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

Conservative Leader warns that @LincolnshireCC may soon be unable to “operate in a safe manner”!

Cllr Martin HillCllr 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.

 

Interactive council cuts comparator

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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.

For more information visit Ravi’s blog:

via Interactive council cuts comparator

@SouthKesteven Cabinet arrives in the Deepings; It has been a long journey!

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