospect of hearing from anyone who actually knows anything about a given subject.
9. A general attitude of openness and honesty from councillors would be helpful. When Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) sent himself on a training course which included a stay in America and cost the council £6,000, he seemed determined to cover it up. It took a good deal of investigation by Phil Gadd (Ind) and I to unearth the details and, when we asked who had authorised the course, Cllr Cooke’s Cabinet colleagues performed verbal gymnastics to try to avoid responsibility. It would have been much easier to be upfront and come clean.
10. Finally, one measure which is beyond the control of the SKDC – The press have a responsibility to allow the truth to be told and it is disappointing that the Stamford Mercury have, until now, resisted printing opinion pieces from Independent councillors while allowing prominent Conservatives to use monthly columns to say pretty much whatever they like. I hope this imbalance will be redressed after the election.
None of this is going to happen unless a big chunk of the South Kesteven Conservative group is removed from office in May. If you want better, more open decision-making, vote for decent Independent candidates.
(byAshley Baxter, SKDC Councillor for Market and West Deeping Ward)
I have tried to publish updates regarding the proposed new Deepings Leisure Centre which was originally announced by the Conservatives almost four years ago. The most recent were in November and September. Since then, very little has been published by South Kesteven District Council (SKDC) regarding the development, but I am moderately pleased to report that there has been some activity behind the scenes which gives cause for hope.
Firstly, formal communication has been restored! After an interval of many months, the monthly catch-up meetings are now taking between the project manager and the Deepings Independent Councillors (Cllr Phil Dilks, Cllr Virginia Moran and me). The meetings involve sharing of information and robust but good-natured exchanges of opinion; a refreshing return to a sensible conversation.
Regular readers will know that I am one of many people frustrated by the lack of tangible progress towards the planning and construction of the new leisure centre facilities. In fairness to SKDC, it has been a particularly difficult year with Covid which has resulted in the council effectively taking leisure services back in-house. This has been acheived by the creation of a council-owned company called ‘Leisure SK’. The Board of Leisure SK is composed mostly of Conservative councillors but some industry expertise and experience is offered by a non-executive Director. He is well-remunerated (circa £15,000pa) but probably worth the expense. The Board meetings are also attended by the SKDC Head of Leisure representing the views of the ‘client’ i.e. the Council. The creation of a structure and business plan for LeisureSK in just a few short months is an admirable achievement and it should mean leisure centres are more responsive and accountable to the public who use them. The drawback is that the same small team responsible for planning LeisureSK is also responsible for progressing the new Leisure Centre which has consequently been delayed again.
Application to the Football Foundation
The first step on the road to a new leisure centre will probably be a new All-Weather Pitch (AWP). This is commonly but incorrectly referred to as the ‘astroturf’. Many months of positive dialogue with Football Foundation (FF, the charitable arm of the FA) have given reason to believe a bid to the FF would be successful. It was hoped that this bid would be submitted before Christmas and the pitch might be ready for the kick-off of the football season this autumn. That’s not gonna happen; but perhaps it will be ready by the following year. Furthermore, the FF have suggested it would be best to delay making the formal bid until planning permission has been granted for the pitch.
This means that SKDC hopes/needs/intends/expects to submit an application for planning permission for an all-weather pitch within the next few weeks. This will involve publishing the first clues about the intended layout of the site, ie. if it is clear where the all-weather pitch will be sited within the Spalding Road site then one can make educated guesses about where the leisure centre is likely to be built.
Layout of the site
The location of the leisure centre is one of the points on which the Independent Councillors (including me) have had ‘exchanges of opinion’ with the Head of Leisure. To her credit, she has promised to share our views with the project architect who will hopefully take them into consideration. Ideally, there would be a choice of potential site layouts which could be shared with local residents, sports clubs and other stakeholders. It is not clear whether or not timescales and budgets will allow this ‘luxury’.
The other knock-on effect of preparing a planning application is that surveys have to be completed to the satisfaction of the planners (and the FF). I can therefore inform you that topographical surveys (mapping) have been taken of the whole of the Spalding Road site and geotechnical surveys (digging holes) have been undertaken at the parts of the site relating to the potential location(s) of the all-weather pitch.
The Big Announcement
Some of us were expecting a great unveiling of some of the detail of the Deepings Leisure Centre project in the weeks leading up to the County Council election. Sadly, that moment has probably now passed and the rules of ‘purdah’ mean that SKDC is unlikely to be issuing press releases and photos of councillors with hard hats and hi-vis jackets. The next big date on the horizon is the SKDC Cabinet meeting in June which is due to “discuss the proposals for Deepings Leisure Centre Development, to receive a presentation of feasibility work including options explored and operational business plans” and “to agree the facility mix and associated capital envelope of the development to be taken forward to the next stage”. As mentioned above, this might be preceded by a planning application for the all-weather pitch.
The Unpublished Leisure Report
In other news, on 4 Feb I submitted a Freedom of Information request in order to try to get a publicly accessible copy of the consultancy report produced by MACE over a year ago at a cost of roughly a quarter of a million pounds. The Council has 20 working days to respond to FoI requests and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it took 18 days fo reply that “This information is exempt under Section 22 of the FoIA 2000, which states that a public authority is not obliged to provide information which is intended for publication at a future date.”
However, the response went on to say “This exemption applies because the MACE report will be provided as a background paper to a cabinet report which is due to go before Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet not later than September 2021” so watch this space (but don’t get excited because I’ve seen a redacted copy of the report and it isn’t so exciting).
Back to ‘normal’
In case you are wondering, I can confirm that SKDC intend to re-open all the existing Leisure Centres in line with the Covid roadmap guidance, ie. it should be possible to book lane-swimming and gym sessions via the LeisureSK website from 12th April. Sports clubs including Deepings Swim Club should also start proper training again.
[I do realise that for many of our young athletes the training has continued throughout lockdown, thanks to the dedication of their club officials and coaches. However, swim club training in the living room is inevitably a poor substitute for swim club training in the pool]
Finally, some shameless electioneering
Since being elected to SKDC in 2015, I have tried to keep people up-to-date with council issues affecting the Deepings and the wider SK District. I have done this through
attending Town and Parish meetings
publishing regular activity updates
occasional ward newsletters (though not during Covid)
posting on Facebook and Twitter
publishing information on this blog.
I have also been actively involved in lobbying on behalf of Deepings residents on many issues including: protecting Millfield as a publicly accessible open space; arguing against some planning applications and in favour of others; participating in the Neighbourhood Plan process; and representing residents’ concerns to SKDC and LCC.
On Thursday 6th May, Deepings will be electing new County Councillors and I will be the Independent candidate for Deepings West and Rural Division which includes most of Market Deeping as well as Baston and the villages of the Uffington benefice.
Please vote for me if you are able. If you live elsewhere in Lincolnshire, please support other Independent candidates.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
The agenda for the South Kesteven Cabinet meeting of 16th June has not yet been published. I don’t have a crystal ball but I am going to make a prediction: the Conservative cabinet will present proposals for a review and report of the impact of the Coronavirus on SKDC’s operations aimed at identifying lessons to be learned which can improve the council’s ‘normal’ day-to-day activity as well as for any future crisis emergency.
If the Cabinet does propose such an investigation then I, for one, will fully support the idea. In fact, I already have! I proposed pretty much the same idea as a motion to the last Full Council (See below). My proposal was made 30th April, well ahead of the normal deadline and was acknowledged by the democratic services team. I mentioned it in a phone call to the Council Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con), who hadn’t seen it so I sent him a copy. The following day he informed me that he was “happy to support the majority” of the content of my motion but he had spoken to the Chief Executive who had decided, under her delegated powers, that the first virtual meeting of Full Council would have no motions nor any open questions from Councillors of the public; in other words, just a rubber-stamping exercise for publicity purposes. I was formally informed of this decision later the same day just minutes before the publication of the agenda. The Chief Executive did not have the courtesy to phone or e-mail me to explain the reason for her decision, let alone discuss the content and aspirations of the proposals.
So, rather than try to establish a cross-party consensus for a pragmatic and straightforward action, the council’s high command decided to delay the decision for a month so that it can be trumpeted as an innovative, original and (most importantly) Conservative idea.
Obviously, I am disappointed with the way the issue has been dealt with, especially regarding the continued lack of communication and colloboration with Independent and other opposition councillors, but I am not at all surprised. The SKDC Conservative’s Modus Operandi is to oppose almost any idea from Independent councillors and then present it as their own idea a few months later. If you think I am exaggerating, here are some examples:
When I proposed the Council adopt the Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees in June 2019, the Conservatives voted firmly against the idea. Happily, within a few days the relevant Cabinet Member was posing for press photos holding a copy of the Charter in his hands. It was adopted a few weeks later.
A proposal to ensure major planning applications are decided by Councillors and not just officers was turned down in November 2018 when presented by Cllr Phil Dilks (then Lab, now Ind) but was adopted by the council in March 2019.
Never mind though; the important thing is to get the Council to accept good ideas. I suppose it doesn’t matter if it takes a bit longer and the people with the original ideas don’t get the credit.
Here, for future reference, is the text of my motion which I hope and expect will have been implemented before it is presented to the Full Council meeting in July.
Motion to Full Council – 14th May 2020
Creating a new ‘normal’.
The recent and ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has presented historic challenges to government at all levels and across the world. At South Kesteven District Council, the episode has required the implementation of emergency procedures and the establishment of new and innovative ways of working. The work of our staff, senior management and fellow councillors through this time has been invaluable and we owe a debt of gratitude.
The effect of Coronavirus on our economy and society has been huge and, in many cases, heartbreaking. However, some of the new ways of working have had positive impacts which could potentially provide long-term benefits.
The council resolves that:
Cabinet commissions a report into how the Coronavirus episode has impacted our operations, focusing specifically on opportunities to make long term environmental and financial savings (The report should be produced and published before the end of the December 2020).
Environment Committee and Cabinet to prioritise within their workplans: a) consideration of how to use remote working opportunities for staff and members to the mutual benefit of the council and individuals. b) further consideration of opportunities to improve grounds maintenance practices to improve ecology and reduce costs c) in partnership with the waste disposal authority, consideration of how waste collection and disposal systems could be enhanced to improve efficiency and recycling rates.
Proposed by Cllr Ashley Baxter Market & West Deeping 30th April 2020
My last update regarding the new Deepings leisure centre was published on March 12th. Obviously, the world has changed since then, due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, I am pleased to report that, despite the lockdown, there appears to be some evidence of progress with the plans.
The Deputy Leader of the Council has promised that some detailed proposals will be shared with the Deepings ward councillors before the end of June. It appears that plans for a new leisure centre at Stamford have been abandoned and investigations into whether Grantham’s facilities should be relocated from the Meres to the town centre have concluded that this would not be feasible (The latter decision shouldn’t have taken more than ten seconds of informed research). Instead, the facilities at Bourne, Grantham and Stamford will receive facelifts and refurbishment of varying extent while the Deepings Leisure Centre remains firmly on the table as a new-build project.
Meanwhile, Independent Councillors who represent Deepings wards continue to ask questions about the lack of progress made so far. Cllr Ashley Baxter (Ind, Market and West Deeping and author of this blog) has discovered the Council has squandered £284,000 on paying consultancy firm ‘Mace’ to evaluate options for leisure centres across the District. A heavy tome has been produced by Mace but it is apparently of little use. I have recently asked for a copy of the report to see what ‘magic beans’ it prescribes but I fear I might have to wait a while and, if I ever do see it, the content will be commercially confidential.
The commisioning of the consultants’ report was approved by the SKDC Full Council of 2019. During the meeting, the then newly-elected Cllr Virginia Moran prophesied that it would be a waste of money declaring ““We shouldn’t need to spend more than 6p to determine the business case for a leisure centre for the Deepings.”.
The expenditure was proposed by Cllr Helen Goral (Con) who has since resigned from the Cabinet during the leadership of Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) who has since resigned as Council Leader. The Chief Executive at the time was Aidan Rave but he has now left the Council altogether.
Before authorising the expenditure, the Council was told that Mace would be used as the preferred supplier because the Council already had a working relationship with them and consequently there was no need to shop around. It was also stated that the £250,000 additional funding allocation would “allow for the detailed business cases to be developed for Stamford, Market Deeping and Bourne”. Now here we are, a year later, £284,000 poorer and it seems that no detailed business cases emerged from the consultant. I am not altogether surprised as it was rumoured at the time that the supposed leisure centre experts didn’t appear to know that modern swimming pools can have movable floors.
It was the aforementioned Cllr Lee who, in 2017, made the bold promises of:
a new leisure centre in the Deepings
a new leisure centre in Stamford
10,000 ft2 of new office accommodation in the Deepings;
a 300-seat ‘digital hub’ in Stamford,
a serviced office facility for micro-businesses in Bourne.
Three years later and none of this has been delivered, furthermore it seems the Deepings Leisure Centre is the only item on the shopping list which currently shows any sign of intent or progress. I hope that my next ‘leisure centre update’ post will have some far more positive news.
Concerns over income
At the Finance Committee earlier this week it was revealed that the incumbent manager of the SKDC Leisure Centres, 1Life, has submitted a legal claim to the Council for financial losses resulting from the Covid crisis. The claim is being reviewed and challenged so it is not possible to specify the financial impact at this time.
Confusion over decision-making
As a Ward Councillor, it has always been quite difficult to keep up-to-date with what’s happening regarding the Leisure Transformation programme, and especially to find information which can be shared ‘on the record’. The Council Officers have been very good at answering questions as honestly as they can and as transparently as they are allowed. The recently appointed Head of Leisure has been very clear with me about the challenges she faces in terms of the existing leisure centres and the new-build and refurbishment projects and I am very grateful for her candour.
However, the ‘proper democratic process’ has been far more difficult to navigate. Independent Councillors for the Deepings, namely Cllr Virginia Moran, Cllr Phil Dilks and myself, have asked publicly for updates regarding the Deepings facilities at every appropriate opportunity. For three years now we have received patronising ‘all in good time’ and ‘wait and see’ responses. We have been subjected to phoney consultations and genuine consultations and have tried throughout to keep local sports clubs informed.
The most recent formal decision of the Council was to create a ‘Members Working Group’ or possibly a number of ‘Members Working Groups’, either concerning the Leisure Transformation plans across the District or relevant to each town, depending on which meeting minutes you read and whether or not you were in the room when the Group(s) were formed.
Regardless of the remit and the membership, no meeting of any formally established Members Working Groups have been convened. However, it is hoped that the Deepings will be the first to have a serious conversation about the available options for a new Leisure Centre and that conversation will start next month, hopefully!
If you have comments, suggestions or concerns about the impact of the new Leisure Centre you can respond to this post, contact me or, if you prefer, e-mail SKDC officers directly using firstname.lastname@example.org
I might have complained before about how some Council meetings have a reputation for being boring and that ‘Governance and Audit Committee is one of them’.
I was actually quite looking forward to this afternoon’s meeting because of the revelations of the council’s Auditors concerning ‘Financial Sustainability’, ‘Procurement and Contracts’, ‘Homelessness’ and ‘Void Management’ which I have outlined below.
Unfortunately, when I tried to join the virtual meeting, I could not find the joining details on the public website, Thankfully, with the help of council staff members, I was able to find the skype address in my ‘in-box’ and arrived at the meeting just in time.
The meeting began with housekeeping and a roll-call of the committee members, the other councillors, the council officers and the various auditors who were presenting reports. We then moved onto the minutes of the previous meeting but I interrupted proceedings to ask the Chair, Cllr Ian Stokes (Con), for clarification of whether members of the public were actually able to view the meeting. I pointed out that if the public were not able to view the proceedings then we could be acting ‘illegally’. With hindsight, I think a better word would have been ‘improperly’.
The Committee Clerks suggested the meeting be adjourned briefly while they checked the situation. When they returned, 10 minutes later, they confirmed that there were no instructions on the website by which the public could find out how to join the meeting and, therefore, the meeting did not satisfy the regulatory requirements of a public meeting. The meeting was then adjourned until another date (yet to be confirmed) could be arranged with proper access to the public.
Governance and Audit Committee meetings are not famous for their packed public galleries, in fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw a member of the public in attendance. However, we have no way of telling how many people wanted to attend the meeting now that is supposed to be accessible by remote access and, this far into lockdown, we should have systems in place to ensure our meetings and decisions are properly visible, transparent and run in accordance with all appropriate rules and regulations.
If the meeting had gone ahead, we would have discussed a range of issues presented by our Internal Auditor including:
“Conclusion: Partial Assurance; Impact on Annual Opinion: Negative As a result of testing undertaken, 11 ‘medium’ and one ‘low’ priority findings were identified. Management actions were agreed in respect of all the findings. The medium priority findings relate to: • Through review of the Service Plan in place between the Council and Welland Procurement, instances were noted where contracts had not been procured by the agreed target completion dates. • From discussions with the Procurement Lead it was confirmed that the current Contracts Register is not fully complete and there are still gaps in regards to certain departments. • A sample of 20 contracts from the Council’s current Contract Register were selected and tested. Four instances were noted where no documentation was provided in relation to the documented contracts (all in excess of £50,000) and therefore the following could not be confirmed: o That a procurement process had been followed in line with the Council’s Contract and Procurement Procedure Rules for each of the contracts; o That the contracts had been advertised on the ProContract e-tendering system; o That a scoring matrix was utilised as part of an evaluation process; o That successful or unsuccessful letters were sent out to all applicants; o That due-diligence checks such as credit worthiness were carried out by the Council on the successful contractors; o That a contract was in place that was signed by both the Council and the contracted party; o That the Council had included clauses within the contracts governing the circumstances whereby early termination or exit of the contract is permitted; o That appropriate monitoring had been undertaken of the Contracts by the dedicated Contract Managers; and o That the Council completed initial and on-going risk assessments for the contracts in relation to Health and Safety.”
Again, I have previously expressed concern that the number of households in South Kesteven has trebled in recent years suggesting we have an increasing problem with homelessness. The Internal Auditor suggests some potential reasons why the problems continue.
“Conclusion: Partial Assurance; Impact on Annual Opinion: Negative As a result of testing undertaken, seven ‘medium’ and seven ‘low’ priority findings were identified. Management actions were agreed in respect of all the findings. The medium priority findings relate to: • A training log spreadsheet is in place for staff members within the Homelessness Prevention Team. It was however noted that certain staff members did not have any delivered training documented. Additionally, instances were noted where dates were not recorded for when the relevant training was completed and there is also no information currently documented for refresher training if applicable. • From testing a sample of 20 homelessness applications from the current financial year, instances were identified whereby the initial assessment had not been carried out or the initial contact was not made promptly with the applicant and instances where decision letters were not sent to the applicant promptly. • Testing identified one instance where the Prevention or Relief Duty was note ended within 56 days and an extension had not been applied. It was also noted that a supporting decision letter was not produced and sent to the applicant once duty had ended. • The Council has a Temporary Accommodation Procedure in place although it was noted that the Procedure had not been updated since 2015. It was also noted that the Procedure does not cover the booking of emergency accommodation. Additionally, the Procedure does not specify a need to consider value for money, or a list of approved hotels and bed and breakfasts which the Council has negotiated favourable rates with. • From testing a sample of 20 homelessness applications which had resulted in the allocation of temporary or emergency accommodation during the current financial year instances were noted whereby a Temporary Accommodation Request Form had either not been completed or authorised, no evidence of any action being taken to recover monies owed to the Council by tenants with outstanding utility charges or where emergency accommodation costs had been covered by the Council. • From a review of the Temporary Accommodation Rent Procedure it was noted that it does not provide adequate detail to allow rent officers to recoup rent and utility charges. Additionally, the Procedure does not specify the point at which a Notice to Vacate should be served and does not provide any guidance on the recovery procedure for outstanding utility charges. • At the time of audit, it was noted that there is currently no monitoring undertaken by the Homelessness Prevention Team to identify repeat users of temporary or emergency accommodation.“
The Internal Audit of the way SKDC manages empty properties (aka ‘Voids’) was slightly less disparaging although it was noted:
“At the time of audit, the Council did not have a Voids Policy in place. Through discussion with the Head of Improvements and Repairs it was confirmed that a Voids Policy is due to be drafted”.
I am now trying to find out whether the voids policy has been drafted and/or adopted. This is partly in preparation for the meeting when it comes back from its adjournment and partly to try to make sense of why at least one council property in Market Deeping has been empty for more than six months. I am sure there must be a simple and reasonable explanation.
The External Audit Plan was also due to be presented to this afternoon’s meeting. The audit report (which costs over £40,000) has rightly drawn attention to the potentially massive impact of Covid19. However it also identified following significant VFM risks (Value for Money):
“For 2020/21 the Council is proposing a balanced budget with no use of General Fund reserves. The Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) to 2022/23 shows funding gaps of £1,009k in 2021/22 and £1,302k in 2022/23 and officers are working on addressing these gaps in early 2020/21. The Council have recently appointed a new Chief Executive and their first priority is to update the Corporate Plan. An updated MTFS will be developed to supported this updated corporate plan. We will review the work the Council is undertaking to address the gaps identified in the MTFS. We will also review the updated Corporate Plan and its effect on the MTFS.”
When Karen Bradford arrived as Chief Exec of SKDC earlier this year, she mentioned the need for a refresh or rewrite of the Corporate Plan. I agreed and drew her attention to the previous colourful plan we had approved which was full of pictures of exotic animals but rather light on practical planning.
The review of the Medium Term Financial Strategy will, it is hoped, be completed before too long and the Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr Adam Stokes (Con), will have to present it to the relevant committees for scrutiny and approval.
I am sure the Chair of the Governance and Audit Committee will have no misgivings about asking challenging and difficult questions of the Cabinet Member for Finance; He is, after all, his father!
During the financial year 2019/20, four out of the eight Stamford district councillors allocated the whole £1,000 to good causes. Cllr Susan Sandall (unaligned) awarded £500 and Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) only £250. Cllr John Dawson (Con) chose not award any grants at all.
I do not currently have specific project details for each award but I have written a more general overview of the scheme.
During the financial year 2019/20, four out of the eight Stamford district councillors allocated the whole £1,000 to good causes. Cllr David Bellamy (Con) and Cllr John Cottier (Con) both chose not award any grants at all.
I do not currently have specific project details for each award but I have written a more general overview of the scheme.
St John’s Ambulance
Cllr Adam Stokes
Cllr Annie Mason
Grantham Ark (St Wulfram’s Church)
Cllr Annie Mason
Colsterworth Parochial Church
Cllr Bob Adams
Grantham Lions Club
Cllr Charmaine Morgan
Grantham Food Bank
Cllr Dean Ward
Grantham Disabled Children Society
Cllr George Chivers
Cllr George Chivers
St Wulfram’s Church (Grantham Ark)
Cllr George Chivers
United Parish of the Trinity
Cllr Graham Jeal
Barrowby Open Door
Cllr Hannah Westropp
Friends of Sandon & Ambergate
Cllr Helen Goral
St Wulfram’s Church (Choir)
Cllr Hilary Westropp
South Kesteven District Council (SK Charity Cup printing)
Cllr Ian Selby
Harrowby Football Club
Cllr Ian Selby
Grantham Town FC
Cllr Ian Selby
Bourne Town Football Club
Cllr Ian Selby
South Kesteven Charity Cup
Cllr Ian Selby
Grantham Journal Children’s Fund
Cllr Ian Selby
Great Gonerby Parish Council
Cllr Ian Stokes
Peascliffe & Ridgeway
Belton & Manthorpe Parish Council
Cllr Ian Stokes
Peascliffe & Ridgeway
Dr Friers Children’s Holiday Fund
Cllr Jacky Smith
Commemorative Tree & Plaque Wyndham Park – Frank Northing
Cllr Jacky Smith
Commemorative Tree & Plaque Wyndham Park – Nora English