Minutes of the May meeting of Market Deeping Council – Forty years on and ‘Plus ça change’!

I was recently given some ancient papers by a generous benefactor which include the minutes of the Market Deeping Parish Council (as it was then known) from exactly 40 years ago this month (May 1979).

At that time, the Council spent its time discussing the poor state of the roads, the overgrown verges, youths causing damage and creating a nuisance, the lack of a visible police presence, inconsiderate parking, and grants to the youth club.

Nothing at all like nowadays, eh?

Last night was the first meeting of the new Market Deeping Town Council. It is much the same as the old Market Deeping Town Council as before the election except for the two people who have retired (Thanks very much, Roy Stephenson and Colin Gamble) and the one person who has joined (Best of British to you, Brian Hembrow)!

I circulated my monthly written report before the meeting started but unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the election of Mayor (Congratulations Xan Collins) or the other exciting agenda items.

Being a Town (or Parish) Councillor is an unpaid, often thankless task and an uphill struggle. Please keep them on their toes but at the same time give them your support and the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes it can take a very long time to get stuff done!

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.

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

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’)

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.

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.k

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