Scrutiny failure

South Kesteven District has been criticised for a prolonged delay in returning to its normal cycle of meetings. During the first seven weeks of lockdown, the Council held only one formal meeting which lasted less than ten minutes. Since then it has held it resumed some statutory meetings virtually but there are not even any confirmed dates for most of the Council’s committees.

Cllr Ashley Baxter (Ind) who represents the Market and West Deeping ward explains: “Everyone understands that we are living through ‘unprecedented times’ but this is no excuse for shutting down democracy. For the first few weeks of the lockdown it was understandable that the Council and its Officers would be focussed on implementing emergency plans and maintaining essential services. Unfortunately, even though the Council has found a new rhythm of ‘normal operations’, there is still no timetable for the public meetings which are necessary to hold the Conservatives to account”.

Cllr Baxter continues “Some of these meetings are farcical at the best of times, I recently attended a sequence of over a dozen meetings where we literally discussed whether or not to change lightbulbs! However, the Committees are the only opportunity where Councillors can publicly ask questions and offer constructive criticism of the work of the council. The fact that most of the Committee Chairs (all Conservatives) haven’t even published a date for their next meeting demonstrates how little they care about the ‘special responsibilities’ for which they are handsomely paid.”

The Leader of the Council, Kelham Cooke (Con) had previously promised the Independent group of Councillors a draft programme of meetings. This was sent to Councillors the day before the Full Council meeting which took place virtually on 14th May. It later became clear that the draft schedule, which indicated two meetings in the first week of June, had not been agreed with the relevant Committee Chairs and consequently was not published or adhered to.

At a time when the Council’s standards and procedures are under particular stress, one might imagine the Constitution Committee would be particularly busy but the Chair, Cllr Linda Wootten (Con) has not called a meeting since before Christmas and there is no published date for its next meeting. Similarly, Cllr Wootten’s husband, Cllr Ray Wootten (Con), Chairs the Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee which has not met since 20th February and has not published a date for its next meeting.

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Cllr Linda Wootten (Con), Chair of the SKDC Constitution Committee, with the biggest Con of them all!

The ‘Great Plague’ of 1665

With all the recent talk about bookcases I noticed, in mine, a copy of “A New History of England and Great Britain” by Prof. J. M. D. Meikeljohn, of the University of St Andrew’s, and published in 1903.

Unsurprisingly, it records many notable events in the story of our nation including the first ‘English’ landing in 449 – “They sent word home to their friends how fertile the land was, and how weak the people; and thus began the stream of English immigration into the goodly island of Great Britain.”

A recent blog about ‘The Black Death’ of 1349, was surprisingly well-read, perhaps because of its topicality or maybe because it was widely shared, so I’ve plucked out a passage about England’s second most famous plague incident…

The Great Plague

June of 1665 was a month of extraordinary heat, and the winter and spring had been the driest ever known in England. London was at that time a city of narrow streets, overhanging houses, and no drainage of any systematic kind. There was in this summer no grass to be seen anywhere, and the country round London looked dreary, parched, brown and dusty.

In the coffee-houses – which were the clubs of the seventeenth century- hushed whispers pass from man to man, that the Dutch fleet is in the waters of the Thames, and that the plague is in the city. On the 7th June, Pepys, the Secretary for the Navy, see in Drury Lane “two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors (the ‘fatal red cross, a foot in length’), and ‘Lord have mercy upon us’ writ there.” Into the ill-drained and narrow streets of London neither light nor fresh air could easily penetrate. The richer people fled, and even the physicians and the clergy ran to the country for their lives.

The streets were filled all day and all night with “coaches and wagons and carts hurrying away with goods, women, servants, and children,” and the king and his sorry court were the first to set the bad example of flight. Only the stout Duke of Albemarle, Monck, among the higher ranks, stood to his post, and fearlessly chewed tobacco and drank his strong beer, in his town garden.

All night – and, when the plague had advanced, all day and all night – the dead-cart went its rounds, with the weird noise of the gloomy bell, and the hoarse voices of the buriers crying, “Bring out your dead!” Slowly it rumbled along, picking up a corpse in this house and another in that, until it appeared at the mouth of a vast and deep common foss or grave, into which it shot at once sixteen or seventeen bodies, uncoffined and unshrouded, unattended and uncared for by friends or by relations.

“The people fell thick as leaves in autumn when they are shaken by a mighty wind;” grass grew everywhere in the silent and untrodden streets, – silent but for the groans of the dying and the doomed; rows of houses stood empty, and those that were occupied were marked with the red cross; and a strange and wild-looking man walked the streets day and night at a swift even pace, speaking to no one, but constantly uttering the words, “Oh, the great and dreadful God!”

In September a huge bonfire was kindled at every sight house, and kept burning day and night; ten thousand people died in one week; and in six months more than a hundred thousand had perished.

Most of the clergy had fled, but the Nonconforming ministers had the courage to stay with the people, to preach from the forsaken pulpits, to visit the sick, to relieve the poor, and to minister to the last moments of the dying. The reward which these brave men received for their self-denying work from Parliament was the Five-Mile Act.

Footnotes

  1. The plague of 1665 is called The Great Plague, because it was the worst – the last of many which under the names of The Death, The Black Death etc., had frequently devastated London and England. The narrow ill ventilated streets, the filthy lanes and alleys, the want of systematic drainage, the complete ignorance of the time as to the value of pure air and cold water, made the great cities of mediaeval and of later Europe hot-beds and forcing-houses for all kinds of pestilence. “The terrible visitor came to London once in every twenty years, and then swept away a fifth of the inhabitants.”
  2. The most picturesque account of the Plague is given by Defoe in his Journal of the Plague Year. There are also some vigorous verses on the subject in Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis ( = Wonderful Year -because the Plague and the Fire both fell within a twelvemonth).

Self-isolation, the South Lincolnshire experience – A feature for St Guthlac’s Day

This DeepingDo blog is primarily about news relating to the Deepings and/or South Kesteven but in the absence of any council meetings I’m branching out. My recent topical post about the Black Death of 1349 was particularly popular so perhaps historical context is what you all want?

The 11th April is the Saints day of our local hero, Guthlac of Crowland. Two of the five Deepings churches are named in his honour as well as one of the ‘colleges’ at Deepings school and the local freemasons’ lodge.

Guthlac on his way to Crowland. Photo: British Library

Guthlac’s big thing was ‘self-isolation’ which is as topical today as it has ever been. Here’s a potted history of Guthlac. Less is known about his sister, Pega, although she was also into self-isolation so I might write more about her at a later date.

Wilder even than the western woodland was the desolate fen-country on the eastern border of the kingdom stretching from the “Holland,” the sunk, hollow land of Lincolnshire, to the channel of the Ouse, a wilderness of shallow waters and reedy islets wrapped in its own dark mist-veil and tenanted only by flocks of screaming wild-fowl. Here through the liberality of King Wulfhere rose the abbey of Peterborough. Here, too, Guthlac, a youth of the royal race of Mercia, sought a refuge from the world in the solitudes of Crowland,…1

Yes, Guthlac wanted to get away from it all. Life had been pretty hectic up to the point when he arrived at the edge of the fens in AD 699. Loads of us who have moved to the Deepings can identify with that.

Guthlachttps://www.bl.uk/people/guthlac was born into a noble family in AD 674, As a teenager he started fighting, as a warrior on the side of Æthelred of Mercia2. He fought for about 9 years before experiencing a spiritual encounter after which he entered a monastery at Repton. He only stayed there for two years because the other monks didn’t get on with him because he didn’t drink alcohol. Still, he kept the Faith and moved to Crowland for some peace and quiet. Crowland is quiet now but back then it was quieter still. There was nothing there, except for the aforementioned noisy birds and an ancient burial mound in the marshes which had been partially excavated by treasure hunters and which became Guthlac’s new home.

So how did Guthlac use his time of self-isolation?

https://www.wnsstamps.post/stamps/2018/BY/BY010.18.jpg

Firstly, he didn’t drink too much. He didn’t drink at all in fact.

Secondly, he watched his diet. It is said that he made a solemn vow never to eat before sunset.

Thirdly, he tried to keep in touch with his friends and family. He was visited by various people seeking his advice including the Mercian king, Æthelbald. It is said that Guthlac’s sister Pega lived with him for a while but there was an incident with the ‘eating before sunset’ rule and sadly they parted company. Pega went to live by herself in nearby Peakirk (which is why it’s now called Peakirk).

Fourthly, he prayed. Being by yourself all day gives you time to contemplate, reflect, meditate and listen to God. This was much easier in the days before Facebook and Netflix box-sets which can be a waste of time. Anyway, for Guthlac it was the whole reason for him moving to South Lincolnshire in the first place so he got on and dealt with it seriously.

Finally, he faced his demons. According to Felix, who wrote an early biography of Guthlac, the demons took many forms including horrible, ferocious and sometimes frankly disgusting beasties. In our so-called enlightened age, we don’t think about literal demons very much but we all face our own modern demons, e.g. in the form of addictions, domestic violence, low self-esteem, ignorance, arrogance etc. A time of self-isolation is a good time to confront them and deal with them. There is far more help available for dealing with these demons than Guthlac would have had when he faced his.

“...and so great was the reverence he won, that only two years had passed since his death when the stately Abbey of Crowland rose over his tomb. Earth was brought in boats to form a site; the buildings rested on oaken piles driven into the marsh; a great stone church replaced the hermits cell; and the toil of the new brotherhood changed the pools around them into fertile meadow-land.” 3

This year, St Guthlac’s Day has fallen on Easter Eve, and in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. For the first time in living memory, we are living through a plague which is spreading throughout the UK as well as the rest of the world. The only weapon we have against it appears to be social-distancing (staying at least 2 metres away from other people) and self-isolation (leaving the house as infrequently as possible). Guthlac of Crowland was one of the most popular pre-Norman English saints and he taught us that being in isolation is not only possible, it can also be productive and even Holy.

Happy St Guthlac’s Day and Happy Easter!

Places to visit in Peterborough: Crowland Abbey - We Love Peterborough
Crowland Abbey – Built on the site of Guthlac’s hermitage.

1 “A short history of the English people”, John Richard Green, 1877
2 Not to be confused with Æthelred the Unready who was king of England 200 years later.
3 “A short history of the English people”, John Richard Green, 1877

The Black Death – 1349

..It was while this struggle was growing in intensity that a yet more formidable difficulty met the lords who had been driven, by the enfranchisement of their serfs, to rely on hired labour. Everything depended on the abundant supply of free labourers, and this abundance suddenly disappeared.

The most terrible plague which the world ever witnessed advanced at this juncture from the East, and after devastating Europe from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Baltic, swooped at the close of 1348 upon Britain.

Disease and Death

The traditions of its destructiveness, and the panic-struck words of the statutes which followed it, have been more than justified by modern research. Of the three or four millions who then formed the population of England, more than one-half were swept away in its repeated visitations. Its ravages were fiercest in the greater towns, where filthy and undrained streets afforded a constant haunt to leprosy and fever.

In the burial ground which the piety of Sir Walter Manny purchased for the citizens of London, a spot whose site was afterwards marked by the Charter House, more than fifty thousand corpses are said to have been interred.

An 1834 woodcut of Black Death victims being buried in London
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Does West Deeping need a roundabout? Residents meet MP to share safety concerns.

A busy meeting with Sir John Hayes MP at West Deeping Village Hall

It may have been Friday the 13th but West Deeping residents were not afraid to visit the village hall last night to express concerns to their MP about road safety and water management issues in the village.

The meeting was convened and Chaired by Coun David Ward who sits on the village’s parish council although the meeting was not organised by the council and Coun Ward explained that he was acting in a personal capacity as a resident of the village and not on behalf of the parish council or anyone else. In fact, most Parish Councillors chose not to attend the meeting but instead published a position statement.

About 25 local residents attended the meeting along with the County Councillor and two of the District Councillors who represent the village. At the invitation of residents, Rt Hon Sir John Hayes who is MP for the South Holland and the Deepings also addressed the meeting.

The agenda focused on the safety of the staggered crossroads where King Street crosses the A1175 Stamford Road. There have been a number of accidents in recent years which have caused severe and minor injuries. There are a number of factors which contribute to the problem including the number of lorries using the junction, the speed of vehicles heading to and from the Tallington crossing and drivers using King Street as an alternative route to avoid the busy A15 near Glinton. Despite the level of concern, Lincolnshire County Council has ranked the junction 91st (ninety-first!) in a list of priorities for road improvements in the county.

A forthcoming planning proposal from Cemex to expand the works to extract aggregates is anticipated to increase the amount of vehicular movements by as many as 70 HGVs each day as well as dozens of ancillary vehicles. Furthermore an additional 42 dwellings are expected to be completed this year at the Tallington Lakes Caravan Park which now has an exit on King Street very close to the junction in question.

Coun Ward expressed a preference for a roundabout as a road safety measure but he acknowledged that any improvements would be welcome. These might include improved signage, speed restrictions, traffic lights etc.

Sir John Hayes MP with Coun David Ward.

In response to a question from District Councillor Ashley Baxter, there was some conjecture about the likelihood of a bridge alternative to Tallington level crossing where morning queues of traffic often extend back to beyond the junction. Despite many years of discussion between villagers, Highways England, Lincolnshire County and other stakeholders, the project has never made it beyond ‘the drawing board’. Neither the MP nor the County Councillor were aware of any firm or feasible proposals currently in progress.

Sir John Hayes MP made a number of pledges to the campaigners. Firstly, he promised to express his opposition to planning applications for further aggregates extractions unless they were accompanied by road safety improvements. Secondly, he promised to contact Lincolnshire County Council to established what action had been taken in response to a meeting between officers with parish councillors back in October 2019. Sir John also told the meeting that he would continue to lobby for a solution to the problem of Tallington level crossing.

Later in the meeting, residents also raised concerns about the continued issues of water and sewerage at the North of the village. Representatives of Anglian Water attended a parish council meeting on 12 February but the complex issues have not been satisfactorily resolved.

West Deeping Parish Council Statement concerning the King Street / A1175 junction

Image result for west deeping king street and A1175

The following statement was published by West Deeping Parish Council in March 2020. I have added some hyperlinks for convenience of readers….

West Deeping Parish Council Statement

Over the past year, the Parish Council has been consulting with the appropriate authorities and have been in discussions with Graeme Butler, LCC Road Safety (Accident Investigation) Manager, representing the Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership (LRSP) over safety concerns at the junction of King Street and the A1175.

We have been advised that each location is prioritised according to collisions reported and their budget is targeted towards these. The top 10 locations have a range of 13 – 24 collisions over a 5 year period compared to 6 reported at this junction. Consequently, as of April 2019, we were number 91 on the priority list.

However, we pursued this further with Graeme, and he visited the site on 23rd October 2019 and met with Cllrs Maggie Ashcroft, Colin Blagrove, Sue Latham and David Ward. During the visit, he said that he would arrange for a safety specialist to look into the concerns that were raised.  In addition, a report to Highways was submitted to repair the damaged traffic signs on the island at the junction.

Following this meeting, Graeme passed on our concerns to Lincolnshire County Council’s Head of Planning, who confirmed that meetings have been held between the Planning Department and Cemex to discuss their plans over the forthcoming months and years at the King Street site (eastern side) near the junction. When a formal planning application is submitted for future development to any of the gravel quarry sites using King Street, West Deeping Parish Council will have the opportunity to comment, at the same time as the Planning Department will make its input, taking into account our concerns. 

When we met with him, Graeme also commented on the possibility of a roundabout at the junction and confirmed that there is often a misconception that this may solve collisions totally. Accident statistics suggest that roundabouts do not prevent collisions. For example, the roundabout at the A16 has seen 9 collisions in the last 5 years with 5 at the roundabout in Market Deeping (Market Place).

On 9th March 2020, it has been confirmed by LRSP that the reactive signs at the junction are being reset to ensure that they trigger at a lower speed and that the LCC Street Lighting Team have orders in place with the contractor to repair signs and lighting at the junction by the end of March.

LRSP have also recommended to us that it both important and courteous to ensure that our local county councillor, Rosemary Trollope-Bellew, is kept informed of all discussions on this subject.

The Parish Council believes that road safety is of paramount importance.  It will continue to work with the Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership in respect of this matter and be guided by them to try and find the optimum solution for everyone in the future.

West Deeping Parish Council

March 2020

Message to SKDC Councillors regarding the Corona Virus

I’ve just received the following letter sent jointly from the CEO and Leader of South Kesteven District Council. I think it explains the council’s stance regarding the current public health situation,..

Dear Colleagues,

As you will be aware, the World Health Organisation has declared COVID-19 (Coronavirus) a pandemic. This means that the virus has reached a tipping point whereby it spreads on a wide geographic scale and easily from one person to another.  In other words, it is  contagious and spreading quickly.  A pandemic does not relate to an increase in the strength of a virus or disease, just to a growth in its spread, although the reality is that if a virus is spreading easily and quickly, more people are likely to contract it.  It is also possible that, following today’s Cobra meeting that the UK Government may announce that we are moving from the containment phase to the delay phase.

So we wanted to assure you, as Leader of the Council and Chief Executive, that we continue to take Coronavirus very seriously.  A Business Continuity team, led by Karen, has already been formed, and plans are being further developed to ensure that we remain prepared in the coming days, weeks and months.  Our aim is to keep you fully informed about the evolving national and regional picture and to ensure that as a council we continue to deliver our key services in the event of an outbreak in South Kesteven.  If the UK does move to the delay phase, we will need to see exactly what that means, and respond accordingly.  But whatever the outcome, we are well-prepared for any potential impact on you, on our staff, and on our ability to continue to deliver key services for our communities.

There is a lot of misinformation about the virus, which does not help anyone.  We will continue to take our lead from the Government, and from Public Health England, whose advice is based on sound science and medical evidence.  The best advice remains to wash your hands regularly, and thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds, and to follow the Catch It, Bin It, Kill It rule.

As we have said previously, the council has increased the number of hand sanitiser units and soap dispensers across our council HQ, outlying offices, depots, arts centres and within our communal rooms within our own housing.  The level of cleaning has been increased across our entire estate as a precautionary measure.

Given the ease and speed with which the virus is spreading, we have also reminded all our staff that if they have been in contact with someone who has contracted the virus, or if they are showing symptoms themselves, they should stay at home and let their line manager know.  Obviously if staff are ill, they should not work. However, for employees who need to self-isolate as a precautionary measure, or stay home to look after children who are self-isolating, we have asked that if they can work from home they should ensure that they are able to do so, in order that we can continue to deliver as a council. This means there is a need for staff who have the necessary IT equipment to ensure that they take their work laptops and phones home every day.

We would also like to remind Members to please look after your own health, and to reconsider some of your community commitments, that may bring you into close contact with large groups of people.  As we have said, we are not yet in the delay phase, and we don’t know what that will mean, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start thinking about playing our part to slowdown the spread of the virus.  In terms of Council and Committee meetings, we are already looking at how we may be able to operate remotely, using technology to stay in touch, ensure key council business continues, and look after people’s wellbeing.  

We are having to operate in a very rapidly evolving environment, and we will keep you updated as things change.  In the meantime, below is a link to helpful, official information about Coronavirus.  If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact either of us.

Covid- Government Response and Guidance

All the best,

Councillor Kelham Cooke (Con)   and Karen Bradford SKDC CEO

Another year of fantasy budgeting for South Kesteven…

Last Tuesday’s meeting of the Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee (let’s call it FEDex for short) reviewed the Q3 Financial out-turn report for South Kesteven.

Around two years ago, I was arguing at Full Council that the budget proposals being presented by Cllr Adam Stokes (Con) on behalf of the ‘new’ Tory Cabinet led by Cllr Matthew Lee (Con). I stated at the time that they were over-ambitious and unachievable. They included, for example,

Another ‘saving’ of £30,000 was predicted from corporate consultancy. This was not acheived either.

  • A forecast of £250,000 additional income from car parks even though a planned increase in tariffs was abandoned. Surprise, surprise, the income never materialised.
  • Another ‘saving’ of £30,000 was predicted from corporate consultancy. This was not acheived either.
  • Cllr Cooke (Deputy Leader at the time) had his name against a raft of measures including £50,000 anticipated savings in utilties expenditure. The following year’s out-turn report admintted that these savings were never deliverable.
  • Cllr Cooke also had responsibility for £150,000 recurrent annual savings from ‘delivery of 3 specific shared service opportunities at £50,000 each. At the end of the year it was admitted that additional opportunities to share had been discounted resulting in the income target not being met.

The list continues of unmet targets for 2018-19 continues but this blogpost is about the unmet targets for 2019-20. Surely this year, some lessons would have been learned?

Sadly, the most recent meeting of the FEDetc Committee received a report showing an awful lot of variance between what was forecast and what has been delivered.

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Tories put Party tribalism ahead of environmental action.

Before last May’s election, lots of recent converts to the Conservative Party made assurances that they would respond to individual issues on the own merits and they would not be afraid to vote against the party. Sadly, there is very little evidence of any of this maverick attitude within the council chamber.

Despite declaring a ‘Climate Emergency’ last year, Conservative leaders at South Kesteven recently imposed a whip on their councillors in order to reject a charity textiles bank initiative because it was not their idea. The decision was clearly party political.

The following SKDC councillors voted in favour of textiles recycling banks.

Baxter (Ind)Hansen (Ind)Morgan (Lab)
Bisnauthsing (L/D)Kelly (Ind)Steptoe (Lab)
Clack (Lab)Knowles (Ind)Wheeler (L/D)
Dilks (Ind)Milnes (Ind)Wood (Ind)
Fellows (Ind)Moran (Ind)Total: 14

The following SKDC councillors voted against textile recycling banks:

Benn (Con)Johnson (Con)Stokes Jnr (Con)
Bosworth (Con)Lee (Con)Thomas (Con)
Cooke (Con)Manterfield (Con)Trollope-Bellew (Con)
Crawford (Con)Mason (Con)Westropp Snr (Con)
Dawson (Con)Reid (Con)Whittington (Con)
Dobson (Con)Jacky Smith (Con)L Wootten (Con)
Exton (Con)Judy Smith (Con)R Wootten (Con)
Griffin (Con)Stevens (Con)Total: 23
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How voters changes in the 2019 General Election

What an excellent infographic!

News and political views

This graphic says a lot, but you have to know a bit to realise that losing 9 out of 41 voters, like Labour did, – or a 4.5% swing away – is towards an upper limit of what happens between General Elections.
It also doesn’t show explicitly enough what the non-voting number actually is; and completely misses how many people are not registered.
But perhaps Labour members are already forgetting.

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