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.
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.
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.
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!).
Cllr Martin Hill (Con), Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, has appeared on Radio 4’s Six O’Clock news in order to criticise the Conservative government’s continued council funding cuts. He has joined other Council leaders in warning that, by 2020, Councils will only be able to provide the bare minimum statuatory services.
Cllr Hill (who was introduced as Cllr Wall) stated:
“All those other things which aren’t a legal duty will actually have to go by the wayside. And I have to say if the government doesn’t actually give us additional resources in a few years time, I’m not confident as a council leader that we will be operating in a safe manner for the public of this county.”
The County Councils’ Network has warned that England’s largest councils are poised to set out almost £1bn in new reductions to budgets next February – with residents facing another round of ‘unpalatable’ cuts to services – unless government intervenes.
In its response to a government consultation on funding for councils next year, the County Councils Network (CCN) warns that its councils will set out £685m in savings next February to balance their budgets.
In addition, those county authorities say another £233m of ‘unplanned’ frontline service cuts will be needed – which have yet to be identified – unless government provides these councils with new funding next year.
In my opinion, the County Council is part of the problem. It is remote, expensive and monolithic. It should be abolished and replaced by smaller unitary authorities. I also think the Government should recognise and support the vital role of local councils in delivering front-line services.
During a friendly twitter exchange with Lillian Greenwood MP I discovered that my predecessor at Nottingham City Council’s award-winning energy squad, Ravi Subramanian, is still messing about with spreadsheets. This is excellent news for anyone who wants to know how Tory austerity has affected their Local Authority. It only seems to include ‘upper tier’ authorities, i.e. County and Unitary Councils but it is still a brilliant piece of work!
Here’s an example graph comparing Lincolnshire against Peterborough. It appears to show both Councils have suffered roughly similar cuts in percentage terms even though Peterborough is significantly more deprived.
I am delighted to report that the South Kesteven Cabinet will hold a formal meeting, open to the public, at the Eventus Centre in Market Deeping tomorrow (6th September, 2018 at 2pm)
Some people need to get out more often, especially Councillors, and this is what I have been arguing since I joined South Kesteven Council back in 2015. To be specific, I have been suggesting that at least one formal committee meeting each year should be held in each of the smaller towns i.e. Bourne, Stamford and Market Deeping. Continue reading →
Back in March I attended a brilliant play at West Deeping Village Hall. It was a Townsend Production called “We are the Lions, Mr Manager” which told the remarkable story of Jayaben Desai the inspirational leader of the 1976-78 Grunwick Film Processing Factory Strike.
The performance was part of the Lincolnshire Rural Touring programme which is scheme designed to make art accessible for the many not the few. It is subsidised by Lincolnshire County Council and South Kesteven District Council among others so I congratulate them for their support this project (and regular readers will know I don’t do that very often!)
The next season of performances have been booked for West Deeping and they are as follows:
Saturday, 13th October 2018, 7:30 PM
An intimate, thoughtful, atmospheric evocation of fragile family and community allegiances within a remote Welsh village, tracing the lives of a young autistic man, his absentee soldier father, his alcoholic beekeeper mother and her tattoo artist sister.
Agent of Influence: The Secret Life of Pamela More
Saturday, 24th November 2018, 7:30 PM
Staged with great panache, gorgeous period detail and an impressive film noir/jazz-swing soundtrack, this is an absolute hoot of a show, chronicling Lady Pamela More’s 1930s life as a fashion editor, socialite and secret agent.
The Wonderful Discovery of Witches in the County of Lancaster
Friday, 1st March 2019, 7:30 PM
An intimate and spellbinding telling of the true story of the notorious and bloody 16th century Pendle Witch trials, combining bold theatricality, haunting a capella hymn singing and striking dark humour.
Sounds like a fun night out, eh? Most people combine these performances with a visit to the excellent Red Lion pub across the road either before, after and or during the performance. Village life at its best!
A recent Freedom of Information request by Independent SKDC Councillor Ashley Baxter has revealed that at least ten jobs have been recruited without the ‘normal’ competitive process of advertising and shortlisting for the roles.
In several cases the new recruits are former colleagues of senior Conservative Councillors at SKDC. Some of the direct recruitments have been for very senior roles.
Cllr Ashley Baxter comments: “This is a disgrace and a scandal. Nepotism and cronyism on this scale was supposed to have been eradicated with the Northcote Trevelyan Report of 1854 and is contrary to every rule of common sense in local government.” Cllr Baxter is keen to point out that his opposition to the recruitments is not related to the nominated individuals, most of who he has never met, but to the principles of transparency, due process, fairness and equality.
Cllr Baxter has made a formal complaint to the council about the number of appointments. He believes that most, if not all, of the appointments might be illegal and in contravention of the Equalities Act 2010 and the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.
The SKDC Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee of 25th July will discuss the Council’s financial performance for 2017/18. I would like to say it makes interesting reading but I might be accused of mis-selling. Any report entitled ‘Q4 Financial Outturn 2017/18‘ is not going to reach the Waterstone’s Top 20, take my word for it. However, the report does have snippets of info which might raise eyebrows… well maybe one eyebrow, a bit.
The SKDC budget meeting of March 2017 was quite historic in that it was passed ‘unanimously’ by the Full Council. No-one could remember such a seemingly harmonious decision on the Council’s annual plans. Much later I discovered that at least one Tory, Cllr Adam Stokes, left the room to avoid the recorded vote allegedly because he was firmly opposed to the proposed rise in Council Tax but didn’t want to defy the whip, sorry, spoil the moment.
A few months later and the party was over… not the ‘Conservative Party’, that would be too much to hope for, I mean the general feeling of togetherness and unity across the chamber. The bubble was burst when the disgruntled Tory backbenchers launched another coup attempt and won. The new administration led by Cllr Matthew Lee promised important changes which were ‘long overdue’. I listened carefully to hear what these changes would be and I remember hearing an impassioned plea for new office carpets and whether I had somehow missed the public outrage about the state of SKDC floor coverings.
The very first change was the augmentation of the Council cabinet and committee structure. This immediately meant there were about 7 new posts for former backbench Conservatives which came with responsibility, status and money in the form of Special Responsibility Allowances. ‘What price democracy?’ I hear you ask. Well, the Financial Outturn Statement answers “The restructuring of the democratic arrangements has resulted in an overspend of £24K.”
The next important decision was to change the name of the ‘Executive’ to ‘Cabinet’. This came as a surprise to me because it was only just over a year earlier that the same Tories voted to change the name of the ‘Cabinet’ to ‘Executive’!
As the rubber hit the road, there were some early changes. Firstly, Beverley Agass resigned as Chief Executive (coincidentally I think) to take a job as CEO of South Cambridgeshire Council. A new CEO, Aidan Rave, was appointed along with some other bushy-tailed staff and consultants. Later in the year, one of the Council’s very senior managers left quite suddenly and unexpectedly and the lower ranks asked themselves ‘Did he jump or was he pushed?’. Now that the have Q4 outturn report we can see that ‘one-off costs arising from changes to the Corporate Management Structure’ were £125,000 higher than anticipated. My guess is that there’s a redundancy payment or Compromise Agreement tied up with that somehow (I’ll bring you more on that in a later post) Continue reading →
The Government has declared “National Democracy Week” between 2nd and 8th July but campaigners have taken to the streets of Stamford to explain why they feel the UK electoral system is in dire need of an overhaul.
Coun Ashley Baxter (Ind) who represents the Market and West Deeping ward of South Kesteven District Council explains:
“Many people in Lincolnshire are frustrated that although only around half of voters vote Conservatives, that particular party always wins the vast majority of the available council seats at District, County and even Parliamentary level. It is no wonder so many people feel disenfranchised and disillusioned and have given up voting completely. At the street stall in Stamford many people agreed with us that a more effective system of elections is not only possible but essential.”
Stamford Town Councillor Steve Carroll (IND) and Little Bytham Parish Councillor Gerhard Lohmann-Bond (Green) were also involved in the organisation of the event.
The stall was one of more than 60 across the country as part of a national day of action co-ordinated by the Make Votes Matter campaign. People who wish to know more about proportional representation or would like to sign the petition for electoral reform should visit the makevotesmatter.org.uk website.