DeliverSK: Joint venture idea fails to deliver for South Kesteven.

Eighteen months ago, South Kesteven organised a meeting in the middle of the summer holidays to discuss the Conservative’s latest bright idea, namely “DeliverSK”. Despite scepticism and reservations from me and other opposition members, it was decreed that DeliverSK would be essential to delivering investment opportunities for the council. In a nutshell, the council would enter into a strategic partnership with an investment company and then form subsidiary companies, aka Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), for each of the council’s bold ambitions. These might include LeisureSK, HomesSK, OfficeSpaceSK, EmptyTheBinsSK etc.

When I say that the opposition offered scepticism and reservations, I am not being fair to myself. What we actually brought was scrutiny and constructive criticism. I literally prepared 20 questions which were circulated prior to the meeting and effectively became the agenda when the committee met. The questions were along the lines of “What is DeliverSK?”, “How will it work?”, “Is it legal?” etc.

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SKDC Tories throw out textiles proposal

On Thursday 30th January, the Conservatives once again showed their true, narrow-minded, partisan colours by following the party whip to reject a modest proposal to improve recycling in South Kesteven. It’s pathetic that despite their empty rhetoric about putting politics aside, and caring about the Climate Emergency, South Kesteven Tories couldn’t bring themselves to support an opposition motion aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

Clothes recycling containers at Rushmere shopping centre, Craigavon, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland ( [w800]

I had submitted a motion to the Full Council meeting suggesting that charitable organisations be given permission to put just four textile recycling banks on Council-owned sites across the District. This would generate a financial income for the council and the charity, it would give people additional places to donate old clothes and shoes to charity and it would reduce contamination in the silver wheelie bins (currently around 30%).

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Never mind inner cities, the decline of the high street is obvious in Tory heartlands like historic Spalding.

Never mind inner cities and the red-belt towns of the North, the decline of the high street is obvious even in Tory heartlands like historic Spalding. For all the ‘shop local’ campaigns, it is clear that the Tories are losing the battle to maintain town centres in traditionally Tory towns including Spalding and Grantham. I spent Sunday afternoon in Spalding and the number of boarded up properties and ‘to let’ signs’ was quite depressing.

The first was the black swan pub on New Road. It doesn’t look particularly salubrious and will have suffered stiff competition from the Wetherspoon’s that has opened just a few doors down. Pubs in England are still closing at an alarming rate due to a number of factors including high tax, high business rates, oppressive brewery chains and cheap supermarket alcohol. Who can afford to go out for a pint on a regular basis when a pint costs almost £5, and the same pint at home costs less than £2?

Driving past the edge-of-town supermarkets and back to Spalding Town Centre, I parked outside the old Johnson hospital immediately opposite the South Holland Council Offices. This Listed building was closed about 10 years ago and is now an eyesore with graffiti, boarded windows and lamps being stolen from right outside. The site is apparently owned by a company based in the British Virgin Islands who also own the former sorting office in Spalding which is in a similar state of disrepair.

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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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Report to Market Deeping Town Council – January 2020

Report to MDTC Full Council  15th January 2020
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Happy New Year to all Town and Parish Councillors, residents of the Deepings anyone else who is takin the time to read this. I hope your 2020 is splendid!

Climate Emergency

Regular readers will know that the Council (SKDC) declared a climate emergency in September 2019. SKDC has now appointed a Climate Change Officer and have also begun a set of ‘Task and Finish’ workshops and engaged the Carbon Trust to assist with compiling baseline data to ensure a meaningful Action Plan is delivered.

Saturday Market

The market which was launched with much fanfare by InvestSK at Easter last year has struggled against inclement weather and lack of budget which has led to a spiral of decline with few stalls leading to few customers and vice versa. The last stall threw in the towel just before Christmas (and hats off to the Brown Bread stall for sticking it out for so long) and, in light of the lack of any traders, SKDC have decided to cease trading until later this year. It is not clear whether the Spring will bring a revived Saturday market or a relocation of the ongoing Wednesday market, or neither, or both.

Deeping Shorts – Film Festival

The Open Door Baptist Church is hosting ‘Deeping Shorts’ – a short festival of short films – on the first four Saturday evenings in February. It has been organised in association with the help and support of InvestSK/SKDC and will make use of the cinema screen originally purchased for the Deepings Arts Group. The films have been collated from 17 different countries and include a range of comedies, animations and thought provoking works. Many have won awards. Tickets are £5 from Stamford Arts Centre or at ODBC on the night. Here’s an excerpt from one of the films…

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Report to Market Deeping Town Council – December 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council  11th December 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Christmas Market

Undoubtedly the highlight of the month. This year’s Market Deeping Christmas Market was the best ever. I was pleased to be involved, once again, in organising the entertainments. It was a bit scary to find, at 10am, that the stage hadn’t arrived but some nifty reversing by the driver meant the show could go on with just a couple of amendments to the schedule.  I was also delighted to be involved in planning the ‘pop-up nativity’ which integrated the traditional stories of Christmas with the town’s traditional celebration of Christmas.

Meetings Attended!

19/11/2019   Finance, Economic Development and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee

A distinct feeling of déjà vu at this meeting when, yet again, the report of performance indicators were criticised for being presented without any context.

I really don’t understand the problem as I have been able to find the historic data relating to each of the KPIs. Here is a graph showing the increase in the numbers of households in temporary accommodation (aka homeless) in South Kesteven.

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The Deepings ‘Special Expense Area’ – £16,000 a year for inaccessible fields and a dangerous all-weather pitch!

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.

Deepings All Weather Pitch

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.

Deeping St James Parish Council Meeting – 28th November 2019 — Cllr Andrew Bowell

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 […]

Deeping St James Parish Council Meeting – 28th November 2019 — Cllr Andrew Bowell

“A lot of fluffy and flowery targets!” – Are SK Conservatives losing confidence in InvestSK?

Cllr Kelham Cooke with InvestSK CEO Steve Bowyer

Yesterday, at the first ever meeting of the SKDC ‘Companies Committee’, senior Councillors expressed their concerns regarding the appropriateness of InvestSK Ltd.  It was revealed that discussions have taken place between members of the Tory group over whether to continue with the InvestSK project or to bring services back ‘in-house’.

Newly appointed Director of InvestSK, Cllr Barry Dobson (Con) who is Deputy Leader of the Council, stated “I think it is very important that it stays actually as an external company. I know that we talked about bringing it back in-house and everything… We have had a long conversation this morning about it. I have only been a director for about a week officially, and I think that it’s got a great future providing we manage it well”.

The meeting was the first opportunity for formal scrutiny of the InvestSK project since a Growth Ctte in May 2018 which discussed a ‘call-in’ request that I co-ordinated before the company was incorporated. The new Companies Ctte was supposed to be ready after the election earlier this year but was delayed due to the election and constitutional obligations. The Committee has responsibility for overseeing the work of all Council’s companies (of which there are now six) but the first meeting focussed on the ‘busiest’ of those companies, namely InvestSK.

Lack of Transparency

My main complaint about the whole InvestSK project is that of transparency.  Although the company has been set up for over a year, funded almost entirely from well over £1million of tax-payers money via SKDC, it has been very difficult to obtain any detail of how the money has been spent. It emerged yesterday that £680,000, more than half, of the organisation income is spent on the salaries of core staff. There are no details of how many staff this includes nor how much they are paid.

I have personally made some one-off enquiries about the expenditure of InvestSK. These have been answered. The first concerned details of the hundreds of thousands of pounds allocated by InvestSK as grants to heritage schemes, community projects and businesses. Another concerned the award of £15,000 of press and PR consultancy work to a company based in Lincoln.

However, while SKDC is required to publish a list of transactions over £500 incurred by the Council, once the money has been transferred to InvestSK the spending becomes more opaque and therefore less accountable.

Lack of a useful Business Plan

Another example of the lack of transparency of InvestSK is the late publication of the Business Plan. The first time it was available to members of the Companies committee was when the agenda pack for the meeting was published last week as a restricted (confidential) item but after the intervention of the Chair, Cllr Graham Jeal (Con) and others it is now in the public domain. The 44-page business plan was originally written ten months ago in February but only the Company Directors have been able to read it before now. Incidentally, the three Company Directors are the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council (both Conservatives) and the Chief Executive.

The published plan contains a reference to “budgets for the next 3 years” contained at ‘Appendix 2’. I commented that although I could find ‘Appendix 7’ and annexes ‘i’ to ‘ix’, I could not find ‘Appendix 2’. It emerged that it had been omitted from the documents but would be circulated to members in due course. Curiously no-one asked what happened to ‘Appendix 1’.

Lack of Clarity

A number of councillors, including me, expressed frustration at not knowing where SKDC ends and InvestSK begins. For example, the provision of Arts Centres and Markets are both SKDC services yet in both cases the management structure involves staff from both SKDC and InvestSK. In an attempt to clarify the situation, the CEO of InvestSK explained that some of the staff of InvestSK are seconded from SKDC payroll. Consequently, as Cllr Ian Stokes (Con) pointed out, the Council is lending staff to InvestSK in order to buy back their services as consultants. This situation has led to confusion.

Lack of Ambition

During discussion of the business plan, a variety of comments were made. I asked why it was so long. I have previous experience of reports which have been deliberately written in a long and turgid fashion in order to discourage people from reading and understanding the content (let alone the missing appendices).

Refreshing the Chair, Cllr Jeal, did not conceal his disappointment with the Business Plan. He stated that he was expecting more about from the business plan in terms of big goals and also evidence that the team had learned from their time at Opportunity Peterborough and elsewhere and how these experiences could be used to “turbo-charge this business”.

Lack of Detail

Addressing his comments to Steve Bowyer, Chief Executive of InvestSK, Cllr Jeal continued “The other thing that I found myself writing all over the business plan is that I would like more SMART deliverables (strategic, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based) and there’s a lot of fluffy and flowery targets. I don’t want to criticise officers at all but it’s something that I think is a big difference between the private sector and the public sector. The public sector don’t like writing things down that in a year’s time we can look at and say ‘Did they do that, yes or no?’. Now if it’s a ‘no’, that’s fine, we can learn from it, but I’m looking for a document that lives for a year that I can pick up in a year’s time and say ‘brilliant, brilliant, what can we learn from not achieving that?’. Now some of those may be in here but I’m not getting enough of those smart deliverables and I think a lot of these could be much smarter. I also picked up the point that some of our ‘targets’ are written in the past tense…”

“Moving on, there’s a lot of stuff about Corporate Strategy in here but I don’t see anything about a PR strategy. I actually think that there needs to be… There needs to be a proper communication strategy with Members and, through Members, to the electorate who are actually paying for this”.

“I think it definitely needs a big goal that evolves and it needs ambition. And it needs ambition based on your experiences from Opportunity Peterborough. It is no coincidence that you come from a body like this. I was expecting to see much more of ‘this works this didn’t work, we’re going to do this…’.

The lecture continued through comments on the lack of detail regarding succession planning, competitor analysis as well as the company’s fundamental vision and aims.

What happens next?

The Council Leader and InvestSK Director Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) responded on behalf of the InvestSK Board. “Actually, a lot of the comments you and others have raised are really valid actually. I appreciate where Councillor Baxter is referring to with regard to this business.  I suppose, for me, I’m looking forward. We now have this committee, and I think I have already said to the committee that I want us to re-prioritise what InvestSK actually does for the Council. I think if we are looking at budgets, I don’t think it is for us as a council. We set the budget and we decide what money can go to InvestSK and that can only be done when we’ve actually worked out really what we want InvestSK to deliver on behalf of the Council. So ultimately, it is us that commission InvestSK to do the work. The Directors, myself and Barry, are ultimately looking at what it does. We will come back with a proposal and a revised business plan will be submitted back to this committee where it can be scrutinised and discussed by elected members. And ultimately, the budgets are decided by us in our budget meeting”.

The next meeting of the companies committee is scheduled for January 7th.

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – November 2019

Report to MDTC Full Council  13th November 2019
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Deepings Neighbourhood Plan

The Neighbourhood Plan for the Deepings is currently in its consultation phase.  If you care about the future of our community and its built environment, please respond to the consultation.  Comments are particularly welcome concerning the future of Mill Field, the expansion of the town centre and the types and layout of new housing.

Deepings Neighbourhood Plan is at the public consultation stage

Christmas Market

Market Deeping Christmas Market and lights switch-on will take place on Sunday 1st December. There are more than 80 stalls booked and the entertainment is going to be varied and awesome.

Young musicians performing at the 2018 Christmas Market

Stop the Knock

Last year, SKDC used bailiffs’ services for non payment of Council Tax over 2,000 times.  The Council also evicted 31 of its own tenants.  There surely must be a better way… and there is!  The ‘Stop The Knock’ campaign is monitoring council’s approach to debt collection and has some innovative ideas for reducing the costs and heartache associated with council tax collection.  I have written to the Council Leader and the Chair of the Rural and Communities OSC and officers have informed me that the subject will hopefully be discussed at an OSC meeting early in 2020.

Meetings Not Attended!

In terms of Council business, October was a very quiet month with only 1 scheduled meeting.  I’m not talking about my meetings, I mean that South Kesteven District Council only had one formal meeting which was Planning Committee on 16th October.

16/10/2019   Planning Committee

I don’t sit on the Planning Committee at the moment but I had already sent comments and objections on two of the applications which were on the agenda because I had asked for them to be ‘called in’ by the committee rather than considered only by the planning officers.

The first was the erection of roadside services to including a petrol filling station with ancillary retail floor space on the Langtoft roundabout, north of Market Deeping. –  This was the second time the committee had discussed this application and I am pleased to say that the application was refused, contrary to Officers’ recommendations.  Not a single Councillor voted in favour of it (although two abstained). There were a variety of reasons for refusing it including the loss of a greenfield site, visual amenity and highways considerations.

Secondly an application to allow the transfer of up to 75,000 tonnes of waste per annum at the existing waste depot at Unit 2 Whitley Way Northfields Industrial Estate Market Deeping. This was a County application but the SKDC planning committee discussed the application and resolved to “urge the County Council to give due consideration to highway implications including increased parking and possible adverse impacts on amenity on surrounding developments, particularly the children’s nursery, through odour noise, and other pollution that may result”.

The meeting also dealt with:

  • Four dwellings at 21 Broadgate Lane, DSJ (Reserved Matters) – Approved
  • Seven industrial units at Spitfire Park, Market Deeping – Approved

Meetings Attended (Climate Change)

Despite the lack of ‘official meetings’, I have attended two council meetings, on consecutive days, concerned with South Kesteven’s approach to Climate Change.  

The first was a workshop for members of the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) which heard evidence from the Environment Agency, the Woodland Trust and the Council’s own planning team.

The second was an inaugural meeting of the ‘Task and Finish Group’ on Climate Change commissioned by September’s meeting of Full Council. It was meandering at times but, on the whole, very productive.  The meeting was introduced to the fundamentals of Climate Science by the external expert, Prof Edward Hanna of Lincoln University.

Aside from the meetings, I have been doing my homework regarding the council’s environmental performance. I have discovered that in recent years recycling rates have been falling due to a number of reasons mostly concerned with the Conservatives’ cut backs.  At the same time, contamination of silver recycling bins has increased meaning even less effective recycling.

On the issue of the Council’s own energy use, officers are struggling even to establish a baseline.  It appears that almost no proactive monitoring of energy consumption has taken place for nearly a decade.  The figures presented have been incorrect and at times comical.  For example, it has been claimed that gas use at the small changing block next to the all weather pitch adjacent to Deepings School field is three times as high as gas use to the Council’s main office in Grantham.  On the positive side, officers are beginning to work with the suppliers and brokers to get more reliable information.  It would be very difficult to achieve the target of 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 without any baseline figures.

General Election

John Hayes might be an affable chap but please don’t vote Conservative!!

Remember, it is the Conservatives who have turned off the streetlights, caused the rise in foodbanks, made the cuts to the Deepings Library and Deepings Youth Centre causing them to become dependent on volunteers and grants from the Town Council. It is the Conservatives who have chosen to cut budgets for schools, hospitals and police. The Conservatives have also failed to negotiate any acceptable resolution to Brexit.

As ever, if you require any further information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward