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.

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – March 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 13th March 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, the Deepings’ only Independent District Councillor.

Meetings Attended

I have attended sixformal meetings during the last month.

25/02/2019   EmploymentCommittee

Thismeeting was convened in response to a question I asked at January’s FullCouncil regarding whether or not a Council’s Chief Executive had properly declared all his relevant business interests. Most of the meeting was held in secret but the Council subsequently issued the following statement: Continue reading

Deepings Leisure Centre Update – What’s wrong with this picture?

Great news! The Council has announced new exciting new leisure centres for the Deepings and Stamford. Brilliant, fabulous, fantastic… but technically this is old news as it was also announced in October 2017 and again in October 2018.

As predicted in my previous blog concerning the new Deepings Leisure Centre, it’s now just eight weeks before the District Council elections and South Kesteven has announced ‘further details’ of new leisure centres with a blaze of publicity.

The Conservatives want everyone to know that they are planning new leisure centres in Stamford and the Deepings and a refurbished and enhanced leisure centre in Bourne. The publicity has included a double-paged spread in SK Today, almost three pages in the Stamford Mercury, umpteen tweets and other social media posts and, to top it all, 6 massive banners parading the exciting new facilities “delivered by South Kesteven District Council”. The irony is that nothing has really been delivered yet except for the posters.

I attended the South Kesteven Cabinet meeting last Thursday where a report on the new approach to sports and leisure facilities was formally approved. I wanted to ask the questions that everyone else is asking me. Here’s a summary of the questions I asked and the answers I was given:

Q. Where will the leisure centres be built? Continue reading

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – February 2019

Since my last monthly report, I have attended the following formal SKDC meetings as well as some other less formal meetings and community events:

10/01/2019    Budget- Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee  

This meeting was the first opportunity to analyse the forthcoming Council budget for 2019/20.  The meeting was rather chaotic as Councillors were invited to ask questions and make comments on a report and appendices totalling 53 pages.  There was no deliberate sub-division of topics and consequently the comments were made in a scatter-gun manner and few, if any, definitive recommendations resulted.

15/01/2019    Development Management Committee

This was a relatively short meeting (two hours) which considered three applications:

  • Zone 9,Elsea Park, Bourne.- This was the third time that this application had been discussed and considered by the Committee. On the first occasion it was deferred and the second occasion Councillors voted against Officers’ recommendations and so it had to be reconsidered after a ‘cooling off’ period.  This time round the application was approved with 5 votes in favour, 2 against and 4 abstention.  On a positive note, it has been agreed that future applications of this type will be referred to the Council’s recently appointed Design Officer in order to avoid similar half-hearted planning approvals.
  • Frognall– After considerable debate, a large house extension was approved opposite the former Rose PH.
  • Stowe Road, Langtoft – Outline approval for up to 35 dwellings subject to agreement of conditions including agreeing a sewerage plan with Anglian Water.

22/01/2019    Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee

As regular readers might know, I have a 100% record of attendance at meetings since August 2015. On receipt of the very thin agenda for the Environment Committee I did wonder whether it was really worth making the 60 miles round trip to Grantham to discuss virtually nothing of consequence. My sense of duty got the better of me and when the meeting closed after just an hour I had only confirmed that the whole exercise had been a waste of time.

There were no published papers for the meeting other than the printed agenda and notes of the previous meeting. No Cabinet Members were present at the meeting. The Chair failed to explain why the decisions of the previous meeting had not been acted upon, not even the draft ‘Street Lighting Policy’ which has been kicking around for more than a year.  We listened to a presentation from an Officer regarding a government consultation on Waste and Recycling.  A slide entitled “Key Milestones” mentioned a “Transposition of the Circular Economy Package” is due to be delivered before the end of 2019. I asked what this means but, sadly, nobody knew the answer.

Pointless

31/01/2019    Council

Full Council agenda started off with questions from members of the public. The first of these concerned ongoing problems with a heating system which was installed three years ago at the Riverside Housing Complex in Grantham which has never worked properly.  In response, the Conservative Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Nick Neilson (Con) and the Deputy Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) both apologised for the errors made since 2016 and promised to investigate and find a resolution.

Later in the meeting, I asked a question about the business relationship between a senior officer of the Council and a private consultancy which has been paid almost £60,000 over 18 months for various staff recruitment exercises. This question has been referred to a future meeting of the Council’s Employment Committee.

05/02/2019    DevelopmentManagement Committee

A specially extended meeting began at 10am and continued until 5.30pm. Despite the long day, this was undoubtedly the most interesting and entertaining planning committee I have attended to date.

In the morning, Councillors discussed an application for a Designer Outlet Village next to the A1 at Gonerby Moor. This multi-million pound project is expected to retain 700 jobs and to create 1,200 new jobs in the District as well as attracting literally millions of visitors to the District. Nevertheless, three of the Tories voted against the scheme including Cllr Jacky Smith (Con) who expressed concern about the proposed creation of a ‘training academy’ even though she is Cabinet Member for Skills and Wellbeing and the centre has the support of Grantham college.

The afternoon started with an application for a 6m high statue of Baroness Thatcher. I had personally ‘called-in’ this application because it is so significant and controversial. In the event it was approved unanimously by the Committee (including me). This decision attracted international media attention including from the Guardian and the Times.

For more information read my blog-post “The statue that no-one else wants”.

13/02/2019    Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee

This morning’s meeting revealed that the costs of the SKDC Senior Management Restructure have risen by over £150,000 since the last meeting, mostly due to unexpected redundancy payments and other staffing costs.

The meeting also considered the performance monitoring issues. I have been asking for this issue to be re-considered since it was last presented back in June last year.  At that time “it was noted that the report was based on the previous Corporate Strategy.  A New Corporate Strategy was now in place and would have more appropriate KPIs.”  I was most surprised that this morning, eight months on, we were presented with the old KPIs measured up to September. Therefore rather than receiving new up-to-date KPIs we were given old KPIs which were already six months out of date.

We then went on to discuss financial monitoring.  During last year’s budget setting process I was among a small group of Councillors who regarded many of the ‘ambitious’ budget predictions as pie-in-the-sky forecasts. I am sorry, though not surprised, to report that we were right and we were told this morning that the following projected savings have not been achieved:

Will anyone be held to account for making ridiculous savings targets and then missing them completely? I very much doubt it. Besides which, the budget has been altered several times since last year to accommodate millions of pounds of unplanned expenditure including land purchases and sudden redundancy payments.

As ever, if you need more information on anything within this report, please do get in touch.

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward

South Kesteven- Twinned with Peterborough!

Peterborough Crest In Spring 2017, a coup took place within the Conservative Group at SKDC which led to Cllr Matthew Lee being elected as Leader of the Council. Cllr Lee had only been elected to SKDC two years earlier having previously been a Conservative City Councillor in Peterborough.

One would expect that Cllr Lee would draw on his experience at his previous authority and cross-pollination is healthy, up to a point. However, the extent to which the ideas and even the personnel from Peterborough have been transferred to South Kesteven in astounding.

The first area of innovation/overlap, is in the field of economic development. Soon after the coup, a company called ‘Opportunity Peterborough’ (OP) was engaged as a consultant organisation to assist with the rebranding of SK’s economic development team as ‘InvestSK’. OP was originally the economic development arm of Peterborough City Council and Cllr Matthew Lee was a Director from 2010 to 2013.

In Spring 2018 ‘InvestSK’ became a limited company wholly-owned by SKDC. This decision was going to made without reference to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee so, with the help of four other Councillors, I called it in. A meeting was held to try to explain the motives and purpose of company structure. The nominated Directors are the Leader, the Deputy Leader and the Chief Exec of the Council. “So what?” you might ask. Well, as a department of the Council , the economic development team had to abide by the usual council rules concerning appointments, pensions, etc. but as a limited company they don’t have the same obligations and so it was possible for the Directors of InvestSK Ltd to hire and fire and make policies without reference to normal council procedure. Consequently they were able to appoint a new Chief Executive of InvestSK on a salary of around £100,000/year without any advert, competitive interview of candidate(s) or reference to Employment Committee. Who did they appoint? None other than the CEO of Opportunity Peterborough who had been leading the OP consultancy for the previous 12 months.

The next step of the plan is the creation of a Limited Liability Partnership called ‘DeliverSK’ to push forward the Council’s investment agenda. I use the term ‘plan’ quite loosely as the idea of an LLP had not been mentioned at any previous meetings about economic development or during the budget setting process. This decision was proposed during the summer recess of 2018 and a special meeting of Growth was called at the end of August (I attended and asked lots of questions). The idea is that a funding partner is found to bring in lots of funding to support joint venture satellite companies with the local authority (e.g. LeisureSK, OfficesSK, HousebuildingSK etc)

The recruitment of a funding partner does not strictly involve the delivery of goods or services and therefore does not require an EU compliant procurement process and the decision was delegated to a Cabinet Member. Several potential companies were invited to present proposed strategies for a funding partnership with SKDC and a Guernsey-based company called IAG came top. I googled IAG to see what else they do and, surprise surprise, their Chief Exec is already involved with regeneration activities in Peterborough.

The chart below attempts to show how ‘DeliverSK LLP’ will mirror the existing Peterborough Investment Partnership LLP and how the CEO of IAG is already on the Boards of two of the Peterborough joint ventures. The reality is actually more complicated than the diagram with links to Luxembourg and all sorts but I’ve done the best I can.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is deliversk-structure.jpg

The LLP is troublesome to me because I am quite keen on transparency and accountability. DeliverSK will be 50% owned by the public sector and therefore it will not be subject to Freedom of Information requests in the same way as other council companies (including InvestSK). The Peterborough equivalent, PIP, has already attracted criticism on this score.

Finally, let’s look at the personnel* who have been recruited since Cllr Lee’s inauguration:

June 17 – New Chief Executive – Previously worked as Management Consultant for V4 services working with Peterborough City Council.

June 17 – Senior Research and Support Assistant – A lawyer previously working at Peterborough City Council

July 17 – Head of Communications – A consultant employed by SKDC on over £140,000 a year who had previously worked with Peterborough City Council.

June 18 – Head of Arts – A new post created to drive forward the SKDC cultural strategy was offered to a former Artistic Director of the Key Theatre in Peterborough.

October 18 – Assistant Director, Growth – The former Head of Property Services at Peterborough City arrived via secondment to Opportunity Peterborough

October 18 – Chief Executive of InvestSK – previously Chief Executive of Opportunity Peterborough

January 19 – As part of the launch of the Council’s new LLP venture, DeliverSK, SKDC has recruited the Peterborough City Council’s former Director of Growth and Regeneration.

See also: Jobs for the Boys

Informally, staff and Councillors at SKDC have joked that the easiest way to recruit new member of staff is to phone Peterborough City Council. There will come a time when this will stop being funny.


Peterborough City Council
– Can the last one out please turn off the lights!

I apologise that this post is quite so long and complicated. I also apologise if I have misrepresented any of the detail; if so, I would be happy to correct if someone can explain more effectively.

*NB For the record, this post is not questioning the abilities or integrity of any individual members of staff, the purpose is to raise concerns over the recruitment and procurement processes and whether they meet the legal requirements regarding transparency, equality, and appointing staff  ‘on merit’)

Do you want to know a secret?

Back in September, South Kesteven held a cabinet meeting in Market Deeping. I attended and asked plenty of questions (it would have been rude not to!). The final item on the agenda concerned “Strategic Regeneration Acquisitions – land in South Kesteven”

The item was considered commercially sensitive and was therefore held in ‘closed session’ i.e. the press and public were excluded. I stayed in the meeting in order to find out what the fuss was about. After a brief discussion the following decision was made:

Cabinet authorises the acquisition of a parcel of land in the South Kesteven area (a) subject to contract, satisfactory replies to searches and enquiries and to the terms negotiated; and (b) subject to approval by Council of the necessary budget allocation.

During the discussion, no-one mentioned which piece of land was being acquired and so, at the end of the meeting, I asked to see the paperwork and was given detailed information about this important decision. It seemed to me that, in principle, the purchase seemed a sensible investment.

The decision was ratified by the next Full Council meeting on 27th September when, once again, the press and most of the Council officers were asked to leave the meeting for the duration of the event along with the single solitary member of the public who was in attendance. Clearly, this was a highly-sensitive negotiation which must not be allowed to leak.

The proposal was presented as part of a bundle of amendments to the budget framework which were agreed unanimously by the 38 Councillors present (don’t ask me what the other 18 thought as they didn’t turn up).

Two week’s later, the secret investment was unveiled by the leader as part of a speech to an SKDC economic summit at Grimsthorpe Castle. Unfortunately, attendance at the event was by invitation only and I was told in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t invited, Fortunately, the Stamford Mercury was invited and helpfully they published the Leaders’s speech in full which included the following comment:

“I’m therefore pleased to announce this evening that we are in the final stages of the acquisition of a large development site on the edge of Stamford that is currently occupied by Cummins… the future of the site on Barnack Road will continue to provide local employment opportunities. “

Before the ‘Summit’ I was advised by the Chief Exec that Cllr Lee intends to speak to the Council about the event.

Soon after the Grimsthorpe event, Cllr Lee sent an email to Councillors lauding the success of the summit in which he said:

“While it was announced officially last night, it was clear that the location was, in fact, an open secret among many in Stamford. This underlines the importance of us having DeliverSK so that our commercial discussions can remain confidential in the future.”

Two months later, at Full Council in November I asked a question regarding when information about the event, which had cost Council Tax payers over £14,000, would be shared formally with Councillors. The answer was vague and included a thinly-veiled attack on me for my supposed cynicism.

A month later than that, I attended the SKDC Cabinet and asked some more questions including whether Cllr Lee could elaborate publicly on the details of the land acquisition as, so far, Councillors had only been formally briefed in secret. Astonishingly, Cllr Lee responded that, due to the ongoing procedures concerning over site, he could not make comment about the site openly in a Council meeting.

I’m confused. Back in October, the Conservative Leader of SKDC publicly announced, to the press and business community, the specific location of 15-acre SKDC land acquisition in Stamford but, when I asked for the same information as a Councillor at a council meeting, for some incomprehensible reason he was ‘keeping mum’.

I expect all will be revealed soon, probably in a volley of photo-opportunities and press releases, and just weeks before the SKDC election!

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – January 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council 9th January, 2019
(from SKDC Councillor ASHLEY BAXTER)

Happy New Year to all Councillors, Council Staff
 and residents of Market Deeping and West Deeping!

Friends of Mill Field

After more than two years of hard work and preparation, the Friends of Mill Field have this week arrived at the crucial Public Inquiry stage of their Village Green application. The result will have a massive impact not just the land in question but also on the whole town of Market Deeping.

Yesterday (Tuesday 8th) the enquiry began at the Eventus Centre and was attended by well over 50 members of the public during the day. Today (Wednesday 9th) the enquiry continues at Eventus during the day and at Open Door Church during the evening.

All members of the public and press are welcome to attend any session of the inquiry. I intend to attend the evening session as an observer (and as an Open Door volunteer) and, consequently, I ask Market Deeping Town Council to accept my apologies for not attending the Full Council meeting this evening.

Members’ Ward Budget

Last month I reported that I had allocated £300 of Council Taxpayers’ money to the Deepings United School Rock Band to assist aspiring musicians of primary school age. This month, I am pleased to report that a contribution of £250 has been allocated to the Deepings School Library to assist in the creation of a special area to encourage boys to read more. Research has proven that boys, of every age, no matter the nature of the literature before them, typically read less thoroughly than girls. I hope that the SKDC grant will encourage boys at Deepings School to read, become more educated, more thoughtful, more courteous, more productive and consequently better adults, better husbands and better fathers. However, I’m not sure how much impact £250 will have on this aspiration. In the interests of equal opportunities, all the library resources connected to the project will be available to girls as well as boys.

Meetings Attended

Since my last monthly report, I have attended only one formal SKDC meeting and then, only as an observer. Until November I would have expected to have attended the Council’s ‘Shareholder Committee’.

20/12/2018   Cabinet

The meeting included proposals for an invest-to-save fund which would give the Cabinet Member for Finance some flexibility to invest in projects and schemes expected to give a healthy return. I welcome what seems to be a good idea but I did ask whether there would be any checks and balances and/or preferred payback period. The Cabinet responded by saying that all decisions would need approval by the Section 151 Officer whose has a statutory duty to ensure the Council takes proper care of our money and assets.

Later in the meeting I asked questions about street lighting, the Deepings leisure centre and the imminent acquisition of land at Stamford by SKDC.

08/01/2019 Shareholder Committee

I was previously the Independent representative on the Shareholder Committee and had attended every meeting since its inception almost three years ago. Sadly, due to another defection of an Independent to the Conservatives, I have been removed from the Shareholder Committee in order to ensure membership of Committees across the Council accurately accords with the balance of political groups at SKDC. Healthy democracy needs healthy opposition and the increasing domination of the majority party (in our case Conservatives) does nothing to improve decision-making or scrutiny.

Research Assistant

On 4th December, the SKDC website advertised a job with a salary of £27,000. The deadline for applications was one week later. Five people applied for the job. One person was invited for interview after which he was offered the job which he started on 2nd January. It is my understanding that the successful applicant is currently an elected Conservative Councillor at Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council.

As ever, if you need more information on anything within this report, please do get in touch.

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward

Art for art’s sake…

An SKDC press release today announced a public consultation on the arts…

“Groups and individuals with an interest in arts, heritage, culture and all manner of creative activities are being invited to help develop South Kesteven District Council’s new cultural strategy.

The public engagement process will begin in the four market towns with a series of meetings for stakeholders and strategic partners, starting in Stamford on 23 January.

Initially these meetings will be by invitation only, but a wider programme of consultation – both online and face-to-face – will be introduced throughout the spring and early summer.

SKDC officers, working with colleagues within InvestSK, will lead the meetings to discuss the cultural sector and celebrate the vital role that arts and heritage play in the district’s economic development.

The meetings will explore SK’s current cultural landscape, identifying priorities for future delivery, considering resource implications, recognising challenges and discovering opportunities.

Any arts or heritage practitioner or local group wishing to attend the initial meetings can register an interest to attend. Places are free but limited so do please get in touch as soon as possible.

Register or express an interest in being involved by contacting Michael Cross (Heads of Arts for InvestSK) by email michael.cross@investsk.co.uk or by calling 07966 299400.

Dates for the sessions are:

Stamford Arts Centre Ballroom – 23 January 2019 7pm-9pm

Grantham Guildhall Arts Centre – 29 January 2019 7pm-9pm

Ballroom Bourne Corn Exchange – 31 January 2019 7pm-9pm

The Deepings – Oddfellows Hall, Market Deeping – 12 February 2019 7pm-9pm

ENDS

#SKSummit 18 – Your name’s not down, you’re not comin’ in!

Regular readers might be wondering why, until now, I haven’t written a blog about the ‘One Year On’ SKDC economic summit held on 11th October 2018. The cost of this event for the proverbial ‘great and the good’ of the business community was £14,736 so I reckon it is worthy of some scrutiny. The reason for the delay in reporting this momentous event is due to my trying to establish the facts surrounding the event.

I registered to attend the event via a publicly accessible website on 24th September and was please to receive a booking confirmation by e-mail. Sadly, at 5.11pm on the day before the event I received an e-mail from the SKDC Chief Executive telling me that my booking had been rescinded.

“With limited capacity, we have had to be stricter this year than last regarding the number of representatives from each organisation and the balance between elected members and businesses.

Rather than feel insulted, I took comfort in the knowledge that other registered participants had also been banned and I later heard that the acting Mayor of Stamford and her consort (both Conservative District Councillors) had arrived at the event and were initially refused admission because they weren’t ‘on the list’. After some kerfuffle it was agreed they could attend but they decided not to bother.

It must have been a bit of a disappointment for the Mayor because the jewel in the crown of the keynote speech was the announcement that SKDC has agreed to purchase the site of the former Cummins Engineering site in Stamford for mixed-use development. Personally, I welcome the purchase and agree with the Council Leader, Cllr Matthew Lee that it makes sense for SKDC to lead economic development where it is able. It certainly sends a better message of confidence in the SK local economy as than investing in property outside the District as happened last year.

There is a lot more to say about the content of Cllr Lee’s speech which was expected to include feedback on progress on promises made during last year’s event at Stoke Rochford as well as some exciting news about new initiatives.  I hope to comment on the content of the speech in more detail in another blog during the next couple of weeks.

Curious to find out which Councillors did attend, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request after the event. The first response stated that six Councillors attended (all Cabinet Members). I queried the accuracy of the response attaching a still photo from an SKDC video of the event which clearly showed four other Councillors not mentioned in the FoI response. A clarification was received acknowledging the mistake and explaining one of the Councillors in the photo was invited as a representative of his business, a second as a representative of her estate, the third as a representative of the County Council while the fourth was an SKDC cabinet member who hadn’t signed in so the organisers had no record that he had turned up. Consequently,we established that there were actually 10 Councillors at the event (plus the two from Stamford that decided not to stay). Needlessly to say, no opposition Councillors were allowed to attend.

I also queried a part of the FoI response concerning who else had been present at the event. At one point it was explained that some people ‘attended’ the event but were not ‘in attendance’ at the event (Work that out!?). These included: the event organisers; some Council staff; as well as the Council’s controversial Head of Communications whose rolling consultancy contract costing over £10,000/month came to an end the following day.

The original aim of my FoI was to see if SKDC would tell me the names and organisations of everyone at the summit. This request was denied “due to data protection laws prohibiting the supply of the full list of attendees”. That came as no surprise and didn’t upset me too much as I had already seen a copy the list which, despite data protection laws, had been issued to every delegate.

The speakers at #SKSummit18 included: Grantham and Stamford MP, Nick Boles (Conservative), candidate for Young Councillor of the Year 2018, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Conservative) and Leader of SKDC, Cllr Matthew Lee (Conservative). Anyone hoping to hear a range of perspectives broader than that shared by loyal local Conservatives would have been disappointed.

During an e-mail discussion regarding the reasons why I, and others, were effectively banned from the event, the SKDC Chief Exec stated:

“Councillor Lee is obviously very conscious of the fact that we are unable to invite all members; indeed, it would be inappropriate to imbalance the event by doing so, which is why he intends to speak to the council about the event.”

The agenda for Full Council yesterday contained no mention of the Economic Summit. Last Monday’s Councillor briefing (almost always held on the same night as the Conservative Group meeting to allow Tories to claim the attendance mileage expenses) was not about the Economic Summit but instead concerned the role of the Council’s ‘Armed Forces Officer’. Therefore, at Full Council, I asked Cllr Lee when he intended to formally address elected Members about the event. In response he did not answer the question directly but instead complained that the only cynicism he had heard about the event was from certain Councillors (and I think he even narrowed it down to yours’ truly, I’ll have to check the tape).

Later in the meeting, there was a debate about whether major planning applications, e.g. a 49m high, 24,000sqm cold storage unit, should be considered by the Development Management Committee or just be approved at the Chairman’s discretion. This gave me the opportunity to respond to Cllr Lee by saying “If you don’t want people, including me, to be cynical, you stop giving us reasons to be cynical”. Until that happens I will carry on asking the questions that the Conservative Councillors are afraid to ask.

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