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The electorate get a 'fair deal' from friendly councillor Phil Dilks

Phil Dilks has always got a story to tell and I never expected the interview to last nearly two hours.

But what do you expect as a former journalist and Labour Party press officer, whose main role now is holding the ruling Conservatives to account on South Kesteven District Council.

Phil Dilks. Photo: Lee Hellwing
Phil Dilks. Photo: Lee Hellwing

The 57-year-old Deeping St James resident and councillor was born in Kettering to a shoemaker father, who won a scholarship to Grammar school, but was not allowed to go as he was needed in the family business.

“That probably gave me a chip on my shoulder about selective education,” Phil smiled.

Phil’s father became a tailor and in Second World War joined the RAF and was shot down in the Bay of Biscay near France. He survived a week in a dinghy, a brave feat which earned him a Distinguished Flying Medal.

“Maybe that was where some of my determination came from,” Phil continued.

One of seven children, Phil began life “kicked around the country” until the family settled in a three-bed bungalow at North Hykeham, so he had to sleep in a caravan outside.

Phil failed his 11-plus and on telling his secondary school careers adviser he wanted to become a reporter, was advised to work in insurance as “only grammar school boys become journalists.”

Phil applied for jobs and was offered five, including one of the Lincolnshire Chronicle, in Lincoln, after writing several articles about his village.

He rose through the ranks, working for the Sleaford and Lough Standards and then, aged 21, spent five years with the Bermuda Sun in a sun-kissed paradise where the governor had been shot and the island was suffering a turbulent time.

Phil says he learnt much about journalism and politics there, with his paper being independent, and him often receiving stories from reporters on the rival establishment paper, as they were not allowed to print them.

Phil met his wife Gill on Bermuda, where they started a family. But after some more rioting, Phil was convinced by his wife, it was time to come home.

Phil worked in Lincoln, Yaxley (near Peterborough) and then moved to Deeping St James in 1983, where they have lived ever since.

Phil left newspapers, joined the territorial regiment and then became the first press officer for the NSPCC and in a freelance spell, worked mainly for charities.

Then, in 1994, Phil began working for Labour as a regional press officer in Nottingham, though he was not a party member at the time.

There were other spells on papers too, including Huntingdon, where he would have a pint with John Major.

Phil recalled: “He always had a story for you,” and once the former PM had to dash off from the pub, telling Phil, his wife Norma had just made dinner.

Phil joined Deeping St James Parish Council and helped attract new members, who brought in a fresh team.

He campaigned on the issue of bus tokens, pledging to keep them, and attracted a bus full of pensioners in his campaign. He won the fight, leading the Stamford Mercury to brand him ‘fair deal Phil’, which he converted to ‘Fair Deal.’

Phil was elected to Lincolnshire County Council in 2001, where he sought another ‘fair deal’. The county paid for children to attend the private Stamford Endowed Schools, but children in Deeping St James were not allowed to go, no matter how talented.

Phil called for a new comprehensive school and money to be diverted to Queen Eleanor School, something which later happened.

When Phil left Lincolnshire County Council in 2017, its Conservative leader Martin Hill praised Phil for his campaigning: “He’s single-handedly destroyed our flagship education policy.”

In his time at county hall, Phil also highlighted why the county council should not outsource back office functions to public service provider Serco.

The council eventually learned at great embarrassment when staff were not getting paid and Serco had to be fined £1 million before it lost the contract.

Phil was elected to South Kesteven District Council in 2011, becoming one of a handful of its elected Labour councillors. Though Labour, Phil says people see him as representative for his area, one who put the Deepings on the map.

“We are not there for opposition’s sake. When the Conservatives get it right, I will say they have got it right. Sometimes opposition to me is about getting more robust decision-making by challenging them and getting them to make sure.”

The reality is there are so few opposition councillors but they are helped by so many “nodding donkeys” on the Conservative backbenchers “who just vote through what the leader wants.”

But what if there was a Labour-run SKDC? What might it do?

Phil chuckled: “There’d be better youth provision and we certainly would have the Deepings Leisure Centre by now.

“I am a realist though. I am not pretending there would be one. But I do think there is a role for opposition. I
have done my best for 20 years for Deeping St James, standing up for the people I represent.”

Current issues include street lighting, youth centres, and a review of the district council’s scrutiny committees.

Phil recently raised the issue of XPO Logistics gaining planning approval through the consent of officers, rather than committee.

There was also the issue of Modern Slavery and how it must be eradicated.

And when not on SKDC, Phil drives the Age Concern bus and is chairman of the local branch of the Royal British legion and sits on the Voluntary Youth Committee.

Heading out of his home, I pass bookshelves and walls festooned with pictures of Phil with Labour figures like Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, suggesting Phil’s Labour past was perhaps more impressive than he modestly said.

The bookshelves are stuffed too with political biographies, with titles across the political spectrum including US politics.

And reflecting a cheeky sense of humour from this most friendly of councillors, Phil chuckles and points out he has placed John Major next to former minister Edwina Currie!

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