A plan to make SKDC accessible, transparent and accountable.

When I was first elected to South Kesteven District Council eight years ago, my motivation was to improve services for residents, especially for the poor, the old, the young and the vulnerable, and also to improve and protect the global and local environment.

I had not expected to spend so much time trying to extract information which should rightly be in the public domain. Deliberate attempts to hide spending and obscure decision-making have made it difficult for councillors, or anyone else, to hold the Conservative Cabinet to account. Is is abundantly clear that they HATE scrutiny.

It’s not all bad news. During the last four years, SKDC have started recording meetings which has been invaluable in holding people to account for what they say (including me!). Mrs Thatcher would have approved because one of her first acts as a Member of Parliament was to introduce legislation to ensure the press and public had access to meetings; this is most ironic given the extent to which SKDC Tories use workshops and group meetings to try to avoid public scrutiny.

We will have a different council after the local elections on 4th May. Hopefully we will have far more Independents and a chance to change. Here are some ideas for how to improve scrutiny and decision-making at SKDC.

1. Ensure public questions are allowed at the start of all council meetings, committee meetings and workshops.

2. With the possible exception of Full Council meetings, allow members of the public to turn up to ask questions on the day, rather than having to submit them in writing the day before. This was the case until last year when the Conservatives decided to put barriers in the way of public questions. There was never a long queue of questions and the new rule was merely a means of protecting slow-witted councillors from embarrassing themselves by exposing their ignorance. Any pro-active Councillor should welcome questions about service provision even when they don’t have an immediate answer.

A cutting from Private Eye.

3. Supplementary questions from members of the public at Full Council were banned last year. They should be re-instated. People don’t want to drive 30 miles to be fobbed off with an answer prepared by an officer in advance of the meeting.

4. Open questions to Cabinet members at committees and council meetings should be encouraged not stifled.

5. Workshops should be open to attendance by members of the public (unless discussing commercial or personally sensitive information). I have recently been denied access to workshops as a councillor, let alone as a member of the public. On one occasion I was told that the workshop was ‘not a formal meeting’ even though it was set up at the behest of a council committee, held in a council office and attended by councillors and council officers!

6. Some meetings should be held in the evening to allow access to people who are not able to attend meetings during the day.

7. Some meetings should be held elsewhere than Grantham, especially if they are particular concern to a local community. When the Council was debating the future of the Deepings leisure centre, I asked for meetings to be held in the Deepings. This was considered ‘impossible’.

8. Workshops and committee meetings should occasionally invite expert witnesses to participate in deliberations. Sometimes, the Conservatives seem positively frightened at the prospect of hearing from anyone who actually knows anything about a given subject.

9. A general attitude of openness and honesty from councillors would be helpful. When Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) sent himself on a training course which included a stay in America and cost the council £6,000, he seemed determined to cover it up. It took a good deal of investigation by Phil Gadd (Ind) and I to unearth the details and, when we asked who had authorised the course, Cllr Cooke’s Cabinet colleagues performed verbal gymnastics to try to avoid responsibility. It would have been much easier to be upfront and come clean.

10. Finally, one measure which is beyond the control of the SKDC – The press have a responsibility to allow the truth to be told and it is disappointing that the Stamford Mercury have, until now, resisted printing opinion pieces from Independent councillors while allowing prominent Conservatives to use monthly columns to say pretty much whatever they like. I hope this imbalance will be redressed after the election.

None of this is going to happen unless a big chunk of the South Kesteven Conservative group is removed from office in May. If you want better, more open decision-making, vote for decent Independent candidates.

Report to Town and Parish Councils, December 2021

Report from Ashley Baxter – December 2021

County Councillor the Deepings West and Rural Division
and District Councillor for Market and West Deeping Ward

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all!

Details of meetings attended since 10th November

18/11/2021            SKDC            Planning Committee (re: Tallington Lakes)

I attended the committee and gave a short speech in opposition to the proposed new entrance to Tallington Lakes from Stamford Road. The Committee deferred the decision to a future meeting in order to allow committee members to attend a site visit.

25/11/2021            SKDC            Council

Another chaotic and dreadful Full Council meeting at the Meres Centre in Grantham. A good deal of time was spent dealing with the vacancies for Vice Chair of Council and Chair of the Governance and Audit Committee caused by the resignation from these roles by Cllr Ian Stokes (former Con) as a result of his racist comment at a recent Committee meeting.

Congratulations to Cllr Mark Whittington (Con) who is now Chair of two Committees and Vice-Chair of a third. There are other Councillors who would be well-suited to these roles but they are not members of the Conservative Group and therefore the Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con) will not allow their appointment.

The meeting also considered a motion on Equality and Diversity proposed by Cllr Amanda Wheeler (Lib-Dem) partly in response to the recent episode concerning Cllr Stokes Snr which would have required councillors to undertake equality and diversity training before they could become members of Council Committees. The motion appeared to be widely supported until, at the very last moment, Cllr Rosemary Trollope-Bellew (Con) proposed a wrecking amendment which removed the word ‘mandatory’ thus making the training optional so that Councillors can continue to avoid equality training without any consequence. Even after the weeks of outraged headlines in newspapers and TV regarding the racist comment of an old-school Tory, his party colleagues still prefer to pretend there is no need to take preventative actions. Cllr George Chivers (Con) was the Conservative to vote against the wrecking motion (and therefore in favour of mandatory training); it is always encouraging when even one of the Conservatives are bold enough to vote contrary to the instructions of their blinkered and partisan political masters and it is a shame it doesn’t happen a lot more often.

26/11/2021            SKDC            Planning Committee (Consideration of Planning Review)           

Over the last 18 months, SKDC has spent £40,000 on a planning review from ‘Cratus’ consultants. Some of the recommendations have been implemented but are many are deeply unpopular among Councillors and, in my view, anti-democratic because they reduce the extent to which Councillors can participate and influence the planning process. In recent weeks, the Council appear to have taken more ownership of the process and further recommendations seem likely to filter through to the Constitution Committee in the months to come.

29/11/2021            LCC               Flood and Water Management Scrutiny Committee

This meeting in Lincoln informed Councillors about the number of flood incidents in recent months and the new pumping equipment which has been purchased by Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue.

I have requested that a briefing on the proposed South Lincolnshire reservoir (which will be between Bourne and the Deepings) be presented to a future meeting.

30/11/2021            LCC               Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee

This meeting also looked at flood incidents as well as the council’s dismal performance on waste and recycling. There were two papers relating to the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda which appears to be a slogan, like akin to ‘the Big Society’, ‘the Green New Deal’ and ‘Back to Basics’ in that it can mean all things to all people and, at the same time, nothing at all.

30/11/2021            SKDC            Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee

I had to send my apologies to the SKDC Environment Committee because of a clash with the County Council equivalent meeting. In my absence, and at my request, the Committee consider the issues of water refill stations in the four towns of the District.

30/11/2021            SKDC            Joint Scrutiny Committee re Deepings Leisure Centre

At a heated meeting of the Finance Committee and the Tourism Committee, Independent Councillors tried to establish why, since 2007, there has been no financial commitment to the oft-promised new Deepings Leisure Centre and why the Conservatives have now broken their promises and reverted back to a refurbishment of the existing centre.

The meeting agreed to recommend to cabinet that an extensive refurbishment should take place and (at my suggestion) the details of the refurbishment should be subject to ‘meaningful consultation’.

6/12/2021             SKDC            Members briefing re Mallard Pass Solar Farm Proposals

An opportunity to learn more about the project and ask some of the question which have been raised by residents. The scheme will not be decided by local councillors because it is a NSIP (Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project) and therefore decided by the Secretary of State.

7/12/2021             SKDC            Cabinet

Further discussion of the Deepings Leisure Centre caused me concern that the ‘meaningful consultation’ might not be so ‘meaningful’ as we would like. This is a shame because since the first announcement there has been a pitiful, almost neglible, amount of consultation with local residents, sports clubs and other users of the centre.

8/12/2021             Lincolnshire    Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education

My first attendance at SACRE focused on a recent survey of Lincolnshire Schools regarding their provision of RE lessons.


In the last few months I have also undertaken the following training:

Via Teams

5/11/2021             LCC               “Understanding your role as a Corporate Parent”

6/12/2021             SKDC            “The Model Code of Conduct”

Virtual safeguarding training completed via the Lincolnshire Virtual College

30/09/2021            “Introduction to Safeguarding Everyone in Lincolnshire”

03/10/2021            “Understanding the Impacts of Hate Crime”

04/10/2021            “Radicalisation and Extremism”

04/10/2021            “LGBTQ+ Awareness”

18/10/2021            “Friends Against Scams”

25/10/2021            “Modern Slavery and Trafficking”

Some of the training offered by the Lincolnshire Virtual College is provided free of charge via ‘Open Access’ to anyone who registers. Some of it is quite interesting and informative.

Other information

During November, I attended the opening and closing ceremonies of the Deepings Garden of Remembrance as well as participating in the Royal British Legion wreath-laying ceremonies at Baston as well as Market Deeping.

As ever, if you require any further information or assistance with District or County Council issues, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Ashley Baxter
8th December, 2021

01778 344070
07799 077090

South Kesteven adopts a fast-track approach to recruitment of Communications Officer

Regular readers will know that I have previously been critical of the Council circumventing proper recruitment procedures by shoulder-tapping individuals and handing them jobs without formal advertising or competitive interview.

I am pleased to confirm that the recent appointment of a position of “Strategic Communications and Policy Lead (Housing)” was recruited by a formal process. Remuneration for the post is £54,468 per annum (pro rata) with excellent benefits .

The initial staff requisition was signed off by the relevant Cabinet Member for Housing who was subsequently defeated in the District Council elections in May.

The role was advertised on three external jobs websites as well as the Council’s own website. The advert was first published in the public domain on Friday 12th April and the closing date for applications was Tuesday 23rd April which allowed a full seven working days for people to apply for the position (assuming they found it within the timescale which fell amid the season of election campaigning).

The role was not proactively advertised on the Council’s twitter account nor any other social media.

Given the level of remuneration (over £50k plus benefits), it is perhaps surprising that only two people applied for the role and only one was shortlisted for interview.

By contrast, a recent recruitment for a ‘Head of Leisure’ at SKDC attracted nearly 20 applications although this was via a recruitment consultancy and the post was advertised for almost a month.

Nevertheless, congratulations are due to the successful applicant who has previous experience of working in the Communications Team at South Kesteven albeit as an external consultant with Emulus Communications Ltd. Small world though, innit!?

@SouthKesteven Cabinet arrives in the Deepings; It has been a long journey!

I am delighted to report that the South Kesteven Cabinet will hold a formal meeting, open to the public, at the Eventus Centre in Market Deeping tomorrow (6th September, 2018 at 2pm)

Some people need to get out more often, especially Councillors, and this is what I have been arguing since I joined South Kesteven Council back in 2015. To be specific, I have been suggesting that at least one formal committee meeting each year should be held in each of the smaller towns i.e. Bourne, Stamford and Market Deeping. Continue reading

Why can’t we put fruit and veg in the @southkesteven green garden waste bin?

Not very long ago, one of my constituents had her green bin refused because it had an onion in it and I had to go and investigate why.

After speaking to SKDC, then LCC, then the recycling plant at Langar, I finally got a clear answer from WRAP.

To save your phone bill and all the tedium of doing this yourself, I’ll tell you that, in the eyes of the Food Hygiene industry, anything that has been into a kitchen could theoretically have been in contact with a chopping board or knife infected by rotten meat or E-coli or whatever. As no-one can tell whether a particular apple has visited a kitchen we have to assume they are all dangerous.

It sounds ridiculous but it is the law and, like any organisation, South Kesteven always has to abide by the law.

The best thing to do with uncooked fruit is to put it on your compost heap.

July 2018 – Report to Market Deeping Town Council

Report to Market Deeping Full Council – July 11th 2018

Apart from watching World Cup football, I’ve had another busy month. Here are the edited highlights:

Friends of Mill Field

Since my last report, Friends of Mill Field have heard news from the Independent arbiter of the Village Green application. There will be a public inquiry into the application which will probably take place in November.

In an attempt to ‘lock the stable door’, the County Council has taken the gormless decision to register a landowner deposit to declare that they wish to put an end to the recreational use of the land.

I am trying to find out how many people responded to the so-called consultation about potential development on the land.

Town Centre

SKDC’s new Head of Town Centres, Paul Allen, contacted me for a meeting about growing the town’s economy, including an update on the Saturday market. I invited Cllr Virginia Moran to join me the meeting as I know she has done a significant amount of work planning this year’s Christmas market as well as acting as liaison with SKDC regarding the proposed Saturday market. We gave Mr Allen a short tour of Market Deeping explaining the key issues faced by retailers, residents and visitors.

Saturday Market

Over 500 people responded to the recent SKDC consultation regarding a weekly market in the old market place. More than 85% of the responses were positive and the County Council is now being consulted because they are technically responsible for the market place. Assuming the County Council don’t drag their feet, the market could be launched in the autumn. Continue reading

Defying Gravitas – Why is the Wherry’s Lane project in Bourne delayed?

Last week I blogged that Gravitas Housing Ltd has been planning to build houses in Bourne and that there are no definitive public evidence that South Kesteven’s Local Authority Controlled Company (LACC) is planning anything else.

On 10th January, the Deputy Leader, Cllr Kelham Cooke, decided formally to sell the Wherry’s Lane site to Gravitas Housing Ltd. If I have understood correctly, the council also agreed to lend £250,000 to Gravitas in order that they could afford to buy the land.

So, after securing the land and almost a year of Shareholder Meetings held behind closed doors, the Gravitas Directors (who are all employed by SKDC) decided to request planning permission for the erection of 25 dwellings on Wherry’s Lane in Bourne. A valid application was received by SKDC planning department on 27th March 2018 (which had been prepared by a consultancy in Louth!). Continue reading

Gravitas – Is something LACC-ing?

Gravitas Housing Ltd is a company established and wholly owned by South Kesteven District Council.Wherry

What is a LACC?

In order to become more agile, flexible and able to generate revenue, many Council’s have chosen to establish Local Authority Controlled Companies (LACCs or sometimes pronounced ‘Lac-Co’).

Some LACCs have been very successful, for example Norfolk Property Services (NPS) which now has a group structure and trades as Norse Commercial Services delivering services to the public in many local authority areas (geographic areas and service areas).

Other Local Authority commercial ventures have been a nightmare, e.g. Solutions SK which was described as a ‘Four-Star shambles‘ when it lost £4.7million pounds in a year. When I say ‘lost’ I mean they couldn’t find it. The highly paid Directors employed for their commercial acumen couldn’t explain where it had gone. There was no question of fraud, only incompetence on a grand scale. I happy to report that the ‘SK’ in ‘Solutions SK’ refers to Stockport not South Kesteven. Presumably they couldn’t even spell Stockport Council when they set up the LACC.

Gravitas slowly takes off

Back in 2015, South Kesteven Councillors decided that the LACC vehicle was a band-wagon worth jumping on to and so a Shareholders Committee was formed. This is an advisory group to keep the company directors on track. Due to the need for political balance, the membership consists of four Tories and one Independent (which is me).

The first meeting was scheduled 4th July 2016 but this was cancelled. Another date was set for 6th September 2016 but this was also cancelled. The Shareholder Committee finally met for the first time on 3rd October 2016 Continue reading