Seriously? Are @SouthKesteven Conservatives really planning to procure services from a non-existent company?

Last year, the Conservative cabinet at South Kesteven had a good idea of designating a fund for ‘Invest-to-Save’ activities. It’s hard to argue with the principle of such an initiative especially when I have been arguing for years that the Council should invest in energy efficient lighting which typically has a financial payback of less than three years (slightly more complicated with street-lighting projects but it would still be worthwhile.

Last month, the Portfolio Holder for Finance, announced the first decision about the first ‘ project to use the ‘Invest to Save’ Reserve.

The ‘project’ decision was an amalgam of three initiatives. The first is a review of Council Financial Procedures. It is hoped it will result in efficiencies and savings (hopefully no involuntary redundancies but I always get nervous when Tories mention ‘efficiency savings’). The review will be undertaken by an external partner whom the report states has already been identified although the name of the partner is not mentioned in the report.

The second part concerns the ‘Internet of Things’. Again, the proposal is to work with an external partner but the partner has not been named.
“The initial area is to develop is intelligent street lighting across the district. The proposal is to combine an LED lamp with Internet of Things sensors. This will create saving on the power with LED and also allow proactive monitoring of use, condition and other factors such as footfall monitoring and air quality.The proposal will also see the implementation of an IoT network which can then be utilised for future initiatives.”

This sounds spectacular. At face value it could revolutionise street-lighting across the UK and possibly the world. The investment at this stage is only £10,000 which, in my experience of R&D, doesn’t usually pay for a lot of research or development. Regular readers will know that I have attended dozens of meetings about SKDC street lights and the cost of replacing or adapting all 3,000 of them to LED is likely to be over £300,000 so I’m fascinated to know what the anonymous partner is offering the council for £10,000. I suspect it might be non-existent technology but I am genuinely trying to curb my cynicism so let’s wait and see.

The third and final part of the report concerns advertising and sponsorship. It begins: “South Kesteven District Council has worked with Publitas Consulting to complete an audit of advertising income received by the Council and the potential extent of opportunity within the local market”.

It goes on to recommend that we spend a further £40,000 with Publitas Consulting to manage a procurement process on our behalf to generate additional advertising revenue.

I have a few problems with this proposal. The main one being that Publitas Consulting does not exist! A simple check of Companies House website reveals that there used to be an organisation called Publitas Consulting LLP but it was dissolved three years ago.

Looking for more evidence of Publitas Consulting I discovered a website consisting of a single page with a backdrop of a River Thames skyscape but no address or contact details other than a mobile phone number. I phoned the mobile number for more information and was greeted by an answerphone message stating I could leave messages for Swedish Interior Design Ltd and also Publitas Consulting. Now, to give them the benefit of the doubt, we’re all busy people and lots of us have roles in more than one organisation. Publitas Consulting might be the best in the business for income generation and just want to keep a low-profile but surely, if a Local Authority wants to spend money with an external partner company, then it is basic due diligence to make sure the company exists!

The decision was originally planned for 9th April 2019. Before then I did ask for more details from the relevant Portfolio Holder but I received no reply. When the decision was delayed I was hopeful that someone had looked a bit more closely at the credentials of Publitas. Unfortunately, the Decision was taken a few days later and consequently I have asked for it to be ‘Called In’. This should mean that a special meeting of the Growth Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be called and the details of the three sub-projects will be looked at properly.

A ‘call-in’ request requires five Councillors to agree that the decision needs more scrutiny. This is one of the reasons we need more Independent and opposition Councillors. A massive majority for the Conservatives (or any other party) is not good for democracy and accountability.

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

“Must try harder!” say SKDC employees in annual survey

An annual survey of staff at South Kesteven has revealed that a significant proportion (28%) of employees feel their jobs are insecure, more than a third (36%) don’t feel their hard work and good performance is recognised and only 41% would describe morale as ‘good’.

Arguably the most worrying finding is that only 29% of employees feel processes and procedures are applied consistently across the Council, e.g. in recruitment, flexible working, sick leave. This is hardly surprising in the field of recruitment where it appears that many people are chosen on the basis of who they know rather than what they know and multiple senior posts have been appointed without adverts or competitive interview.

The 69% survey response rate has been hailed as ‘exceptional’ by the project team that conducted the exercise. I’m not quite sure why as it is down from 72% the previous year and, if I’ve understood correctly, it is only marginally above the public sector benchmark for this kind of consultation.

On a far more positive note, it is clear that despite various reservations about the working environment, 97% of SKDC staff are fully committed to doing their very best for the Council and 88% feel trusted to get on with their jobs.

More details of the staff survey results are on the SKDC website.

SKDC Local Plan has finally been submitted

Hot off the press from SKDC…

The South Kesteven Local Plan was submitted to the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government on Tuesday 15th January.

The Submission Local Plan provides updated planning policies, as well as setting out spatial allocations and designations throughout South Kesteven.  It is the same as that approved by Council on 24th May and has been submitted together with the 345 valid representations made during the period of statutory public consultation.

The Local Plan Submission documents and supporting documents can be viewed on the Council’s website (www.southkesteven.gov.uk/newlocalplan) and will be accessible electronically at the Council’s offices and libraries during normal office hours.

In addition, reference hardcopies of the relevant documents will be available for public inspection in local libraries and at South Kesteven Council Offices at Grantham, Bourne, Stamford and Market Deepings (Deepings Community Centre, Douglas Road, Market Deeping, PE6 8PA Mon-Fri 9.30-14.00)

The South Kesteven District Local Plan will now be subject to an independent examination, which will be conducted by the Planning Inspectorate.  The public hearing should normally commence within 14 weeks of submission, although it is possible that it will be longer. Once the date is confirmed, all details relating to the examination process will be advertised, made available online and sent to all respondents.

If you have any questions relating to the local plan, please contact 01476 406438

AGM of the Association of Charter Trustee Towns – 16th June, 2017

ASSOCIATION OF THE CHARTER TRUSTEE TOWNS

AND CHARTER TOWN COUNCILS

Minutes of the 42nd Annual General Meeting held at

The Mayor’s Parlour, Guildhall, St. Peter’s Hill, Grantham, Lincs

on Friday 16th June 2017 at 11am.

Welcome by the Mayor of Grantham Cllr. Mike Cook who thanked all for attending

Present were – Cllr. Jim Anderson (East Retford) Chair

Cllr. Mike Cook, Mayor of Grantham

Cllr. Helen Richards, Mayor of Retford

Cllr. Linda Coutts, Deputy Mayor of Grantham

Cllr. Alan Chambers, East Retford

Cllr. Tim Ball, Bath

Cllr. Fliss Cunningham, Grantham

Cllr. Ian Selby, Grantham

Cllr. Frank Turner, Grantham

Cllr. Linda Wootten, Grantham

2. Apologies

Charles Talbot

Keith Bannister

3. The Minutes of the 41st AGM held at East Retford Notts on 10.06.17 were received and agreed.

4a. The Audited Accounts for the year ended 31st March 2017 were received and agreed. Balance of £529.57

Mayor of Grantham asked as to when the subscriptions were due.

Chair replied subscriptions are due following the AGM. If we agree that we ask for subscriptions this year the secretary will write to each Charter Trustee and ask for their subscriptions.

4b. Set subscription amount as £150 as the balance is low. Suggested set at £150 as the books will balance at this amount. Money is received from 11 Charter Trustees , however there are more, 17 or 18 towns could choose to have Charter Trustees.

Subscription set at £150 per member per year – agreed.

Discussion regarding how many Charter Trustees there were, whether they join or not and what is and how Honoraria is paid – Secretary and Treasurer receive Honoraria.

Chair will endeavour to report to all as to how much Honoraria is per person

6. Election of Officers

Chairman               Cllr. Jim Anderson, East Retford.

Vice- Chairman       Cllr Alan Chambers, East Retford.

Vice- Presidents      Mr Phillip Barnett, Newbury and Mrs Kate Gray, Beverley.

Vote taken on Mr Charles Talbot and Mr Keith Bannister becoming Vice – Presidents which was agreed.

Nominations for Honorary Secretary – none

Nominations for Honorary Treasurer – none

Nominations for Auditor – none

There has to be a Secretary, Treasurer and Auditor

7. Date and Venue for the Annual General Meeting 2018.

Proposal to move the AGM to September, October – agreed.

Proposal for the AGM at Bath in late September, early October – agreed.

8. Any Other Business

None.

Meeting Closed at 11.32am

The case for retaining Sunday trading laws @the_tpa

keep sunday special 11825723_10153456694217279_233065465215324923_nThe self-proclaimed ‘Tax-Payers Alliance’ published a blog last week by Charles Amos calling for the UK’s remaining Sunday trading laws to be abolished. This is not surprising from the right-leaning think-tank who appear to wish to abolish most laws.

The TPA was originally established to “speak for ordinary taxpayers fed up with government waste, increasing taxation, and a lack of transparency in all levels of government”. Regardless of whether you agrees with this sentiment, you have to admit that calling for the abolition of Sunday Trading laws is going a little off-topic. Sunday trading might prompt emotions about organised religion or access to supermarkets but it has little to do with public sector, wasteful or not. Nevertheless, Amos’s article is one-sided, myopic and, imho, wrong.

In the ‘good old days’ of the 50s, 60s and 70s lots of people thought Sundays were boring. The law did not allow large shops to open but smaller shops, e.g. corner shops and petrol stations remained open to allow people to buy newspapers, perishables and petrol. In terms of shopping, everyone knew that Sunday was ‘special’ so they did their proper shopping at other times of the week. Of course, these were also the days of street-markets, early closing days and before ATM cashpoints, let alone the internet.

Back in the early 1990s, the Keep Sunday Special campaign launched alternative proposals for liberalising Sunday trading which were designed to meet consumers’ needs without creating a free-for-all. These were called the REST proposals which was an acronym which stood, if I remember correctly for: Recreation, Entertainment, Sport and Transport (this was 30 years ago, feel free to jog my memory and I’ll edit accordingly). The REST proposals would have allowed certain stores such as DIY shops, garden centres, car dealerships and cycle shops while maintaining the rule on supermarkets – Remember these were the days before supermarkets sold absolutely everything! Sadly, the Government caved into the supermarket lobbyists and allowed six hours of trading on Sundays which was effectively game over for many of the opponents at that time.

I remember being involved in the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign during the emotive public discourse before the introduction of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. I might have even written to my then MP, Henry Bellingham, about the issue. The churches and the trade unions were both four-square against Sunday trading for good reasons which are just as valid now as they were then.

Sunday trading undermines family cohesion. In a traditional (or nuclear) family, if both parents work and either of them have to work on a Sunday then it is difficult for that family to have any time together to bond and stay in touch with each others needs. The same is true for couples and the same is even more true for single-parent households. If a single-parent with school-aged children has to work both days of the weekend then they have no ‘quality time’ with their offspring and will only see them both parent and child are worn out from the working day.

Sunday trading undermines workers’ rights. It is still illegal to force retail employees to work on a Sunday but it is relatively easy to find ways to justify ‘letting someone go’ if they decide they no longer wish to work on Sunday for religious or family reason. I know several people who have been refused work in call centres because they would not commit to Sunday working; this was not the reason given but it was undoubtedly the reason.

https://i1.wp.com/photos1.blogger.com/blogger/1974/2079/640/IMGP0638.0.jpgSunday trading undermines communities. During the decade of debate before the 1994 legislation much of this argument centred around faith communities. The Christian churches were pretty much united in defending the Fourth Commandment (See Exodus 20). Nowadays, far fewer people attend Church of England Sunday morning services, partly perhaps because it is more difficult to attend as a family, let alone have a traditional Sunday roast at home afterwards. However, Sunday provides communities with the opportunity to play sport and take part in other activities all together at the same time. The rugby club in Deeping St James is very busy on a Sunday morning with kids and their parents participating in competitive sport. If more people are forced to work more hours on a Sunday then it will be more difficult for people to make fixtures and our kids will be less healthy and competitive and our communities much weaker as a result. Cycling clubs also meet on Sunday mornings because the roads are much quieter because far fewer people commute to work.

Corner shop, Cycle Street, LentonSunday trading undermines small businesses which, alongside manufacturing, are supposedly the engine of our economy. In the mid-90s I lived in Forest Fields in Nottingham and I remember asking the owner of our local corner shop if his trade had been affected by the liberalisation of Sunday trading laws. He replied to say that his turnover had plummeted on Sundays from about £700 to barely £200. In subsequent years many corner shops like his collapsed due to the availability of cheap booze, cheap milk, cheap everything from supermarkets. Sunday trading was supposed to make more convenient but in reality it made buying a pint of milk much harder, especially if you didn’t have the luxury of a car. Increased Sunday opening also has a negative effect on other small businesses e.g. if you are a self-employed barber or beauty salon it is difficult to stay open seven days a week. The same goes for small suppliers of supermarkets who may be required by their retail customers either to provide goods and services during all store opening hours or conversely be available at ever more awkward hours when the store is closed.

I acknowledge that there are a lot of factors at work in undermining the fabric of our society. Family breakdown is not only caused by parents working on a Sunday. Small Businesses are not only closing because of competition from supermarkets. Playing rugby is not a panacea for childhood obesity. However, Sunday trading doesn’t help and allowing unfettered Sunday opening will only make matters worse. Allowing big shops to open for longer on a Sunday will not miraculously create more money to spend in those shops, it will only divert money away from alternative providers who do not have the resources to open their doors 24:7. At the same time it will generate more noise and traffic. Incidentally, people living in many secular states in continental Europe seem to cope with their shops being Sunday. What is about we British that renders us incapable of remembering to buy bread and milk on a Saturday?

There are obviously religious arguments why Christians in particular are opposed in principle to Sunday trading and “mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs” is purportedly a fundamental British value. It is my opinion that when everything becomes the same then nothing is special. This is true of Sunday as much as anything else.

Keep sunday special 12631339_10153794514087279_8075191882381855735_n

Disclaimer: Over the last thirty years, like most other people, I have got used to the shops being open for six hours on a Sunday. If you happen to spot me in Tesco on a Sunday afternoon, please don’t shout “Hypocrite” from across the store!

 

 

Market Deeping Remembers – 1918-2018 Exhibition – @StGsCofE this Sunday.

The exhibition and some of our visitors

Some of the hundreds of visitors to the 2014 exhibition (Photo borrowed from Deepings Heritage)

This Sunday, 11th November 2018, St Guthlac’s Church in Market Deeping is hosting a reprise of the ‘Deepings Remembers’ exhibition.

I am pleased to report that Deepings Heritage (and no doubt others) have facilitated another opportunity to see the Market Deeping posters, dossiers and photographs of those who served in the war.  They were all prepared by the Deepings Remember 1914-18 Group as part of an exhibition in the Community Centre in November 2014. Other items connected with the war, and especially the Armistice and eventual peace, will be on display.

The exhibition was first presented to commemorate the centenery of the outbreak of war in 1914. The organising committee composed volunteers from across the Deepings. Four years ago,  it was fêted by thousands of visitors including one dignatory who rightly claimed the Deepings display was ‘worthy of a city!’

New exhibits include:

  • Information about the 21 men who served, whose names were found in recently discovered Parish Magazines.  You might be related to them as is one recently located local family.
  • Letters from Rector, Canon Ashby written while he served in the trenches – including one written to the children of the Sunday school, featuring “Whiz Bang” the kitten.

The organisers hope you will join in remembering the men and women who served – those who survived and those who never returned to their families and to our community.

(This article has been adapted from a post from the Deepings Heritage WordPress site)

“Peterborough Cathedral – A Glimpse of Heaven” – A talk in the Deepings by TV’s historian @JonathanFoyle

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Dr Jonathan Foyle cuts the ribbon at the reopening of Deepings Library. Photo: Friends of Deepings Library. EMN-160102-103319001This Thursday, 8th November at 7.30pm, Deepings Heritage will host an illustrated talk by Dr Jonathan Foyle about the unique architecture of Peterborough Cathedral which is considered to be one of England’s most beautiful medieval buildings.

Mr Foyle grew up in Market Deeping and attended Deepings School where the talk will take place in the main hall. He is a regular visitor the Deepings where just a few years ago he officially re-opened the library after it’s reorganisation and refurbishment.

Jonathan Foyle’s talk starts at 7.30pm in the Main Hall at Deepings School.  Tickets costing £6 are for sale at Deeping Library, or by phoning Geoff on 01778 343390.  Seats may be available on the night, but reserving tickets is recommended.

For more information please read the Deepings Heritage blogpost: 900th Anniversary of Peterborough Cathedral

#FOBT machines to linger despite @southkesteven opposition.

Fixed Odds Terminals are a scourge of our society. They lurk in high street bookmaker shops waiting for vulnerable gamblers to fritter away their wages. The consequences can be devastating for victims, their families and wider society.

Each machine allows a £100 stake to be gambled every 20 seconds. In 2016, gamblers in South Kesteven lost over £2.2million to these machines of which there are over 50 in the District. The figures for Peterborough are much higher as it is well-known that the machines are more prevalent in areas of financial deprivation.

This is why, in November 2017, I proposed a motion to South Kesteven District Council recommending that the Council support a reduction of the minimum stake from the current £100 down to £2. The motion was passed (unanimously as I recall) and the council responded to the Government consultation accordingly.

I was both surprised and delighted when it seemed that the Conservative government had listened to the consultation and were prepared to take action on the issue. Unfortunately, during this week’s budget the Chancellor, Philip Hammond MP, has decided to kick the can down the road and not implement the reduction in the £100 stake until October 2019. Continue reading