Friday, 30 September 2011

Our Friday miscellany
of the week's
news and events
click to enlarge photo
Part one of the Boston Market Place refurbishment is  literally grinding to a close and as the barriers began to disappear, the new look pavement area has become visible (see our picture on the right.) We appreciate that memory is a funny old thing and can often be deceptive, but quite frankly, we are pushed to see much by way of a difference!
click to enlarge photo
Meanwhile the area has another shopping casualty in the shape of the Thornton’s chocolate shop, which closed last weekend. As you can see from our photo on the left, it is no more – and the nearest outlet is now at Springfields in Spalding. In some ways the closure was to be expected, as Thorntons announced at the end of June that it would shut up to 180 shops over the coming three years following a strategic review of its business  -and the Boston shop never seemed especially busy. But it is perhaps significant that it was among the first to go – another casualty of the Market Place debacle, perhaps?
Is Boston Borough Council attempting a little spin doctoring? The day after it agreed to extend Chief Executive Richard Harbord’s contract by 18 months, an announcement appeared on the council's website. It was followed by  a second announcement from the man himself -  trumpeting that the council had received a clean bill of health from the Audit Commission for its value for money and governance arrangements. In fact that information had been available some time earlier - in the commission’s annual governance report presented to the borough’s Audit Committee and published on the council's website. Granted, it had to be officially rubber stamped, but the headline news was the same, and it seems to us that the timing was just a little too convenient.
Meanwhile, we are told that Mr Harbord’s extended stay will allow time for future permanent chief executive arrangements to be made. Council leader Peter Bedford said that within six months the council will start looking for a new boss and added that it was clear it could no longer sustain a full-time post – so talks will be held with neighbouring authorities about sharing a chief executive. Bad news for the hangers-on at Worst Street, who may have hoped that things might go their way by default!  Councillor Bedford also told cost conscious council taxpayers that, under Mr Harbord’s new contract, the bill would fall by three-and-a-half per cent. That’s all right then – his £600 a day fee for 15 days work a month will reduce by £21 a day - to a penurious £579 – plus, of course, some not inconsiderable expenses.
Mind you, even a pay packet such as that pales into insignificance beside the one handed to our local MP Mark Simmonds according to this week’s Private Eye.
click to enlarge photo
According to the House of Commons register of MP’s interests, Mr Simmonds listed his role as Strategic adviser to Circle Healthcare (social enterprise), on 12th January 2010. He is paid £12,500 per quarter for 10 hours work a month. Calculated as a 37 hour weekly pay rate, that comes to an eye watering £14,583!
Back to the Chief Executive business - and we wonder which neighbouring local authority Boston might share the job with, as there are only two. Terry Huggins already has plenty on his plate with two councils to juggle with – South Holland and Breckland – which have things in common … unlike Boston. Mr Huggins is also a director of Compass Point Business Services, a joint South Holland and East Lindsey district council enterprise, which shares services and hires out its talents – although according to Private Eye, they have yet to secure a single contract. That leaves East Lindsey, which, with an area of 1,760 km²,  is the fifth largest district in England. Boston, at 360 km², is not only tiny, but has little in common with its bigger neighbour. Aside from that, Boston has already hired out its Section 151 officer ti East Lindsey on a job share -  and we think that a further share might complicate things. Perhaps East Lindsey could just take us over? Without prejudging the issue, we expect that once again – given the principal players - it will all end in tears.
Tomorrow is Lincolnshire Day! What, we hear you cry? Well it’s the day when Lincolnshire celebrates its Lincolnshire-nessbrute and beastly shire,  and all that sort of thing. But not in Boston, apparently. As far as we can tell no events are planned to mark the day - which we think is twice as many as last year!
The latest fallout from the Mail on Sunday/Peter Hitchens report debate appears on one of our local Facebook  pages  -  used by English Democrat Councillor Elliott Fountain ... who is campaigning for a referendum to vote on the idea of an elected Mayor for Boston. A supporter asks: “How many of you would and your friends would be willing to turn out to do a protest march through Boston town centre in protest at the mass immigration we have had to put up with and to show we’re sick of it? It's time to take action as we all moan about them, so would you be willing to do your bit if it was organised? Councillor Fountain has replied: “If the numbers are high enough and it can be guaranteed that it will be a peaceful protest organised in a good manner then I will consider helping and supporting it and getting people to join. Many people have been talking about this lately and people want to show they’re upset someway. I would want to see good numbers and a good show of support by a good number of people. I would like to see 2,000-plus.”

A separate group has also been set up – see photo (above) The Boston Protest March Group claims to have 1,641 supporters.
This week’s local newspapers report the graffiti vandals responsible for 100 separate incidents of defacement. Given that Boston has an elaborate, extensive and expensive CCTV system, we wonder how these people managed to slip through the net. Were the cameras too busy looking for people dropping litter, we wonder? And what about the painting of a building next to the anti-smoking campaign office in Strait Bargate? It’s claimed that it must have taken some time and involved up to three people. Now we hear that the police plan to hawk photos of the graffiti around local schools and colleges to try to identify the culprits. If they got out on the streets more, they might possibly catch these people red handed!
The issue of keeping electors informed through open and transparent local government was touched on in yesterday’s blog. In the minutes of July’s full council, Leader Peter Bedford explained that if it was necessary  (ho, ho) to make a report exempt from publication, - which means throwing the public and press out of the room - a covering briefing note would be made available giving an overview of the subject and recommendations. We wonder if he can explain why this promise was not kept in regard to the item concerning the future role of the Chief Executive. This item was debated at last Monday’s full council meeting, having been exempted until a few hours before the meeting itself, when it was mysteriously released. The agenda was in the public domain for at least a week before that – without a covering note!
And as an aside, we wonder whether councillors could think twice before they refer to the people who put them into office – and whom they theoretically “serve” – as members of the public? In a guide to electors, Peterborough City Council sums up the situation succinctly when it tells visitors to its website “Councillors are members of the public who are elected to represent the views of the people …” In other words they are no different from the rest of us – even though we are sure that many of our local great and good would argue otherwise. Councillors are no more than members of the public who have successfully put themselves forward for service and have no more rights or privileges than we ordinary folk – though judging by the tidal wave of pomposity we have heard from some members of Boston Borough Council recently, a reminder or two might be timely.
We appreciate that feelings run high when local landmarks come under threat, but think that people got a little over-excited by the plans to demolish the Conway School in Boston and replace it with housing. The school was established in 1851 in George Street, and sometime between then and 1905 moved to Tunnard Street. We think that it was right to reject the plans in their present form but are also sure that a satisfactory alternative can be devised. Demolishing the school will only cause significant harm to the Boston Conservation Area and the Centenary Methodist Church if the wrong plans are approved. The fact is that the school building is neither particularly old, nor particularly attractive. Where is the harm if it were removed and replaced with a sympathetic development - perhaps incorporating some of the original building? And who can honestly say that the streetscape is currently enhanced by the view of the charity shop pictured below, left?
A couple of other things, whilst we’re banging on. To use the word sacrilegious to describe the idea of removing this building is rather over-egging the pudding. Sacrilege is defined as desecration, profanation, misuse, or theft of something sacred  – which surely does not apply to the school – even though it is owned by the Parish of Boston. We also think that Councillor Brian Rush was misquoted by the Boston Target when he reportedly said: “I would be loathed to knock down such a beautiful building.” It may well be true, but we are sure that he probably said he would be loath to do such a thing. One other quote that did concern us was attributed to Boston town centre supremo Councillor Derek Richmond, who said: “We can’t afford to lose these buildings. It’s our heritage and that’s about all Boston has going for it at the moment. Such negativity from someone holding such an important position of authority beggars belief!
Finally, we see that the editor of the Boston Standard defends anonymity for the paper’s latest columnist – because it allows freedom of expression without fear of retribution. We think that so far the only retribution that this writer might be in danger of is from lovers of the English language, angered at seeing it mauled on a weekly basis. And if it is really necessary to have a Poetry Corner in the paper, then could that be checked by the sub editors (assuming there are any these days) as well?

No apostrophes. Baton instead of batten. Good grief, we’re starting to sound like their columnist!

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Thursday, 29 September 2011

What’s cooking dear?
Not a council meeting -
that’s for sure!

A delightful accompaniment this week’s Boston Borough Council agenda was the minutes of the previous meeting of 11th July – which gave an interesting insight into the leadership’s attitude to what it considers to be openness and transparency … and also demonstrated the use of the written answer as an escape route after one is painted into a corner by awkward questioning.
BDI Councillor Alison Austin raised the first question to leader Peter Bedford, asking for confirmation that his administration was committed to making the council’s decision making processes more accessible and transparent to the public?
Councillor Bedford – not a man to use two words when one will do  - came back with a snappy …
Back to Councillor Austin, who noted that decision making processes are more transparent when they are accessible to the public, and  asked why Planning Committee meeting times had been changed to 2pm – with the barbed remark: “Is it a chance to revert to when only retired people were councillors?”
Time for the first dodge of the day.
Councillor Bedford’s reply was that Independent Councillor Brian Rush had raised a similar question to the Chairman of the Planning Committee, “and I will leave it to him to respond to that.”
But as far as accessibility and transparency was concerned, he was sure that all members would welcome more involvement from the public within the provisions allowed under the constitution, such as public questions, deputations and petitions.
If it was necessary to make a report exempt, a covering briefing note would be made available to the press and public - giving an overview of the subject matter and recommendations.
Back to the timing of planning meetings, and Councillor Brian Rush.
He asked committee chairman Colin Brotherton how and when he consulted with elected members on the move of meetings from 6.30pm to, and why he thought it better for the people of Boston?
Councillor Brotherton said there was no significant increase in public attendance when the meetings started later, and it didn’t necessarily mean it was more convenient for the public to attend.
They also had to consider the costs to applicants if their agents or representatives had to attend out of hours and also council officers, who accumulated time off when they attended evening meetings.
But Councillor Rush wasn’t having any of it.
He pointed out that he had merely asked for an all member discussion
“You refused. You, a former independent councillor, must now be missing the sweet taste of political freedom.
“This change had nothing to do with what was best for Boston. What you did was pander to the more senior members of your party, who like to nod off after tea.
Come on, Councillor Brotherton, you are among friends, the decision was not yours was it, you succumbed to the party whip didn’t you?”
Time for dodge number two.
I will provide a written response to the question.”
Councillor Rush then turned his spotlight on Mayor Mary Wright – with an apparently harmless opening gambit congratulating her on becoming a “member of a very exclusive club.”
It turns out that after nearly 500 male Mayors, Councillor Wright is only our ninth Lady Mayor, and Councillor Rush baited his trap by asking if she would agree that “major strides” had been made by the council, which had greatly improved the inclusion of female politicians.
Mayor Mary fell for it, and launched into a waffle about the efforts of female councillors themselves
But we doubt whether the next question was what she was expecting.
“Can I remind you what you said at Planning on the 25th May, when you also rejected my request for a discussion, as did Councillor Gunter and others of your party? This is what you said … ‘women have far more important things to do, like cook dinner and look after their husbands and families than attend meetings in the evenings.
Does that not dilute the importance of what we do as councillors? Is it not disparaging to the women of today, and indeed offensive to men who do share in the family and household routines, and no longer expect to be waited on hand and foot.
All of you declared that your own convenience was more important, than that of the people you represent.
“Madam Mayor, would you agree that the implications of the opinion you gave, drags female equality back into the dark ages. Will you please explain your comment, or apologise for your thoughtlessness?”
Time for dodge number three: “I make no apology, and will provide a written response.”
For now, we are lost for words – but we’ll provide a written response in due course!

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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Columnist Peter Hitchens
Technical Hitchens
rebuffs leader’s

We mentioned last Friday - and again on Sunday - the reaction of Boston Borough Council leader Peter Bedford to the four-page feature in the Mail on Sunday by their controversial columnist Peter Hitchens – which was dismissed in an uncharacteristically fluent statement as “clichéd, jaundiced, inaccurate and one-sided” - before the respected and beloved leader then invited Mr Hitchens to revisit Boston to meet people working to make the town a better place to live.
We had also been critical of Peter Hitchens’s piece – though not in such strong terms - and were surprised to receive an e-mail from him after “a friend” drew his attention to Boston Eye.
We’ll spare you the details, but we debated various issues over a number of hours before reaching something of a truce.
On the charge of lack of balance, he told us: “I specifically and rather pointedly don’t attack the local authorities for what has happened, or for their handling of the matter. I don’t say nobody is doing anything about it. I say that the local people have virtually no say, for or against, over what has happened to them, which results from decisions taken elsewhere. I really cannot see what rule, moral or journalistic, obliges me to seek boilerplate on-the-record self-serving quotes from people I haven’t even mentioned, let alone attacked ... such things take up valuable space better used for reporting the truth.”
Whilst we were in contact, we mentioned our view that Mr Hitchens would be unlikely to take up Councillor Bedford’s invitation to come back to Boston.
“I’m working on it." he told us. "I like Boston and would happily visit it at any time, but I feel I have written as much as I wish to say about it for some time, and am more than happy with its accuracy and truth.
“But I am slightly baffled as to what right or authority he has to ‘invite’ me anywhere.
I am also puzzled as to what authority he has to make these comments.
Does he - on this or any other matter - speak for the people of the town? 
"Did they elect him to behave in this fashion?
"Do they wish him to continue to do so?
“On the first point, we still have freedom of movement in this country, and it seems to me that I can come and go to Boston whenever I fancy.
I reject his implication that I didn’t do a proper job the first time I came, and can produce correspondence from Bostonians who think that I got it dead right.
He plainly doesn’t speak for them.
Perhaps I should invite him to take a proper look at the town of which he is council leader, before loudly denouncing perfectly accurate and truthful articles on the Lincolnshire airwaves and in the local papers.
“I never said anything about him or his council in my article. But he has chosen to have a spat with me, which I didn’t seek but cannot wholly ignore.
"The BBC says he called my article ‘disgusting’.
“If this is so – and he hasn’t yet taken the opportunity to deny it – then it is hard for me to treat his ‘invitation’ as the friendly and helpful action it purports to be.”
In a later e-mail, Mr Hitchens added: “By the way, councillor whatshisname has now told me he has found an inaccuracy in my article. The explosion in the illegal distillery couldn’t be heard five miles away. Bang to rights! It’s a fair cop! I got it out of The Independent. The whole article collapses as a result. I have ‘invited’ him to read my article properly, as he doesn’t seem to have done it properly the first time.
“I thought, and continue to think, that the article was highly sympathetic to the plight of all involved. I defy anyone to show otherwise …
Mail on Sunday's Review feature of 18th September
“That is why I am so exasperated by this silly carping. "What these people object to is that it was written at all.”
Peter Hitchens’s article also appears on the Mail Online website in the Rightminds section, with this note attached: “The following article was published on Sunday 18th September in the Mail on Sunday. It has aroused a certain amount of controversy in Boston itself. The leader of the Borough Council has attacked it as 'clichéd, jaundiced, inaccurate and one-sided'. I have also received messages from Boston residents endorsing its message. Obviously it has a wider application, as many parts of Britain are now experiencing very large scale migration. I have posted it here so that it can be more easily found by those who are interested in discussing this important subject.”
You can read it by clicking here   and you can also read comments left by others.
Finally, we note with amusement that the “friend” who alerted Mr Hitchens to our blog was local landlady and former Boston Borough Councillor Anne Dorrian.
As a one time councillor she may  presumably have thought that this keeps her in some sort of “loop” – although we have to say that if this was the case, the idea seems more loopy than anything else!

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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Councillor Brian Rush
      Fears for Boston are back after
behaviour of
new administration

Last week’s Boston Borough Council Scrutiny Committee debate rejected a call to take another look at the £200,000 Cabinet decision to make the Geoff Moulder training pool available to the Witham Schools Federation and the Boston Amateur Swimming Club.
The vote was not surprising, as the Conservatives not only have a majority on the council but also on the committee, and it would have been like turkeys voting for Christmas had the vote gone any other way.
We had heard that the meeting was not exactly amicable or well organised, but it seems that things were worse then we feared.
Independent Councillor Brian Rush sat in on the meeting and was so appalled by what went on that he has written to Boston Eye about it.
Here’s what he had to say - in what he has asked us to make clear is a “personal view of the meeting from the sidelines”:
“What is going on within the ruling group at Boston Borough Council?
“After what I have seen, I am in fear again for the future of our town and borough.
“I have no reservations whatsoever about the integrity of either the Witham Schools Federation nor Boston Amateur Swimming Club, and their aspirations to reopen the training pool, in fact this should have been supported the last time it was offered.
“What is very worrying is the reaction by members of the new administration to the first Call-In of their Cabinet’s decision to facilitate the re-opening of the training pool.
“Their behaviour was a disgrace.
Councillor Peter Bedford, as Leader of this council, needs to re-assess the whole structure of his selections in both Cabinet and committees, or at least remind his members that democracy is not the gift of the largest political group.
“Of course what is now happening will be less surprising if we first remind ourselves of the rumours that were flying about pre election - one of which was, that if elected, Councillor Raymond Singleton-Maguire was sure to become the next Leader!
“That, as they say was a given, supposedly until some powerful personalities, unimpressed by this selection, apparently had a word!
“Then we heard that Councillor Peter Bedford was persuaded to take the reins, declaring, it would only be for two years!
“A little later this generous offer was followed by yet another change of heart. It would, after all, be for four years!
“I don’t for sure know if this debacle was true, but this kind of a beginning was hardly likely to inspire confidence, in an already disillusioned electorate.
“It is very worrying, but this seems to be a continuing disorganisation that does not bode well - as the following little farce will indicate.
“Is it not a reasonable expectation that in the absence of a regular chairman of any committee that the vice chair adopts the role?
“I think most would expect so and agree. Unfortunately this appears not to be the case within our Scrutiny Committees at the Call-In of the Training Pool.
“I need to first to defend a very young and inexperienced Conservative, Councillor Aaron Spencer.
“This young man had obviously been put forward, after election, by his group, to serve as Vice Chair of the Performance Review Committee.
“I have since gotten to know him, and genuinely admire him.
“I was even more impressed by his bravery and honesty, in declaring that he did not feel able to fulfil the Chairman’s role on this particular occasion.
“So we have to regard as questionable, the lack of foresight shown by his leaders - those who failed to recognise, or chose to ignore, his youthful limitations.
“I make no apologies for having drawn attention to the fact that it was improper of them to have failed to address the protocols of committee by selecting a Vice Chair, who by his own honest admission, did not feel capable of taking the Chair.
“Clearly his initial appointment was in the leadership’s pursuit of maintaining their political status quo!
“Unfortunately, the selected substitute, Councillor Gurdip Samra (pictured right)  having accepted the position of Chair, could not do so without making an uncalled for arrogant and possibly disrespectful comment, in response to what I had considered was a reasonable and proper observation regarding committee structures.
“It was about to get worse!
“My understanding over the last four plus years in council is that ‘Pink means Private’ and indeed the back half of the Call-In papers were indeed pink, thereby discouraging the interested public from attending.
“Councillor Alison Austin, in her presentation, made reference to an item, within this Pink back half, and no one took a blind bit of notice that our local press reporter was scribbling away in the corner.
“Funny though, when attention was finally drawn to her presence, our Strategic Director decided the papers were not too pink and we could carry on with care.
“What the heck does this mean, carry on with care, it’s either pink or it’s not pink!
It was later the opinion of a Call-In member that the so-called ‘Partnership Agreement’ was not enforceable and therefore was not a legal agreement.
“I was unconvinced by the officer’s response. But the items 9.1 and 9.2 in the Pink appear to be contradictory.
“The final scene in this political pantomime was left to the Portfolio Holder for Leisure Services, Parks and Open Spaces, Councillor Yvonne Gunter  (pictured right) ...
When asked a reasonable question by Councillor Carol Taylor, the response was that she did not know the answer, how could she?
“When she was reminded, by myself, that as Portfolio Holder, she should know the answer, she responded angrily by saying, Oh! stop gabbling on, I am not answering!
“Just when I thought it might now be safe to look forward with a little optimism that old familiar foreboding comes creeping back!

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Monday, 26 September 2011

Now you can be told - council boss poised to clinch 18 month contract extension

Agenda item first on thing Friday (left) - then a few hours later
Only hours after our report on Friday’s blog that tonight’s full council agenda item on the future of the chief executive role was to be discussed in secret, we were delighted to see the lifting of the ban on members of the public and press attending that part of the meeting.
Whilst we are not claiming any credit for this, it does prove a point – which is that sometimes, agenda items are published on pink papers – which makes them secret - when they do not apparently need to be.
Mr Harbord became interim Chief Executive in August 2009, and according to the report, has overseen an overall improvement in performance at the council.
Most of the time, his contract has been extended by short increments – usually six months or so – and his current contract expires at the end of November.
But if tonight’s recommendation goes through, he will get a contract for a “further, final period” to 31st May 2013 – a staggering 18 month extension.
The report says there are several significant challenges and key projects underway that require continued strong management to protect the council’s position and ensure the right decisions for the council and the borough are made - and that Mr Harbord’s experience is “invaluable at this point to successfully deliver these projects.”
We know that Mr Harbord faced a tough challenge when he arrived in Boston, and he is said to have risen to it and come up with answers.
But a contract extension as long as this – coupled with the report’s comments - suggests that there is more of the same on the way – which rather worries us.
Mr Harbord will be employed as an officer of the council for a “nominal sum” and his main terms of engagement will be through a contract for services.
This arrangement was highlighted in Boston Eye earlier this year, and you can read that report by clicking here
At the time, services charged by his company totalled £32,259 for the period September to November last year – calculated at £600 a day for just 47 days' work in a 91 day period - plus expenses.
At the equivalent of a five day week this would come to £156,000 a year – which would place Mr Harbord in that privileged band of local authority chief executives paid more than £150,000 last year - trumping the Prime Minister's salary of £142,500.
However, Mr Harbord's pay could be going down, as the report notes that if the council agrees to the recommendation the cost will be within the approved budget “due to a lower fee being negotiated.”
How much lower, we wonder?
We suspect that it will not be a lot.
After two years with a caretaker at the helm, we would have thought that by now Boston would be looking for a new full time Chief Executive – unless as we said earlier, there were major problems in the air that would rule such a thing out.
But the report takes that into account as well – saying that the contract extension will “allow sufficient time to ensure the best long term Chief Executive arrangement for Boston Borough Council.”
Given the council’s fondness for internal appointments, we are uncertain whether this is good news or bad news for current management team members who may have aspirations.
After more than three years of playing second fiddle to Mr Harbord, any of the potential top tier candidates will have a tricky situation on their hands.
They will either have to persuade a selection board that they will continue with the much applauded mixture as before, or that they would provide a different style of leadership.  Whichever one they choose may not be what the council wants as its next future step – and second guessing them would be the trick.
Time then for an external candidate, perhaps?
But that’s all well in the future.
Although the report recognises that there are options not to extend the current contract, and to consider alternative options for the post of Chief Executive, the Tory majority and BBI style of voting makes it a racing certainty.
And in a somewhat chilling aside, which may be designed to give any waverers pause for thought, the report adds: “As the Chief Executive has been employed continuously since August 2009, albeit on a series of short term contracts, there is a risk that he will have acquired statutory rights. This broadly means that if the Chief Executive were to be dismissed, the council would have to have a fair and legally recognised reason for dismissal (e.g. conduct, capability, etc.) and would have to follow a fair procedure. If an employee does not have unfair dismissal rights then these steps are not necessary, although with an organisation the size of the council, these steps should not be omitted even where they legally can be.”
What we don’t understand is how the situation will have changed in another 18 months if – as this warning seems to be suggesting – non-renewal of a contract apparently counts as dismissal.

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Sunday, 25 September 2011

"I stand by what I said ... "
Mail's Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchens has a final word for Boston Borough Council leader Peter Bedford in his column in today’s Mail on Sunday.
He writes:
“My article last week on mass immigration in the lovely old town of Boston in Lincolnshire was denounced as ‘insulting’ and ‘inaccurate’ by the town’s council leader, Peter Bedford.
“I hadn’t, as it happened, criticised either him or his council and I stand by every word in the article.
“Mr Bedford has made a great palaver of ‘inviting’ me to revisit Boston, as if he in some way owned it or controlled access to it. He doesn’t. I’ll come and go as I please, thanks.
“But perhaps the people of Boston - several of whom have contacted me to endorse what I wrote - might ask whether Mr Bedford and his officials have better and more urgent things to do than issue silly public denunciations of truthful articles.”
There’s nothing we could add!

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Saturday, 24 September 2011

Some of next week's stories ...

We have some interesting reports scheduled for next week – and here’s a taster or two to whet your appetite …

Monday: The report they didn’t want you to see …
Tuesday: Fears for the future of Boston …
Wednesday: I’ll never forget Councillor Whatshisname

Please join us if you can.

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Friday, 23 September 2011

Our Friday miscellany
of the week's
news and events
We have commented before on how the creation of the cabinet system has totally emasculated the role of the full council – and Monday’s forthcoming meeting is an excellent example. There are just four items on the agenda – the annual scrutiny report, a review of the overview and scrutiny function, and the constitution of committees - followed by the exclusion of the public and press so that the future of the chief executive role can be discussed. The latter item makes us wonder what’s going on. Is the council considering yet another extension for the present incumbent – who has now been interim for more than two years … longer than some chief executives have served – or is it looking at another job share such as the one it has with East Lindsey with its Director of Resources and Section 151 Officer?   Perhaps we’ll find out some day when the council decides that the riff raff may safely be told. Quite honestly, though, if council meetings are to be this lightweight, we wonder whether there is any justification in the cost of assembling 32 people at 6-30 at night for an agenda of such paucity. Or is that the idea?
Boston Borough Council has issued a triumphal statement which says that the attempt to rediscuss the decision to use almost £200,000 from council reserves to fund the re-opening of the Moulder training pool has failed. The ten-strong Performance Review Committee voted six for, one against, to disallow the call-in. By our reckoning that leaves three votes unaccounted for – and it would be interesting to know the full result. However, as six members of the committee are members of the ruling Conservative group, the vote was a foregone conclusion in any case. All we are seeing is a group of Tory faithful bending the knee to their masters in the cabinet – something that we saw all too often in the days of the BBI. The call in was a sensible move that would have allowed better scrutiny of the deal, and we are sure that we have not yet heard the last of it.
Another press release issued this week carried reaction from council leader Peter Bedford to the four- page spread in last weekend’s Mail on Sunday by their controversial columnist Peter Hitchens (see “Mail on Sunday star columnist slams Boston” by clicking here.  Interestingly, whilst the Boston Standard treated the piece as a story, the Boston Target used the statement in the form of a reader’s letter - without reporting the Hitchens comments. Could this have something to do with the fact that the Target and Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday are in the same group? Unfortunately, we aren’t sent borough council press releases – even though we have repeatedly requested them, and probably write more about the council each week than our combined local “newspapers” do in a month. We think the reason is that we don’t accept what the council does at two-face value, whereas the local press mostly does as it’s told. Councillor Bedford used the same winning tactics he employed on Boston Eye when demanding an apology and correction from us recently after first slagging us off remorselessly. He referred to Peter Hitchins’s writings as “clichéd, jaundiced, inaccurate and one-sided”- and then invited him to come back to Boston to meet people working to make the town a better place to live. What diplomacy! What a politician! Mr Hitchens may be polite enough to reply, but a journalist of his stature does not make return visits and, certainly never recants. One word of advice to Councillor Bedford – when posing for a photo to illustrate your outrage – it’s best not to hold the newspaper open exactly at the centre pages when the thousands of people who will have read it know that the story didn’t go beyond page four.
Incidentally, for those who may have missed it, Lord Northcliffe seems to have a particular bee in his bonnet where Boston is concerned. The day after the Peter Hitchens piece, yet another immigration story appeared in the Daily Mail, headed “50 babies a day born to Polish mothers in UK” – and despite statistics for the whole of the country to go at, told us: “Figures show Eastern European migrant mothers accounted for more than one in four babies in Boston, Lincolnshire. In total last year, one in every four children born in England and Wales was to a foreign-born mother –a total of 181,827 children.” Expect more of the same.
Interestingly, an e-mail link to the Hitchens Sunday feature was sent to a number of Boston’s great and good as soon as it appeared by Boston Eye reader Geoffrey Rylott,  who urged the recipients: “Please read this article as it is one of the most damning reports made regarding Boston. This is being sent to a number of prominent people in power within Boston. I hope that you have reason to make a reply with your thoughts known.” Copies were sent to Boston Borough Leader Councillor Peter Bedford and his joint deputy Raymond Singleton McGuire – who are also county councillors – plus former leader Richard Austin, Chief Executive Richard Harbord, and County Councillor Ramonde Newell. The only person to respond was Councillor Bedford, who said: “On the migrant front we are in the process of setting up a task and finish group to involve all aspects of this type of problem, not just in Boston but throughout Lincolnshire, as it is a big problem in all our areas. We then feel that this can be a model for further investigations looking at the whole problem, but we will need county and government help to do this.” The use of the word problem on three occasions is in interesting contrast to his official statement. And would it have hurt the other recipients to have responded, we wonder?
We’d like to congratulate Boston Business Improvement District on a job well done – but sadly that won’t be possible. Regular readers may recall that some weeks ago the BID spirited the town’s seven tourist information display boards to a secret location to refurbish them. Now the job is done and the displays are back in place ( see picture below ...)
click to enlarge photo
The BID says that information on the boards will change from time to time – BUT we think that straight away would be best. A quick glance at the poster disclosed some real howlers. Places of interest include the Central Park Avery.” If memory serves, Avery produces weights and labels. Birds live in an aviary. The picture captioned as the Market Place is not the Market Place – but South Street. Hussey Tower – described as an impressive manorial home – is in fact no more than a ruin. The entry about the Maud Foster Mill mentions Maude’s Tea Room. It should of course read Maud’s  - although that scarcely matters now as this facility has closed due to the recent roadworks and other problems in the area… We’ll ignore the incorrect use of English in several instances – but what a shame that the BID remains so useless.
The good news is that after eight years and as many millions of pounds, the Princess Royal Sports Arena is actually to be used for the purpose for which it was intended when it was built. It is to be the training centre for the Egyptian paralympic team for a week in October next year – although the 50 athletes involved will be staying in Lincoln, rather than locally. Needless to say there is lots of whooping about how much work has gone into winning this visit – which apparently has taken 18 months of negotiation. Given the number of athletes coming to Britain, we would have expected a fight for facilities rather than to have to beg people to use our purpose-built PRSA. What worries us is that Boston Borough Council is again up there in the spotlight, when it is supposed to be distancing itself from the PRSA once and for all. Of far greater concern will be if the Boston Sports Initiative - which is responsible for the PRSA - seizes the opportunity to demand  yet another huge cash injection from Boston’s ratepayers -  which  in the circumstances would be impossible to refuse.
As we reported earlier in the week, last Friday’s meeting of Lincolnshire County Council was memorable, if nothing else, for a fault with the sound system that left spectators of the LCC webcast needing a crash course in lip reading. It reminded us that we have been told that we can expect a similar service – without the gremlins, we hope – in Boston’s council chamber. Soon after the elections in May, the outgoing leader, Councillor Raymond Singleton-McGuire told us: “I have arranged and instigated and hopefully it will be approved, to have cameras in the chamber, therefore preventing any future personal bravado or outbursts, and to retain the respect and diplomacy expected in a Council Chamber. This I began organising before the election.” Whilst we look forward to the council’s TV debut in due course, we should also issue a caution. Most councillors that we have seen on the webcasts have not benefited from the experience, and a member who looks good on paper at election time may not shine quite so brightly on the silver screen.
In its unceasing efforts to be helpful, Boston Borough Council has reproduced a brochure on its website under the link Money Advice. It takes us to something called Coping with the economic downturn – a practical guide for working people and their families  - published jointly by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and the TUC.  There's nothing wrong with that – except that the guide was published in November 2008, and we think that as things have moved on quite a bit since, some more up to date information might be more useful.
Whilst Christmas may still be a dozen or so weeks away, Boston’s Labour group is sounding a timely warning about avoiding a repeat of last year’s fiasco - when our Christmas lights were switched on by a council electrician in a ceremony of sorts carried live on BBC Radio Lincolnshire. At the time, Boston Borough Council’s bulletin trumpeted this switch-on with the claim “you couldn’t buy better publicity.” After initially being made to look daft on the wireless because Boston was apparently the only place in the county that didn’t have a proper switching-on ceremony, a second piece sought to address this by doing the job over the air. Somehow, the borough got the idea that this was a publicity coup, when in fact it just highlighted inadequacy, with Boston lending a helping hand. Labour says: “Our Labour councillors are wondering what Boston Borough Council intends to do this year? We hope it will be something better and that they will refer the issue back to full council for a full discussion.” We hope so too. This year it is more important than ever that some special effort is put in – particularly in the Market Place area. There should be strenuous efforts to ensure that the county council’s promise to ease the renovation works around the Christmas period is kept, and everything possible must be done to make the area attractive and welcoming to shoppers. However, as we reported last year, in January 2010 Boston Borough Council told Boston BID saying that the council’s existing contract for Christmas lighting had expired and they were considering lease agreements in future for around £35,000. The plan was that the council would throw in £25,000  towards the proposed new leasing agreement saved by ending the existing contract , and the additional £10,000 would come from the BID - which means from  the tax on local businesses enforced by the borough council. Initially, the BID liked the scheme, but wanted to know more. A month later, the council officer who raised the idea said because of  the Market Place refurbishments it might be wise to put the project on hold, and the BID board agreed. On that basis, we anticipate a Boston Christmas that Ebenezer Scrooge - pre-conversion of course – would have applauded.
Finally, we have received an e-mail from Independent Councillor Taylor following yesterday’s piece about councillors’ attendances at meetings. She writes: “I congratulate Councillor Spencer for his open and honest response to your blog. He is quite right in recognising that many of the meetings favour those who no longer have full time employment. It is clear to me that Councillor Spencer is our future in local government/politics and hope that he will receive instruction and guidance from his peers before it is too late. I too work full time, doing early, late and night shifts but this enables me to book days off to attend meetings or before commencing duty. Councillor Spencer does not have this option as his work is during office hours. Referring to Councillor Brian Rush's comments during a council meeting, he discussed the need to attract people like Councillor Spencer. The combination of the experience and wisdom of Councillor Rush and the ' rookie ' Councillor Spencer would prove to be a great plan for the future of Boston Borough Council and its tax paying customers. Perhaps Councillor Rush could be Councillor Spencer's mentor?! What a wonderful idea.”

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Thursday, 22 September 2011

Meeting times
"do not favour
younger councillors"

A welcome addition to Boston Borough Council’s website is the appearance of an attendance record – something that we have been urging for many years.
In the past, we have had misgivings about how often some of our representatives could be bothered to pitch up to meetings – but apart from laboriously sifting through the minutes … some of which were not always available … it was impossible to find out.
Now, we can see how each individual councillor is carrying out his or her public duties.
The list begins with the first council meeting of the newly elected authority on 23rd May, and so to date covers around a third of the first administration’s session.
The number of meetings which it is possible for councillors to attend varies, of course, depending on their responsibilities – and it pleasing to see that fourteen of our 32 councillors managed a 100% record – although it is much less than half the total … just under 44%.
But enough councillors were only one short of the possible maximum attendance to make any criticism pointless.
"Full house” attendees were:
For the Tories - Leader Peter Bedford, Maureen Dennis, Yvonne Gunter, Paul Mould, Frank Pickett, Derek Richmond, Gurdip Samra, Raymond Singleton-McGuire, Judith Skinner and Mayor Mary Wright
For Labour: Leader Paul Kenny, Paul Gleeson and Paul Goodale.
Independent: Carol Taylor.
The list includes cancelled meetings, or those where councillors were not required to attend - so we have ignored those as part of our tally. Aside from attendances, it also lists occasions when apologies were sent, as well as  meetings where a councillor “did not attend” - which we take to mean that no apology for absence was sent.
As with all such lists, someone has to come last – and in this case it is Conservative Councillor Aaron Spencer, who out of eight meetings, attended three, sent apologies to four and did not attend one further meeting.
His record is far and away the worst – and is particularly disappointing coming from such a young councillor - who was 19 when elected last May.
But it appears that age could be a contributing factor.
Councillor Spencer told Boston Eye: “I am, naturally, disappointedly aware that my attendance record is lower that other members of Boston Borough Council.
"Perhaps this should be viewed in the context of my age - I am the second youngest councillor in the UK.
"Whilst that does not mean I am using this to abdicate my responsibilities to the electorate, you will appreciate that it is perhaps easier for retired or semi-retired - or indeed for people who have their own business - to attend during the working day.
“This issue has already been raised by Independent Councillor Brian Rush.  At full council he voiced concern that if the 'council' wished to attract younger members then the timing of meeting needs to be examined. As you can appreciate taking time out of full time work to attend meeting is not always possible, that's why I resigned from Planning." **
“My contribution is always robust, I always vote in a way that I passionately believe to be in the best interests of the electorate, rather than for political posturing.
“I endeavour to contribute to the community in a modest way outside of the usual working day, for example at the recent fundraising event at Algakirk Fete, as well as other gigs that I do with my band for the community.
“So in conclusion I would say, sure, I haven’t attended as many meetings as I perhaps should have, but it's only because the system at the moment does not allow a young working councillor such as myself get to them.”
The full list of councillors and their attendance is as follows …
Conservatives: Mark Baker attended 4, sent apologies to 2, did not attend 1. Peter Bedford 6 out of 6. Michael Brookes 8 out of 9. Colin Brotherton 12 out of 13. Maureen Dennis 9 out of 9. Mike Gilbert 8 out of 9. Yvonne Gunter 11 out of 11. James Knowles 5 out of 6. Paul Mould 10 out of 10. Frank Pickett 11 out of 11. Derek Richmond 10 out of 10. Gurdip Samra 7 out of 7. Raymond Singleton-McGuire 7 out of 7. Judith Skinner 7 out of 7. Gloria Smith 8 out of 9. Aaron Spencer Attended 3, apologies, 4, did not attend, 1. Stephen Woodliffe 7, did not attend 1. Mary Wright 8 out of 8.
Labour: Paul Gleeson 9 out of 9. Paul Goodale 9 out of 9. Paul Kenny 7 out of 7.
BDI: Alison Austin 6 out of 7. Richard Austin 8 out of 9. Helen Staples 5 out of 7. David Witts 4 out of 7.
Independent: Alan Lee 5 out of 6. Richard Leggott 4, apologies 2. Brian Rush 9 did not attend 1. Ossy Snell 6 out of 7. Carol Taylor 5 out of 5.
English Democrat: Elliott Fountain 7, did not attend 1. David Owens 5, did not attend 2.

** Planning Committee meetings recently moved  from a 6-30pm start under the previous administration to 2pm when the Tories arrived. Aside from making it difficult for Councillor Spencer to attend, it also rules out almost any public participation. We have also heard that at least one committee member supported the earlier meetings because ... "it is more convenient for me."

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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

How could anyone think that Boston was 'difficult to get to, and perhaps not worth going to?'

Councillor Paul Skinner asks his question
After last Thursday’s chaotic  meeting in Boston to "discuss" the disastrous Market Place refurbishment scheme, the issue went under the spotlight again on Friday at Lincolnshire County Council’s September meeting, in a calmer and much more positive atmosphere.

Following the waffle and bluster from the "experts" paraded before last week's Boston audience, the matter was raised during the LCC question time session by Boston South  Conservative councillor  Paul Skinner.
Councillor Skinner asked Councillor Eddie Poll  Lincolnshire's supremo for economic development, which includes regeneration, tourism and cultural services: “Whereas the Market Place project in Boston is welcome, it has got off to a poor start. The perceived lack of organisation has put a message out that the town centre is closed - and it certainly isn’t. Times are hard enough at the moment for business, and this project and the way it has been run is adding to this stress. In fact the new game in town is spot the worker. 
"When the consultation on this project was initially done, the Christmas period also was supposed to be a work free zone as best possible.
"What is needed with this now is smart working to maximise the use of the space to the benefit of all. "Could we receive an assurance that this project will be put back on track, and would Councillor Poll also like to comment on the likelihood of the project being finished on or before time?”
Unfortunately for online spectators the webcast of this first meeting for almost four months was rendered largely inaudible for most of the question time session due to a fault in the audio system, but nontheless, we managed to work out most of what was said.
Councillor Poll agreed that the project had got off to “a bit of a slow start.”
He harped back to Boston’s road improvements and said he thought everyone would agree that the traffic flow had improved, but went on: “That brought about an embargo on other roadworks which now have to be done, so with the roadworks coupled with the Market Place, I can understand the impression could arise that Boston was difficult to get to, and perhaps not worth going to.
“As to the bit about not many people working on the various sites around town, some of the areas had to stop to enable us to protect the archaeological digs that were going on as part of the Boston Big Dig project, which has been very well supported, so in some of the compounds there’s not been much going on in the way of laying stone - but that’s been for other reasons.”
He said the contractors should be getting up to speed by the start of this week – “because by then they should have finished the stuff they’re doing here in Lincoln which is part of the public wealth improvements we’re undertaking, so on Monday I hope you would see increased activity and more progress on the project.”
As far as completing the project on time, he said that the contract was mutually beneficial, with a completion date of March next year and penalties if it was not finished on time - and he was sure that everyone would be doing their utmost to see that it was completed.
“We’ll do everything we can to ease things around the Christmas period particularly - but other than that,  progress is going on and I hope you enjoy the benefits when they arrive.”
After the meeting, we asked Councillor Skinner if he was happy with Councillor Poll’s response.
He told us: “I have had concerns both as a councillor and a resident at the manner this contract has been run to date. As my question stated, the present economic times are stressful on the businesses in town without the addition of the refurbishment. Long term, I believe the project will be of benefit to the town.
“When this project was originally put out to contract, the December period was to be handled in a way to minimise damage to business. I was concerned by the project manager’s responses at Thursday night’s meeting, which is why I requested clarification.
“Councillor Poll’s response, I believe, was genuine.”
Aside from Councillor Skinner’s question there was little of  local interest.
Boston Borough Council Leader Peter Bedford asked if any changes or additions were needed to the national policy framework to ensure that Lincolnshire in particular is allowed to develop in a sustainable way.
Councillor Ramonde Newell – Independent? BBI? BDI? – came up with an education question about a University College Union report ( see Boston Eye's  report of July 27th by clicking here ) which placed Boston 17th from the bottom of a list of 632 parliamentary constituencies where people aged 16-64 had no educational qualifications.  In Boston, 22% of the population was without any qualifications at all.
Councillor Newell demanded to know -  what was the council doing to reduce this figure?
Councillor Patricia Bradwell, executive councillor for Children's Services, said the figures were very complex so officers hadn’t been able to get something together but would send a full report in due course. So we have to wait and see.
Our other representatives remained mute – and two councillors sent apologies … Councillors Mike Gilbert and Raymond Singleton-McGuire.
Two absentees from seven represents almost 30% of Boston’s membership on Lincolnshire County Council, and after  such a long pause between meetings is rather disappointing, to say the least.

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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Council's top rankers didn’t know

about sign that closedthe Market Place!

Last week saw a meeting called for specially invited businesses to discuss the controversial refurbishment scheme for Boston Market Place – which is already running behind schedule and making life increasingly difficult for local businesses – two of which recently closed ... blaming the works as the reason.
Among those present was Boston accountant Darron Abbott, one of the few champions of local businesspeople and their concerns over the scheme – and  a campaigner for better performance  (or perhaps any sort of performance) by the Boston Business "Improvement" District.
By all accounts, the meeting was not what one might call civilised.
Mr Abbott tells us that the invited guests numbered just two - plus around 20 gatecrashers  – four Boston borough councillors and one Lincolnshire County Councillor, the BID manager Niall Armstrong and  BID Chairman Alan Ellis.
“The evening started off with a short speech by a chap from Lincolnshire County Council,” reports Darron Abbott.
“Basically he had sympathy - but tough, it is the future we are looking forward to;  the new vibrant Market Place will attract visitors in great numbers.
“This is when things began to turn a little boisterous, with people heckling to say that what would be the point ... as there will be no shops to visit.
“Sensing the hostility he handed over to a representative from the contractors, Ringway, and boy, did he get a rough ride - especially when he boasted that he would have another gang of four men arriving in the Market Place to bring things back on track from Monday.
“Then he revealed that they should really have been here two weeks ago, but the job in Peterbrough they were working on had overrun - looks good for the job to be finished here in Boston.”
The Ringway spokesman then went on to mention that there were delays in getting some of the materials, and was challenged from the floor about his planning – as, if he  had not ordered all the materials before he had started, what kind of plan had he got?
“He then bumbled on for several minutes explaining he could not give any specific timetable on what he would be doing and when, said Mr Abbott.
“He got more stick when he stated that at some time he may have to close South Street.
“Asked why he not did know for sure whether South Street would be closed - and if it was, when - once again it was pointed out he had no plan and no idea.
“He then unwisely stated that he was under time and profit constraints, etc. That was a red rag to a bull to the businesses which have no income or profit at all;  he then received quite a bit of abuse.”
Around about this point Boston Borough Council Leader Peter Bedford announced a council plan to introduce a 50p charge for half an hour’s parking on the old Kwiksave car park.
Darron Abbott told us: “It was very swiftly and loudly pointed out that half an hour is not long enough to shop and browse, and it was suggested that free parking should be offered instead.”
A suggestion that the BID revenue should be used to subsidise parking, was said to have brought nervous shuffling from the company’s manager and chairman - and a suggestion it could be discussed at next week’s board meeting.
“The meeting continued with the same antagonistic person asking questions such as why it was supposed to have been a meeting for the invited few - and the town rangers were then blamed for not delivering all of the invites.
“That person then mentioned the sign on High Street that gave the impression that visitors should proceed no further.” (see photo at the top of the page.)
Apparently neither Boston town centre grand panjandrum Councillor Derek Richmond nor Phil Drury, the borough’s Strategic Director and deputy chief executive, had seen the sign on the High Street. Surely, two such top ranking representatives should have been better informed.
We wish we could have been there, as the meeting certainly sounds to have been a sight to behold.
What is clear is that not only is the refurbishment scheme failing to deliver, but so is Boston Borough Council if a fiasco like that is their idea of addressing the concerns of local businesses.

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Monday, 19 September 2011

Training pool plan
comes under the

Today sees the calling-in of Boston Borough Council’s secret cabinet decision to re-open the Geoff Moulder training pool for the benefit of the Witham Schools Federation and Boston Amateur Swimming Club – taking £195,000 from the council’s reserves to do so.
The idea then is that £150,000 will be repaid over five years from third party contributions and the council will chip in the remaining £45,000 - again from reserves.
The decision has been called in by the Boston District Independents trio of Richard and Alison Austin and David Witts, plus Labour’s Paul Gleeson.
In their reasons for wanting the decision to be reviewed, they cite inadequate consultation before the decision was made and say that the scrutiny committee and full council should have been consulted.
The also say that there is an absence of evidence for the decision.
Earlier the Boston District Independent councillors (the former BBI) welcomed the pool plan, and insisted the call was non-political, but made “to protect the council tax payers of the borough from another disastrous PRSA-type situation arising.”
That such a possibility should exercise the former BBI in particular is deeply concerning, and we hope that the most cast-ironed and copper-bottomed assurances are forthcoming before the council takes another step own this expensive road.
In the run up to this evening’s Performance Review Committee meeting, so-called “evidence” has been provided to help the debate along by answering some previously posed questions.
The most important of these concerns the existence of a business plan for the scheme - and the answer is that the partnership agreement is the plan that all three parties are working to.
The plan is to be delivered through a combination of additional income from the council’s partners, increased general/taught swimming capacity in the leisure pool, savings through revised staffing arrangements and additional teaching hours in the training pool.
This is all very fine if the additional income is delivered, but it is scarcely a plan – more of an aspiration.
It’s like a business owner coming up with a “plan” to boost turnover simply by saying it will come from increased custom. It doesn’t say how those customers will be attracted – and nor can it guarantee it.
Also worrying is the answer to a question asking for full details of the council’s revenue budget to support the conclusion that the net effect is nil.
It says: “The financial implications have been considered and these demonstrate that the additional projected income from the increased pool capacity and demand for swimming lessons offsets the identified expenditure.”
There’s an awful lot of faith being pinned “more people going swimming,” isn’t there?
We think that the councillors who called in the decision were absolutely right to do so - and hope that the response of our new leaders will not be the same as the last administration, which was to use their majority to override criticism and valid attempts at sound examination of projects that look a little shaky to say the least.
It’s also interesting to note a groundswell of public opinion which is less than happy about the pool rescue plan.
Council Leader Peter Bedford has repeatedly emphasised the size of the petition which led to the reappraisal - as if that was enough in its own right to force the council to fall in with public opinion.
However, as others point out, Boston Borough Council has now created a facility for use by a select group.
Granted it may be a large one, but the fact is that the pool is a public facility – and members of the public are effectively barred from using an important part of it.
What if another group pitched up in a few months’ time and offered a generous payment for exclusive use of the rest of the facility?
Would we see the same thing that has happened with the training pool?
Coming up tomorrow: Your ringside seat at last week's meeting about the refurbishment of Boston's Market Place.

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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Mail on Sunday star columnist slams Boston

A few weeks ago we expressed delight that the Daily Mail had given away a map of the East Midlands featuring Boston on the cover – a PR boost for the town, putting our name before millions of readers.
In the spirit of no good turn going unpunished the Mail has made up for all that in spades with a four-page diatribe about Boston and immigration by star columnist Peter Hitchens – which is also published on the Daily Mail’s website … read by around five million people each week.
The piece – headed Boston, Lincolngrad “investigates the strange and troubling transformation of a sleepy English town.”
In it Hitchens recalls a visit to the town nearly thirty years ago, and contrasts what he found then and “how shocking it is to return and find Boston so strangely and unexpectedly transformed…”
You can read the piece here for free to save giving the Mail £1.50 of your hard earned cash to see your hometown rubbished.   
We say rubbished because – even though what a lot of Hitchens says may well be correct – the report is not well balanced.
We expect much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the great and the good of the borough – but the fact is that the stable door has been closed – and Boston has disappeared beneath an avalanche of 3,000 damning words from which it could take years to recover.
We well recall events of three years ago when Boston was portrayed as fat and stupid in a Channel 4 programme called The woman who stops traffic.
At the time, a gullible Boston Borough Council aided and abetted this travesty - then wept tears of rage and announced their intention to demand an apology.
Of course, nothing ever happened.
We wonder how they plan to address this latest bolt from the blue.

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Friday, 16 September 2011

Our Friday miscellany
of the week's
news and events

In a gallant attempt to tell us that things aren’t as bad as we think, Boston Borough Council announces that the latest figures show that vacant ground-floor shop units in the town have reduced from 37 in 2010 to  28 compared with 32 in 2009 and 48 in 2008. The council adds that Boston has the best shop occupancy rate of any similar-sized town in the county. Presumably these latest figures – which we assume are from the Local Data Company and do not tell us what percentage of shops they represent - don’t take into account the closure of two  more Boston shops announced last week. Whilst the trend is welcome, we have to say that although 28 empty shops won’t stand out in the High Street of a large town, they are infinitely more noticeable in a place like Boston. We hope that the figures won’t be taken as excuse for complacency.
After we mentioned the dilapidated state of Wormgate the other day we decided to take a closer look - and noted that the street has no fewer than twelve listed buildings, which is no mean figure, and ought to be used to advantage.

Of course, we all know that Boston is littered with listed buildings, but one problem is that most of them are barely recognisable. A good example is the one-time McDonalds eatery - which became the YMCA charity shop, and which will now become a local branch of HSBC. Reports say that the borough’s planning committee were pleased to approve plans to erect signage and a new shop front, as that corner of the Market Place had been a thorn in their side for some time. Plans to render the front of the building, alter the windows and add cash machines would make it fit in with the rest of the area, they added. Councillor Michael Brookes was quoted at the time as saying: “I think architecturally it’s as good as we’re going to get and it’s a lot better than what was there before. I think it will fit in well in the Market Place as it is now.” But now is not then– and surely how buildings looked then is what makes them important and therefore listed.  So much for the borough’s professed enthusiasm for heritage! And has anyone considered what will happen to the HBSC building when it is vacated. Give it 100 years and it will be another 116 High Street disaster. Don’t forget that a former Boston Borough Council of 50 or so years was singled out by the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner for its enthusiastic destruction of historic buildings which today would be pulling in the crowds.
On Boston’s roads and footpaths there are so many potential danger spots that it comes as no surprise to hear of yet one more. A reader asks: “Has anyone else has noticed or commented on the new cycle lanes on Sleaford Road? On the westbound carriageway towards Taylor’s (Lister’s Garage) the northern side of the path has a new cycle lane marked  - which in places can’t be more than a foot wide, and is close enough to the road for any cyclist in it to be clipped up by passing traffic. Also it is interspersed with vertical poles set into the footpath that would need to be swerved round in order to avoid them into the pedestrian zone, surely an accident waiting to happen!"
Until recently visitors to the  amusingly named Council and Democracy pages of Boston Borough Council’s website were initially greeted with a list of who’s who in the  cabinet. Not any more. The section now starts with a list of meetings and agendas. Although the list of cabinet members can be found elsewhere, it is not so easy to locate. We wonder why the change was made. Perhaps after due consideration, the cabinet recognised that it is beginning to follow the same fault lines as its BBI predecessor - and decided that an early dissociation from democracy was a forward thinking step that would avoid future criticism!
Is Boston under some sort of financial curse, we wonder? At the start of the week, we reflected on the bottomless money pit known as the Princess Royal Sports Arena. We mentioned that the management company Bladerunner  was paid £540,374 in 2009 and £556,086 last year - which more than swallowed up the respective incomes of £472,450 and £482,226 - effectively creating losses before they even started.
Yet a look at Bladerunner’s accounts for the year ended 31st December 2009 shows that income before interest, tax, depreciation and all that sort of stuff was £678,000 – an increase of 61% over the previous year. Perhaps the PRSA it that business item known as a loss leader.
It is said that we are never more than a few feet away from a rat, and the borough council has issued a timely warning of the dangers of disease to people who enjoy angling, boating or perhaps nothing more prosaic than a walk beside one of our many local waterways. However,  such activities create problems caused by two-legged creatures as well. The writer of this blog has lived beside one of our waterways for many years, and has seen a rat just once. However, the amount of dog fouling, litter, illegal cycling and now, more frequently, alfresco drinking parties is a real cause for concern – but no-one other than local residents seem to share those concerns. We have heard them voiced at several locations around the town - and nothing is ever done to assuage the problem. This is a pity, as so many of the great and the good tell us what an asset our waterways are - yet stand idly by whilst they decline.
We note that townspeople now have a chance to meet their PCSO  if they can take the trouble to pitch up at the Community Room every Wednesday afternoon, when an officer will be in attendance for an hour and a half. Call us old-fashioned if you like (it will make a change from some of the things we’ve been called recently) but we think that the place to meet a police community support officer is in our neighbourhood community, where he/she should be walking the streets and getting to know the people on the patch. Again, whilst we have spotted just one rat near our home in the past decade,  that is one more than the number of PCSOs we have seen. When this new tier of law enforcement was introduced nine years ago this month we were promised that they would provide a very welcome additional presence that would also free experienced and highly trained police officers to tackle crime. As it happened they merely followed their police colleagues indoors, and after an initial  PR photo opportunity have seldom been seen again.
Having watched the sedentary progress of the work in Boston Market Place to date, we can easily understand why it is going to take so long to complete  – even though we are sure that it could well be done in half the time. Earlier this week, we came across a gallery of photographs of how the Japanese tackled their damaged infrastructure after the earthquake back in March.

The picture above shows a stretch of the Great Kanto highway after the quake struck -  and how it looked six days later after repair teams had tackled it. Now of course, we realise that a project like the Market Place is much more complicated, and would probably need at least ten days to complete  at Japanese rates of working – but it set us to thinking … perhaps we should have advertised for workers in the jobs pages of the Asahi Shimbun.
Yesterday we mentioned the 15-question survey seeking opinions on the Market Place improvement works that we are being asked to complete on the internet. One of the first to respond to the call was Wyberton Parish Councillor Don Ransome, who apparently agrees with our assessment that the survey doesn’t actually seek to find out what we think about the refurbishment at all. “I filled in the 15-question survey online yesterday and have left myself with another question....why?” he writes. Answers on a postcard, please …
One of the pitfalls of buying stories from agencies or similar sources that newspapers face is that they tend to accept them at face value. So it is that two almost identical stories in our two local “newspapers” carry almost the same headline – to the effect that a man had been acquitted of strangling his girlfriend. The five definitions we checked on the internet were universal in their verdict that strangling ends in death. As the young woman in question was very much alive and giving evidence, could we suggest an investment in a dictionary in our local newsrooms.
Finally, we liked this line from the latest Boston Bulletin. “The very best, cheapest and environmentally-friendly way of dealing with your garden waste is… to keep it in your garden and turn it into nutritious compost.” As this is Boston, and the report doesn’t say who compost is “nutritious” for, we anticipate a run on the Pilgrim’s A&E department!

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