Friday, 14 October 2011

Our Friday miscellany
of the week's
news and events

Here’s an excerpt from the Policy and Projects Committee minutes of 20 July: “The public would not be satisfied if the costs of the Mayoral role did not reflect the 30-40% reduction in Government grants. A 30% reduction of the Mayoral Budget would save £16,500 and this had to be done.” The real cut agreed - 18 per centphased in over three years. The recent increase in councillors’ allowances is  - 85 per-cent over three years. By contrast, a report to next week’s Environment and Performance Committee asks for comment on the proposal to increase rents for local allotment plots over a four-year period “to cover all costs.” The total increase proposed is 465.22%. More about this next week – what a disgrace!
We were delighted to hear that Boston’s ageing Christmas illuminations are being replaced with dynamic, bright, modern lights which will use less electricity. Can we now hope for a proper switching on ceremony on Thursday November 24th – and not a repeat of last year’s clowning around which left Boston with egg all over its face? By way of an idea, could we suggest that one of the stars of the Boston pantomime is asked to carry out the task - perhaps Councillor Peter Bedford - if he is not too busy.
With £35,000 to throw at the lights - £25,000 from the borough council and £10,000 from Boston Business "Improvement" District - we would hope to see something really impressive. But an example given by the Festive Lighting Company for schemes with a budget of £20,000-plus is pictured below.

We are using a promotional photo rather than the artist’s impression which appears in  our local “newspapers” as it was dominated by an empty shop with a prominently displayed  to let sign, which we felt was rather unseasonal. We also wonder how exhaustively Boston Borough Council sought a contractor for the Christmas lights project, as the Festive Lighting Company is a member of the Association of Town Centre Management - a quango which numbers the council and Boston BID among its members. Would a wider search have achieved better value for money?
Boston College has wasted no time in cashing in on its sweetheart deal to take over the Peter Paine sports centre at a peppercorn rent from Boston Borough Council. News came this week that it is selling its De Montfort campus, and moving to a new £1.7 million building at the end of the year on its Rochford site, which is expected to be finished by Christmas. Luckily for the college, it seems unlikely to be asked to chip in any of what may turn out to be a big profit from any sale towards the debts of another venture in which it is involved – the £6.5 million Red Lion food centre in Spalding, in which the college reportedly invested £2 million. To the anger of many local traders, South Holland District Council is to bail out the heavily indebted centre to the tune of more than £400,000 of taxpayers’ cash. We preferred it when colleges stuck to education, rather than trying to operate as businesses.
Speaking of education, we think it a pity that nowhere in his lengthy radio interview on the Boston protest march on BBC Radio Lincolnshire did council leader Peter Bedford suggest that local people deserved better educational opportunities. His argument over jobs was that “It’s the fact that our population have got to get used to the fact of starting to apply for such jobs (in the packhouses) again.” Can we hope for a wider view of the choices for our residents in the future?  Three months ago, the University and College Union rated the 632 parliamentary constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales according to the percentage of working age people between 16 and 64 who had no qualifications – and placed Boston and Skegness 17th in the bottom twenty – with 22 per-cent having no qualifications. If Boston is to have the vibrant future that everyone wants for it, then this appalling situation must be addressed.
It seems that the world and his wife want a say in the forthcoming protest at the level of inward migration to Boston, and it’s high time to see if we can make some sort of sense of it all. First there is the original protest – set for Saturday 19th November. Whilst it is being referred to as a march, there are now reports that it may instead take place in Boston’s Central Park as a static demonstration. Meanwhile, a counter demonstration has been announced by Unite Against Fascism, who are to follow a route along Sleaford Road and West Street. Whether that march is in any way connected with another protest announced by Lincoln and District TUC who plan to assemble at noon at the “Sleaford Road park” is not clear. Amidst all of this, Boston BID has awoken from its slumbers and announced that “whilst not wishing to be seen as scaremongering and at the same time recognising the right of free speech we do have concerns over the potential impact that this march may have on our members businesses.” First time for everything! We also note a report on the Casuals United blog (see below) whose views are slightly more pointed …

The way things are shaping up, we are forming the view that there will probably be no protest. The organiser of the original event has said he will cancel it if there is any threat of violence – and that is beginning to seem unavoidable with so many disparate factions having their three penn’orth.
When we said it seemed that the world and his wife wanted a say about the protest, we did not, of course, include our Tory MP, Mark Simmonds. Mr Simmonds, who, over the years, has been what for him passes as outspoken on immigration issues, was asked to comment by the Boston Standard – but a his office declined. “This is an extremely sensitive issue, and Mr Simmonds is in conversations with both Boston Borough Council and Lincolnshire Police.” But not, apparently, with the people who voted for him. Is, then, our member’s new policy to keep stum on anything  sensitive.  If so, he might as well become a trappist monk in this volatile political age. Perhaps the approach for comment came at a bad time – possibly during the two-and-a-half hours a week devoted to the needs of Circle Healthcare, who pay just over £1,000 for those few minutes of  our MP’s expertise. Whatever the reason, you can’t get much blander or more indifferent than that, can you?
Apparently you can. After what was described as “a small protest” outside the Boston Standard’s office on Tuesday, editor Stephen Stray told the “newspaper’s” website: “Voltaire once said: ‘you may not like what some people have to say, but we should defend their right to say it.’ The Standard holds this maxim close to its heart.” Really? What Voltaire is actually quoted as saying is slightly less fluffy. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Diluting the quote to a point where the famed philosopher might have been asking for a half of shandy instead of a pint of Bateman’s XXXB, might not have been so sad if Mr Stray had at least got the quote right – but unfortunately, on top of all that, Voltaire is thought never to have said these words at all. They were apparently penned in 1906 by Evelyn Beatrice Hall – writing under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre - in her biography The Friends of Voltaire. The author did not attribute the words to Voltaire, but used them to sum up his attitude.
One aspect of the current debate on Boston’s troubles concerns drinking in the street, so it is timely to learn that Boston’s Labour councillors have declared that existing Designated Public Place Orders – DPPOs – should be reviewed. They have written to council leader Peter Bedford calling for a “state of the area debate” on how DPPOs are run. “DPPOs are sometimes misleadingly referred to as Alcohol Free Zones, Drinking Control Areas and Drinking/Alcohol Ban Areas,” says a Labour spokesman. “This can be confusing to the people of Boston, as the purpose of the legislation is not to ban alcohol in a public area, but to give police the powers to deal with anti-social drinking.” Whilst there is no statutory requirement to review a DPPO, Home Office advice is that it would be good practice to do so at least every two years - to see if the DPPO has had an impact on alcohol-related problems. “This debate will give the opportunity for members of Boston Borough Council, local residents, local residents groups and the police the chance to have a proper debate and to have a DPPO in Boston that is effective and understood by all residents of Boston.” Not if the leader refuses to allow it, it won’t.
On the issue  of alcohol, we note that the council’s licensing sub-committee brushed aside local fears that an Eastern European off-licence in Boston’s Main Ridge East might add to existing anti social behaviour such as violence, public urination and littering which were said to already be a major problem in the area. More than 100 people signed a petition to reject the application -  a significant number in such a small neighbourhood. Although this information was in the public domain, a petition supporting the application was handed in - but a copy was not given to reporters, nor were we told how many signatures it contained. It took just 45 minutes for Councillors Colin Brotherton. Yvonne Gunter and Stephen Woodliffe - none of whom live anywhere near the area - to nod the plan through.  Locals can  now look forward to having three booze outlets within about half a mile of each other – all serving more than 12 hours a day. It’s enough to drive you to drink!
One of our regular readers has sent in the following political parable, which we reproduce for your delectation and delight … “Once upon a time there was a group of hunter/gatherers who lived in a harmonious group. Their experiences over the centuries led to the perceived need to accept one of their community as a leader in many of their joint efforts aimed at community survival. Following many eons of such community leaders' successful direction, it was noted that: 1 – the population, being well fed, had expanded, and 2 - there was less to hunt than there had been. These developments led to decisions by communities to become hunter/farmer societies with all that entailed. As human population again increased and hunting opportunities diminished, more emphasis was placed upon the farming aspect of community efforts. This change of emphasis apparently did nothing to diminish the need for a guiding hand of leadership in society. Leaders still flourished - and as resentment of such persons mounted from time to time - found it advisable to ally themselves with one another. History shows that such alliances were the primary example of larger leadership councils - national governments. The need for leadership in the face of possible challenge led to such coalitions (Parties) of interests not necessarily being the union of the wisest, but more likely the strongest. And so we come to today where the strongest party, democratically, apparently, within our society, are the leaders. Obviously such leadership is not going to publicly challenge its own actions. That would weaken the Party - the present equivalent of the ancient warlord within our democratic system. But - thank goodness - there are some members of local government who are not supporters of Political Parties. And here comes the fairytale. One day all electors will say 'enough of this political, self-serving system. Let's start electing independent people who will speak up for their electors instead of a party.' And now I must move on before those men in white coats catch up with me.”
Finally, are some stories apparently so good that there appears to be only one way to tell them? They must be. How else is it possible to explain the recent appearance of a number of reports in one in our local “newspapers” that - whilst by-lined - enjoyed an previous appearance on Boston Borough Council's website or electronic bulletin?

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