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'Council leader's apology is not good enough'

Column by Lee Steptoe, Labour member for Grantham Earlesfield on South Kesteven District Council

It appears Coun Kelham Cooke is going to do a ‘Cummings’, protected by the local Conservative establishment.

After months of using his position to tell ordinary folks to do their bit to control coronavirus, his apology for ‘unintentionally’ going on holiday and breaking that guidance is not good enough. Not when you are the head of a publicly funded local authority.

Councillor Lee Steptoe, Labour (24894592)
Councillor Lee Steptoe, Labour (24894592)

Once again it is a Tory telling us to do what they say, not as they do. It will be interesting to see if his SKDC group sticks by him in the medium term; but to be honest this is largely irrelevant in the bigger picture.

This is in the context of the collapse of our High Street. As Argos, Clintons, Pizza Express, H. Samuels and others fold, a personal crisis for each employee, the awful reality is that there is far worse to come.

Half price Rishi meals will be scant consolation to the millions of workers whose furlough ends completely in October. An economic catastrophe is just around the corner.

The tainted Coun Cooke will tell us that InvestSK has this all in hand. A risible claim, especially considering its CEO has just left after two years, no doubt with yet another huge pay-off at the public’s expense. An organisation that had its funding cut by £100,000 a year in the now redundant March budget.

We also, unbelievably, have local government reorganisation coming down the track next month, whilst the pandemic still rages. This could involve the total dismantling of Lincolnshire County Council and each of the seven district councils across the county. These would be replaced by two unitary authorities that would take on all services that are currently shared between district and county. Whilst not opposing this in principle, the timing is beyond belief.

Credit where it is due, SKDC has done a good job in dealing with the pandemic locally, far better than the bungling incompetence shown nationally. Why on earth would any government want to rip up councils at this scary time?

The same government has just released plans to remove much of council’s planning powers, where democratically elected councillors get to grant planning permission in their areas. This will please big developers who are huge donors to the Tories, but at what cost to local communities?

Coun Cooke is still in post but will have his hands full as autumn looms.

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