Thismeeting was convened in response to a question I asked at January’s FullCouncil regarding whether or not a Council’s Chief Executive had properly declared all his relevant business interests. Most of the meeting was held in secret but the Council subsequently issued the following statement: Continue reading →
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.
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:
This meeting was the first opportunity to analyse the forthcoming Council budget for 2019/20. The meeting was rather chaotic as Councillors were invited to ask questions and make comments on a report and appendices totalling 53 pages. There was no deliberate sub-division of topics and consequently the comments were made in a scatter-gun manner and few, if any, definitive recommendations resulted.
This was a relatively short meeting (two hours) which considered three applications:
Zone 9,Elsea Park, Bourne.- This was the third time that this application had been discussed and considered by the Committee. On the first occasion it was deferred and the second occasion Councillors voted against Officers’ recommendations and so it had to be reconsidered after a ‘cooling off’ period. This time round the application was approved with 5 votes in favour, 2 against and 4 abstention. On a positive note, it has been agreed that future applications of this type will be referred to the Council’s recently appointed Design Officer in order to avoid similar half-hearted planning approvals.
Frognall– After considerable debate, a large house extension was approved opposite the former Rose PH.
Stowe Road, Langtoft – Outline approval for up to 35 dwellings subject to agreement of conditions including agreeing a sewerage plan with Anglian Water.
As regular readers might know, I have a 100% record of attendance at meetings since August 2015. On receipt of the very thin agenda for the Environment Committee I did wonder whether it was really worth making the 60 miles round trip to Grantham to discuss virtually nothing of consequence. My sense of duty got the better of me and when the meeting closed after just an hour I had only confirmed that the whole exercise had been a waste of time.
There were no published papers for the meeting other than the printed agenda and notes of the previous meeting. No Cabinet Members were present at the meeting. The Chair failed to explain why the decisions of the previous meeting had not been acted upon, not even the draft ‘Street Lighting Policy’ which has been kicking around for more than a year. We listened to a presentation from an Officer regarding a government consultation on Waste and Recycling. A slide entitled “Key Milestones” mentioned a “Transposition of the Circular Economy Package” is due to be delivered before the end of 2019. I asked what this means but, sadly, nobody knew the answer.
Full Council agenda started off with questions from members of the public. The first of these concerned ongoing problems with a heating system which was installed three years ago at the Riverside Housing Complex in Grantham which has never worked properly. In response, the Conservative Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Nick Neilson (Con) and the Deputy Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) both apologised for the errors made since 2016 and promised to investigate and find a resolution.
Later in the meeting, I asked a question about the business relationship between a senior officer of the Council and a private consultancy which has been paid almost £60,000 over 18 months for various staff recruitment exercises. This question has been referred to a future meeting of the Council’s Employment Committee.
A specially extended meeting began at 10am and continued until 5.30pm. Despite the long day, this was undoubtedly the most interesting and entertaining planning committee I have attended to date.
In the morning, Councillors discussed an application for a Designer Outlet Village next to the A1 at Gonerby Moor. This multi-million pound project is expected to retain 700 jobs and to create 1,200 new jobs in the District as well as attracting literally millions of visitors to the District. Nevertheless, three of the Tories voted against the scheme including Cllr Jacky Smith (Con) who expressed concern about the proposed creation of a ‘training academy’ even though she is Cabinet Member for Skills and Wellbeing and the centre has the support of Grantham college.
The afternoon started with an application for a 6m high statue of Baroness Thatcher. I had personally ‘called-in’ this application because it is so significant and controversial. In the event it was approved unanimously by the Committee (including me). This decision attracted international media attention including from the Guardian and the Times.
This morning’s meeting revealed that the costs of the SKDC Senior Management Restructure have risen by over £150,000 since the last meeting, mostly due to unexpected redundancy payments and other staffing costs.
The meeting also considered the performance monitoring issues. I have been asking for this issue to be re-considered since it was last presented back in June last year. At that time “it was noted that the report was based on the previous Corporate Strategy. A New Corporate Strategy was now in place and would have more appropriate KPIs.” I was most surprised that this morning, eight months on, we were presented with the old KPIs measured up to September. Therefore rather than receiving new up-to-date KPIs we were given old KPIs which were already six months out of date.
We then went on to discuss financial monitoring. During last year’s budget setting process I was among a small group of Councillors who regarded many of the ‘ambitious’ budget predictions as pie-in-the-sky forecasts. I am sorry, though not surprised, to report that we were right and we were told this morning that the following projected savings have not been achieved:
Will anyone be held to account for making ridiculous savings
targets and then missing them completely? I very much doubt it. Besides which,
the budget has been altered several times since last year to accommodate
millions of pounds of unplanned expenditure including land purchases and sudden
As ever, if you need more information on anything within
this report, please do get in touch.
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.
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.
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.
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’)
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.
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-Fri9.30-14.00)
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
Back in September, South Kesteven held a cabinet meeting in Market Deeping. I attended and asked plenty of questions (it would have been rude not to!). The final item on the agenda concerned “Strategic Regeneration Acquisitions – land in South Kesteven”
The item was considered commercially sensitive and was therefore held in ‘closed session’ i.e. the press and public were excluded. I stayed in the meeting in order to find out what the fuss was about. After a brief discussion the following decision was made:
Cabinet authorises the acquisition of a parcel of land in the South Kesteven area (a) subject to contract, satisfactory replies to searches and enquiries and to the terms negotiated; and (b) subject to approval by Council of the necessary budget allocation.
During the discussion, no-one mentioned which piece of land was being acquired and so, at the end of the meeting, I asked to see the paperwork and was given detailed information about this important decision. It seemed to me that, in principle, the purchase seemed a sensible investment.
The decision was ratified by the next Full Council meeting on 27th September when, once again, the press and most of the Council officers were asked to leave the meeting for the duration of the event along with the single solitary member of the public who was in attendance. Clearly, this was a highly-sensitive negotiation which must not be allowed to leak.
The proposal was presented as part of a bundle of amendments to the budget framework which were agreed unanimously by the 38 Councillors present (don’t ask me what the other 18 thought as they didn’t turn up).
Two week’s later, the secret investment was unveiled by the leader as part of a speech to an SKDC economic summit at Grimsthorpe Castle. Unfortunately, attendance at the event was by invitation only and I was told in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t invited, Fortunately, the Stamford Mercury was invited and helpfully they published the Leaders’s speech in full which included the following comment:
“I’m therefore pleased to announce this evening that we are in the final stages of the acquisition of a large development site on the edge of Stamford that is currently occupied by Cummins… the future of the site on Barnack Road will continue to provide local employment opportunities. “
Before the ‘Summit’ I was advised by the Chief Exec that Cllr Lee intends to speak to the Council about the event.
Soon after the Grimsthorpe event, Cllr Lee sent an email to Councillors lauding the success of the summit in which he said:
“While it was announced officially last night, it was clear that the location was, in fact, an open secret among many in Stamford. This underlines the importance of us having DeliverSK so that our commercial discussions can remain confidential in the future.”
Two months later, at Full Council in November I asked a question regarding when information about the event, which had cost Council Tax payers over £14,000, would be shared formally with Councillors. The answer was vague and included a thinly-veiled attack on me for my supposed cynicism.
A month later than that, I attended the SKDC Cabinet and asked some more questions including whether Cllr Lee could elaborate publicly on the details of the land acquisition as, so far, Councillors had only been formally briefed in secret. Astonishingly, Cllr Lee responded that, due to the ongoing procedures concerning over site, he could not make comment about the site openly in a Council meeting.
I’m confused. Back in October, the Conservative Leader of SKDC publicly announced, to the press and business community, the specific location of 15-acre SKDC land acquisition in Stamford but, when I asked for the same information as a Councillor at a council meeting, for some incomprehensible reason he was ‘keeping mum’.
I expect all will be revealed soon, probably in a volley of photo-opportunities and press releases, and just weeks before the SKDC election!
Report to MDTC Full Council 9th January, 2019
(from SKDC Councillor ASHLEY BAXTER)
Happy New Year to all Councillors, Council Staff
and residents of Market Deeping and West
Friends of Mill Field
After more than two years of hard
work and preparation, the Friends of Mill Field have this week arrived at the
crucial Public Inquiry stage of their Village Green application. The result
will have a massive impact not just the land in question but also on the whole
town of Market Deeping.
Yesterday (Tuesday 8th)
the enquiry began at the Eventus Centre and was attended by well over 50
members of the public during the day. Today (Wednesday 9th) the
enquiry continues at Eventus during the day and at Open Door Church during the
All members of the public and press are welcome to attend
any session of the inquiry. I intend to attend the evening session as an
observer (and as an Open Door volunteer) and, consequently, I ask Market Deeping
Town Council to accept my apologies for not attending the Full Council meeting
Members’ Ward Budget
Last month I
reported that I had allocated £300 of Council Taxpayers’ money to the Deepings
United School Rock Band to assist aspiring musicians of primary school age.
This month, I am pleased to report that a contribution of £250 has been allocated
to the Deepings School Library to assist in the creation of a special area to
encourage boys to read more. Research
has proven that boys, of every age, no matter the nature of the
literature before them, typically read less thoroughly than girls. I hope that
the SKDC grant will encourage boys at Deepings School to read, become more
educated, more thoughtful, more courteous, more productive and consequently
better adults, better husbands and better fathers. However, I’m not sure how
much impact £250 will have on this aspiration. In the interests of equal
opportunities, all the library resources connected to the project will be available
to girls as well as boys.
Since my last
monthly report, I have attended only one formal SKDC meeting and then, only as
an observer. Until November I would have expected to have attended the Council’s
The meeting included proposals
for an invest-to-save fund which would give the Cabinet Member for Finance some
flexibility to invest in projects and schemes expected to give a healthy
return. I welcome what seems to be a good idea but I did ask whether there
would be any checks and balances and/or preferred payback period. The Cabinet
responded by saying that all decisions would need approval by the Section 151
Officer whose has a statutory duty to ensure the Council takes proper care of
our money and assets.
Later in the meeting I asked
questions about street lighting, the Deepings leisure centre and the imminent
acquisition of land at Stamford by SKDC.
I was previously the
Independent representative on the Shareholder Committee and had attended every
meeting since its inception almost three years ago. Sadly, due to another defection
of an Independent to the Conservatives, I have been removed from the Shareholder
Committee in order to ensure membership of Committees across the Council
accurately accords with the balance of political groups at SKDC. Healthy
democracy needs healthy opposition and the increasing domination of the
majority party (in our case Conservatives) does nothing to improve decision-making
On 4th December, the SKDC website advertised a job with a
salary of £27,000. The deadline for applications was one week later. Five
people applied for the job. One person was invited for interview after which he
was offered the job which he started on 2nd January. It is my
understanding that the successful applicant is currently an elected
Conservative Councillor at Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council.
As ever, if you need more information on anything within this report, please do get in touch.
An SKDC press release today announced a public consultation on the arts…
“Groups and individuals with an interest in arts, heritage, culture and all manner of creative activities are being invited to help develop South Kesteven District Council’s new cultural strategy.
The public engagement process will begin in the four market towns with a series of meetings for stakeholders and strategic partners, starting in Stamford on 23 January.
Initially these meetings will be by invitation only, but a wider programme of consultation – both online and face-to-face – will be introduced throughout the spring and early summer.
SKDC officers, working with colleagues within InvestSK, will lead the meetings to discuss the cultural sector and celebrate the vital role that arts and heritage play in the district’s economic development.
The meetings will explore SK’s current cultural landscape, identifying priorities for future delivery, considering resource implications, recognising challenges and discovering opportunities.
Any arts or heritage practitioner or local group wishing to attend the initial meetings can register an interest to attend. Places are free but limited so do please get in touch as soon as possible.
Register or express an interest in being involved by contacting Michael Cross (Heads of Arts for InvestSK) by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 07966 299400.
Dates for the sessions are:
Stamford Arts Centre Ballroom – 23 January 2019 7pm-9pm
Grantham Guildhall Arts Centre – 29 January 2019 7pm-9pm
Ballroom Bourne Corn Exchange – 31 January 2019 7pm-9pm
The Deepings – Oddfellows Hall, Market Deeping – 12 February 2019 7pm-9pm