Just so we don’t lose sight of this – the Great Brown Bin Rip Off is sneaking closer and closer towards Worst Street taxpayers – with the latest news dropped in a bombshell proposal at the recent meeting of Worst Street’s Corporate and Community scrutiny committee.
The committee was wading its way through a ‘refresh’ on the council’s ‘transformation’ programme – in this context meaning slashing hundreds of thousands of pounds from the budgets ... but not the one that pays councillors’ allowances, which has risen by almost 20%.
The item included the same innocuous reference that we highlighted some weeks ago as paving the way for a high increase in charges to remove our garden waste by upping the cost of the brown bin service.
As ever, our ‘open and transparent’ council was sly and opaque when push came to shove.
As we have seen no newspaper reports of the meeting, we expect that press was absent – which is mostly the case these days.
But luckily, an observer from the Blue Revolution party was intermittently keeping its promise to attend meetings and keep us informed.
“The second item was the transformation programme,” the report told us.
“This is the means by which the council will save one million pounds over the next few years.
“There will be a need to save £538,000 in 20/21 with about half of that coming from a review of environmental operation fees. Brown bin fees to you and me.
“The proposal, which was not available to the committee, was made public by Councillor Deborah Evans asking the committee to accept a proposal for a massive hike in the cost of collecting green waste in 20/21 from £30 to £45 pounds for one bin and a whopping (increase) of £30 to £45 pounds for a second bin.
“It wasn't clear where the figures produced by Councillor Evans had come from as they were not detailed in the committee papers.
“It was then explained that the leader, Councillor Aaron Spencer, had provided them along with some supplementary working out of costs and losses.
Councillor Evans' proposal also asked the committee to ask the government for more money.
“Two interesting points emerged from this: prior, that is, to the committee rejecting the hike in the cost of a second brown bin to £45.00.
“The first was that as this was Councillor Spencer's area of responsibility why was he not at the meeting to explain the details, and secondly why was there so little detail for the committee about how the transformation programme was to be engineered to achieve the budget savings required.”
The point here is that not a ‘saving’ – it is a radical, exceptional and excessive charge designed to offset cuts being made elsewhere.
And even though the committee took umbrage at the idea, it nonetheless agreed to recommend to the cabinet the full first bin charge proposal, and a ceiling of £20 on subsequent bins.
Quite why a ‘scrutiny’ committee is accepting a proposal on the fly and actually passing it – thus giving it substance – is anyone’s guess.
A look at the broad-brush figures proves the point that this is not a ‘saving’ but a penalty imposed on people whom Worst Street hopes will accept it because there is no real alternative but to bag up your own rubbish and cart it to the tip.
It’s called shooting fish in a barrel.
Back in 2015 when Worst Street weaselled out of its unambiguous promise that green waste collections would forever be free, a figure of £300,000 a year was given as the operational cost of disposing of garden waste.
The council claims around 15,500 customers for the brown bin service – so at the current £30 a bin charge that generates £450,000.
The proposed 50% price hike will bring in at least another £232,000 a year – bringing in a grand total of £680,000.
Given that inflation these past four years has been minimal, that’s a handsome profit of more than 100%.
Charges like this are simply outrageous and we hope that our councillors will not just nod them through with the usual docility that they demonstrate.
But they will – of that we have no doubt.
It is also worth noting that this is second time in a few weeks that leader Spencer has pushed through spending costing hundreds of thousands of pounds without resorting to the usual methods. The last one was the opening of the toilets 24 hours a day.
To add insult to injury, visit the Worst Street webshite for information on the collection of garden waste and you will be told: “For just £30 a year, no increase in the past four years, Boston Borough Council will take your garden waste away every fortnight from this April to the end of November and then again from the end of February, 2020, to the end of March, 2020.”
Yes, of course this is the current situation – but given the extreme likelihood that we are about to be royally screwed in our brown bin department, ought West Street not now to be preparing to soften the blow?
When the charges were first introduced, around 3,000 users of the service voted with their wheels and stopped using it.
Let’s hope that the taxpayers reject being taken for fools once again and show their disapproval in a similar way.
It was also ironic that after the first frisson of outrage when increased charges were mooted, the borough’s former ‘communications’ manager went on the attack by telling an individual who raised the issue on Facebook: “the meeting was held to agree to put the proposed £1 million savings required by austerity measures out for public consultation.
“After the meeting agreed this the draft transformation document (that's DRAFT as in nothing yet agreed) was placed on the council website together with the public consultation document so that anyone can register their views with the council.
“No secrecy, no slip of the tongue. It's all there, open and transparent, and the best way to get your opinions known is to comment via this, and not knee-jerk responses to social media soundbites.”
Open it was not – and transparent it has not turned out to be.
How misleading was that?
Last week we mentioned the expulsion of Bostonian Independents Group member Councillor Judy Welbourne for reasons that she can only guess at.
We now note that Boston Borough Council is listing her as having joined the other independent group on the council – comprising Councillors Alison and Richard Austin, one-time council leader Peter Bedford, Viven Edge (who was elected for UKIP only last May) and Stephen Woodliffe.
Ironically, this makes the flaky and shaky BiGgers smaller than the true independents – so perhaps a change of name ought to be considered.
Earlier we mentioned Councillor Spencer's spending sprees – one of which was the costly decision taken without reference to the committee responsible to open the town's publlic toilets around the clock.
We tried to hint at the lack of wisdom involved here by citing the borough's own problem history where the loos are concerned.
Would that the leader had read between our lines ...
How long can this be allowed to continue before the decision is reversed as rapidly as it was taken?
Certainly, Councillor Spencer was less than gleeful, telling BBC Radio Lincolnshire that he was “really, really, really angry” at what had happened.
“I've not been leader of the council for long and I'm listening to people, trying to address their problems. A subsection of the people, throw it back in the council's face.
“These people are ruining it for the majority ... ”
And – mangling his syntax a mite, he added: “I’m going to have to take the decision to potentially close them again.”
It was surely just co-incidence that the PE21 regeneration public exhibition was staged just as the announcement that Boston could get up to £25 million from the government’s £3.6 billion Towns Fund to support towns that have been left behind until now to build prosperous futures.
Also on the list was Skegness, Mablethorpe and Lincoln, which join Holbeach and Grantham from a different grant kitty.
So excited were our local Conservatives that they overlooked one important issue – Boston is not necessarily getting £25 million, although this didn’t stop them declaring otherwise.
Nor were they averse to covering themselves in glory.
Council leader Aaron Spencer told the world: “I’ve been working hard with Matt Warman MP to get this opportunity, and I’m delighted that we have been able to secure a proportion of this funding. I’m keen to encourage a positive working relationship throughout the Borough Council between all councillors, to ensure Boston moves in the right direction.”
Mr Warman, meanwhile, declared: “This is a huge testament to the great work of the council in Boston Borough, which will now work together with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to develop innovative regeneration plans.”
Announcing the grants, Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “I will now work with local people from the 100 communities announced today to agree proposals to invest up to £25 million in each place. I hope these deals will provide the investment and the impetus for long-term renewal ensuring each town can look to the future with a new optimism.
The government announcement also said that “communities, businesses and local leaders will now join forces to draw up ambitious plans to transform their town’s economic growth prospects with a focus on improved transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture.”
What now needs to be done is to ensure that – as intended – the planning for the future is a community thing and not just a job for Worst Street as Messrs Warman and Spencer seem to be telling us.
What has not been explained is the timescale for all this – nor who will pay the not inconsiderably cost of working us a set of proposals good enough to help Boston win the full £25m jackpot.
Earlier we mentioned the PE21 regeneration project, which we visited on its third and last day at the Guildhall.
According to Worst Street’s promotional video, the project is a ‘comprehensive and deliverable vision’ of the 10-acre site that’s the gateway to the town but underutilised and ‘underwhelming’
Worst Street came up wth the plan working with ‘urban planning experts’ One Public Estate – a national partnership between the Local Government Association and the Office of Government Property (OGP.) which is currently working with more than 300 councils on projects transforming local communities and public services right across the country.
In the video Councillor Spencer explained that the idea was to try to combat long-term issues that the town is going to face over ten to 15 years.
Richard Broadhead, Managing Director of Oldrids of Boston declared: “It’s about creating a place, a destination not just to attract people to Boston but also for them to stay longer.”
And later, he added: “It is important that people take part and share their views. Here’s an opportunity to get behind something that’s game-changing.”
In the Guildhall we were greeted by an exceptionally enthusiastic council officer who cheerfully deflected everything we could muster by way of concerns about the plans – which will combine green space, leisure, residential, NHS facilities, a new hotel, retail, plus a library and community venue.
We were particularly interested in the involvement of Oldrids MD – especially in light of the company’s increasing interest in Grantham, rather than Boston where it began life 215 years ago.
When Marks and Spencer announced the closure of its Boston store Mr Broadhead was quoted as saying: “This news is further evidence, if any were needed, that retail is changing at an unprecedented rate.
“Trading is currently extremely volatile, highly unpredictable and is proving to be hugely challenging for many retail companies across the UK, not just in Boston. Retailers are facing significant headwinds and must adapt and take difficult decisions as a result.
“We have been trading from Strait Bargate in Boston for over 200 years and our Oldrids town centre store is a hugely important part of our heritage.
“However, the simple fact is that stores such as our own will only exist whilst people support us by shopping locally.”
As we reported even earlier Oldrids went head to head with another developer to which will see both building huge outlets with a combined investment of £225 million within a mile of each other – in Grantham.
At the time an Oldrids executive was reported as saying then: “We are part of Grantham; we are important to Grantham and Grantham is important to us.”
It would be nice to hear something similar from the company about its future planned involvement in Boston and our PE21 project – especially in light of a signed piece in the Grantham Journal a few days ago marking 30 years of the Downton store in the town in which Mr Broadhead wrote: “I am optimistic for future for Downtown, and especially my plans for the next few years that include the development of the Downtown Grantham Designer Outlet, which, along with new Government funding initiatives, are vital elements within the continued re-generation of Grantham.
“With over nine per cent of the national workforce being employed within the retail sector, the power and influence of retailing affects us all – which is why we are determined that Downtown continues to be a hugely relevant business for Grantham and why regenerating our Downtown site is crucial.”
The headlines from our Guildhall visit included some telling bits of information.
Firstly, we learned that there is no cost figure on the plans.
Thinking back ten years or so – when a similar area of town was slated to become Merchants Quay – the suggested cost then was £85 million … which at today’s prices would be at least £106 million.
The money just allocated to Boston to bid for doesn’t cover regeneration projects such as PE21 – the use it is to be put to relates more to improving transport and broadband connectivity, and giving skills and culture in the town a boost.
How on earth will we find the sort of money to make the PE21 dream a reality?
We also raised at EYE-brow at a quote from Councillor Colin Davie – Lincolnshire County Council’s Executive Member for Economy and Place and. Greater Lincolnshire LEP board member.
He was quoted as saying: “I’m delighted to see the Government looking beyond London and recognising that our rural areas can make an important contribution to our national economy if given the right support.
“We know Lincolnshire has enormous potential, and this funding will give us the opportunity to prove what we can do.”
We hope that the “us” to whom he refers means Boston, Skegness, Mablethorpe and Lincoln, Grimsby and Scunthorpe – and that’s he’s not already seeing the money as part of the Clownty Hall slush fund.
There’s certainly enough to build another by-pass for Lincoln if they don’t have enough already.
But back to the Guildhall Show. And some of the other headlines.
Retail is dead – the coffee and wine bar approach is the way ahead (We hope that Mr Broadhead isn’t listening!)
The decline of Boston Market: people don't shop at markets like they used to.
The lack of the promised events in the ‘regenerated’ Market Place is due to lack of cash.
Negativity of social media users is helping to do the town down.
Apparently, owners of empty shops get gee-up calls almost every week – but absentee landlords don't care about improving them – and Marks and Spencer, which owns its premises, has not yet put the building on the market.
And remember how the former Clarks shoe shop was due to become a Canadian Second Cup coffee shop two years ago this month?
It seems the conversion work ceased due to discovery of ‘structural problems.’
But will it ever resume?
It was interesting to hear the view on the steadily declining market in Boston – the opinion that people don’t use markets as they used to.
Certainly, the income that Worst Street gets from the markets is falling – down from a target of £180,000 to £167,000 in 2017-2018 and by a further £23,500 in the last financial year to £144,500.
Earlier this year councillors commented on this decline, and the explanation was: “The reduction in markets income and decline in markets, which again followed a national trend, was due for review in the new year.
“One major problem Boston had was a neighbouring authority allowing a huge car boot sale which was also open to traders, every Saturday only seven miles from Boston: it impacted on the Boston Saturday market significantly.”
OK, these things happen; but why wait until next year to look at the issue?
According to the website Startups there are 723 markets around the UK, with more popping up around the country than ever before.
The site claims 120 stalls for Boston; a figure that somehow, we doubt – and we know that other markets in Lincolnshire and neighbouring counties continue to thrive and expand.
But at this rate, at a £25,000 a year decline, Boston will no longer have a market seven years from now.
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