#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on the day before the event I received an e-mail from the SKDC Chief Executive telling me that my booking had been rescinded.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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Report to Market Deeping Town and West Deeping Parish Councils – November 2018

Before I say anything else, I wish congratulations to Sarah Lydford on her appointment as Market Deeping Town Clerk. I’m sure she will do a grand job.

I have attended threeformal meetings during the last month.

Development Management Committee, 16/10/2018

The agenda of the October planning committee included: a retrospective application for a gazebo in Uffington (Permission refused); creation of a autograss race-track in Hougham (Decision deferred); and the building of six dwellings on the site of the former Salvation Army Hall in Stamford (Permission granted).

Development Management Committee, 13/11/2018 Continue reading

The camera never lies!

At SKDC Cabinet at Stamford Town Hall last week I was given a dressing-down by the Council Leader, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con), for a perceived lack of manners because I took this photo without asking permission.

Here is the text of an e-mail I have sent to various Committee Chairs in response…

“Dear George, Matthew and Robert, Continue reading

Hunted!

At a ‘private meeting’ last week, the Grantham Charter Trustees decided, as usual, to welcome the Belvoir Hunt to St Peter’s Hill in the town on Boxing Day.

This is a Deepings-based blog and I don’t intend to make a habit of reporting news about Grantham but this week’s decision by the Grantham Charter Trustees is interesting for a few different reasons.

Who are the Charter Trustees?

img_2857The Grantham Charter Trustees are the custodians of the mayoral chain of Grantham which would otherwise have become homeless at the abolition of Grantham Borough Council in 1974. The functions of the Council were transferred to South Kesteven District Council but it’s a shame to waste a mayoral chain and a coat of arms and so the Charter Trustees were established to uphold the traditions and reputation of the town. The fourteen Trustees are the SKDC District Councillors who represent Grantham, i.e. two from each of the seven wards.

Why were they meeting in private?

Unlike a proper Town Council, the Grantham Charter Trustees have no website, no proper schedule of meetings, no published agendas and no published minutes (This is my understanding – I would be pleased to be corrected). Given that the Trustees only exist for ‘ceremonial’ purposes, you might be forgiven for thinking this doesn’t really matter. However, if ceremonial functions don’t matter then why have a mayor at all? Continue reading

Bourne to ride! Bicycle races are coming your way…

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

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

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

Stamford due for visit from @SouthKesteven Cabinet members on 1st November.

All Saints’s Day 2018 will see the SKDC Cabinet complete their ‘2018 tour’ of South Kesteven market towns when they arrive for a meeting at the Council Chamber in Stamford.Stamford Town Hall

At a meeting of the Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee this morning, during a discussion of the Council’s communications strategy, I asked why SKDC had done so little promotion of the September Cabinet meeting in the Deepings. After all, it was the first SKDC meeting to be held in the Deepings for many years. I was told by the Cabinet Member for Communication in no uncertain terms – “A press release for a meeting in the Deepings? That’s just not gonna happen”. This is because a cabinet meeting is not considered by SKDC to be newsworthy. The newspapers on the other hand were only too happy to print the press releases that I have sent when SKDC ventures out of Grantham.

Presumably, the same approach will be taken to communicating the arrival of Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) to his home turf of Stamford along with the rest of the Cabinet which is made up of Tory Councillors from across the District. However, the meeting is open to the public and is a great opportunity to see our ‘agile democracy’ without having to travel to Grantham.

An earlier Cabinet meeting in Bourne saw around 8 members of the public in attendance which was something of a record. This record was smashed by the turnout at the Eventus Centre in Market Deeping. Perhaps the event in Stamford will be more popular still? The agenda will be released a few days before the meeting.

The 2018 has taken place partly in response to my sustained lobbying of the Council  to get itself out and about around the District to see, and be seen (e.g. see Minute 57b of November 2017) and partly because the Grantham offices are undergoing refurbishment as part of a £1.66 million scheme to enhance the public realm.

Report to MDTC Full Council – October 2018

Report to MDTC Full Council 10th October 2018
(from SKDC Councillor ASHLEY BAXTER)

I have attended the following meetings during the last month.

18/09/2018         Development Management Committee

The meeting discussed applications including the following:

  • Nine dwellings on land Adjacent To Ivatt Close Bourne PE10 9TZ

I saved a tree! I actually did! This small development on the outskirts of Bourne required the removal of quite a few trees and shrubs. While examining the proposals I noted that there is one healthy ash tree in a corner of the site that faced the chop.

The Officer’s report stated “the trees on site are not considered to be of significant amenity value”. I pointed out that while they might not look like much to us, we might discover they have quite a lot of amenity value to the local birds, squirrel and hedgehog if only we could ask.

When the developer gave his evidence I asked if there was any chance of saving the tree as well as reinstating the ‘lapsed hedge’ which was also due to be replaced the feather-board fencing which is almost ubiquitous across new developments. To my surprise he agreed without argument. It makes me wonder if and why the Planning Officers hadn’t asked the same question. Either way, it was a good result and reminded me why I go to these meetings.

  • Seven single bedroom apartments at Norton Street Grantham NG31 6BY

This applicant keeps coming back to the committee with similar applications each slightly different to the previous presumably in the hope that his persistence will, sooner or later, pay off. I am pleased to say that this time it didn’t and the poky residential accommodation proposed between the gardens of back to back terraced houses was refused once again.

  • St Vincent’s House, Grantham

This was a notable for two reasons. Firstly, it was an application from a Councillor. Secondly the property hosted the control room for the historic ‘Dambusters’ raid by 617 squadron which changed the course of the Second World War. The application itself concerned potting sheds in the grounds and wasn’t very contentious.

27/09/2018         Council

This was attended by 38 of the 56 elected Councillors with 18 absent for one reason or another.

Only one member of the public attended and no members of the public had registered to ask any questions.

The Council decided to alter its budget for the year for two reasons: firstly in order to buy a piece of land; and secondly to establish a new company (an LLP) called ‘DeliverSK.

The Council discussed its relatively new system of Overview and Scrutiny Committees which most agreed is a ‘work in progress’ with room for improvement.

As part of Members’ questions I asked the Cabinet Member for Growth and Communications whether paying £140,000/annum for a consultant with no job description, written contract or responsibility for managing staff is good practice in procurement and good value for money. The Cabinet Member responded that she felt my repeated questions on the issue were boring and accused me of harbouring a personal vendetta.

There were two Motions. The first concerned the Council’s approach to modern slavery and was proposed by Cllr Phil Dilks (Lab), the motion was amended and then passed.  I proposed the second which argued for more transparency of Members Workshops and Briefings which was defeated.

02/10/2018         Shareholder Committee

 

As usual, most of the proceedings of the Shareholder committee took place ‘in camera’ and so I am not allowed to tell you what happened. Take my word for it, it wasn’t a very exciting meeting.

Two years ago, when the Committee was first set up, a lot of time was spent deciding what would be the best name for the company and Gravitas Housing Ltd was chosen. This decision has now been overturned!

 

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

Finally, may I take this opportunity to record my thanks to the outgoing Town Clerk, Mrs Candace Brent, and to her husband for all they have done for the Deepings over the years. I wish them both all the very best for the future.

 

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward

Residents’ Survey reveals attitudes to @SouthKesteven and disappointment with @LincolnshireCC.

On Thursday 4th October, SKDC Cabinet will discuss the responses to the Residents’ Survey which took place back in May this year. There hasn’t been a survey of this kind for many years and so it is being regarded by the rejuvenated Conservative administration as a baseline from which improvement can be objectively measured.

A total of 1,466 people responded to the questionnaire. About two thirds were submitted as a paper response to a direct mailing of almost 4,000 residents while the remainder were submitted online. Respondents’ postcodes reveal that the survey is fairly representative of residents across the District (although there were more responses from Deeping than from Bourne, #JustSaying!)

The first few questions ask for people’s feelings about SKDC. These are summarised in the graphic below. It is clear that South Kesteven is a great place to live with over 75% of respondents responding positively to the question. However, when it comes to Council services people are more restrained. Only 30% of respondents admit to speaking positively about the Council and over half of residents do not feel the Council acts on the concerns of residents.

SKDC Feelings Graph Continue reading

A flag of convenience? So-called ‘Independents’ join the @LincsTories ahead of 2019 District Council elections.

Grantham and Stamford Conservatives have seen a recent flurry of membership applications from town and district councillors and candidates. Most of these have happened just a few months ahead of the District Council election in May. What a coincidence, eh?

In recent years in Lincolnshire, the Conservative austerity agenda has resulted in the bedroom tax; the creation of foodbanks; the closure of youth centres and libraries; and numerous examples of botched service delivery.  However, in Stamford, three sitting so-called ‘Independent’ councillors have suddenly realised their political affinity lies with the Conservative Party. In Deeping St James, a former Independent District Councillor has come to the same conclusion and yet another Deepings Councillor is rumoured to be at the point of signing up for a blue rosette (NB. It’s not me!).

Stand Continue reading

A guide to the @SouthKesteven silver bin #recycling scheme (Part 1)

At last week’s SKDC Environment Overview and Scrutiny (OSC) Committee, a discussion took place relating to the food waste pilot scheme currently being run by SKDC in partnership with LCC.

One of the positive outcomes of the scheme appears to be a reduction in contamination of the recycling materials in the silver (recycling) bins. At previous meetings it has been reported that there is over 30% contamination meaning that an awful lot of what is recyclable is being sent to landfill as a result of people putting stuff in the wrong bin.

I used to work as a recycling officer at Gedling Borough Council but that was back in the 1990s and lots of things have changed since then, so I asked, not for the first time, for clarification of which plastics are welcome in the silver bin and which should go in the black bin. Continue reading