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.
At the last Full Meeting of South Kesteven District Council I proposed a motion that Grantham should have a Community Governance Review to enable residents of the town to choose whether they wish to have a town council. My proposal was criticised with a succession of weak arguments along the lines of: ‘we once held a couple of meetings a few years ago but no-one turned up’; ‘we think it might cost a lot’; and ‘you live in the Deepings so what’s it got to do with you?’ (I’m paraphrasing!)
The conclusion of the debate was the passing of wrecking amendment put forward by Coun Ray Wootten (Con) to say the Council would have hold a review only if they were legally obliged to or if SKDC ceased to exist. So, the Tories were able to say they were not against a Town Council in principle but would only vote for it in specific circumstances (and those circumstances would be if they had no other choice).
Coun Ray Wootten (Con) and his wife Coun Linda Wootten (Con) pictured in 2016 with mayor’s hat, chain and ermine but no Town Council to preside over.
I’m pleased to read that this week’s Grantham Journal proves at least one resident supports the idea of replacing the Charter Trustees with a proper town council by publishing the following letter from Ann Wright: Continue reading →
Last week I blogged that Gravitas Housing Ltd has been planning to build houses in Bourne and that there are no definitive public evidence that South Kesteven’s Local Authority Controlled Company (LACC) is planning anything else.
On 10th January, the Deputy Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke, decided formally to sell the Wherry’s Lane site to Gravitas Housing Ltd. If I have understood correctly, the council also agreed to lend £250,000 to Gravitas in order that they could afford to buy the land.
So, after securing the land and almost a year of Shareholder Meetings held behind closed doors, the Gravitas Directors (who are all employed by SKDC) decided to request planning permission for the erection of 25 dwellings on Wherry’s Lane in Bourne. A valid application was received by SKDC planning department on 27th March 2018 (which had been prepared by a consultancy in Louth!). Continue reading →
There’s no such thing as waste; only stuff in the wrong place!
Lincolnshire County Council is currently conducting a two-month consultation on the JOINT MUNICIPAL WASTE MANAGEMENT STRATEGY for the County. For convenience, the waste strategy is abbreviated to the catchy acronym of JMWMS. Unfortunately, the consultation concludes next Monday 2nd July so if you want to participate you will need to get your skates on.
For many people, the most important value, vision and target of a County-wide municipal waste strategy can be summarised as “Make sure my bins get emptied every Thursday” but the consultation assumes all consultees will be diligent in reading the various documents associated with the Draft JMWMS (a summary is available) and the Environmental Report, The first is 54 pages long (or 66 including appendices) while the latter is a technical document of 38 pages (or 116 including appendices).
I have already submitted my response. If you want to use my answers to inform your own response you are most welcome. I have already shared them with SKDC who apparently considered them as part of their workshop on the issue. (This was a another closed Members’ workshop without any external invitees. It was attended by three councillors and a few council officers. The response drafted by the workshop has been circulated to other members of the Enviroment OSC but will not be published in any committee report).
Gravitas Housing Ltd is a company established and wholly owned by South Kesteven District Council.
What is a LACC?
In order to become more agile, flexible and able to generate revenue, many Council’s have chosen to establish Local Authority Controlled Companies (LACCs or sometimes pronounced ‘Lac-Co’).
Some LACCs have been very successful, for example Norfolk Property Services (NPS) which now has a group structure and trades as Norse Commercial Services delivering services to the public in many local authority areas (geographic areas and service areas).
Other Local Authority commercial ventures have been a nightmare, e.g. Solutions SK which was described as a ‘Four-Star shambles‘ when it lost £4.7million pounds in a year. When I say ‘lost’ I mean they couldn’t find it. The highly paid Directors employed for their commercial acumen couldn’t explain where it had gone. There was no question of fraud, only incompetence on a grand scale. I happy to report that the ‘SK’ in ‘Solutions SK’ refers to Stockport not South Kesteven. Presumably they couldn’t even spell Stockport Council when they set up the LACC.
Gravitas slowly takes off
Back in 2015, South Kesteven Councillors decided that the LACC vehicle was a band-wagon worth jumping on to and so a Shareholders Committee was formed. This is an advisory group to keep the company directors on track. Due to the need for political balance, the membership consists of four Tories and one Independent (which is me).
The first meeting was scheduled 4th July 2016 but this was cancelled. Another date was set for 6th September 2016 but this was also cancelled. The Shareholder Committee finally met for the first time on 3rd October 2016 Continue reading →