It should go without saying that the worldwide CoronaVirus epidemic is awful, tragic and we all wish it could have been avoided and we all pray it is over soon.
However, like many crises we have faced, there are some useful learnings and positive outcomes that we should be grateful for when, God-willing, we get through the current turmoil and back to a new normal. These will hopefully include closer families, stronger communities and a greater sense of gratitude for our safety net of NHS, social infrastructure and all the people who work at the hitherto thankless tasks of emptying bins, stacking shelves and keeping us alive.
Another positive is the reduction in carbon emissions which proves that despite the previous protestations of politicians, Greta Thunberg has been making a valid point i.e. we could get by without a lot of the carbon-filthy activities that we used to think were essential.
Report to MDTC Full Council 12th February, 2020 from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.
Deeping Shorts – Film Festival
‘Deeping Shorts’ – a short festival of short films – has held two Saturday evening cinema screenings with two more to go (15th and 22nd February). The screenings have been well attended and well received. Tickets are £5 from Stamford Arts Centre or at Open Door Baptist Church on the night.
Leisure Centre / All Weather Pitch
News about the proposed Deepings Leisure Centre and the future of the condemned All Weather Pitch has failed to yield any concrete proposals (nor proposals for concrete). At Full Council, the new Portfolio Holder, Cllr Barry Dobson stated that a Working Party would be formed with representation from the 3 Deepings Independent Councillors. By the time of the Finance Committee a week later, this Working Party had been extended to include two Deeping Conservatives. A few minutes later, it was explained that the Working Party would be an overarching group for all Leisure Facilities in South Kesteven. When I asked for clarification, the Finance Committee was told there will be more than one Working Party. I later asked Cllr Dobson for written clarification of the roles, purpose and composition of the working party (or parties). A week later and I am still waiting.
Cllr Dobson also mentioned that nothing would be decided about Leisure Centres until he had visited the sites personally to see what was needed. This is slightly confusing given that the council has commissioned leisure professionals an architects to conduct feasibility studies at a cost of more than £250,000.
I am pleased to say the Communities Committee agreed to implement some of the measures recommended by the ‘Stop the Knock’ campaign which I had brought to their attention.
I am less pleased to say that they rubber-stamped proposals to ‘rationalise the face-to-face customer service provision’ in Stamford and the Deepings. This effectively means closing the SKDC offices at the Deepings Community Centre and at Maiden Lane in Stamford.
There is a consultation about the plans to close the Stamford and Deeping SKDC offices. The deadline is 20th February.
The Council meeting began with a silence in respectful memory of former Chair of SKDC, Cllr Peter Speigl and former Chair of the world’s longest running radio panel show and much-loved Grantham born entertainer, Nicholas Parsons CBE. The silence was, suitably, just a minute. It would have been great if all the afternoon’s debate could have been conducted without hesitation, repetition or deviation but this was unlikely from the outset.
On Thursday 30th January, the Conservatives once again showed their true, narrow-minded, partisan colours by following the party whip to reject a modest proposal to improve recycling in South Kesteven. It’s pathetic that despite their empty rhetoric about putting politics aside, and caring about the Climate Emergency, South Kesteven Tories couldn’t bring themselves to support an opposition motion aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
I had submitted a motion to the Full Council meeting suggesting that charitable organisations be given permission to put just four textile recycling banks on Council-owned sites across the District. This would generate a financial income for the council and the charity, it would give people additional places to donate old clothes and shoes to charity and it would reduce contamination in the silver wheelie bins (currently around 30%).
Never mind inner cities and the red-belt towns of the North, the decline of the high street is obvious even in Tory heartlands like historic Spalding. For all the ‘shop local’ campaigns, it is clear that the Tories are losing the battle to maintain town centres in traditionally Tory towns including Spalding and Grantham. I spent Sunday afternoon in Spalding and the number of boarded up properties and ‘to let’ signs’ was quite depressing.
The first was the black swan pub on New Road. It doesn’t look particularly salubrious and will have suffered stiff competition from the Wetherspoon’s that has opened just a few doors down. Pubs in England are still closing at an alarming rate due to a number of factors including high tax, high business rates, oppressive brewery chains and cheap supermarket alcohol. Who can afford to go out for a pint on a regular basis when a pint costs almost £5, and the same pint at home costs less than £2?
Driving past the edge-of-town supermarkets and back to Spalding Town Centre, I parked outside the old Johnson hospital immediately opposite the South Holland Council Offices. This Listed building was closed about 10 years ago and is now an eyesore with graffiti, boarded windows and lamps being stolen from right outside. The site is apparently owned by a company based in the British Virgin Islands who also own the former sorting office in Spalding which is in a similar state of disrepair.
Report to MDTC Full Council 15th January 2020 from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.
Happy New Year to all Town and Parish Councillors, residents of the Deepings anyone else who is takin the time to read this. I hope your 2020 is splendid!
Regular readers will know that the Council (SKDC) declared a climate emergency in September 2019. SKDC has now appointed a Climate Change Officer and have also begun a set of ‘Task and Finish’ workshops and engaged the Carbon Trust to assist with compiling baseline data to ensure a meaningful Action Plan is delivered.
The market which was launched with much fanfare by InvestSK at Easter last year has struggled against inclement weather and lack of budget which has led to a spiral of decline with few stalls leading to few customers and vice versa. The last stall threw in the towel just before Christmas (and hats off to the Brown Bread stall for sticking it out for so long) and, in light of the lack of any traders, SKDC have decided to cease trading until later this year. It is not clear whether the Spring will bring a revived Saturday market or a relocation of the ongoing Wednesday market, or neither, or both.
Deeping Shorts – Film Festival
The Open Door Baptist Church is hosting ‘Deeping Shorts’ – a short festival of short films – on the first four Saturday evenings in February. It has been organised in association with the help and support of InvestSK/SKDC and will make use of the cinema screen originally purchased for the Deepings Arts Group. The films have been collated from 17 different countries and include a range of comedies, animations and thought provoking works. Many have won awards. Tickets are £5 from Stamford Arts Centre or at ODBC on the night. Here’s an excerpt from one of the films…
Report to MDTC Full Council 11th December 2019 from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the month. This year’s Market Deeping Christmas Market was the best ever. I was pleased to be involved, once again, in organising the entertainments. It was a bit scary to find, at 10am, that the stage hadn’t arrived but some nifty reversing by the driver meant the show could go on with just a couple of amendments to the schedule. I was also delighted to be involved in planning the ‘pop-up nativity’ which integrated the traditional stories of Christmas with the town’s traditional celebration of Christmas.
A distinct feeling of déjà vu at this meeting when, yet again, the report of performance indicators were criticised for being presented without any context.
I really don’t understand the problem as I have been able to find the historic data relating to each of the KPIs. Here is a graph showing the increase in the numbers of households in temporary accommodation (aka homeless) in South Kesteven.
Yesterday, at the first ever meeting of the SKDC ‘Companies Committee’, senior Councillors expressed their concerns regarding the appropriateness of InvestSK Ltd. It was revealed that discussions have taken place between members of the Tory group over whether to continue with the InvestSK project or to bring services back ‘in-house’.
Newly appointed Director of InvestSK, Cllr Barry Dobson
(Con) who is Deputy Leader of the Council, stated “I think it is very important that it stays actually as an external
company. I know that we talked about bringing it back in-house and everything… We
have had a long conversation this morning about it. I have only been a director
for about a week officially, and I think that it’s got a great future providing
we manage it well”.
The meeting was the first opportunity for formal scrutiny of the InvestSK project since a Growth Ctte in May 2018 which discussed a ‘call-in’ request that I co-ordinated before the company was incorporated. The new Companies Ctte was supposed to be ready after the election earlier this year but was delayed due to the election and constitutional obligations. The Committee has responsibility for overseeing the work of all Council’s companies (of which there are now six) but the first meeting focussed on the ‘busiest’ of those companies, namely InvestSK.
Lack of Transparency
My main complaint about the whole InvestSK project is that
of transparency. Although the company
has been set up for over a year, funded almost entirely from well over
£1million of tax-payers money via SKDC, it has been very difficult to obtain
any detail of how the money has been spent. It emerged yesterday that £680,000,
more than half, of the organisation income is spent on the salaries of core
staff. There are no details of how many staff this includes nor how much they
I have personally made some one-off enquiries about the
expenditure of InvestSK. These have been answered. The first concerned details
of the hundreds of thousands of pounds allocated by InvestSK
as grants to heritage schemes, community projects and businesses. Another
concerned the award of £15,000 of press and PR consultancy work to a company
based in Lincoln.
However, while SKDC is required to publish a list of
transactions over £500 incurred by the Council, once the money has been
transferred to InvestSK the spending becomes more opaque and therefore less
Lack of a useful Business
Another example of the lack of transparency of InvestSK is the late publication of the Business Plan. The first time it was available to members of the Companies committee was when the agenda pack for the meeting was published last week as a restricted (confidential) item but after the intervention of the Chair, Cllr Graham Jeal (Con) and others it is now in the public domain. The 44-page business plan was originally written ten months ago in February but only the Company Directors have been able to read it before now. Incidentally, the three Company Directors are the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council (both Conservatives) and the Chief Executive.
The published plan contains a reference to “budgets for the next 3 years” contained at ‘Appendix 2’. I commented that although I could find ‘Appendix 7’ and annexes ‘i’ to ‘ix’, I could not find ‘Appendix 2’. It emerged that it had been omitted from the documents but would be circulated to members in due course. Curiously no-one asked what happened to ‘Appendix 1’.
Lack of Clarity
A number of councillors, including me, expressed frustration
at not knowing where SKDC ends and InvestSK begins. For example, the provision
of Arts Centres and Markets are both SKDC services yet in both cases the
management structure involves staff from both SKDC and InvestSK. In an attempt
to clarify the situation, the CEO of InvestSK explained that some of the staff
of InvestSK are seconded from SKDC payroll. Consequently, as Cllr Ian Stokes (Con)
pointed out, the Council is lending staff to InvestSK in order to buy back
their services as consultants. This situation has led to confusion.
Lack of Ambition
During discussion of the business plan, a variety of
comments were made. I asked why it was so long. I have previous experience of reports
which have been deliberately written in a long and turgid fashion in order to
discourage people from reading and understanding the content (let alone the
Refreshing the Chair, Cllr Jeal, did not conceal his
disappointment with the Business Plan. He stated that he was expecting more about
from the business plan in terms of big goals and also evidence that the team
had learned from their time at Opportunity Peterborough and elsewhere and how
these experiences could be used to “turbo-charge this business”.
Lack of Detail
Addressing his comments to Steve Bowyer, Chief Executive of InvestSK, Cllr Jeal continued “The other thing that I found myself writing all over the business plan is that I would like more SMART deliverables (strategic, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based) and there’s a lot of fluffy and flowery targets. I don’t want to criticise officers at all but it’s something that I think is a big difference between the private sector and the public sector. The public sector don’t like writing things down that in a year’s time we can look at and say ‘Did they do that, yes or no?’. Now if it’s a ‘no’, that’s fine, we can learn from it, but I’m looking for a document that lives for a year that I can pick up in a year’s time and say ‘brilliant, brilliant, what can we learn from not achieving that?’. Now some of those may be in here but I’m not getting enough of those smart deliverables and I think a lot of these could be much smarter. I also picked up the point that some of our ‘targets’ are written in the past tense…”
“Moving on, there’s a
lot of stuff about Corporate Strategy in here but I don’t see anything about a
PR strategy. I actually think that there needs to be… There needs to be a
proper communication strategy with Members and, through Members, to the electorate
who are actually paying for this”.
“I think it definitely
needs a big goal that evolves and it needs ambition. And it needs ambition
based on your experiences from Opportunity Peterborough. It is no coincidence
that you come from a body like this. I was expecting to see much more of ‘this
works this didn’t work, we’re going to do this…’.
The lecture continued through comments on the lack of detail
regarding succession planning, competitor analysis as well as the company’s
fundamental vision and aims.
What happens next?
The Council Leader and InvestSK Director Cllr Kelham Cooke
(Con) responded on behalf of the InvestSK Board. “Actually, a lot of the comments you and others have raised are really
valid actually. I appreciate where Councillor Baxter is referring to with regard
to this business. I suppose, for me, I’m
looking forward. We now have this committee, and I think I have already said to
the committee that I want us to re-prioritise what InvestSK actually does for
the Council. I think if we are looking at budgets, I don’t think it is for us
as a council. We set the budget and we decide what money can go to InvestSK and
that can only be done when we’ve actually worked out really what we want
InvestSK to deliver on behalf of the Council. So ultimately, it is us that
commission InvestSK to do the work. The Directors, myself and Barry, are
ultimately looking at what it does. We will come back with a proposal and a
revised business plan will be submitted back to this committee where it can be
scrutinised and discussed by elected members. And ultimately, the budgets are
decided by us in our budget meeting”.
The next meeting of the companies committee is scheduled for
Report to MDTC Full Council 13th November 2019 from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.
Deepings Neighbourhood Plan
The Neighbourhood Plan for the Deepings is currently in its consultation phase. If you care about the future of our community and its built environment, please respond to the consultation. Comments are particularly welcome concerning the future of Mill Field, the expansion of the town centre and the types and layout of new housing.
Market Deeping Christmas Market andlights switch-on will take place on Sunday 1st December. There are more than 80 stalls booked and the entertainment is going to be varied and awesome.
Stop the Knock
Last year, SKDC used bailiffs’ services for non payment of Council Tax over 2,000 times. The Council also evicted 31 of its own tenants. There surely must be a better way… and there is! The ‘Stop The Knock’ campaign is monitoring council’s approach to debt collection and has some innovative ideas for reducing the costs and heartache associated with council tax collection. I have written to the Council Leader and the Chair of the Rural and Communities OSC and officers have informed me that the subject will hopefully be discussed at an OSC meeting early in 2020.
Meetings Not Attended!
In terms of Council business, October
was a very quiet month with only 1 scheduled meeting. I’m not talking about my meetings, I mean
that South Kesteven District Council only had one formal meeting which was
Planning Committee on 16th October.
I don’t sit on the Planning Committee
at the moment but I had already sent comments and objections on two of the
applications which were on the agenda because I had asked for them to be
‘called in’ by the committee rather than considered only by the planning
The first was the erection of roadside services to including a petrol filling station with ancillary retail floor space on the Langtoft roundabout, north of Market Deeping. – This was the second time the committee had discussed this application and I am pleased to say that the application was refused, contrary to Officers’ recommendations. Not a single Councillor voted in favour of it (although two abstained). There were a variety of reasons for refusing it including the loss of a greenfield site, visual amenity and highways considerations.
Secondly an application to allow the
transfer of up to 75,000 tonnes of waste per annum at the existing waste depot
at Unit 2 Whitley Way Northfields Industrial Estate Market Deeping. This was a
County application but the SKDC planning committee discussed the application
and resolved to “urge the County Council to give due consideration to highway
implications including increased parking and possible adverse impacts on
amenity on surrounding developments, particularly the children’s nursery,
through odour noise, and other pollution that may result”.
The meeting also dealt with:
Four dwellings at 21 Broadgate Lane, DSJ (Reserved Matters) – Approved
Seven industrial units at Spitfire Park, Market Deeping – Approved
Meetings Attended (Climate Change)
the lack of ‘official meetings’, I have attended two council meetings, on
consecutive days, concerned with South Kesteven’s approach to Climate Change.
first was a workshop for members of the Environment Overview and Scrutiny
Committee (OSC) which heard evidence from the Environment Agency, the Woodland
Trust and the Council’s own planning team.
second was an inaugural meeting of the ‘Task and Finish Group’ on Climate
Change commissioned by September’s meeting of Full Council. It was meandering
at times but, on the whole, very productive.
The meeting was introduced to the fundamentals of Climate Science by the
external expert, Prof Edward Hanna
of Lincoln University.
from the meetings, I have been doing my homework regarding the council’s
environmental performance. I have discovered that in recent years recycling
rates have been falling due to a number of reasons mostly concerned with the
Conservatives’ cut backs. At the same
time, contamination of silver recycling bins has increased meaning even less
issue of the Council’s own energy use, officers are struggling even to
establish a baseline. It appears that
almost no proactive monitoring of energy consumption has taken place for nearly
a decade. The figures presented have
been incorrect and at times comical. For
example, it has been claimed that gas use at the small changing block next to
the all weather pitch adjacent to Deepings School field is three times as high
as gas use to the Council’s main office in Grantham. On the positive side, officers are beginning
to work with the suppliers and brokers to get more reliable information. It would be very difficult to achieve the
target of 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 without any baseline
John Hayes might be an affable chap but please don’t vote Conservative!!
Remember, it is the
Conservatives who have turned off the streetlights, caused the rise in
foodbanks, made the cuts to the Deepings Library and Deepings Youth Centre
causing them to become dependent on volunteers and grants from the Town
Council. It is the Conservatives who have chosen to cut budgets for schools,
hospitals and police. The Conservatives have also failed to negotiate any
acceptable resolution to Brexit.
As ever, if you require any further
information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.