Monday, 16 September 2019


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.

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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%.

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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.

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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.

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“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. 

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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%.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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How misleading was that?

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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.

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Ironically, this makes the flaky and shaky BiGgers smaller than the true independents – so perhaps a change of name ought to be considered.

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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.”
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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.”

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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.


You can write to us at boston.eye@googlemail.com
E– mails will be treated in confidence and published anonymously if requested.
Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com

We are on Twitter – visit @eye_boston

Monday, 9 September 2019

Bending the knee to public opinion is sometimes a good idea – but it is also something that needs thinking about rather than making a knee-jerk reaction.

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We mentioned last week the meeting of around 70 concerned residents who aired their views and grievances about the state of the town to the Chief Constable and PCC, our MP, the Worst Street leader Aaron Spencer (pictured left) and a Chief Inspector.
Scarcely had the air had time to cool when Councillor Spencer announced plans to open all (three) Boston Borough Council toilets – that’s Lincoln Lane, Park Gate and Cattle Market – on 24 hours a day a three-month trial, an experiment that started last Monday.

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The toilets in Boston have always been a fraught issue.
There was a time when Worst Street deemed them no longer affordable – with the original five costing £200k a year to run and the three that charged earning only £12,500.
We were also reminded that the council had no statutory responsibility to provide toilet facilities.

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Instead, it settled on dumping (no pun intended) the toilets on to the BTAC-ky budget – charging the costs to people living in the town centre area who probably use them least   and (long overdue) spending money on improvements.
Now BTAC-hee-hee taxpayers are taking a hiding yet again – as the decision to open the loos round-the-clock, will be an expensive one.
The full year costs to BTAC-ky are £140,000 – so the extra opening hours will cost a fortune.
Each toilet previously opened for 66 hours a week – but will now be open for an extra 14 hours Monday to Saturday and 18 on Sundays.
That's an extra 102 hours. 
Per toilet. 
Per week.
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As far as we can work out, before the toilets went 24-hour they cost around £35,000 a quarter to run.
But the additional cost of opening around the clock for three months will work out at nearly £89,000  an extra £54,000 ... just for the experimental period.
If the trial were deemed a success and retained, the annual cost would be a staggering £356,000   an eye-watering increase of £216,000 a year.
Isnt that too high a price to pay?
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Councillor Spencer concluded: “We as councillors share the frustration of the residents of this town and we all hope that this will encourage those who currently defecate and urinate in the street to think twice and use the facilities that are making available.”

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As the bard put it – “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”
But, clearly, memories in Worst Street are relatively short.
It’s only a few years since the council published a report containing some truly vile photos showing the disgusting state that the loos were left in.
Beneath the heading DEFILED – DEPRAVED Would you clean it up?  It cautioned readers: “Images connected with this article come with a warning: They show graphic scenes of the disgusting condition some have left Boston’s public toilets in.
“If you do not have a strong stomach then do not look at them.
“They are used to demonstrate that, despite the best efforts of council staff, some people persist in leaving visitors with the wrong impression; that public toilets in Boston are neglected and not maintained.”
And that was during normal, day-time use only.

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Does Councillor Spencer really suppose that 24-hour opening will see people queuing up in the wee small hours (again no pun intended) to use the loos in a neat and tidy manner and washing their hands afterwards?
We will see.

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One final point …
This decision to burden the town centre ward taxpayers with a massive hike in charges was taken by the leader “in consultation” with BTAC-ky chairman Councillor Paul Goodale.
Whilst we are sure than the remaining 13 members of the committee wouldn’t dare to oppose it, we must ask whether the urgency was so great that it couldnt have waited until a formal meeting – or at least a conference call to ensure that a majority was onside.
Between them the leader and chairman have done a Boris Johnson and torn up the rule book to try to meet public demands, which we think is the thin end of a particularly dangerous wedge.
We’ve just seen where that got us in parliament last week.

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The Bostonian Independents Group – BiG for short – is now a little smaller after one of its members was expelled in her absence.


Councillor Judith Welbourn reported the news on Facebook – telling her followers: “Just to let all my friends know that from last night I am no longer a member of the Boston Independent Group.
“Thank you, Brian Rush, Anne Dorrian, Colin Woodcock, Peter Watson and Neill John Hastie.
“Local politics is worse than Parliament.
“Hopefully I can still serve the people that elected me but at the minute unsure of my role.
“Do not like being stabbed in the back so beware I will fight back.”
To a follower who suggested that the expulsion might have been a misunderstanding she retorted: “No misunderstanding. They have been gunning for me for a while. Held a meeting last night and voted me off. Definitely not a misunderstanding.”
When the follower said: “I hope whoever this is will be made accountable. It's backstabbers we want gone, not good people ...” Councillor Welbourn replied  “Mainly Brian Rush and Anne Dorrian. I will fight back somehow.
In a later message, she added: “Unfortunately, there is no bullying policy within Boston Borough Council. I am not the first and probably won’t be the last.”
We asked Councillor Welbourn is she could shed any more light on the matter, but she told us: “At this present moment in time I am at a loss as to the real reasons behind it. so unfortunately, I cannot enlighten you at all.”

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We also asked Councillor Rush for a comment in his role as ‘spokesman’ for BiG, but by the time this week’s edition was put to bed, we had not received a reply.

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The decision to expel a colleague seems at odds with the published ethos of the BiG group, which clearly says: “Traditional party politics is fast becoming a thing of the past, the future is free Independent councillors, who truly and wholeheartedly represent the people of their ward.
“There are no party politics, just the conviction to do what is right.”
This seems to us to be a clear case of ‘party politics.’

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It’s not the first time that claims of bullying have been used in the same context as the Bostonian Independents.
We reported recently on a complaint  about one BiGger's treatment of another non-group councillor – although we didn't name BiG at the time  which the Worst Street hierarchy casually brushed aside (like almost every complaint made) with the explanation: “You have made reference to the council’s Bullying Policy ... This is not a supporting document that is included within the Boston Members’ Code of Conduct …
“ … This council is committed to providing a working environment for its entire staff that is comfortable and free from all forms of harassment. The council adopts a zero-tolerance approach towards harassment … 
“ …This is not applicable to elected members as they are not considered employees of the council.”
Which means in a nutshell that councillors can rough each other up as much as they please whilse the officer cadre sits by and ignores it.

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It was interesting to see Councillors Brian Rush and Anne ‘Hurricane’ Dorrian nominated as key players in the expulsion of a colleague – as this political dynamic duo is an historic one.
They first made headlines more than a decade ago, when they walked out of the Boston Bypass Independents and formed the Better Boston Group after on-going rows with the leadership of the day.
They subsequently made the news again after reporting a BBI councillor to the police because they suspected him of drink-driving.
Reports at the time said that Councillor Dorrian had driven past the man’s house and noticed his car was not there.
“Concerned he may be drinking, she searched the town for the car, and then the outskirts, finding it eventually in … Freiston,
“She called Councillor Rush and the two decided to follow him to his home after he left the pub around 3.15pm.
His ‘speed was erratic’ and he ‘cornered wildly’ the prosecution said.
“Councillors Dorrian and Rush called the police, who attended the man’s home and arrested him …”

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Last week we highlighted Boston Borough Council’s apparent inability to find project funding when other districts seem to have little by way of trouble.
A fresh example came up within days, when one of our district councils with Pilgrim Father/Mayflower connections scooped a major jackpot to promote their historic association with their area.

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Arts Council England granted West Lindsey District Council £100,000 to fund a series of events.
The money will provide ‘a host of arts and creative opportunities’ in Gainsborough as part of the ‘Mayflower 400’ project of events in 2020 – which marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth, UK to Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Gainsborough’s Illuminate event in November will open the anniversary year of the Mayflower voyage in Gainsborough and will be followed by an 18-month programme of activities, including some further key events throughout 2020.

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Did Boston apply for similar funding we wonder?
We dont know  and Woirst Street hasn't ever said.
But if they did, they didn’t succeed.

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The best that Boston has come up with – apart from a report that seems to have been little more than a talking shop – was to highlight a handout by the Mayflower 400 umbrella group telling us that: “New and exciting information will change how the Pilgrim story is viewed in Boston and how the historic town’s connections had a profound influence on the foundations of America.”
It continues: “Until now though it has been thought of as the port and market town where in 1607 a group of religious separatists with no connections to the town dramatically attempted to escape England, only to be betrayed and arrested. 
“New research reveals a very different story, uncovering a complex and compelling tale of intrigue and influence which enhances Boston’s importance from the wider beginnings of the Pilgrims through to founding and administration of Boston, Massachusetts, in 1630.
“Boston Guildhall, where the Pilgrims were famously tried and held after their betrayal in 1607, is developing a new Pilgrim and American themed exhibition which uncovers these new connections.”

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So, what’s the big secret that will change our take on history?
It’s still a big secret as far as we can tell.
Another window of opportunity for publicity is lost when the time to exploit it is now.

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Never mind, we’re sure it won’t be long before the council begins to draw up a list of which lucky people will be enjoying a trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts, at the taxpayers’ expense.

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We mentioned Gainsborough and money in the same sentence just now – and here we go again.
A local social housing provider wants to build a £20 million affordable housing scheme in Gainsborough to help West Lindsey District Council regenerate the town, and the council has been awarded £2.1m by the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership to enable the development.

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Boston is always banging on about the need for housing – but that seems to be about as far as it goes.
Oops – that’s not quite right …

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It’s almost five years to the day that the former Boston Mayflower announced that it had secured a £165 million fund to help pay for 500 new homes in Boston.
The money was raised from international investors, and Mayflower – now called Lincolnshire Housing Partnership after merging with Shoreline Housing Partnership early last year – was the first in the country to secure funding from two sources at the same time, a move which meant it was able to borrow the money at a low interest rate.
Needless to say, the news was enthusiastically welcomed at Worst Street at the time, but since – as has happened so often down the years  the council has taken its eye off the ball and failed to ask such basic questions as: where are all these houses after all this time?
Certainly nothing can be found in an historic check of planning applications, so we guess that the idea simply died the death.

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Monday last week saw councils from all over the country blowing their own trumpet with a Twitter stunt called ‘Councils Can’ day – “to shine a light on all the amazing things local government does each and every day for our communities” ahead of the Wednesday spending round announcement for the year ahead.
Did we say councils from all over the country?
Well, although a number of districts in Lincolnshire paraded their achievements – guess what?
There was no sign of a contribution from Boston Borough Council.
Nothing to shout about, perhaps?
But by the end of the day almost 3,500 tweets from around 1,800 councils and individuals reached nearly seven million people.
Couldn’t Worst Street have found one good word to say about itself?

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That said, there’s been a lot of shouting about the PE21 project and how it is going to transform Boston.
Unfortunately, as we reported last week there’s a big question mark over where the money might come from but this hasn’t stopped Worst Street making a video starring council officers, councillors and the great and the good of the town whose use of the words fantastic and excited reached epic proportions.

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One performer in the video for whom the development would be a dream come true is the tourism portfolio holder Alistair Arundel.
Ten years ago, he was just plain Mr Arundel when he bought the burnt-out Regal Centre on West Street and turned it into a car park – around the time the area was last being slated for redevelopment as Merchants Quay.
“The great news for Boston is there's an end to the eyesore,” he was reported to have said at the time.
“I intend to try and sell it or redevelop it, depending on the economic situation.”
He was quoted as saying that his future plans – at an estimated cost of £2.8 million – would include shops on the ground floor, parking with around 70 spaces on the first floor and modern flats in the floors above, if he could not find a buyer.
“It (the economic situation) does worry me but the thing is it cannot last forever. I like to look on the bright side. Things will go on.”

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And go on they have. The site beside Bond Street – which according to the Land Registry was later bought for £230,000 by Boston Car Parks LLP in 2012 – is now earmarked for retail use at street level with residential accommodation over … and probably worth a whole lot more than when it was last sold..

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We dropped into the PE21 show at the Guildhall last Friday – too late for a proper report, but we had an interesting time nonetheless.
More next week.
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Also too late for a detailed report was Friday's news that Boston – along with Skegness, Mablethorpe and Lincoln – has at last made the grade (third time lucky) for some big-time funding – winning up to £25 million from the governments' £3.6 billion Towns Fund to “support towns to build prosperous futures.”
More on that next week as well.

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In November last year, we drew attention to a street sign that made mockery of a major event because no-one bothered to check it properly.


If ‘Restictions’ on the ‘1th November’ weren’t bad enough then how about this new example … sent in by a reader.


We hope whomever wrote last year’s sign wasn’t responsible for writin this year’s howler.
If so – perhaps he should have gone to Specsavers!
  


You can write to us at boston.eye@googlemail.com
E– mails will be treated in confidence and published anonymously if requested.
Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com

We are on Twitter – visit @eye_boston

Monday, 2 September 2019

Things just seem to go from bid to worse as far as Boston’s efforts to win money to rescue its ailing town centre are concerned.

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Last week saw the government announce another 50 towns to benefit from the £1 billion Future High Streets Fund – which will join 50 successful areas already shortlisted to develop plans to reinvent their high streets.
The 100 victors will receive up to £150,000 to work up detailed project proposals based on their initial plans and the most attractive will move on to the big money stakes to do the job.

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The fund was mentioned exactly two months ago – when council leader Aaron Spencer announced his ‘vision’ for the town (pictured above)  – “a massive redevelopment project to dramatically improve fortunes and perceptions.”
It was billed as a joint public and private partnership plan to redesign and redevelop an area between the railway station and the river, north of West Street … and the announcement proclaimed: “A bid for finance has already been lodged with the Government’s Future High Streets Fund and another bid is being worked on in readiness for an application to the Stronger Towns Fund. The £1.6 billion Stronger Towns Fund targets places that have not shared in the proceeds of growth in the same way as more prosperous parts of the country. It will be used to create new jobs; help train local people and boost economic activity – with communities having a say on how the money is spent.”

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As we pointed out at the time, the plan covered virtually the self-same area of the town that failed to be transformed into the so-called Merchants Quay ten years ago after the ‘private’ half of the partnership pulled out and subsequently went bust.

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Within days of Councillor Spencer’s upbeat announcement, the first tranche of successful bids for the Future High Streets Fund was announced – and Boston was not among the successful candidates.
We would like to think that after that first failure the bid was polished and resubmitted – but if that was the case, then disaster has struck for a second time.

***

However, at least two Lincolnshire district councils are set to benefit – South Holland has won funding for Holbeach, and South Kesteven for Grantham.
And why might that be?
Because both of these councils have adopted an aggressive, go-ahead attitude to promote, expand and improve the towns in their bailiwick – in much the opposite way to Boston.

***

That leaves the £1.6 billion Stronger Towns Fund – announced in March – as the port of last resort.
A total of £1 billion will be allocated using a needs-based formula with £583 million going to towns across the North and just £322 million to communities in the Midlands – which is certain to make the competition tough.
There doesn’t yet appear to be a timescale for the announcement of grants – so we can only wait and see.

***

We would have thought that Boston might have stood a better chance with the high streets fund – and are regrettably tending to the opinion that our highly-paid fancily-titled officers tasked with making Boston a better place are simply not up to the job.

***

We have often pointed out how hard it is to keep track of what’s going on in Worst Street these days – largely because we believe that the people in charge don’t want us to.
So, it was interesting to find the statement of allowances for councillors for the 2018-2019 financial year and compare them with the previous 12 months.
Regular readers will remember that the most recent review by the shadowy “Independent Remuneration Panel” – almost two years ago – produced a report that appeared to acknowledge the common view that councillors … many of them certainly … are overpaid for the work they carry out.

***

When the committee met it declared that basic allowances should stay the same.
But before we all breathed a sigh of relief – the panel had some tasty icing to top off the councillors’ cake.
“The main focus for the Independent Remuneration Panel, when considering the levels of special responsibility allowance, was to try and [sic] achieve a fair and equitable scheme, recognising the responsibilities and time commitment required for each position and being sufficient to compensate an average working person who may be required to take unpaid leave to carry out such duties.
“The guidance for SRAs states that the positions which receive special responsibility allowances should have significant responsibility attached to them.”

***

And this is what they came up with …


So far so good – but just look at the difference it has made.
In 2017-2018 allowance payments totalled £177,991.98 – and were doled out accordingly.


But what a difference a year makes.
For 2018-2019 total of £211,259.98 found its way into the civic pockets of our representatives.


That’s an increase in the allowances total paid to councillors of 18.7%.
That’s around ten times the rate of inflation.
That’s the equivalent of almost 200 houses paying band A council tax.
That’s an extra £91 a day of your money going into councillors’ pockets.
It brings the total paid in allowances annually to almost £600 a day – seven days a week, 365 days a year.
But they deserve it, don’t they?

***

Or do they?
The biggest spending committee these days is BTAC-hee-hee – which is supposed to be making the town a better place for us all.
A couple of weeks ago saw the first real meeting of the committee – the previous June session was just a post-election potboiler that appointed a chairman as well as other housekeeping duties.

***

The meeting heard that again the committee was awash with money – largely due to successive council tax increases of 94.6% in 2016 and 185% the following year
A report said that the opening balance saw the committee’s reserves at 1st April as £269,419 (comprising £70,000 as the minimum to be held to allow for
‘contingencies’ – plus £199,419 for various projects
“The forecasted [sic] closing balance on BTAC’s reserve monies is £121,638 at 31st March 2020.”

***

After it approved the colossal tax hikes, the committee decided to meet monthly – but has now reverted to once every two months … with a disappointingly thin and dreary agenda.
In fact, the principal item was a report on the work of the BTAC town centre operatives – who seem mostly to have confined themselves to repairing vandalism.
The operatives are funded by BTAC-ky – but as many readers will recall are doing a job that was formerly the responsibility of Worst Street Central … until services were cut and the cost subsequently inflicted separately on town centre taxpayers.

***

It wouldn’t be so bad if BTAC occasionally stuck to its original brief – which was to work for the overall benefit of the wards that comprise the town centre.
But it does not.
All the money, time and effort goes on a tiny central area and the park – while the rest of the residents (many of whom live in some of the poorest wards in the borough) are effectively told to stick their heads up a bear’s bum.
Sadly, the same is true of Boston Big Local – which was meant to spend its £1m of lottery cash on these poorer areas but has persistently acted as a paymaster for Worst Street – despite not being supposed to.

***

So, a poor meeting with little business – and the notable absence of two of its 14 members.
Ironically, the missing duo comprised both members of Boston BiG’s Skirbeck Ward – Councillors Colin Woodcock, who’s the BTAC-ky vice chairman and Anne Dorrian.

***

We say ironically, because the pair set up a blog for themselves on which they gave a categoric promise …


“We PROMISE to TURN UP, to REPRESENT YOU and to be HONEST and ACCOUNTABLE in the process.”
No ambiguity there – just a broken promise right at the start of their term of office.
And after a blazing start – with blog entries on March 21st and 25th, May 19th (twice) and 26th, then June 25th – the rest is silence … not a peep for more than two months.

***

Meanwhile, there was confusion at BTAC-ky over the progress of the task and finish group set up to examine Boston’s night-time economy – which swings into action once the public lavatories have closed.
Another BiGger – Neill Hastie – was widely assumed to be the chairman of this group, but we are told that he surprised the meeting by calling for a progress report from officers.
There’s a word for it – chairmanesia.
We’re told that it had to be patiently explained that it was the job of the chairman to establish the group, set the agenda, run the meetings and supervise the eventual recommendations, as these things don’t happen by magic.

***

However, all this has apparently created a window of opportunity for Boston Police – who after years of looking the other way a lot of the time have suddenly cottoned on to what people are talking about – and are surely not taking the chance to plan a pre-emptive strike.
Market Day on Wednesday 21st August – the day of the BTAC-ky meeting – saw the town centre seething with boys and girls in blue doing … er … exactly what we would expect girls and boys in blue be doing.

What an amazing co-incidence – especially considering that not long before this swoop the police seemed to be implying that Boston was almost anti-social behaviour free.

***

Then came a follow-up tweet.


We especially liked the hash codes attached to underline the point that Boston does have a police service after all – #yourpolice #wearelistening … and one that we thought was rather over-egging the pudding #hereeveryday.

***

The claim that this was not a one-off was another excessive use of egg in our view, and we can now no longer recall how many times over the years newly-appointed beat officers told our local ‘newspapers’ that they were going to ‘clamp down’ on such things as cycling on pavements and in the pedestrian precincts with whatever was done (if anything) proving so short-lived as to be almost extinct from the start.

***

In fact, just a week later – last Wednesday 28th – things looked completely different. As we trawled the market at the same time as the previous week, there was not a person in blue to be seen, which somehow did not surprise us.
And the Facebook page set up to record incidents of street drinking, fouling andanti-social behaviour was doing a roaring trade as usual ...  
Worse still, a reader told us of a serious episode of drinking and general anti-social activity in the area between the entrance to the Stump and the former Tory offices.
You know the spot ... right across the river and within sight and sound of the town’s police station.
The same day there was major vandalism at the town’s cinema and a couple of back-packing youths were seen on the roof of the former HSBC bank – but apparently attempts to interest the police were unsuccessful.
Ironically, all this occurred on the day that a meeting of concerned residents drew a big crowd and a top table comprising the Chief Constable and PCC our MP, the Worst Street leader and a Chief Inspector.
We haven yet digested any accounts of the meeting – but we can guess at the likely outcome …

***

Our garden waste bin recently fell victim to one of Worst Street’s hi-tech ‘freighters’ (dustcarts) which saw it split lengthways and in need of replacement.
Yes, we know that there are probably no local companies that make wheelie bins so it’s obviously not possible to benefit the Boston economy.


But … as we teeter on the brink of leaving Europe at long last, we have to ask – would it not have been possible to buy Boston’s bins from a company that made them closer to home rather than … GERMANY?


***

Finally – a very late entry to our caption competition which featured council leader Aaron Spencer and tourism portfolio holder Alistair Arundell on a circular bicycle.
As we said – whilst it came in late it was too good to ignore … so here it is.




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