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'Prospect of another SKDC reorganisation during pandemic is unforgiveable'

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

Don’t be fooled by the positive propaganda put out on SKDC’s social media accounts.

Beyond images such as the businesses that have reopened, without a word on those that have been permanently closed, there will be growing anxiety.

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

Firstly, senior council staff face yet another reorganisation in the coming weeks and secondly the authority could completely disappear in less than two years. Morale must be rock bottom behind the scenes and as the fight against the pandemic continues, that is unforgiveable.

The last senior management restructure was barely a year ago, with the recruitment of virtually a new team, including chief executive. This cost the council taxpayer around £1 million in pay-offs.

We are now into the latest round of ‘corporate restructuring’ with several senior staff already departing before the formal review even started. Attempts by opposition councillors to get details of pay-offs and potential medium-term savings from leader Kelham Cooke is passed to the CEO, who refuses to answer for ‘legal reasons’.

This may soon be irrelevant as the Government publishes its plans for a major restructure of local government. The 1974 Act created two tier local government in much of the country, including Lincolnshire. We have a county council and district councils that sit below it.

Across Greater Lincolnshire there are 10 councils and it is hard to argue against some streamlining. However, the Government plan is to merge the county and district councils to create ‘unitary authorities’. Each will have a directly elected mayor, last suggested for Lincs in 2016 and abandoned after Tory infighting.

The current 218 district and county councils across rural England could be cut by about two thirds, with scores of Tory councillors being put out of a job, (many sit on both tiers.) The Tories dominate local government across Lincolnshire, except the red island of Lincoln City, and they will shape the future.

The polite public exchanges between county leader, Martin Hill, and the district leaders, including Coun Cooke, will be concealing huge tensions as the likes of SKDC prepare to disappear. With it will go people’s jobs and also the possibility of one single council representing over a million people, (this is favoured by Coun Hill.)

Big is often not best, especially where local services are concerned. Local government would become more remote. Some reform is needed, but the timing of this could not be worse, demonstrating increasing Tory recklessness.

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