Monday, 12 December 2011
Last Friday saw the final Lincolnshire County Council meeting of the year, and, in our unending pursuit of democracy, we visited the LCC website to watch proceedings live via the county hall webcam.
Readers even more senior than ourselves might well have strolled down Memory Lane in response to the programme which greeted them, to the days of the People’s Palace – better known as “Ally Pally” - which in 1936 became the headquarters of the world's first regular public "high-definition” television service, operated by the BBC.
Documentaries of those bygone days depict the jerky camera movements, the crackling soundtrack, and the unexpected blackouts in transmission as the flickering, delicate valves frequently gave up the ghost.
Those days were reprised in all their dubious glory on Friday.
At the last meeting in September, faults with the soundtrack made it all but impossible to follow the agenda item where rank and file councillors ask questions of the Chairman, Leader, executive councillors, and committee chairmen – which is the bit we tune in for … to see what sort of interest our local councillors are showing at county level.
Friday not only still had occasional sound problems which saw members resorting the use of a hand held radio microphone, but numerous breakdowns of both sound and vision – often at crucial moments in our viewing.
For instance, the first local questioner was Boston South Conservative Councillor Paul Skinner, who wanted information from Councillor Sue Woolley, the portfolio holder for health, housing and community.
Due to a technical failure, we missed the question and half the answer – but gathered from what we did hear that it concerned the Councillors' Big Society Fund, which sees cash saved by a members' pay freeze spent on community projects.
Boston West’s Councillor Ramonde Newell - who is listed as an Independent; was elected as a Boston Bypass Independent, and who has avoided any further association since the BBI rebranded itself as the BDI (Boston District Independents) - was next to ask a question.
Whilst he was fortunate in that his query survived intact, he was less so in that the person to whom it was directed was not around.
The question concerned last Thursday's incident when a car "plunged" into the "fast flowing, wide and deep" River Haven.
Although the driver was rescued by firepeople, Councillor Newell wanted to know “Was the fast water rescue boat and team available from Boston’s fire station, and was it used?”
This is something that Councillor Newell - a long standing critic of the decision to relocate the boat from Boston to Spalding - has raised before ... last time at the May 20th meeting.
Then, Councillor Peter Robinson, who is responsible for Community Safety, told him that after Exercise Watermark, the government promised extra funding for up to ten water rescue units - and he hoped that one could eventually be based in Boston.
Asked and answered, as they say in court.
The third and last local member to ask a question was Boston East’s Mike Gilbert, who raised the vexed issue of the Punchbowl Lane/Ingelow Avenue fiasco facing the Boston Town Area Committee
Regular readers will recall that some residents’ lives are being ruined by anti-social behaviour, but the council seems unable to address the problem (see our most recent story by clicking here.)
“One possible solution is what’s called a gating order, which effectively cuts off access to the area associated with the anti-social behaviour,” said Councillor Gilbert.
“Without prejudging the merits of the particular case for a gating order in the area, could the Portfolio Holder for Highways confirm whether or not the County Council is currently considering a policy for gating orders and whether there will be a timetable for its likely completion in case it is required at some time in the future?”
Portfolio holder Councillor William Webb was in an area of the chamber where the sound appeared not to be working, and was handed a radio microphone - which he then held within an inch of his lips and bellowed into like a fairground barker, which did little for the audibility of his reply.
On top of that, the screen went blank for the umpteenth time during the broadcast, but he was still replying when normal service resumed – and the drift of his answer was not, we suspect, what Councillor Gilbert wanted to hear.
“We don’t want to close thoroughfares. It’s always a last resort and if we put a gate across we are denying access …”
He did, however, add that the county council was considering gating orders, but stressed “our chief aim is to make sure that all thoroughfares are open and are safe to use.”
At one point during the meeting we heard that no fewer than five members of staff were in the chamber dealing with the communications side of the event – which seemed hard to believe given the problems that we witnessed as interested viewers.
Lincolnshire County Council meetings are always dreary, poorly run affairs – and Friday’s was not helped by Chairman Neil Cooper flinging his weight around by frequently and rudely hectoring questioners for taking too long to make their point – thus delaying events still further.
Still, at least Boston’s voice was heard in Lincoln – which is never a bad thing – although Fishtoft’s Councillor Raymond Singleton-McGuire sent apologies for the second consecutive meeting.
His last appearance at a full council meeting was on May 20th, which means that – if he attends the next one on February 17th – it will be almost eight months since last he has shown his face.
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