Thursday, May 25, 2006

Myth of missing millions.

The Tories who run Lincolnshire County Council constantly complain that the Labour Government steals money from shire counties like Tory Lincolnshire to give to the Labour voting big cities.

I've always believed it was a pathetic attempt to divert attention from their well publicised troubles which resulted in one former Tory Leader being sent to prison for abuse of power and a second banned from being a councillor for his unacceptable behaviour.

I've been asking questions to find out the truth and this week I received a table prepared by the Director of Finance showing exactly how much Government grant Lincolnshire gets.

In 1997, the last year of Tory Government, Lincolnshire received grants of £335.5 million (and in each of the previous three years the level grants actually fell.

But in every year since Labour came to office, there have been substantial increases for Lincolnshire.

This year, Lincolnshire received £635.1 million.

That's almost double the 1997 amount the Tories gave us.

So next time you hear about the so called Missing Millions, you might want to ask current Council Leader Martin Hill where it's all gone...!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Giant leap backwards

Over the past year, Lincolnshire County Council Leader Martin Hill has taken a number of steps forward to start repairing the confidence and trust in the council.

After one former Leader was sent to prison for abuse of office and another recently barred from being a councillor for his conduct, our reputation was in tatters.

But on Friday, Martin and the Conservatives who run the Council took a giant leap back to the past, by ending a 30 year tradition of allowing written, on the record questions and answers at full council meetings.

Will try to blog further details over weekend of this and other developments.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Questions they want to ban

This Friday, the Conservatives who run Lincolnshire County Council will try to ban written questions at council meetings.

As member for Deeping St James, I often table detailed written questions to take up local issues, as I value the on-the-record answer that I get from a member of the Executive which is then published in official Council papers.

On Monday of this week, I gave written notice of five questions for this Friday's meeting - the last time I'll be allowed to do it.

I've listed the questions on the next five blogs for you to browse.

I'd be interested if you think these are worthwhile, or a waste of time, as the Leader of the Council, Martin Hill suggests.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Q5: The school that never was...

Cllr P. M. Dilks to ask the Leader of the Council:

The farce that led to this Council being ridiculed over “the road to nowhere” has now delivered “the school that never was”.

You will recall that written Standing Order 9 Questions were tabled by both the former Leader of this Council, former Councillor Croft and myself at the full Council meeting on 1 July, 2005.

Following our questions, I understand that you took a personal interest in the dispute with the developers over the Section 106 Agreement to provide a new primary school on the new Elsea Park housing estate at Bourne.

Despite the finished road remaining closed for a further 16 weeks, at the full Council meeting on 16 September, 2005, you refused my requests for an enquiry, so we could learn the lessons from what had gone wrong.

On 10th October 2005, the following Council press release announced that you had finally reached agreement with the developers:


A brand new school for primary pupils in Bourne is to be built by Allison Homes as part of an agreement with Lincolnshire County Council and South Kesteven District Council. The majority of funding will come from the development of Elsea Park in Bourne with the County Council also contributing to the cost of the building.

It is planned to open the school in September 2007. Initially it will have 4 classrooms but will be extended to a one form of entry school accommodating 30 pupils in each year group over subsequent years. The school will have state-of-the-art facilities, including its own playing field and would have the potential to be used by the community.

Local views are important in shaping the role of the school and consultation will take place in order to hear the views of parents and children, other schools in the area and the wider community.

The school is part of a package of benefits to the community negotiated by the County Council and District Council from the developers of Elsea Park. It includes playing field land being made available to the Grammar School, other funding for secondary schools and a library service, the Bourne Relief Road and other local facilities.

Complex negotiations recently concluded the matter enabling a completion date for the new school to be agreed that will deliver it by the time the new houses provide enough local pupils to fill it.

It is forecast that demand will grow and the school will have the potential to expand to two forms of entry in time if necessary.

The Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services, Councillor Mrs Patricia Bradwell was excited about the potential development of a new school for the estate.

“We are delighted at the prospect of a new school in Bourne. This will offer the very best primary education facilities to meet the needs of this expanding town.”

The agreement (known as a Section 106 Agreement) provides a route for developers to contribute to necessary and reasonable infrastructure improvements that are required as a result of new development

Following this agreement, Allison Homes finally allowed the road to be opened – and Bourne MP Quentin Davies withdrew his threat to launch a Compulsory Purchase Order if the road remained closed.

However, there have been two developments in recent weeks:

1. On Friday, 31st March, your predecessor as Leader, Councillor Ian Croft - in whose Division the proposed school may or may not be built - was removed from this Council by the Standards Board of England following nine breaches of the Code of Conduct.

2. Four days later, on Tuesday, 4th April, the following press release was published by this Council revealing that the school was not now needed and that discussions are continuing “to reach an agreement” – despite the renegotiated agreement to build the school announced less than six months earlier.

Following further consideration and analysis of available information and discussions with local schools, the Council has decided it will not progress the building of a new school at Elsea Park, Bourne, to open in September 2007. However, the Council is continuing discussions with the developer and other schools in the area to reach an agreement on the way forward.

Councillor Martin Hill, Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, said: “While we are committed to a further school in the future we are keen to ensure the continuity of both existing primary schools.”

These recent developments raise wide-ranging and serious questions such as:

1. Why was the Council’s April 4th press release announcing that the school would no longer be built as a matter of urgency in former Councillor Croft’s electoral division announced only two working days after he was barred from being a Councillor?

2. What involvement, if any, did former Councillor Croft have in any of the decisions relating to the Elsea Park development?

3. Could you please say what exactly changed in the six months between October and April?

4. What are the projected numbers of primary children at the two existing schools, and in the whole of the Bourne area, for the next five years?

5. When did you discover that building a new school in Bourne would threaten the continuity of the existing primary schools as stated in your press release of 4th April?

6. Why are you so keen to ensure the continuity of both existing primary schools when, at the same time, you are pressing ahead with closure of schools in other parts of the county in the face of strong opposition from parents, residents, staff, governors, councillors, and church representatives?

7. Will you now make available copies and all papers relating to the original Section 106 Agreements concerning the Elsea Park site and all subsequent amendments?

8. Given these developments, will you now reconsider your refusal to hold an inquiry so that we can learn the lessons and move on?

Q4: Scholarships Scandal

Cllr P. M. Dilks to ask Portfolio Holder for Adult Services:

As the Executive now appears intent on abolishing the long-standing right of elected members to table written questions at full Council meetings, may I invite you to take this historic opportunity to put on record your continued justification of the so-called Lincolnshire Scholarship Scheme.

Specifically, may I ask:

1. How do you justify Lincolnshire County Council annually spending more than £2 million of public money to send 50 children a year to a fee-paying school?

2. What is it that makes 50 children a year worth thousands of pounds more than the Deeping St James children I represent, the Bracebridge Heath children you represent, or the children represented by almost every other member of this Authority?

3. How do you justify forcing every council taxpayer in Lincolnshire to pay for the private education of a few Stamford children which is denied to the vast majority who are paying for it, no matter how talented their children?

4. Could you please give the Council an update on the Review of the Scheme?

5. As Lincolnshire is the only local authority in the country operating such a scheme, when is the earliest opportunity to end the contract with Stamford Endowed Schools?

Q3: Recycling in the Deepings

Cllr P. M. Dilks to ask the Portfolio Holder for Waste Services:

May I thank you for accepting my invitation to visit the privately-run Deepings Recycling Centre in my Division in December 2005 and your resolve to explore the possibilities of an alternative service to replace the long-standing bring-to-vehicle service which was withdrawn by the County Council at the end of December.

However, it is now almost six months since your visit and I wonder if you would provide a report on progress to date. In particular, would you:

1. Share my frustrations that residents of the Deepings have lost a valued service while the County Council and South Kesteven District Council have so far been unable to agree on provision of an alternative service, despite funds being made available by Lincolnshire County Council.

2. Say how many people across the county have seen similar services withdrawn?

3. Provide information on the overall costs of the bring-to-vehicle service provided to The Deepings over the year to 31 December 2005 and an average cost over the year of each visit.

4. Say what tonnage was collected by the bring-to-vehicle service in The Deepings in year to 31 December 2005, and a total tonnage collected by all similar services across the county during the same period.

5. Confirm that all materials collected by the bring-to-vehicle service were land-filled rather than recycled. Could you give an estimate of the proportion of which could have been potentially recycled?

6. Give details of the incentives offered to each District Council to take on the bring-to-vehicle services previously provided by the County Council, the responses received and progress made in each case. In particular, I am interested in the reasons, if any, South Kesteven District Council have given for rejecting the County Council’s financial offer and whether you are prepared to attempt further negotiation.

7. Confirm that the privately-run Deepings Recycling Services have offered to provide a waste skip at their premises each Saturday for approximately a third of the cost of the Council’s own bring-to vehicle service and for more than twice the time.

8. Say why residents of The Deepings who contact Lincolnshire County Council to ask for the location of the nearest recycling centre, are directed to a facility some eight or nine miles away rather than to Deepings Recycling Centre within our own community.

9. Say whether you consider it desirable to provide proper traffic direction signs to recycling facilities across the county to reduce journeys where possible and encourage more environmentally friendly recycling.

10. Why does the Council charge privately-owned sites such as Deepings Recycling Centre for such signage?

11. Say what progress has been made on providing ‘green recycling’ facilities in The Deepings and elsewhere.

12. State your intentions regarding provision of a council-run Civic Amenity site to serve The Deepings and whether you will consider negotiating with the existing service provider.

13. Give the average expected cost to set up and run CA sites.

14. Publish latest recycling figures available achieved in each District Council serving Lincolnshire.

15. Note that the withdrawn Deepings service was widely used by residents of Deeping St James, despite being provided a few yards into Market Deeping and would you please ensure that where future changes to services are being considered, that there is consultation with all local elected members.

(Photo shows Ian Prentice and myself at Deeping Recycling Centre)

Q2: Bus fares for pensioners

Cllr P. M. Dilks to ask the Portfolio Holder for Finance:

Increased concessions on off-peak bus fares for elderly and disabled people which were announced by the Chancellor in last year’s Budget came into effect last month.

I am interested in how the new arrangements are working across Lincolnshire.

Would the Portfolio Holder please provide a table showing the travel concessions made available in each district, the budget made available in each district and whether concessions apply to journeys district-wide, county-wide, or beyond the county borders.

Q1: Missing millions or More cash?

Cllr P. M. Dilks to ask the Portfolio Holder for Finance:

Last year, in response to a Standing Order 9 Question, the Director of Finance kindly produced a table showing, year on year, all monies received from the Government by the County Council over the past decade.

Would you please publish an updated version of the table?

Mariners catch the Imps

Sorry to hear the Red Imps have been beaten in the League Two play-offs - for the fourth year running.
In a local derby clash, Lincoln City FC were beaten in both the home and the away legs by Grimsby Town rivals, the Mariners.

I was in Lincoln on Saturday and wondered why I couldn't get a pint anywhere after the meeting I went for. I was told Lincolnshire Police had been tipped off there might be trouble - and took the sensible precaution of closing city centre pubs to avoid them getting smashed up as happened a couple of years ago after a similar clash.

On that occasion, the Police came in for flak, accused of shutting trouble-makers in a pub, but preventing things kicking off outside.

This time Lincs Police were ready for trouble, but there were no arrests on Saturday after the Imps were beaten by the Mariners at Sincil Bank - nor I believe after the second leg last night at Grimsby.

There's an excellent article in today's Daily Telegraph by John Inverdale on policing of the fixture.

It's at:

Tories & Twisters hit Lincs

Just as the Tories gathered in Sleaford last night to decide how to deal with a massive storm which is brewing, the town was hit by a twister.

The Tories who run Lincolnshire County Council were in Sleaford ahead of Friday's county council meeting, when suddenly the skies blackened and the twister did what twisters do.

It remains to be seen if the Tories took the dramatic event as a signal from above. I'm sure someone was advising them that it would be sensible to drop their shameful plan to limit accountability by scrapping the right of councillors to ask written questions at council meetings (see Sad Day for Democracy below).

Full story on the mini-tornado, including a reader's dramatic photo on the Sleaford Standard site at:

PS The Standard's come a long way since I was its Chief Reporter more than 30 years ago when stories were hammered out on clapped-out manual typewriters!

Free flights of fancy?

The Times is reporting that Boston MP Mark Simmonds has declared free flights worth £3,600 to Cuba, Turks and Caicos, St Kitts and Nevis and Grand Cayman.

The flights were apparently necessary as part of Mr Simmonds' role as Conservative foreign affairs spokesman.

The Times report that the flights were registered but required details were only listed following the Times inquiry.

Full story on The Times website. Having difficulty listing links properly, so here it is in full:,,17129-2182122,00.html

Hope you like the photo. It was taken when Mark Simmonds met Big Ears on one of his less glamourous trips to Butlins in Skegness.

Mr Simmonds is the one on the right.

Black Day for local Democracy - 2

The troubled Tories who run Lincolnshire County Council have come up with a novel way to avoid answering awkward questions.

This Friday the all-Tory Executive on Lincolnshire County Council will propose banning all written questions at future meetings.

For more than 30 years, elected members have been able to raise issues by tabling written questions in advanced of council meetings – and having a written answer from a member of the Executive published on the record in the Council papers.

With Lincolnshire desperately needing to recover confidence and trust after its recent troubled past, I believe the people of our county deserve greater openness and increased democracy, not less.

Written Questions played a vital role in exposing the behaviour of disgraced Conservative Leader Jim Speechley.

After Speechley went to jail for abuse of power, written Questions raised issues about the competence and behaviour of his successor, Councillor Ian Croft.

Last month, Croft was barred from being a councillor by the Standards Board of England who found he breached the Code of Conduct on nine occasions.

The Tories hate being held to account so much that they now want to ban written questions.

Instead they will allow a limited number of oral questions – but with more than 70 members, even getting a Question asked will be far less likely. The chances of a sensible answer will be even more remote.

But without a published written answer, it will simply not be possible to hold the Executive to account in the same way. And sometimes, it is not possible to ask a detailed oral question.

IMHO, just months after the threat of Government intervention has been lifted, the Tories are slipping back into their bad old ways.

Even Speechley’s regime never tried to ban written questions.

Black day for local Democracy

Lincolnshire has its first ever BNP councillor - and there wasn't even an election.

Robert West was elected as a Conservative member of South Holland District Council.

But he's now revealed that he's defected to the British National Party.

Sad news: I believe extremist politicial parties such as the BNP have nothing to offer to help build safer, more cohesive communities.

The BNP only exploits division and hatred and should be rejected by all decent people.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Iraq comes closer to home

Events in Basra were brought closer to home tonight when the Ministry of Defence announced that the two British soldiers killed in a bomb attack today were from our local regiment, The Royal Anglians.

2nd Battalion, Royal Anglians - known as 'The Poachers' due to their Lincolnshire roots - were recently deployed to Iraq.

As a former CSM in the Peterborough-based 5th Battalion (TA), I'm proud to be part of the Royal Anglian family, despite retiring some years ago after almost 20 years -- and despite never being on active service.

My old Company on London Road is now part of the Royal Logistics Corps and is no longer Infantry. Many former colleagues still based at Peterborough have served in Iraq and tonight my thoughts are with them.