South Kesteven- Twinned with Peterborough!

Peterborough Crest 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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is deliversk-structure.jpg

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.

See also: Jobs for the Boys

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.


Peterborough City Council
– Can the last one out please turn off the lights!

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’)

#SKSummit 18 – Your name’s not down, you’re not comin’ in!

Regular readers might be wondering why, until now, I haven’t written a blog about the ‘One Year On’ SKDC economic summit held on 11th October 2018. The cost of this event for the proverbial ‘great and the good’ of the business community was £14,736 so I reckon it is worthy of some scrutiny. The reason for the delay in reporting this momentous event is due to my trying to establish the facts surrounding the event.

I registered to attend the event via a publicly accessible website on 24th September and was please to receive a booking confirmation by e-mail. Sadly, at 5.11pm on the day before the event I received an e-mail from the SKDC Chief Executive telling me that my booking had been rescinded.

“With limited capacity, we have had to be stricter this year than last regarding the number of representatives from each organisation and the balance between elected members and businesses.

Rather than feel insulted, I took comfort in the knowledge that other registered participants had also been banned and I later heard that the acting Mayor of Stamford and her consort (both Conservative District Councillors) had arrived at the event and were initially refused admission because they weren’t ‘on the list’. After some kerfuffle it was agreed they could attend but they decided not to bother.

It must have been a bit of a disappointment for the Mayor because the jewel in the crown of the keynote speech was the announcement that SKDC has agreed to purchase the site of the former Cummins Engineering site in Stamford for mixed-use development. Personally, I welcome the purchase and agree with the Council Leader, Cllr Matthew Lee that it makes sense for SKDC to lead economic development where it is able. It certainly sends a better message of confidence in the SK local economy as than investing in property outside the District as happened last year.

There is a lot more to say about the content of Cllr Lee’s speech which was expected to include feedback on progress on promises made during last year’s event at Stoke Rochford as well as some exciting news about new initiatives.  I hope to comment on the content of the speech in more detail in another blog during the next couple of weeks.

Curious to find out which Councillors did attend, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request after the event. The first response stated that six Councillors attended (all Cabinet Members). I queried the accuracy of the response attaching a still photo from an SKDC video of the event which clearly showed four other Councillors not mentioned in the FoI response. A clarification was received acknowledging the mistake and explaining one of the Councillors in the photo was invited as a representative of his business, a second as a representative of her estate, the third as a representative of the County Council while the fourth was an SKDC cabinet member who hadn’t signed in so the organisers had no record that he had turned up. Consequently,we established that there were actually 10 Councillors at the event (plus the two from Stamford that decided not to stay). Needlessly to say, no opposition Councillors were allowed to attend.

I also queried a part of the FoI response concerning who else had been present at the event. At one point it was explained that some people ‘attended’ the event but were not ‘in attendance’ at the event (Work that out!?). These included: the event organisers; some Council staff; as well as the Council’s controversial Head of Communications whose rolling consultancy contract costing over £10,000/month came to an end the following day.

The original aim of my FoI was to see if SKDC would tell me the names and organisations of everyone at the summit. This request was denied “due to data protection laws prohibiting the supply of the full list of attendees”. That came as no surprise and didn’t upset me too much as I had already seen a copy the list which, despite data protection laws, had been issued to every delegate.

The speakers at #SKSummit18 included: Grantham and Stamford MP, Nick Boles (Conservative), candidate for Young Councillor of the Year 2018, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Conservative) and Leader of SKDC, Cllr Matthew Lee (Conservative). Anyone hoping to hear a range of perspectives broader than that shared by loyal local Conservatives would have been disappointed.

During an e-mail discussion regarding the reasons why I, and others, were effectively banned from the event, the SKDC Chief Exec stated:

“Councillor Lee is obviously very conscious of the fact that we are unable to invite all members; indeed, it would be inappropriate to imbalance the event by doing so, which is why he intends to speak to the council about the event.”

The agenda for Full Council yesterday contained no mention of the Economic Summit. Last Monday’s Councillor briefing (almost always held on the same night as the Conservative Group meeting to allow Tories to claim the attendance mileage expenses) was not about the Economic Summit but instead concerned the role of the Council’s ‘Armed Forces Officer’. Therefore, at Full Council, I asked Cllr Lee when he intended to formally address elected Members about the event. In response he did not answer the question directly but instead complained that the only cynicism he had heard about the event was from certain Councillors (and I think he even narrowed it down to yours’ truly, I’ll have to check the tape).

Later in the meeting, there was a debate about whether major planning applications, e.g. a 49m high, 24,000sqm cold storage unit, should be considered by the Development Management Committee or just be approved at the Chairman’s discretion. This gave me the opportunity to respond to Cllr Lee by saying “If you don’t want people, including me, to be cynical, you stop giving us reasons to be cynical”. Until that happens I will carry on asking the questions that the Conservative Councillors are afraid to ask.

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Report to MDTC Full Council – October 2018

Report to MDTC Full Council 10th October 2018
(from SKDC Councillor ASHLEY BAXTER)

I have attended the following meetings during the last month.

18/09/2018         Development Management Committee

The meeting discussed applications including the following:

  • Nine dwellings on land Adjacent To Ivatt Close Bourne PE10 9TZ

I saved a tree! I actually did! This small development on the outskirts of Bourne required the removal of quite a few trees and shrubs. While examining the proposals I noted that there is one healthy ash tree in a corner of the site that faced the chop.

The Officer’s report stated “the trees on site are not considered to be of significant amenity value”. I pointed out that while they might not look like much to us, we might discover they have quite a lot of amenity value to the local birds, squirrel and hedgehog if only we could ask.

When the developer gave his evidence I asked if there was any chance of saving the tree as well as reinstating the ‘lapsed hedge’ which was also due to be replaced the feather-board fencing which is almost ubiquitous across new developments. To my surprise he agreed without argument. It makes me wonder if and why the Planning Officers hadn’t asked the same question. Either way, it was a good result and reminded me why I go to these meetings.

  • Seven single bedroom apartments at Norton Street Grantham NG31 6BY

This applicant keeps coming back to the committee with similar applications each slightly different to the previous presumably in the hope that his persistence will, sooner or later, pay off. I am pleased to say that this time it didn’t and the poky residential accommodation proposed between the gardens of back to back terraced houses was refused once again.

  • St Vincent’s House, Grantham

This was a notable for two reasons. Firstly, it was an application from a Councillor. Secondly the property hosted the control room for the historic ‘Dambusters’ raid by 617 squadron which changed the course of the Second World War. The application itself concerned potting sheds in the grounds and wasn’t very contentious.

27/09/2018         Council

This was attended by 38 of the 56 elected Councillors with 18 absent for one reason or another.

Only one member of the public attended and no members of the public had registered to ask any questions.

The Council decided to alter its budget for the year for two reasons: firstly in order to buy a piece of land; and secondly to establish a new company (an LLP) called ‘DeliverSK.

The Council discussed its relatively new system of Overview and Scrutiny Committees which most agreed is a ‘work in progress’ with room for improvement.

As part of Members’ questions I asked the Cabinet Member for Growth and Communications whether paying £140,000/annum for a consultant with no job description, written contract or responsibility for managing staff is good practice in procurement and good value for money. The Cabinet Member responded that she felt my repeated questions on the issue were boring and accused me of harbouring a personal vendetta.

There were two Motions. The first concerned the Council’s approach to modern slavery and was proposed by Cllr Phil Dilks (Lab), the motion was amended and then passed.  I proposed the second which argued for more transparency of Members Workshops and Briefings which was defeated.

02/10/2018         Shareholder Committee

 

As usual, most of the proceedings of the Shareholder committee took place ‘in camera’ and so I am not allowed to tell you what happened. Take my word for it, it wasn’t a very exciting meeting.

Two years ago, when the Committee was first set up, a lot of time was spent deciding what would be the best name for the company and Gravitas Housing Ltd was chosen. This decision has now been overturned!

 

As ever, if you need more information on anything within this report, please do get in touch.

Finally, may I take this opportunity to record my thanks to the outgoing Town Clerk, Mrs Candace Brent, and to her husband for all they have done for the Deepings over the years. I wish them both all the very best for the future.

 

Cllr Ashley Baxter
Market and West Deeping Ward

Report to MDTC Full Council – September 2018

Report to MDTC Full Council 12th September 2018
(from SKDC Cllr Ashley Baxter)

The summer months are traditionally less busy for Councillors but this month’s report is as busy as ever with lots of news from SKDC.

SKDC Full Council – 26th July 2018
Council ,26/07/2018

The Council discussed the following issues: Continue reading