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.
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.
The following SKDC councillors voted against textile recycling banks:
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.
This week’s news that the all weather sports facility at Deepings School has finally been condemned is the latest in a long-line of reduced services and broken promises by the District and County Councils.
The AWP (All Weather Pitches) commonly known as the ‘astroturf’ are part of the sports fields at the Deepings School. The fields are supposed to be a community facility but they have been turned into a cash cow for a private company (1Life) who care little about their upkeep. Worse still, the maintenance of the fields is paid for almost exclusively by residents of the Deepings who are no longer able to freely use the facilities.
What is the Deepings Special Expense Area?
The Deepings SEA is an out-of-date tax levied only on residents of Market Deeping and Deeping St James. It is only about £3 per household each year which equates to a total revenue of about £16,000. This money can only be spent on grounds maintenance on the fields North of Spalding Road commonly known as ‘the school fields’ or ‘the rugby club’.
Over several years I have been complaining about the injustice of the Deepings SEA and this year I managed to get it on the agenda of the SKDC Finance Committee and the Cabinet Member is currently consulting Ward Members (including me) for views on it’s future. I have responded to say it should be abolished.
Who do the fields belong to?
The ownership of the field is split between Lincolnshire County Council and Deepings St James Parish Council. The land, including the Astroturf, is supposed to be maintained by South Kesteven District Council.
Who controls the fields?
Access to the grass fields, the astroturf and the outdoor changing rooms is controlled by 1Life who currently hold the contract for managing the Deepings Leisure Centre. The contract, which has been held by 1Life for 10 years, is due to expire early next year.
1Life manage public bookings of the fields and the astroturf and they keep all the revenue.
Who uses the fields?
The fields used to be freely accessible to everyone. About five years ago, the Deepings School put up a six foot fence around the perimeter of the fields which effectively prohibited any informal or unauthorised use of the grass fields or the AWP.
The Deepings School uses the fields for PE lessons and sports clubs. The Deepings Rugby Club are allowed free use of the rugby fields in the North corner of the site. Various other sports clubs including Bourne Deeping Hockey Club and Deepings Rangers have pay for use of the field and the AWP.
In the last 3 years, Deepings United Football Club has made increasing use of the AWP and the playing fields. DUFC is a real success story for promoting physical wellbeing among young people. From a standing start, the club now operates training for 270 people, mostly youngsters and have formed 8 competitive football teams. Last year, the Deepings United paid over £5,000 to 1Life for pitch booking fees. None of this money went back to either the SKDC or the school. The additional management costs of the extra bookings were minimal, i.e. it is almost all unearned profit for 1Life.
What’s wrong with the All Weather Pitch?
If properly maintained, the facility has a shelf-life of around 20 years. The Deepings facility has been in a shocking state for many years. At a Deepings Local Forum meeting in 2010, Councillors were told that repairs were proposed for August that year which were “above and beyond patching and should prolong the life of the pitch for a further five years”. That was nearly ten years ago and so it is not surprising that the pitch has now deteriorated even further to the point that it is a dangerous surface on which to play sport. I don’t mean dangerous in the ‘nanny-state health and safety gone mad’ sense of the word, rather I mean that it is proper dangerous. The Bourne Deeping hockey club gave up using it for competitive matches and adult training years ago after a number of incidents including a couple that involved the air ambulance. They now reluctantly have to play and train in Peterborough and their Chairman has lobbied the Council for better facilities. More recently, young footballers have been injured not just by the uneven playing surface but by a collapsing fence.
Did Councillors know about the problems with the All Weather Pitch?
Most Councillors are well aware of the issues with the AWP because, apart from anything else, Mr Peter Moisey of Bourne Deeping Hockey Club asked a question about it at the Full Council meeting in January of this year. His question included the following comments:
“Having failed to oversee that those responsible ensure maintenance of the facility at Deepings Leisure Centre, its continual neglect and under investment has rendered the pitch condemned as to use for anything other than the basic of standards.
“As a result the decline of Bourne Hockey Club est 1926 and Deeping Hockey Club left them with no alternative but to merge. Now our club with 6 men’s teams, 3 ladies’ teams and a thriving junior section proudly representing Bourne and the Deepings has no alternative but to train and play its matches at AMVC in Cambridgeshire.
“Is it not time that the council seriously met the needs of its residents in the south of the county in provision of suitable playing surface along with the much required complimentary facilities to support the keenly followed sport of hockey in this area?”
But in these times of austerity, can we afford to fix it?
The cost of repairing or replacing the existing AWP would be about £200,000 which does sound like a lot of money. However, until recently the pitch was booked frequently at a cost of £53 per booking.
Let’s assume that it was used 44 weeks each year (to allow for 8 weeks for holidays and inclement weather), and 20 hours each week with a booking fee of £50 per session. This would generate a revenue of £44,000. Admittedly, some of this would need to be spent on minor repairs and staff but there should still be a healthy surplus to plough back into repairs and replacement of the equipment.
Add to this, the additional revenue which should accrue from the school which, as an academy, is a privately-run entity which, in the absence of a lease, has no more access to the fields than any other organisation. I can confirm that there is no lease between the Deepings School and the landowners. In 2012, the school claimed that a lease was an essential requirement for a transition to academy status yet, eight years on, no such lease has been signed. This is apparently due to the lethargy of the County Council’s legal department.
What’s the solution?
In 2017, the incoming Leader of SKDC, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) promised a new Leisure Centre for the Deepings. Over two years later and we have only just identified the school fields as the preferred site. In the New Year we expect to have a consultation about some feasibility works which have been carried out. I would expect the rest of the consultation, design and planning process will take at least a year and the building process will take another year more. We can only hope that the new facility will be as brilliant as the posters claim
What have local Councillors done?
The Independent Councillors for the Deepings, i.e. Cllr Virginia Moran, Cllr Phil Dilks and myself have all been active in asking questions formally and informally at almost every meeting of Full Council and several times at Cabinet about the existing and proposed facilities for the Deepings.
Personally, I have been interested in the AWP for more than 10 years as my wife and children all used to play hockey on it. More recently, I have been lobbying on behalf of the hockey club, the Deepings Swimming Club and Deepings United FC regarding the high charges and poor condition of the indoor and outdoor facilities. I have organised meetings between representatives of these clubs with relevant SKDC staff (DRUFC were invited but couldn’t make the dates).
On the Conservative leaflet for Deepings St James published prior to the election in May, one of the candidates claimed to be “working with SKDC, LCC and other stakeholders towards improving the all-weather sports facilities in Deeping St James”. I did ask for specific details at the time but none were forthcoming. Since then, to the best of my knowledge, none of the Conservatives in the Deepings have asked any formal questions about sports facilities in the Deepings.
When all said and done it appears that, until now, the Conservative-run Council have failed to adequate plans for new facilities, failed to maintain the old facilities and failed to work in partnership with other councils and stakeholders to meet the needs of residents and sports team. The Deepings deserves better.
A delegation from Deepings Rotary spoke in the Open Forum in support of a grant application that had been submitted to help with funding the Annual Christmas Concert featuring The Grimesthorpe Colliery Band. This is a popular event in the local calendar, but increasing costs make it difficult to keep the ticket prices at a […]
A year ago, in October 2018, a group of workmen arrived unexpectedly at the Deepings Leisure Centre to cut down the mature tree which had dominated the car park since the centre was built.
Neither the Leisure Centre staff nor the staff of the Deepings School which shares the car park had been made aware that the tree had been condemned and neither had any of the ward councillors. As a frequent visitor to the leisure centre (and its car park) I was dismayed that what seemed likely a healthy tree had been destroyed.
This is part of the reason why, on 10th June, I wrote to the Chair of SKDC’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee asking that the topic of “Tree Stategy” be added to the workplan of that committee. When the draft workplan was published without any reference to trees, I wrote to the Chief Executive tabling a motion to Full Council that SKDC should develop a tree strategy to protect, improve and enhance the number and quality of trees in the District adopt the Woodland Trust’s Charter for Trees.
During the debate it became clear that the Tories couldn’t stomach the idea that an Independent might successfully propose such an initiative and sure enough not a single Tory voted in favour of it (although 8 were brave enough to abstain).
A few days after the meeting, the relevant Portfolio Holder, Cllr Peter Moseley (Con), appeared in the Stamford Mercury holding a copy of the Woodland Trust Charter which he and his colleagues had voted against.
Fast forward a few months and we skip to the good bit…
I am pleased to announce that Deeping St James is the winner of South Kesteven Best Kept Community Award for 2019.
Organised by The Lincolnshire Branch CPRE, the competition is judged by volunteer judges.
The Judges visited the village twice, without any announcement, and on each occasion had a maximum of 150 points available to award across the following criteria:-
• Overall appearance and condition – Absence of litter, unauthorised / unsightly refuse, absence of graffiti / vandalism, dumps on verges, general condition of roads and paths.
• Green Spaces – Provision for wildlife (such as bird boxes / feeders, bat boxes) and wildflowers. The general appearance of public greens, trees, ponds, streams, dykes, parks, nature areas, hedges, gardens, and allotments, as well as the condition of footpaths, stiles, field gates, signposting and children’s play areas. • Public Premises – The condition of town halls, community centres, public halls…
On 17th July, it was announced that the SKDC Chief Executive, Aidan Rave, was leaving the council to ‘pursue new ventures’. According to the blurb, Aidan had been with the council for two years and steered the authority through a period of significant change. Like so many other senior officers at Lincolnshire councils he was helped on his way with a financial settlement. The value of the golden handshake has not been revealed but, according to the Stamford Mercury, a cabinet member believed there was an ‘amicable settlement’ of around £75,000.
It is abundantly clear that Aidan didn’t spontaneously volunteer to ‘pursue new ventures’. We know this because just 8 months earlier he was participating in a ‘Future Visioning Programme’ which involved travel to Boston… I don’t mean Boston, Lincolnshire, I mean the other Boston in the USA.
The cost of the return flight to Boston was over £1,000. The cost of the course, which included 12 days of workshops or training, was a further £3,900. When the additional accommodation and mileage is added in, it can be shown that the total cost of this ‘Future Visioning’ was over £5,000.
I think it’s great that a local authority is prepared to invest in the personal development of its staff and it’s not uncommon. Back in the ’90s, as a relatively junior member of staff I was sponsored by my local authority employer to study an MSc. At the time, my study was subject to ‘golden handcuffs’ meaning that if I left local government within a specified period I would have to pay back some or all of the costs of my training.
Given the stories in the Grantham Journal that Aidan Rave’s sudden departure was due to a “clash of personalities” and a “big row” between him and the then leader of the council, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con), somehow I doubt if anyone will have asked Mr Rave for a refund.
A few days before the SKDC Full Council meeting of 25th July, I heard rumours that the knives were out for the Leader of the Council, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con). On the day it seemed that Cllr Lee had survived the alleged insurgency and all of the Conservatives were extremely well-behaved. In fact, I don’t think a single Conservative, other than Cabinet Members made any comment or question during the meeting except in response to specific questions[i].
However, just 10 days after the meeting it was announced ‘out
of the blue’ that Cllr Lee had resigned
as Leader of the Council. Independent
Councillors received no notification, let alone explanation, from Cllr Lee
himself but opposition group leaders received a cursory note from the Deputy
Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) as follows:
“I am writing to you today to inform you that Matthew has resigned with immediate effect as Leader of the Conservative Group. As per the Conservative Group Constitution, I am now Acting Group Leader…”[ii]
Here are some of the reasons why Cllr Lee might have chosen to resign. They are pure speculation on my part but in the absence of any detailed explanation from either the Council, the Conservative Group or Cllr Lee himself, it’s the best I can offer.
Regular readers will know that I have previously been critical of the Council circumventing proper recruitment procedures by shoulder-tapping individuals and handing them jobs without formal advertising or competitive interview.
I am pleased to confirm that the recent appointment of a position of “Strategic Communications and Policy Lead (Housing)” was recruited by a formal process. Remuneration for the post is £54,468 per annum (pro rata) with excellent benefits .
The initial staff requisition was signed off by the relevant
Cabinet Member for Housing who was subsequently defeated in the District
Council elections in May.
The role was advertised on three external jobs websites as well as the Council’s own website. The advert was first published in the public domain on Friday 12th April and the closing date for applications was Tuesday 23rd April which allowed a full seven working days for people to apply for the position (assuming they found it within the timescale which fell amid the season of election campaigning).
Given the level of remuneration (over £50k plus benefits), it is perhaps surprising that only two people applied for the role and only one was shortlisted for interview.
By contrast, a recent recruitment for a ‘Head of Leisure’ at SKDC attracted nearly 20 applications although this was via a recruitment consultancy and the post was advertised for almost a month.
Nevertheless, congratulations are due to the successful applicant who has previous experience of working in the Communications Team at South Kesteven albeit as an external consultant with Emulus Communications Ltd. Small world though, innit!?