Report to Market Deeping Town Council – October 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council  9th October 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Meetings Attended (and Not Attended!)

17/09/2019   Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee  

This was a meeting where we discussed the Council’s approach to Climate Change. I had already proposed a Climate Emergency motion to Full Council (see below) but Cllr Peter Moseley (Con) also proposed a similar idea. The OSC discussed the idea of setting up a ‘Task and Finish’ group on Climate Change. This is definitely a different forum to the ongoing secret workshops on climate change commissioned by the previous OSC meeting. It will have 6 Councillors, 5 Officers and, at my suggestion, 1 external expert to offer an alternative perspective.

At this meeting we also discussed and (almost) agreed a new protocol for informing District Councillors about trees in their respective wards. This should mean that we should at least be made aware of imminent felling of trees by the Council even if we might not be able to save them.

The Committee also proposed to recommend to Cabinet that SKDC adopts the Woodland Trust’s Local Authority Tree Charter. If this sounds familiar it is because it is very, very similar to the Woodland Trust’s other tree charter which most Conservative Councillors voted against when I presented it to Full Council a few months ago. Happily, we have now reached an acceptable form of words and, because it is now a Tory idea, we should be signed up very soon.

The OSC also discussed progress on some other issues including the Food Waste Collection pilot scheme which has apparently been applauded by DEFRA for its excellent participation rate although they haven’t yet gone so far as to offer the additional funding required to roll it out across the district, let alone the county or country.

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South Kesteven is recruiting a Climate Change Officer!

South Kesteven District Council is recruiting a Sustainability and Climate Change Officer to assist the authority in tackling Climate Change! The deadline for applications to this exciting job is 14th October 2019.

Who can hold back the tide in Market Deeping, Bourne, Stamford and Grantham?

The recruitment of this Officer is a direct result of the Council’s declaration of ‘Climate Emergency’ following a debate last month’s Full Council. I originally put the issue on the council agenda as a motion (submitted immediately after the previous Full Council meeting). However, in the intervening months, Cllr Peter Moseley (Con) presented a Climate Emergency report to Cabinet which also appeared on the agenda of Full Council. Cllr Moseley’s proposal included the establishment of a ‘Task and Finish Group’ to investigate how SKDC can address issues of Climate Change.

Our two separate proposals differed in terms of specific objectives and targets but happily I was able to meet with Cllr Moseley to discuss the differences between our two Climate Emergency proposals and to try and find a middle-ground.

It was agreed that I should propose an amendment to Cllr Moseley’s proposal which would include three key points:

  • Establish environmental performance indicators
  • Set a target of achieving ‘net zero’ emissions for the Council as early as possible before 2050
  • Set a target of reducing emissions from the Council by 30% by 2030.

We each took the draft compromise amendment to our respective Party groups and the proposal and the amendment were discussed by Council on 29th September.

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Trouble in paradise… Matthew Lee makes a resignation statement as outgoing leader of SKDC.

The dream team in happier days! Cllr Matthew Lee, Mr Aidan Rave and Cllr Kelham Cooke.

Loyal readers will remember that I posted a couple of months ago speculating as to the reasons for the sudden resignation of Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) as Leader of the SK Conservative group, and therefore as Leader of the whole Council.

At last Thursday’s Full Council meeting, Matthew had an opportunity to explain the reasons for his departure. Standing orders were suspended in order to allow him to deliver a ten-minute farewell speech (although he still continues as a Councillor on the backbenches – the Tories wouldn’t want to risk a by-election in his ward!).

There appeared to be no mention of the recent departure of the Chief Executive, nor the departure of the Council’s Monitoring Officer last November nor any mention of any health issues which colleagues had cited in the media as potential reasons for the resignation. In fact, the first seven minutes were devoted to celebrating the highlights of Cllr Lee’s two years at the top and how brilliantly he has been managing the ongoing projects and challenges that it faces. However, anyone hoping to understand why Cllr Lee chose to pack it all in so suddenly was only offered these next few lines:

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Finally, the site for Deepings’ new Leisure Centre has been announced!

South Kesteven District Council has unveiled the exisiting playing fields at Deepings School as the preferred site for a new leisure centre. The site is already the home of Deepings Rugby Club, Deeping United FC, the Deepings Rotary 10k and is used for a number of other competitive sports activities. In just two years time, it might also be home to a brand new swimming pool, all weather pitches and everything else one might expect of a modern ‘wet and dry’ leisure centre.

Deepings School Fields
Sunset over the Deepings School Fields.

As you may have read, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) announced in October 2017, and several times since then, that SKDC is planning to build a new Leisure Centre for the Deepings. This will replace the existing Leisure Centre which is well passed its sell by date and is literally falling apart at the seams with water often literally leaking through the roof above the pool area after heavy rainfall.

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Notes from the secret ‘informal’ South Kesteven Climate Change workshop

The minutes of the formal SKDC Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee of 18th June, 2019 record that: “it was suggested that perhaps a series of workshops be held to gather evidence and explore what direction the Committee wished to take, what priorities they wanted to take forward.” 

“Some Members felt that workshops should be open.  Caution was stressed in relation to having open workshops as this could stifle debate as Members may feel unable to express all their opinions.” 

In my opinion, one of the most important roles of an elected District Councillor is to express your opinions and those of the people you represent. Unfortunately, the Conservatives appear to hold a different view which is reflected at almost every Full Council meeting where backbench Tories rarely speak except to sycophantically applaud their front-bench colleagues.

The so-called ‘informal workshop’ took place at the end of July and supposedly does not form part of the Council’s decision-making process. Councillors who do not serve on the Environment OSC were not invited to the meeting (except perhaps the portfolio-holder Cllr Moseley (Con)). The details of the meeting were not published and members of the public were not allowed in. The notes will not be presented to the forthcoming 17th September meeting of the Environment OSC so I am sharing them here instead. The notes below are exactly as circulated to Committee Members except for the bits I have added in italics and parenthesis. NB These are the notes circulated by the Council. They do not exactly match my own recollection of the meeting but I have not commented on the accuracy because I was at the end of a skype-line which was not 100% reliable

Climate Change Informal Workshop
30 July 2019 – Room 6
10:00am – 12:40pm

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InvestSK – Generously investing your money to good causes!

Earlier this year, South Kesteven District Council handed over funding of over £1.3million to its wholly-owned subsidiary company, InvestSK Ltd. You might be wondering what this money is being spent on. If so, you are not alone. There is currently no formal mechanism for interrogating the company’s expenditure other than submitting lots of Freedom of Information requests or waiting for its Year End accounts.

The original plan was that InvestSK activities and spending would be scrutinised by a ‘Companies Committee’ formed of Councillors. Unfortunately, almost two years after the creation of InvestSK Ltd, this Committee has not yet been constituted or established by the Council.

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Recycling rates tumble in Lincolnshire

Despite the boasts of high recycling rates on Conservative election leaflets, recycling rates in Lincolnshire have plummeted since 2010 according to national recycling league tables.

In the County of Lincolnshire, the total rate of waste diverted from landfill has fallen every year for seven years from 53% in 2010 to 43% in 2018. The rate in South Kesteven has fallen every year resulting in a similar 10% reduction in overall rates which includes recycling through the silver and green bins.

The figure for 2017/18 has not yet been formally published but information data published by SKDC under a freedom of information request suggests that the percentage has now fallen to significantly below 40% (38.57% to be precise).

The main cause of the falling rates is the Conservative austerity measures which have had a massive impact on Council funding especially at Lincolnshire where local Tories decided to withdraw Recycling Credits which removed the incentive for many organisations to recycle.

Other reasons for the falling rates include:

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Recycling’s rubbish in South Kesteven (Well, 30% of it is!)

Recycling efforts in South Kesteven are being undermined by increasing levels of contamination of the weekly silver bin recycling system. Recently released figures reveal that, since 2016, contamination rates have gradually increased from 20% to over 30% meaning that almost a third of so-called ‘recycling’ ends up in landfill.

There are a number of factors causing the contamination including:

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What’s happened to the rest of the @SouthKesteven grants for good causes?

In a recent blog I explained that each of the 56 Councillors at SKDC has had a budget of £1,000 at their disposal for distribution to good causes. I allocated mine to the Deepings’ United Schools Rock Band, the Deepings School Library, the Deepings Scouts, the Deepings Business Clubs ‘Love Deeping’ initiative and the Deepings branch of Royal British Legion.

I have been trying to find out how the other Councillors have supported good causes across the District but I’ve hit a bit of a brick wall.

In the Deepings I have discovered that five out of the six Councillors has allocated their £1,000 to a variety of causes. However, one of the Councillors supposedly representing Deeping St James, Cllr Stephen Benn (Conservative), has made only a single grant of £330 to the Deepings Youth Group which means that charities in the Deepings have missed out on the remaining £670 in his pot. This comes as no surprise really as Cllr Benn appears to have lost interested in his Deeping St James ward after moving to Peterborough many months ago. In fact he has only attended nine meetings in the last two years even though he still receives his expenses (£6,475 for financial year 2017/18) This equates to over £1,000 per meeting attended! (Cllr Benn is not seeking re-election).

isI was interested to see if anyone else had decided not to distribute their £1,000 to good causes and was pleased to see that Councillor Barry Dobson (Dole Wood) has donated his to Bracebridge and Wilsthorpe Village Hall and the remainder to Lawrence Park in Thurlby (Lawrance Park is a recreation ground, not a person!). (Cllr Dobson is unopposed in the forthcoming SKDC election).

In the Casewick ward, which is next door to the Deepings, the two Conservative Councillors have spent only £650 between them which means that £1,350 will stay in the Council coffers. The funds which have been spent have been allocated to Langtoft Festival (£350), Uffington Parish Council (£200), Thurlby Parish Council (£100) and Barholm & Stowe Parish Meeting (£50). I was surprised that it was possible to make a donation to a Parish Council because, strictly speaking, they are local authorities rather than charities, I tried to find out what projects the donations were for, and who had donated them, but I cannot find anyone at SKDC who is prepared to tell me. In fact, I cannot even find which of the Councillors authorised the grants.

My colleague, Cllr Phil Dilks, who represents Deeping St James ward has taken this up with the Council’s Monitoring Officer who has replied by saying “I do not believe the information that you’ve requested is available at this stage and from a brief conversation with colleagues in finance, it will take them some time to put it together.”

I find it unbelievable that the Council has been sending out press releases about Members’ Ward Budgets for nearly a year but no-one has a central list of what each Councillor has spent (and hasn’t spent). Given the prevarication, it seems likely that there are other Councillors who have either forgotten to allocate their grants, or possibly have deliberately chosen not to spend the budgets designated for charities and good causes.

I have now submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for details of how the £56,000 of Members Ward budgets have been spent (or underspent). Unfortunately, SKDC is not obliged to publish details until 20 days have elapsed which will be after the District Council elections.

Where’s your money gone?

This time last year, I was one of a very few Councillors who voted against the creation of a Ward Members’ grant scheme. I was opposed to the idea because in the year before an election it would give Councillors an opportunity for self-promotion and electioneering which would be denied to other candidates. I explained my reasons at the time in a blog called Tory U-Turn on Members’ Ward Budgets. There have been other Tory U-turns before and since.

Given the Members’ Ward Budget was approved by a majority, I have done my best to distribute it to good causes. Here is what I’ve spent our thousand pounds on…

In November, the Deepings branch of the Royal British Legion realised in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, there was no musical accompaniment to the annual remembrance procession of uniformed organisations through Market Deeping. Through the magic of Facebook, a drummer was found but he needed a drum. Therefore, I designated £85.98 of my share of the Members’ Ward grant budget for the purchase of a snare drum which was used on the day and can be used at all future Royal British Legion events.

The second allocation was also musical. I was volunteered to organise the entertainment at the Market Deeping Christmas Market and first on my list of potential performers were the Deepings United Schools Rock Band. They had performed at the DSJ Annual Parish Meeting and were a knockout. In preparing for the Christmas Market we discovered that a small grant would enable them to perform outdoors more easily so I allocated £300 to the cause.

The Deepings School was the first organisation I approached for ideas to spend the grant funds. Originally, back in the summer, I had hoped to be able to somehow promote cycling to school but the costs of cycling infrastructure are quite high. We then considered putting on lessons in ‘parenting skills’ but these are apparently delivered by other organisations already and we would face the same challenges of persuading the parents most in need of lessons to actually attend. After some discussion we concluded the most useful contribution would be to encourage boys to read.

This might sound sexist but evidence suggests that when it comes to quantity and quality of reading, boys lag behind girls. In fact a report commissioned by an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy in 2012, revealed that three out of four (76%) UK schools are concerned about boys’ underachievement in reading, yet there is no government strategy to address the issue.

Consequently, I decided to allocate £250 towards magazine subscriptions for the Deepings School Library. This will hopefully complement literacy strategies at the school as well as initiatives by the Deepings Community Library including lego club, Star Wars day, the summer reading scheme etc. (NB. For the avoidance of doubt, the boys in the picture are confident readers who appear for illustrative purposes only!)

Late last year, Alison Ireland of the Deepings Business Club approached Market Deeping Town Council and Deeping St James Parish Council with news of a forthcoming scheme to promote local businesses under a banner of “Love Deepings”. The idea of small independents working together to curtail the power of monolithic national organisations is appealing in business just as it is in politics so I was happy to offer a contribution towards the costs of establishing the campaign and I have allocated £150 for this.

The scouts were the next to approach me. We discussed the possibility of funding a minibus, or archery equipment but ended up agreeing on good old-fashioned tents (actually ‘old-fashioned’ is the wrong word but you know what I mean).

I have allocated the remainder of my fund (just over £200) to the Deepings Scouts. For this allocation I did declare an interest. I was a Cub, a Scout and a Venture Scout and scouting kept me sane during my teens. My youngest is a DSJ Scout now and my eldest is a Guide.

Along the way, I proposed another idea which was self-defence classes for young people. It took a bit longer to research than I had hoped but the Deepings Leisure Centre and a local martial arts club have come up with a potential short course. Staff at SKDC are quite interested and I’m hopeful it will run later this year.

So now you know how my Members Ward Budget has been spent and I hope you approve of some, even all, of the causes.

I am only one out of six SK Councillors in the Deepings. So there was another £5,000 available in our area. What’s happened to that?

The first Councillor to determine any of his budget was Cllr Broughton who subsidised the provision of play equipment at Cherry Tree Park by £110. Cllr Broughton also offered up his own time and effort to assist the National Citizenship team in sprucing up that play area last summer.

I know Cllr Phil Dilks of Deeping St James ward has donated £170 to the scouts, £170 to the ‘Love Deepings’ campaign and £330 towards the Jubilee Park trim trail. Cllr Stevens and the elusive Cllr Benn also supported the trim trail by the same amount making a total of almost £1,000.

Last week we discovered that Cllr Dilks, Cllr Stevens and Cllr Broughton each made allocations of around £300 to the Deepings Youth Group which is great news and means that Cllr Dilks has spent his full £1,000.

I am now trying to establish what has happened to the remaining budgets from all four Conservative councillors. I expect there are some donations I am not yet aware of, so I will return to this post and add more detail when it arrives.