Greater Lincolnshire

Rewind 2018: Local Democracy Reporters’ top 10 stories

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From council chief executives walking out the door to crisis at hospital childrens’ wards, the past year has been filled with major local democracy stories.

Some have shaken local communities, while others have been downright outrageous.

Meanwhile, a handful of stories are expected to rumble on into 2019 and beyond.

Here is a roundup 2018 from our Local Democracy Reporters Calvin Robinson and Daniel Jaines.


Kexit

Lincolnshire County Council’s Chief Executive Keith Ireland.

The borders were too hard for one Ireland as Lincolnshire County Council’s latest chief executive suddenly and mysteriously departed.

Apart from a joint statement and a couple of positive comments about the work Keith Ireland did in his four months in the role, officials have been pretty tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding his leaving.

That initial statement suggested there had been clashes between the highly-praised former City of Wolverhampton Council CEO and the leader of LCC Councillor Martin Hill on “a number of important issues”.

However, it might be a while before any more details come out as it was later confirmed by Mr Hill that legal advisors had told councillors to say no more.


Crisis at Boston’s childrens’ ward

Boston Pilgrim Hospital. Picture: Steve Smailes

A story which rumbled on for months and months with a development at every senior management meeting and has produced multiple storylines.

When paediatricians at Boston Pilgrim Hospital warned that a skeleton staff rota could lead to crisis at the service, health bosses called an urgent review.

Needless to say, this caused panic among campaigners and concern from patients and parents alike.

A “temporary” model to help maintain the service is still in place and has cost United Lincolnshire Hospitals trust £1.75 million in the latter half of 2018.

We’re expecting more developments from the board going into 2019, notably what they intend to do to keep the service going.


Boston’s “bonkers” welcome arch

Boston town centre. Photo: Historic England

Councillors were lambasted when, while discussing improvements to Boston Market Place they called an idea by students to install a welcome arch “bonkers”, “tacky” and a “waste of time”.

Many derided the Boston Borough Council members who disagreed with the idea for not taking a gentler approach to the school pupils and accused them of putting people off getting involved with local politics.

The arch was one of a number of improvements suggested following a comprehensive review which involved traders, visitors, schools and more and also saw changes including scrapping of a trader list and looking at more cultural offerings.


£150m combined health authority deficit

United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust headquarters.

Sifting through all eight health authority financial reports revealed a large financial black hole which needed to be plugged.

At the end of the last year, trusts and commissioning bodies across Lincolnshire held a combined deficit of £150 million.

Bosses had numerous reasons and excuses for the overspends, but it continues to be a problem across the county.


Market Rasen’s “dry” leisure centre

An artist’s impression of the new dry leisure facility.

A new £6.4 million leisure centre in Market Rasen failed to float the interest of a number of residents when it was announced in January. 

The centre, West Lindsey District Council confirmed, would be “dry” meaning it would not include a swimming pool for the area, something many had been campaigning for since.

This was, they said, because of the running costs involve, however following comments the council did add on the proviso that if the new centre proved itself to be viable, there would be space for a pool to be built in the future.

A petition of more than 2,000 signatures was later handed in demanding a pool be added, but councillors rejected the request during a meeting in July.

There are, however, residents on the other side of the fence who have also pulled together though to argue the case for the centre to go ahead.


Greater Lincolnshire Devolution back on the cards

Greater Lincolnshire council leaders launched the bid for devolved powers and funding in September 2015. Photo: Stuart Wilde

The taste for taking more powers (and money) back from Whitehall is still strong in Lincolnshire, despite rejecting the idea two years ago.

A deal seemed all but dead until May this year when county council leader Martin Hill revealed that “informal discussions” were taking place with ministers.

Councillor Hill maintains that he is open to the idea, while other leaders have remained coy about a new agreement with government.

A Greater Lincolnshire bid would see the county join Sheffield, West Midlands and Manchester as areas with a devolved authority – a deal which Boston MP, Matt Warman, is keen to secure.

Alas, talks are ongoing and nothing concrete has come out of meetings with government officials.

But it is sure to be a topic that crops up again in 2019.


Disgraced town councillor Sharon Hopkinson

Former Gainsborough Town Councillor and licence holder for the White Hart Hotel Sharon Hopkinson.

A former Gainsborough town councillor was caught out after being convicted for her part in a drugs supply chain.

Sharon Hopkinson, 45, of The White Hart, resigned from the council, lost the alcohol licence for her business and was jailed for three years and six months after being found guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin and cocaine.

She was one of seven to be jailed, with one other to be sentenced at a later date.

It was later revealed she was nominated to be Mayor of Gainsborough while under investigation for the crime – though her fellow councillors said they had not known about what was happening outside of her council responsibilities.


£50m plan to solve school places shortage

Heather Sandy, chief officer for education at Lincolnshire County Council, who led the special school investment strategy Picture: Calvin Robinson.

Not all stories on the local democracy front were about council’s struggling to fight government cuts and scraping around for cash.

Investment was made and in this case it was in the right place as the county council put its money where its mouth is and put money into special needs schools.

Like other council areas, schools are in need of money to create places and special educational needs is no exception.

Ten schools will benefit from the investment which council officers described as “much needed”.

It’s an ambitious plan and one that all involved and affected by hope will work.


Lincoln’s car parking battle

City of Lincoln Council Leader Ric Metcalfe at the new Lincoln Central car park. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Retail woes were the symptom of bad news for the City of Lincoln council’s first quarterly performance review of 2018/19.

A report before the authority’s executive committee in August showed that in the first quarter of the year the income from car parking was down from the budgeted £1,581,000, taking £1,265,000 instead — a deficit of £316,000. Until the end of the financial year, this was predicted to be a decrease on what they had expected to make by £1,141,000.

Council leader Ric Metcalfe later denied that the 25% drop in takings year-on-year was due to high parking charges, a statement which conflicted with residents who said they didn’t park in the centre, but also blamed traffic congestion and anti-social behaviour in the town.

The situation was improved but didn’t look much better by the time of the second quarter’s performance in November, when car parking took £650,000 less than expected.

It saw the predicted income decrease to £1,134,000 less than what had been expected for the year.


Health bosses roll the dice and unveil urgent treatment centres

Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

We all know that Lincolnshire’s accident and emergency departments are under strain, it’s a problem all over the country.

So when health chiefs unveiled a new plan to simplify where people could get the care they need for minor injuries and illnesses, it seemed they were onto a winner.

The proposal seemed simple – create a centre on the front of A&E’s called an urgent treatment centre and direct people there via 111.

But the idea fell flat with scrutiny councillors who said it lacked clarity and criticised health bosses for their location.

Instead of being a solution, the proposal turned into a problem. A running theme with healthcare in the county.


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