SKDC hits back at secrecy claims as it's 'cuts it cloth' to fit Covid-19 realities

  Posted: 26.08.20 at 09:17 by The Editor

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A "thorough reassessment" is underway at South Kesteven District Council as it grapples with financial realities caused by the pandemic.

District councillors meet this afternoon to discuss the impact of Covid-19 and consider the need for an amended budget.

The move comes as the council responds to allegations of secrecy and outlines the reasons behind a corporate restructure.

Last week, Nub News reported how staff are leaving the council, with a restructure of senior officer roles underway.

A council spokesman told Nub News that in March, South Kesteven District Council unanimously agreed an annual budget that included business efficiency savings of at least £300,000 a year, mainly centred on a saving in corporate staffing.

The spokesman said: "Since then, the council, along with other local authorities and public sector bodies, has faced the challenge of supporting its residents and businesses through a global pandemic and financial crisis not seen for generations.

Coun Ashley Baxter

"It would be naïve at best to think that the pandemic would not have a financial impact on councils, in fact, it is quite well documented. There is support from central government, but there is still a forecasted financial shortfall of more than £2 million that must be addressed by considering all aspects of the council’s work.

"Despite this, South Kesteven District Council has continued to deliver critical services, adopted new ways of working to protect the health of staff and customers, supported our local businesses with swift and effective delivery of grants and rebates within timescales that earned the council national recognition, and deployed staff to support new services providing invaluable support to vulnerable residents. Our record speaks for itself."

The spokesman confirmed a restructure three years ago took place to help deliver more investment in services, a more commercial approach at SKDC, and as at other councils, moves towards financial independence.

He continued: "Things have changed since then and it would be remiss for the council not to reflect those changes and cut its cloth accordingly. This does not mean an automatic “rolling of heads or golden handshakes”, but it does mean a considered and thorough reassessment to provide a clear and structured way forward that supports our district’s recovery from Covid-19. That is what the corporate restructure, which will sit alongside an amended budget and new corporate plan, will provide.

"The impact of Covid-19 means that our efficiency savings need to increase if we are to continue to deliver critical services for our communities and invest in our future. We are very conscious that we are talking about people’s lives and livelihoods.

"Of course, there is a need for transparency, and any settlement agreements with financial implications, will be reported in the council’s Statement of Accounts, which is in accordance with accounting regulations.

"Settlement agreements are only given when it is absolutely necessary and mutually beneficial. Any restructure will take into account the need to recoup any financial settlements from future identified savings."

The spokesman further said: "Suggestions of secrecy are inaccurate and unfounded. There is a legal process to be followed and a need for ethical behaviour that respects and balances public accountability and an individual’s right to privacy.

"It terms of scrutiny, the council’s need to amend its budget will be discussed at the Budget Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee (on Wednesday August 26) while on 23 September, following the initial consultation process, SKDC’s Chief Executive will present the consultation findings and any recommended revisions to restructure proposals to the council’s Employment Committee. If approved, on October 1 at full council, the Chief Executive will then present the organisational restructure, including financial implications, to all members, for debate and approval."

In turn, Coun Ashley Baxter (Ind- Market and West Deeping), who has been quizzing council chiefs on these matters, told Nub News: "In response to my questions the recent departure of at least four senior staff of the Council, the Chief Executive has been courteous enough to speak to me about my concerns. I appreciate that there are sometimes circumstances when it is inappropriate to share the intimate details concerning staff departures."

Coun Baxter further responded: “However, when significant sums of public money are involved, the council should aim to be open and transparent and this is simply not the case with many of the council’s ongoing projects.

“I have recently received information about the expenditure of the council’s wholly owned economic development company, InvestSK Ltd, but I have been told that I am not permitted to share how the company has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money.

“For months, I have also been asking questions about the long-awaited DeliverSK company which, despite great fanfare during its conception two years ago, hasn’t even been incorporated because of misunderstandings about the nature of the preferred investment partner which, I might add, is based in Guernsey and therefore not as transparent as a normal UK company.

“I have repeatedly requested access to basic information about the proposed Deepings Leisure Centre but have been refused.

“It is clear that the Conservatives are keeping lots of information close to their chest either because they are embarrassed about the lack of progress or because they are making things up as they go along, just like their colleagues in Westminster.”

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