Here we go again – it’s council tax settling time … which means digging deeper in your pockets to buy less for more.
Boston Borough Council is proposing an increase of 2.86% which it seeks to mitigate by saying that it represents “less than just” 9p a week or £4.68 per household per year.
But of course we also have to pay Lincolnshire County Council another 3.95% which includes 2% for the social care ‘precept’ (there’s another new one) and Lincolnshire police from whom we still await a figure.
Interestingly, the greediest “council” of them all is the Boston Town Area Committee – BTACky for short) which purports to be a parish council for the town centre’s eight wards.
Things looked bad enough last year when the BTACkers chimed in with a precept that was 94.6% higher than the previous year – but for 2017/18 they want a stratospheric 281% increase – of £1 a week on a band D property.
The reason for this is BTACky’s apparent and recent thirst for power and stems from a need to have more say over the way the town centre is “managed.”
Yet by and large the money that the committee plans to spend will not directly benefit those living in the town centre – which was the original idea when the committee was created.
This has easily been overcome by a simple airbrushing of those terms and conditions, so that they long longer apply.
What hasn’t changed is that the town centre wards are among the poorest and most deprived in the borough – and whilst Worst Street managed to mitigate their increase to a “less than just” 9p a week, quite how they plan to present a more than unjust charge of almost £50 extra a year is anyone’s guess.
Most probably, they’ll ignore it – after all we’re only talking about the voters here, aren’t we?
When the increases were first mooted, we sent a round robin to all 14 members of the committee and a number of officers who were also involved.
One of the two replies we got came from the mayor Stephen Woodliffe, whose response had echoes of Marie Antoinette: “I take issue with your assertion that the extra precept charges will be imposed upon residents of the poorest wards in the town. The precept depends upon the valuation of the property and not upon its location. Thus, the greatest charge falls on those living in the highest rated band H properties, who pay much more than that of a band A property…
“… Looking to the future, it is my view that a charge of one pound a week on a band D property, and much less for a band A property, for BTAC would be a very reasonable charge to make to ensure that Boston remains an attractive pleasant place to live …”
The lion’s share of the money which these ninnies at BTAC are demanding is for spending on facilities such as Central Park and the town’s toilets – which under the old rules were charged to the council’s central funds as they benefited people from far beyond the town centre area.
The recent moves have served no other purpose than to bail out the leadership by making it appear that their targets for cuts are being met … when they are simply being dumped on to other areas.
Whilst the books are simmering nicely, and ahead of the final vote to set next year’s taxes, Worst Street is again offering on of is hapless public “consultations.”
It takes to form of two items – each above a box in which to write comments.
The first says ¨Please read the draft Budget Report 2017/18 (which alone runs to 7,000 words) and the associated appendices, if you have any comments on the draft budget, please comment below …”
The second reads: “We are also keen to hear what you feel the town centre priorities are, please comment below…”
It ends: “Following the public and other consultation processes, the 2017/18 budget will be presented to Cabinet and then formally approved by Full Council in February.”
Isn’t this last line – “presented to Cabinet and then formally approved by Full Council” – something of a giveaway
It seems to say “We are consulting you – and then doing as we please.”
We sincerely hope that all this interest in the town centre after so many hundreds of years will yield a result. Our last blog listed the new management appointments aimed at getting the ball rolling.
Then we have the BTAC chocolate teapot desperate to spend, spend, spend and act as paymaster for the shadowy and secretive Preposterous Boston Task and Finish Group.
But let’s not forget the equally ineffective Boston Town Team.
Fresh from its recent disastrous dalliance with last year’s Christmas lights fiasco – how can £35k produce such a feeble result – an advert has once again appeared for “an experienced part time Town/Event Co-ordinator to manage and promote the activities and events of Boston town.”
And they don’t want much, do they?
With so much responsibility for two days a week and £10 an hour – less than £8,000 a year, is it any wonder that the job has had to be re-advertised?
We hear of a similar problem at the Moulder Leisure Centre where they are advertising for casual receptionists at £7.47 an hour, as well as casual swimming instructors and casual leisure attendants at £8.81.
Low though the pay may be the responsibilities are much higher – and in some cases include supervision and safety of customers using the pools, and security checks of changing areas.
But here’s the catch: “The hours of work are on a zero hour's (sic) basis and you will be contacted as and when required. Work will be over various shifts including evenings and weekends.”
Such contracts are generally condemned for reasons of fairness – despite which huge numbers of employees are now employed using them – 900,000 at the last count.
They are controversial because staff are not able to rely on receiving a set amount of pay, making it difficult for them to plan their finances or to make big purchases such as buying a house – and in extreme cases some employees earn less that £1,000 a year.
Almost two years ago, Boston Borough Council was asked to consider paying its entire staff the living wage – which is higher than the national minimum wage – but rejected the idea by 25 votes to six.
At the time of the debate, it was understood that 45council employees received less than the living wage and it would cost £75,000 to end the practice.
Labour councillor Paul Gleeson said that the average wage for those living in the borough was £3,000 lower than East Lindsey and £5,000 below South Kesteven. But a Tory portfolio holder at the time, Mike Gilbert said: “I’m not sure the way forward is to hike up wages which are paid for by council tax payers.”
We know that our local “newspapers” struggle to fill space around Christmas time but their efforts sometimes reach nonsensical proportions.
This year, we have seen Christmas “messages” from the Vicar of Boston Stump – which is, of course, quite appropriate.
But do we really need messages from the Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, Lincolnshire’s Police and C rime Commissioner, the Chief Executive of LIVES, Boston’s Mayor and the Leader too?
Of course we don’t.
Which brings us seamlessly to the leader’s Christmas message in which ‘Nipper’ Bedford asks us to talk Boston up, not down – something that we take to mean to create a less than accurate image of the town by overlooking its problems to create a good appearance that isn’t quite what it seems.
This year, the leader has put his usual crayon aside and written his message with a quill pen in almost poetic terms.
“Negativity is the oil greasing the engine of despair which can choke with its black fumes of desolation,” he croons.
“Let’s park that engine in the sidings for 2017 and emerge on to the main line with a modern, sleek, green machine to take us to pastures fresh and new and full of optimism.”
Aside from the fact that we wonder who wrote this stuff for him, we think that it more closely resembles a fairy tale than a New Year message.
It’s been a busy weekend for Councillor David Brown after he switched political allegiances from UKIP to the Conservatives, where he will represent Wyberton alongside the Independent Conservative Richard Austin.
After last week’s move we asked him if he would like to outline his reasons to his electorate, but were simply told: “I have issued a press statement and this will be submitted to the local press for publication in the forthcoming week.”
However, he did share news that on Saturday a team distributed leaflets to around 400 houses in the Wyberton ward and would be doing some more in the coming days.
“I will be holding a surgery at Wyberton Parish Hall, Saturday 21st between 10am and noon. This will give the electorate the opportunity to meet me and discuss any issues they may have.”
He added: “Since being elected May 2015 I have read your blog every week. If the Conservatives were as bad as you portray them, I would certainly not have joined them.”
Given the phoney optimism which characterises the Tory leadership, we sincerely hope that Councillor Brown has not been seduced to switch horses from the viewpoint of an outsider looking in, when we know that a number of Tory insiders looking out have more sympathy with our views than his.
Councillor Brown’s defection showed Boston Borough Council as its open and transparent worst.
After we heard the news that a Kipper had gone over to the Tories we looked to the council website for details – but not surprisingly there weren’t any.
The only way to work out who had switched was to check the 2015 election result against the list of councillors – although that wouldn’t work if you ran the check against the council’s now outdated who’s who guide to the wards.
Presumably, Worst Street doesn’t consider it worth telling the 3,117 people who took the trouble to vote in Wyberton that their representation has changed.
Finally, we received an e-mail after our last blog from Councillor Mike Cooper, portfolio holder for Housing, Property and Community which read: “Just a few points to clarify your latest musings, there was no cabinet meeting between Christmas and New Year, the offices were closed and we certainly did not meet elsewhere, Why would we?
“The £950,000 that you seem to think the council is spending on the offices is in fact being funded by another department, directly from Government and is NOT anything to do with the Council Budget for Boston.
“Do please print this mail, with my name.”
Happy to oblige, Councillor Cooper – but in reply, we would make the following points.
As the council published the date of the cabinet meeting as being on Wednesday 30th December, we had no reason to believe that this was anything other than the case. Why would we?
And if an item lists £950,000 from the capital budget as “municipal building alterations” we take Worst Street’s word for it. Why wouldn’t we?
The problem here is the same as with the previous item – poor communication by Worst Street with the people who pay for it and are entitled to expect better.
You can write to us at email@example.com Your 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