Company Secrets – SKDC continue with private companies to dodge scrutiny

My Sunday afternoon has been spent reading the agenda and reports relating to next Tuesday’s Companies Committee. On the off-chance that some SK residents are interested in how millions of pounds is being squandered or invested, I have put together this short summary about the council’s growing portfolio of Local Authority Owned Company (LACC).

Gravitas Housing Ltd

The first ‘Shareholders’ meeting’ about setting up SKDC’s first LACC took place in October 2016 and in January 2017 we decided on a name and a purpose for the company. The name would be ‘Gravitas’ and Members agreed it should focus on new build developments.

Since then, the company has completed only one project comprising 25 dwellings at Wherry’s Lane in Bourne. Only 5 of these dwellings have so far been sold and therefore the company has not yet returned its investment; nor has it ‘disrupted the housing market’ as was hoped; nor does it have any other projects currently in the pipeline.

The Shareholders Committee has been replaced by the Companies Committee and the Chair of the latter has described the progress of Gravitas as “moving at a glacial pace”.

Until July 2020, Gravitas had three Directors, all of whom were Council employees. Long-suffering member of the council’s Finance team, Mr Richard Wyles, has served since 2017 and he was originally on the ‘Board of Directors’ with Steve Ingram and Tracey Blackwell. In the summer of 2018, Steve and Tracey left the council, with significant financial settlements (aka pay-offs) and consequently resigned as Directors of Gravitas Housing Ltd. They were replaced by the recently appointed Assistant Director for Growth, Jane McDaid and the recently appointed Assistant Director for Housing, Harry Rai.

Skip forward to July 2020, two years almost to the day since they were appointed, and Jane and Harry resigned as Gravitas Directors because they too had been encouraged to leave the council, probably with significant financial settlements (aka pay-offs). This has left Richard Wyles as the sole current Gravitas Director.

On Tuesday, the Companies Committee will be asked to appoint three new Directors to the Gravitas Board: Council Leader, Coun Kelham Cooke (Con); Deputy Leader. Cllr Barry Dobson BA Hons (Con); and Strategic Director for Growth, Mr Paul Thomas. According to the Committee report: “These proposed appointments will bring the political and professional strategic support to enable Gravitas to successfully deliver the Wherrys Lane development and bring forward a pipeline of strategic housing development proposals for Committee consideration”. Only time will tell.

Homes SK

The failure of Gravitas to deliver housing at pace has been noted and so rumours have started about an intention to set up a new Company to focus on the delivery of affordable homes in the District. This would be Homes SK.

Unfortunately, the proposed brief and purpose of Homes SK has not been published anywhere in the public domain. Companies Committee were due to hear about it this week but on Sunday evening we were sent an e-mail stating: “It has been agreed with the Chairman of the Committee that the HomesSK item (Item 9a) on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the Companies Committee will now be considered at the following meeting”. So, I guess we’ll have to wait a bit longer.

Deliver SK

This is another Council company which doesn’t exist yet. It was an idea that the Council’s previous leader had brought with him from Peterborough and was based on the idea of the council forming a company (an LLP) with a wealthy investment company in order to bankroll a series of joint ventures.

It was reported with much fanfare in December 2018 that, after a competitive process and ‘informal cabinet’, the private sector partner had been chosen and was to be IAG Holdings which was an investment company based in Guernsey and, entirely coincidentally, the same partner engaged by Peterborough City Council on a similar wheeze.

There followed a period of virtual silence on the matter until 30 June 2020 when a holding report sent to Companies Committee explained some of the problems concerning IAG Holdings. Apparently, discussions had progressed with IAG during the course of 2019, during which it transpired that the company that would be entering into the partnership was not IAG but was in-fact a subsidiary of IAG; namely IAGH3. The Companies Committee of 30 June was informed that the change in proposed partner would require a new Non-Key Decision and necessitated due diligence on the new entity. The Committee was promised “a report at its next meeting setting out options and recommendations as to establishing DeliverSK”.

The report has indeed been circulated prior to the meeting but sadly, the entire report and its appendix has been been classed as ‘restricted’ and therefore printed on ‘pink papers’ which means that I am not allowed to tell you what is proposed relating to DeliverSK.

What I can tell you is that the Council had already incurred £90k costs in trying to establish the appropriate governance and operating structure for DeliverSK. This is broken down as: £34k to Peterborough City Council; £6k to KPMG and £50k to Pinsents.

In my opinion, the main reason why the DeliverSK report has been restricted is to prevent embarrassment of the former and existing Conservative Cabinet members responsible for the incredibly slow and uncertain progress of DeliverSK over the last two years.

EnvironmentSK

The decision to bring grounds maintenance services in-house was taken at the end of the council’s contract with Glendale Services. There were a number of problems with the contract with Glendale including 1) it was quite inflexible and required a contract variation notice everytime the company was asked to adjust it’s mowing regime. This limited any creative ideas like rewilding or extra cuts; 2) although branded ‘Glendale Local’, the company was actually based in Cheshire and, at one stage, were sending resources from Doncaster to cut the grass in Deeping St James. For these reasons, and on a point of principle, I supported bringing Grounds Maintenance in-house.

Forming another LACC, rather than simply putting grounds maintenance staff on the council payroll, has its pro’s and con’s. One ‘pro’ is flexibility with regard to staff – it was mentioned at the time that EnvironmentSK was being incorporated that it was very difficult for the council to engage on incentive packages such as performance-related pay. However, there is also a big ‘con’ in that a LACC is much more difficult to hold accountable.

For example, at a recent SKDC Cabinet meeting, it was noted that SKDC refuse collectors were the poorest paid in Lincolnshire and consequently it was agreed that they should be given a pay-rise. I asked a question about whether grounds maintenance staff were being paid fairly by EnvironmentSK. The Cabinet Member for Environment, Cllr Peter Moseley (Con), responded “The salaries paid by ESK are a matter for ESK Ltd and not for this Council and they are paid in line with what the market allows”. Yes, even though EnvironmentSK Ltd is owned entirely by SKDC and, by law, at least 80% of it’s activity is delivering services to SKDC, the Conservative Cabinet Member believes that the terms and conditions of the staff are not a matter of concern to the council.

At the last Companies Committee, the Directors of ESK submitted a half-hearted and heavily redacted Business Plan. The Chair of the Committee rightly chastised them for not taking the committee seriously. One member of the Committee also criticised the ‘pie-in-the-sky’ nature of the content of the business plan. In his words: “You could drive a 40 footer through the holes in its logic and the numbers were fanciful”.

In its first published accounts, EnvironmentSK Ltd reported a loss of £133,702. A revised and more detailed business plan will be presented to Companies Committee this week. Once again, it will not be released in the public domain but, without breaking confidence, I can tell you that ‘pie-in-the-sky’ figures are still there.

InvestSK

Tuesday’s Companies Committee will also discuss an ‘Update on InvestSK’. Regular readers will know that, from the outset, I have had concerns about the lack of accountability and transparency of InvestSK. The last (and only) time it was seriously considered at Companies Committee, the Chair said the business plan was full of fluffy and flowery targets.

Cooke, Bowyer and Lee in happier times

In recent weeks the Chief Executive of InvestSK has left the organisation, probably with a significant financial settlements (aka pay-off). Steve Bowyer was yet another member of staff who followed Cllr Lee up the A1 from Peterborough to Grantham.

After a lot of e-mails ‘to and fro’, I now have confirmation from the council’s Monitoring Officer that InvestSK should be subject to the same transparency rules as the Council so I can freely report that InvestSK has given £50,000 to a dance school in Grantham and £150,000 to a consultancy for a single project. Obviously, this doesn’t match the £280,000 recently given to Mace consultancy by SKDC but it’s still a lot of money.

The Directors of InvestSK are the Leader, the Deputy Leader and the Chief Executive of the Council. For a brief period, Paul Thomas was also a Director until I pointed out, on 13th August, that he was the person who was supposed to be managing the ‘contract’ between SKDC and InvestSK and he couldn’t act as ‘both poacher and gamekeeper’. On 14th August, Cllr Cooke e-mailed me to insist that there was no conflict of roles but, on 18th August, Mr Thomas resigned as a Director of InvestSK – Read into that what you will!

As far as I can ascertain, SKDC has set no targets for InvestSK and the whole relationship exists on the basis of ‘make it us as we go along’. This flexibility is handy at times of emergency, e.g. a global pandemic, but generally it’s not a healthy way to do business. The InvestSK LACC is supposed to be managed as rigorously as any contract with an external company but I hope we don’t just hand millions of pounds to our external partners in the same cheery way we do to InvestSK.

LeisureSK

This is the latest proposed addition to the SK family of companies which has been discussed at Cabinet, at Culture Overview and Scrutiny Committee and will be discussed again on Tuesday at Companies Committee.

I am not supposed to tell you anything else about it because all the committee papers are restricted. However, somehow these rules of secrecy do not apply to the SKDC press office who have been permitted to tell all the local media about Leisure SK! As Deepings Nub News reported:

South Kesteven District Council is bringing the management and operation of its four leisure centres back in-house. The council says this will give it greater flexibility on how the leisure facilities are managed and potentially accelerate SKDC’s leisure improvements programme.

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far through the blog, I admire your tenacity. Please consider liking the post and sharing the post if you know anyone else with an interest in local authority accountability.

In my opinion, the main reason why so much of the information relating to the council’s wholly owned companies has been restricted is to prevent embarrassment of the former and existing Conservative Cabinet members responsible for the incredibly slow and uncertain progress over the last two years. The current culture of secrecy and constant restriction of Council reports undermines public confidence in the council. It is time for Cllr Kelham Cooke to deliver on his promise of “a more open, transparent and collaborative style of council that welcomes constructive challenge”.

“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.

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