Wednesday, 29 February 2012

View down the years sees both sides of immigration debate...

Monday’s blog on the immigration debate saw several readers posting comments on Boston Eye.
Among them was a local businessman whose contribution was too long for the comment section, but who  - with three generations of family in the town - has much to say on the subject, which is why we are publishing his comments in full today.
Julian R Thompson, proprietor of JES Electrical, who has worked in Boston for almost 40 years, has raised a number of points which it seems that the great and the good of the borough seem content to disregard.
“I am a senior Bostonian,  who used to be proud of my town and paid all of my dues, but over recent years  feels that our town has lost its identity,” he writes.
“I would have moved to Poland if I wanted this in my life. I no longer feel that I belong here due to the heavy influx of migrants.
“It is not their fault, and not a racist slur.
“If I were in their position, I would probably do the same and go to ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’
“There are too many off-licences selling alcohol, fuelling antisocial behaviour - and some have been found selling rocket fuel drink from the distillery in Broadfield Lane.
“This has made policing the town centre very difficult. In my opinion, the DPPO (Designated Public Place Orders which give police officers discretionary powers to require a person to stop drinking and confiscate alcohol) should cover all of the town, as it can be very intimidating when groups of people become anti-social due to alcohol.
“Personally I do not see the need to consume a can or bottle of alcohol in town, although both local lads and migrants are guilty of this.
“Boston police have said that they would like to have the amount of businesses selling alcohol limited, which is down to our council, who have the powers to implement it – and other towns have implemented orders to make it happen. It has been brought to Boston Borough Council’s attention, and they are asking their legal team to investigate this.
“The government have been aware of - and turned a blind eye to  - our plight of now being over populated. David Cameron attempted to seize control of the political minefield of immigration in 2007, but it appears that we are still waiting for change - political massaging in my opinion.
“My grandchildren are now suffering in their education as resources are over-stretched in schools with comparatively very little extra funding. Teachers’ jobs are made difficult adjusting to children with English as their second language. I live near Park School, and I have been asked on several occasions for directions to “the Polish school.”
My daughter has worked in the school with children in the past and complained of the lack of funding, although I am not aware of the current situation.
“Last year, 96 children without English unexpectedly joined Boston primary schools, which had 85 already - and some children have suffered lack of education due to resources being depleted by a heavy influx of migrant children.
“As for locals gaining employment in packhouses, they now have to read a foreign language to apply for work - as there are at least five labour masters advertising for work in their windows in several languages ... but  not English.
“Perhaps these so called 'lazy people' should take a degree in language before they start agricultural work.
“I have also noticed that often when property is to let, advertising boards display several flags, but not a British one - either St George or the Union Jack. Is there a hidden message here?
“The migrants have had a raw deal working for unscrupulous gangmasters.
“A relative was  a wages clerk for such some years ago, when locals and migrants worked together, which is a rare occurrence these days.
“I feel that we have been pushed aside, in favour of migrants. Where did Gordon Brown’s quote “British jobs for British people” end up? British politics at its worst,
“I remember the press and media saying that foreign workers were being paid the minimum wage, and that all was fair.
“Not at all, they were being gang-master taxed at source, with exorbitant charges for transport to work, protective clothing and ppe (personal protective equipment) which an employer should provide. None of the British workers were similarly charged.
"There are also exorbitant charges for living accommodation. I have witnessed HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) with hot bedding for shift workers and sub-letting at £250 a week to gangmasters but realising healthy profits of over £1,200 a week plus - all living in fear of losing their jobs, and becoming homeless at the hands of their employers. How demoralising is that?
“Set aside their tendency to being hard workers, it is also shows the ease with which they can be exploited that makes them attractive to employ.
“Our forefathers spent years working for equal rights, pay and regular holidays for this country.
“For a majority of land workers this has been lost to the migrants - because they are prepared to work bank holidays and double shifts at mainly flat labour rates.
“It makes for a difficult working environment when mixed races try to work together - not for all, but in general.
“In my opinion one of the keys to harmonisation is integration in the community – which is not likely when Russian-Polish relations and our prejudices all conflict.
“When the question of integration was put to the police at a recent meeting, an officer replied: ‘I have been trying to bring together shops and businesses in the High Street for several years. If the Russians and Polish will not sit in a room together, there is very little chance of them attending a meeting and working with us”
“Boston has witnessed migrants feuding amongst themselves, involving knife crime. I once worked in a Skegness hotel that was overpopulated with Lithuanians, and several rooms contained eight inch lock knives - a cultural problem!
“Unemployment has now created a problem with some youngsters - where they have never worked, and now lack confidence to go out and find work. I do not see this as their fault. Many want work but are unable to obtain it, through no fault of theirs.
“Housing for our youngsters has become unaffordable unless they are prepared to house share, which prolongs the time that they have to spend with parents due to the rising demand for property.
“HMOs are a drain on resources, with ten wheelie bins to empty for one council tax charge - yet our elderly in shared property have to pay individually.
“We need the powers that be to stop guessing at the number of legal eastern European migrants that are here and give us the appropriate funding to meet the drain on our resources.
“It is said that migrants contribute £6 billion  to our economy. If this is the case then percentage wise, Boston should be in for a windfall - considering we have one migrant in six - the largest migrant population outside London. This would benefit all, including the migrant population.
“I do value the positive aspect to having a multi-racial Boston. We have two worlds operating alongside and hopefully together in time, when our children and grandchildren have children of their own.
“I have Polish friends, and eat and drink in the Delight Pub in West Street. There are many more past and present that I have worked for as an electrical contractor. They do feel victimised.
“They have every right to be here as part of the European Community - but not so many so that we are over populated.
“I believe that some of the migrants realise this, and wish others to understand it too. I would also like them to consider how they would react if this were to happen in their home town.”

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

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Extra time for disabled is Cabinet's limp response!

A Boston man who protested that plans to charge disabled blue badge holders for parking were discriminatory, has received an insouciant reaction from Boston Borough Council Leader Peter Bedford.
Martin Robbins wrote to Councillor Bedford on 15th February, and a week later received a reply – forwarded with a covering note from the borough’s “Communications” manager – rather than the man himself. … with the promise that  “a hard copy will follow in the post.”
The reply seems unlikely to persuade Mr Robbins, nor many others  for that matter.
“I am pleased to be able to tell you that the needs of blue badge holders have been fully considered and reflected in a recommendation from Cabinet to full council that an extra, free half-hour car parking is granted to blue badge holders using the borough council’s car parks,” says the "Leader."
“Subject to approval by full council on March 1st, this will allow those with mobility problems an additional free half hour, taking into consideration the additional time it takes for them to get from their vehicles and into town and back to their vehicles.
“I have to stress that blue badge holders will still have to purchase a car parking ticket, but for which ever (sic) period they purchase a ticket they will receive an extra free half hour.
“There is certainly no intention to discriminate against anyone, be they disabled, low paid, unemployed.
“I believe this recommendation shows that, and if there are real cases of hardship we will listen to them.”
Mr Robbins also raised the decision by the Tories to increase councillors’ allowances by 80% over four years, which Councillor Bedford justified by saying that Boston was far behind any other authority in Lincolnshire, and would be even after the agreed increase.
That's all right then.
And on a further complaint about the way the borough’s Chief Executive is paid, Councillor Bedford repeated his argument that “this arrangement is common at other local authorities.”
He offered no comment on Mr Robbins’s warning that his henchpeoples'  plan to charge the disabled may increase the number of blue badge holders who  park on double yellow lines and “cause more traffic chaos than normal in town, even with the bus service running through Strait Bargate.”
It’s not the first time that we have noted Councillor Bedford’s “hands off” approach to e-mails – more than once  we have been on the receiving end at Boston Eye -  when the "leader" employed a dogsbody as an intermediary ... and continued to do so even when replied to directly.
It can only be his way of expressing disapproval of people with whom he would rather not deal.
Certainly, disapproval  is what it won from Mr Robbins, who included the words “lazy” and “inept” in his reaction to us.
It’s hard to believe that Councillor Bedford can really imagine that a 30-minute parking extension is proof of a “listening” cabinet.
Until now, parking up to three hours has been free for Blue Badge holders.
Soon, it will be charged for – but with a “free” bonus half hour.
As it has not previously been charged for, it is in effect a new tariff – simply the time for which the badge holder pays, with 30 minutes added for (the steroptypically  disabled to limp back to their cars.
There’s nothing “free” about it.
The introduction of “hobbling time” is incredibly patronising - and not concessionary -  and we hope that people are quick to draw the council’s attention to the fact.

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

Monday, 27 February 2012

Pack (house) mentality is no  way to look at migration problem

Boston and immigration was on the BBC’s national and local agenda last week as the government announced that net migration – the number of people who come to live in Britain, minus the number leaving – remains at  a record 250,000  ... despite a government pledge to cut it to tens of thousands by 2015.
Although the news was not announced in time for its breakfast programme, BBC Radio Lincolnshire didn’t let this stand in its way – and managed to make Boston’s problems dominate the morning agenda regardless, with interviews with Boston Protest March organiser Dean Everitt; Councillor Mike Gilbert, who holds the Cabinet’s poisoned chalice for Community Development; an exceptionally long-winded Roger Helmer, one of our Lincolnshire MEPs, and Spalding farmer, Robert Oldershaw.
This over-egging of the immigration pudding allowed Radio Lincolnshire to run four interviews at some length in its two prime morning slots – those after 7am and 8am.
The peg for all this was the first meeting of the council’s Task and Finish Group on immigration – which had taken place exactly two weeks before.
We got an eerie sense of déjà vu – as the last time our local radio station decided to run Boston through the migration mill was by featuring the visit of the Home Office team to discuss the issue – a week after it had taken place.
March organiser Dean Everitt - whilst hoping that the Task and Finish Group would produce some really good results, nonetheless said that “the march will never be ruled out - there’s always the possibility of the march.”
He said that immigration could not carry on at the rate it’s going at the moment “because we’re just going to be overpopulated.”
“The council’s the first step. The council can persuade Government. The council are mainly political people, so they have some sway with the government, and I mean that they’re more attached to Mark Simmonds that what we are.”
However, Councillor Gilbert seemed less optimistic on that score, when he said: “There’s clearly a limit on how much a small local authority like ours can do. But we have the opportunity to talk to ministers, talk to MPs and that’s what we’re going to be doing.”
Whilst he outlined some issues that the group might deal with, in the main he sounded accepting of the status quo.
Highlight quotes include:
• We are part of the European Community, and I can’t see in any sort of short timescale, regulations and rules around migration in Europe being changed. Whether or not it’s a realistic prospect for us to get out of Europe in a way that would enable us to put up our borders I don’t know, that’s far beyond the scope of a local politician like me to have views of that magnitude really. Clearly what we can say about the situation is that people come to Boston to work. They come from the Eastern European countries to work. They have an incentive to come to Boston … and there are clearly issues in terms of why local people are not able or prepared to fill those vacancies … That clearly isn’t the case, and I think there’s some issues around the labour market which need to be explored and what’s disincentivising local people to do the work …
• A lot of families come here and they bring their children, and their children take places in local schools, as you’d expect. We’re a fair country and we provide education for children up to the age of 16. So if the children come here, they’re entitled to an education, and we provide that. I think in some ways we try and minimise the impact, so I think some children find that they’re not able to get into the school that they would ideally like to get into because places are filled.
• On healthcare:–   I think in some ways it’s proven to be advantageous having a slight uplift in the population. Certainly a few years ago they were talking about closing down the maternity unit at Pilgrim Hospital. I don’t think there’s much chance of that happening now. But in other areas there’s probably GP surgeries and things where services are potentially getting stretched. But I haven’t got any evidence of first hand experience of that, I have to say.
• On initial hurdles to overcome :– It’s very difficult to say. I’ve already alluded to some issues around the functioning of the labour market, and there are clearly issues to do with why the local people are not able to access employment in the area, and I think that may be something to do with the cost of housing. It’s a highly complicated issue. I’m hoping the Task and Finish Group will explore issues of that sort. That can be something that’s taken to Government and in relation to things like the use of illegal vehicles or anti social behaviour, or in terms of providing funding for services. We need to start monitoring when vehicles enter and leave the country, so that we can be clear about whether they are entitled to drive without paying British tax or whether they’re not.”
Spalding farmer Robert Oldershaw said that of the 250 lower skilled, lower paid “but above minimum wage” line factory workers he employed, up to 70% were migrants. He said there was “an over supply of over-qualified young people” and that the issue was to try to encourage young British nationals to do these jobs. He would “struggle” if he wasn’t able to employ migrant workers.
“If you come out of university and you’ve got a degree, I think that the last thing that you think of yourself as doing is going and working on a line.”
The BBC Six o’clock News added nothing to the debate.
UK affairs correspondent Chris Butler stopped one man in the street who complained that there were: “more foreigners around our doctor’s than there are English people.” A group from Portugal said there were too many migrants here. Dean Everitt complained: “I lost my job to two Polish workers willing to do my job for the money that I was being paid as a single person, and so my employer got two people for the price of one.” Immigration Minister Damian Green claimed that fewer visas had been issued, but, as Chris Butler pointed out: “In Boston, cutting visas will make little difference. Most migrants are from within the EU and have every right to live in the UK.” Magdalena Korzeb, from Boston,  said: “I believe we are seen by the English people as somebody who are taking their jobs and are on benefits,” at which point Butler intervened to say: “and the truth is you’re actually bringing employment here because you run a business? - Yes.”
And he ended his report with this helpful observation: “The challenge for councils and others is to adapt as growing numbers put ever greater pressure on their resources.”
What on earth can you make of all this?
One thing that disappoints us is the attitude towards employment.
Councillor Gilbert points to “issues” surrounding local people and their unavailability for packhouse work.
It is something that has come up time and time again.
Sadly it appears that the working context in which Boston’s great and good view local people – particularly the young –  is in lowly paid areas of the food industry.
This is, perhaps an inevitable but sad acknowledgment of the shameful fact that of our 632 parliamentary constituencies, Boston and Skegness is 17th in the bottom twenty – with 22 per-cent of working age people between 16 and 64 having no qualifications.
We are reminded of a recent quote from local MP Mark Simmonds: “I can meet some young people in Boston who say ‘Mark, when are you going to get all these migrants out of our town, and I say to them, ‘Well, when you’re prepared to go into the fields or the packhouses.”
And of course a similar line has been heard from Boston Borough Council leader Peter Bedford, who declared: “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.”
Boston is never going to be another silicon valley - but rather than stereotyping the town and saying things such as young people are “over qualified for packhouse work," we should be striving to bring white collar, better quality businesses to Boston so that our talented youngsters are not driven away, and the town may at last begin to claw itself out of the mire.
We are also amused to hear reference to “a slight uplift in the population” when the borough council has been alleging exactly the opposite for some considerable time.
Meanwhile, Dean Everitt’s warning that “the march will never be ruled out” seem less concerning  – particularly given the quotes attributed to him on Boston Borough Council’s website and in its monthly bulletin … which do not exactly chime with what we hear when he speaks on radio and TV, and read when he writes on Facebook.

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

Friday, 24 February 2012

 
Our Friday miscellany
of the week's
news and events
Boston MP and ministerial aide Mark Simmonds has apologised for failing to make clear an interest when speaking in favour of the NHS shake-up. Mr Simmonds told MPs he wanted to apologise for inadvertently failing to declare his interest when speaking in the debates on the Health and Social Care Bill in January and March last year. So, what trivial little thing had slipped his mind? Although he had correctly declared it in the register of interests, he did not mention that he is paid £50,000 a year - £12,500 per quarter for 10 hours work a month - as a strategic adviser to Circle Healthcare – which recently became the first private firm to run an NHS hospital, Hitchingbrooke Hospital, Cambridgeshire.
Interestingly, the news coincided with fears being expressed by Boston Labour councillors that Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital might be next to be run by Circle. Their website quotes public sector union UNISON’s concerns about a private company taking over and running Hinchingbrooke, warning that if it fails, the public sector – and ultimately the taxpayer – will have to come to the rescue,  or patients and the local community will suffer. The website says: “Boston Labour councillors have similar concerns to UNISON regarding private companies running NHS hospitals. We are concerned that Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital might be next on the ‘hit’ list and we are also concerned about the growing number of prominent conservative MPs who are receiving lucrative fees from Circle Healthcare. So we ask a simple question – is it patient care or the lucrative fees they receive that mostly influence their decisions? We strongly believe that the Pilgrim Hospital should stay as an NHS hospital and we will be urging people in Boston to support us.”
Among the broken promises made by the Conservatives in the run up to and aftermath of last year’s local elections, there is one that it is, perhaps, best not to have materialised. This was the idea of installing cameras in the Boston Borough Council chamber, so that we could watch council meetings via the internet. Such a facility already exists at County Hall in Lincoln – and every three months Boston Eye tunes  in to see what our local councillors have to say. Three meetings ago technical problems meant that we couldn’t hear a thing. Two meetings ago, the screen regularly went blank and the coverage crashed so that we couldn't see a thing – and again there was trouble with the sound. Having taken this up with the powers that be, we hoped for an improved webcast last week – but no. The message Webcast has finished flashed up no fewer than 14 times, even through the meeting was still underway, and much of it was lost to viewers.


Normally a recording appears by Monday afternoon – but this week it took until Tuesday for it to materialise, and when it did a time lag meant that the speakers do not appear where the agenda indicates. Let’s remember that this quarterly fiasco is produced by a county council that keeps banging on about the importance of the internet. A phrase involving the words booze-ups and breweries springs to mind.
However, despite these trials and tribulations, we can report that two of our seven County Councillors made themselves heard.
Fresh from his victory over the issue of relocating fast rescue boats back in Boston, Lincolnshire’s Independent county councillor for Boston West, Ramonde Newell, turned to flooding issues.He reminded members of the recent announcement by the Association of British Insurers that Boston and Skegness had the most homes at significant risk of flooding in England and Wales. The ABI has also warned that a deal with the government under which householders can get insurance in risk areas will expire next year. Councillor Newell asked the council leader Martin Hill: “Given the present and future dire economic situation, what is Lincolnshire County Council planning to do to help those requiring insurance against flooding, and to keep the cost down - and will you ensure that all householders in these areas are aware of those measures? Councillor Hill replied that he and his deputy Councillor Eddie Poll recently met the Environment Agency when the issue was extensively discussed. “We have agreed to lobby government to ask them to sort this issue out -  because you are right, it is quite a serious issue that needs resolving, and is as much an issue for the government as anybody else. But I can assure you that we will do all we can locally to raise those issues, because 40% of properties affected by this measure are in Lincolnshire - so it’s a major issue for us. We take it as a number one priority and we will keep you updated as to progress.” We hope that he means it – as this is an issue that currently blights our area and its chances of advancement.
Meanwhile, Conservative County Councillor for Boston East, Mike Gilbert, spoke in support of the council’s budget, and congratulated the finance portfolio holder. “I commented that as a council we need to play our part in reducing the national deficit, therefore we needed sound finances locally,” he said. “The opposition groups had suggested that we reduce the size of the reserves, but I spoke against this. As a country we have to reduce the deficit, and that the challenge is that reducing the deficit was really reducing the rate at which the country gets into debt rather than reducing the debt itself; therefore we need to maintain reserves because we can't be sure of the challenges ahead of us as a county.”
Now you have it, now you don’t. Last week we speculated on the possibility that a new police building might be going up  in our part of the world after the private security firm G4S won a £200 million contract with Lincolnshire Police. Since then, there have been hints that the new building (an artist's impression of which appears below) might be located in Sutterton.


But, guess what? Surprise, surprise, we hear that the force's preferred site for the development would be at its existing headquarters in Nettleham, north of Lincoln. The 30-cell station, based on a hub-and-spoke design, will house up to 120 staff – and will obviously create many new jobs. A police spokesman said: “"The next step is that G4S and ourselves will be preparing plans to go to West Lindsey District Council.” Boston losing out to Lincoln? Phew! What a rare occurrence!
Good news from Boston Borough Council’s newest blogger, Independent Councillor  Carol Taylor, who reports progress on improving Wormgate. She tells readers: “The problems with traffic through Wormgate have been well documented, causing destruction and damage to the shop fronts. There is, however, hope on the horizon. Friends of Wormgate, led by Jo Christmas, owner of Bizzaro's, has worked tirelessly to promote this area  - and their hard work is about to reap rewards. Boston Borough Council and Lincolnshire County Council are working closely with the friends to establish a better future for Wormgate and the proposal of a barrier on Fountain Lane is now moving forward to the consultation phase. This barrier will stop traffic using it as through road instead of an access road, which it is supposed to be. This proposed barrier will improve the lives of the business owners and residents by making it a safer and better shopping experience for the public. Although there are not many shops to browse at the moment, with the proposed barrier and improved pedestrian experience it is hoped that more small shops and businesses will be encouraged by these plans and move in to Wormgate.” This is excellent news, as we have always regarded Wormgate as having tremendous potential both a local base for the niche shops  that the town so desperately needs and  as a visitor attraction . It’s also heartening to see that although Boston BID threatened to put its oar in, no mention is made of it. Councillor Taylor’s blog will be updated weekly, and you can find it at http://councillorcaroltaylor.blogspot.com/ . Other councillors who "blog" please note. Many of you have not posted a word for months. If you’ve lost interest, why not admit and remove your pages from the internet.
We were rather surprised to find no mention at all about the furore over the way Boston’s Chief Executive Richard Harbord is paid in this week’s Boston Target, and would be fascinated to know the reason for the decision. Meanwhile, the Boston Standard lets Council leader Peter Bedford get away with the defence that the pay deal is “a proper and routine arrangement” which is “common” at other councils. It never ceases to amuse us that Councillor Bedford seems to think that if he treats taxpayers as idiots they will respond accordingly. If this arrangement is so  commonplace, then why is such a fuss being made about similar arrangements elsewhere in the country? Meanwhile, a sharp-eye reader notes that Mr Harbord's director information available online shows that he was born in April 1946 - making him 65 when his contract was renewed. He wonders whether this would have had any impact on the council's need to have paid NI or pension contributions had he been employed on a normal contract – the absence of which is one of the big benefits cited by Councillor Bedford.
We wonder whether the fact that Boston no longer heads the list for the fattest town in Britain is seen as something of a challenge by our local “newspapers.” This week’s Boston Target is offering a voucher to get a free jam doughnut or iced finger with any fresh pasty bought at Curtis bakers and butchers. What a combination! Not to be outdone, the Boston Standard is offering free chips with any purchase from Eagle’s fish and chip shop. What next? A free Lincolnshire potato couch from Cammacks to loaf around on all day?
It raised a smile when we read a quote by  Boston Town football club chairman Mick Vines about the booking of 'X' Factor winner Matt Cardle to headline a concert at the club’s ground in May. “There hasn’t been a music act as big as this here since the glory days of the Gliderdrome,” he is reported as saying. Of course there hasn’t. Over the years the Glider welcomed such pop superstars as Stevie Wonder, T Rex, Billy Fury, the Walker Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, and Elton John. Forgive us if we ask “Matt who ..?
Another smile wrinkled our withered old cheeks when we read a report that  Boston Borough Council claimed  that it spotted the potential benefits to be had by tapping into Mary Portas’s expertise long before she was asked to review the nation’s high streets  - by inviting her to visit Boston last June. Cabinet member for Leisure and Cemeteries, Councillor Yvonne Gunter, is quoted as saying: “I asked her to come to Boston to give her views on retailing. I wanted her to suggest ways in which we could better link up the shopping areas. I outlined some of the things we were doing … and she replied to me to say she was delighted to hear of some of the efforts being made. I had no inkling that she was looking at these things from a national perspective. It just goes to show that Boston was ahead of the game.” It does nothing of the kind – except to demonstrate how easy it is to cram five personal pronouns into just 85 words. All it shows is that a council attempt to create a sound bite and a photo opportunity was politely declined. And aside from the fact that any invitation might perhaps more appropriately have come from another portfolio holder, history tells us that Mary Portas was commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron to lead an independent review into the Future of the High Street in May last year – before the council’s invitation was issued. –  which just goes to show how easily a lack of inkling can more likely be due to not reading the papers – and that instead of being ahead of the game,  the council had apparently failed to realise that it had started!
For a second week, the Boston Standard’s Pages from the Past feature has produced a chuckle. Forty years ago, it reminds us, we were in the grip of the miners’ strike, which it claims apparently prompted some locals to cash in by selling their “old oil lamps.”

 please click on the picture to enlarge it
We imagine that reporters are so young these days that they will never have seen a Valor paraffin heater – one of which is pictured on the left, which were commonplace in the days before central heating. We have to tell the Standard that they would not have produced much light – unless they got knocked over and started a fire!

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

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Would these be the kamikaze pilots that we've read about?

It’s ironic that an appeal from Boston’s Labour councillors in one of last week’s local newspapers - for the borough to bid for one of the £100,000 “Portas Pilots” funding grants  - was published two days after a meeting was held with exactly that on the agenda.
It would seem that once again, our so-called “leadership” considers that it owns the monopoly on ideas on issues such as this,  and therefore feels no need to involve councillors from other parties.
As ever, it comprised the usual suspects from the cabinet - the leader, Councillor Peter Bedford, plus portfolio holder for Leisure and Cemeteries, Yvonne Gunter, and the ceaselessly gung-ho town centre demagogue Derek Richmond – a trio which more and more seems to be running the shop these days, and a cast of thousands from the town’s great and good.
They had such a good time that they are meeting again tomorrow, with even more contributors.
In a foreword to the Mary Portas High Street report, Grant Shapps, Minister of State for Communities and Local Government, declares that “the high streets of the future should be multi-functional and social places bustling with people, services and jobs which offer a clear and compelling purpose and experience that’s not available elsewhere, and which meets the interests and needs of the local people”.
He added: “We are asking local leaders to come up with innovative ideas of their own to boost struggling high streets and town centres. I want to see local leaders ready to try new things, experiment and innovate so that their high streets and parades become the place to be for local people and visitors alike. We expect dedicated Town Teams - providing a vision and strategic management for their local high streets - to be at the heart of pilot bids …
“This is a golden ticket to demonstrate the ambition, enthusiasm and imagination needed to help your high street thrive. I hope that everyone who cares about their town centre will leap at the chance to get involved.”
In Boston, we seldom leap these days – a desultory hop is about the best that we can come up with.
Mary Portas herself has proposed the setting up of Town Teams – “visionary, strategic and strong” operational management teams for high streets – and also to empower successful Business Improvement Districts to take on more responsibilities and powers and become Super-BIDs.
Winning applications for the Portas largesse have to be fronted by the local council, which will receive the money and which is then expected to work constructively with local communities, through the Town Team.
Already we can foresee problems with this bid. Those are attending tomorrow's meeting are a disparate bunch, and whilst we are sure that they will talk a lot, we are less than sanguine about the likely outcome.
History has already proved that Boston Borough Council and Boston Business Improvement District are not exactly sparkling when it comes to organising projects – the community rooms fiasco demonstrates that to perfection.
And we find it hard to imagine who might fit the description of the visionary, strategic and strong managers that the report says are needed.
There is also a conflict of adages.
Is the borough attempting to pursue the philosophy that many hands make light work?
We fear that this approach also invites the charge that too many cooks spoil the broth.
As part of tomorrow’s debate participants have been sent copies of the Boston Town Centre Study - drawn up by a team of consultants for the now defunct Boston Area Regeneration Company three years ago.
It is not the best starting point for a discussion – as it talks of the failed West Street/Merchants Quay development, and the now historic opportunity presented by the 700th anniversary of Boston Stump – which the borough dramatically failed to capitalise on as a source of publicity and promotion
It does, however, correctly note threats – such as an uncoordinated and ad hoc approach to the redevelopment of the town centre; redevelopment schemes characterised by poor urban design and quality, and the increase in value brand retailers in the town centre –  which means the rise of pound shops, charity shops and mobile ‘phone retailers.
But although these dangers were highlighted as long as three years ago – little, if anything – appears to have been done to address them.
We understand that a video is also under discussion to promote Boston’s case for funding.
If so, we hope that it is nothing like the one pictured at the top of the page - recorded by staff and students from Lincoln University, which you can view by clicking here – and which has been viewed just 300 times. 
And sadly, we would also draw your attention to another video on that page – also called Welcome to Boston, by someone called “teabagbob” – which by contrast has been viewed 37,289 times.
Watch it and weep!

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

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Pickles in a stew over  top council officers’ pay and tax  arrangements!

There have been further developments in the row over the way Boston Borough Council’s Chief Executive Richard Harbord is paid - with a call by the council’s Deputy Leader of the Labour Group for the Audit Commission to carry out an investigation.
The request comes in a letter  from Councillor Paul Gleeson, who -  in a BBC radio interview last week  - observed that Mr Harbord’s payment of around £108,000 a year for working just 15 days a month  meant that “he can earn in 23 days what the average family in Boston have to live on for a year.”
The row is over the fact that Mr Harbord, whose contract with Boston Borough Council runs until May next year, is not directly employed by Boston Borough Council – but as a consultant via a private company, MRF UK - which means that he isn’t charged tax or national insurance as a council employee.
In his letter, Councillor Gleeson says that this method of payment “would appear to be similar to that which has been criticised by Ministers of the Crown as being an inappropriate way for a public servant to be paid.”
He adds: “I would be grateful if you could look into this matter, address the issue in the annual audit letter, and consider taking into account the Government’s position on this kind of payment, issuing a public interest report.”
In reply, the Audit Commission – motto Protecting the public purse – says an auditor will be in touch “shortly."
Meanwhile, The Guardian newspaper reports that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles – who earns less in a year than Mr Harbord is paid by Boston Borough Council for half that time - has ordered all councils to disclose whether any employees are using special arrangements to reduce tax on their earnings.
The newspaper says that the Communities Department guidance makes clear that, under the Localism Act, authorities in England and Wales should review senior executives' pay packages, particularly where arrangements could be perceived as being designed to minimise tax payments.
Mr Pickles is quoted as saying: "Local people have a right to know whether town hall tax-dodgers are short-changing the public purse; whether bumper bonuses are being awarded to poorly performing workers; or whether pay is being hiked up for execs who've boomeranged from post to post.
"The door to council pay practices is being unlocked by the Localism Act. Local authorities must now publicly endorse their pay practices by next month.
Doing this will reassure residents that local pay is fair, fit for purpose and fully 'democracy proofed.'"
Councillor Paul Kenny, Leader of the Labour Group on Boston Borough Council, said: “Boston Labour Party support George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Andrew Lansley in their condemnation of this method of paying CEO salaries.
“It obviously proves that the local Tories are out of tune with their national party, and we await any comment from Mark Simmonds, MP.
“Which side of the fence will he sit on – will he support local or national policy?”
In terms of scale, Monday’s Boston Eye report pointed out that Mr Harbord’s payment of around £108,000 a year equates to a full time equivalent of £216,000.
It seems disproportionately high when you consider that Boston is one of the smallest local authorities in the country – ranked 331st out of 354 English local councils.
The full time equivalent payment to our current Chief Executive is greater than that of the London Borough of Brent - which at 35th on the list is almost 300 places higher.
On top of that, Mr Harbord - whose company address is based in an avenue of £400,000 homes in the village of Windlesham in Surrey - receives around £1,500 a month in travelling expenses and the cost of overnight stays.

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

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

"Road chaos" warning if council charges blue badge holders to park
Boston Borough Council leader Peter Bedford has been warned that charging disabled blue badge holders to park will bring chaos to Boston’s roads.
Martin Robbins, who in the past has been a vehement critic of the spending on the Princess Royal Sports Arena, also attacks the decision to continue to award council staff free parking in borough-owned car parks,
He writes: “This is in fact a discrimination against myself and other disabled people when you as a councillor (when on council business) and any member of council staff, can park for free in any council owned park - often all day if at work in the council’s offices - a benefit not offered to members of the public or the disabled.
“I feel that, if you as council leader and your councillors, cannot now afford to pay parking, having raised your own allowances last year by over 80%, then how can you expect the disabled - who generally live on state benefits - to afford your parking fees…
“What you are planning may only increase the volume of blue badge holders who choose to park on double yellow lines in accordance with the Road Traffic Act.
This would cause more traffic chaos than normal in town, even with the bus service running through Strait Bargate.”
Meanwhile, Independent Councillor Carol Taylor, who also thinks that councillors and staff should not be excused parking charges, has taken to the internet.
In a newly-created blog* she writes: “As you are all aware the cost of car parking is set to increase - together with the introduction of car parking fees for those suffering a physical disability.  I agree with this plan - but it has to be revenue gained from everyone, including councillors, council officers and employees.
“The issue of free parking permits, whilst a perk of the job, can no longer be acceptable in times of austerity - now where have I heard that before?
“I intend to pursue this, which will make me even more unpopular in council than I am already.
"Does this bother me?
“Not as much as not being able to find someone to come with me to see Barry Manilow in concert in May!!!
Meanwhile, last week’s claim by Boston businessman Darron Abbott that Boston Borough Council is footing a tax bill that councillors and staff should pay for the benefit of free parking passes, has been challenged by Labour Councillor Paul Gleeson.
He says that Mr Abbott’s assertion about the council’s tax and National Insurance liability in respect of staff parking permits, are wrong – citing section 237 of the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003. 
Councillor Gleeson says that there are two elements to staff parking -  the first of which is workplace parking, where an employer provides parking free of charge to staff at their normal place of work, and which he says is exempt from tax liability by statute and attracts no NI liability.
“As far as staff parking in other council car parks is concerned, Councillor Gleeson says: “If council staff, like many other employees, have to pay to park their car as a result of carrying out their job, they are able to claim back the cost of parking as non-taxable expenses. They use the permit in lieu of paying for and then reclaiming the cost of parking. Therefore, there is no tax liability arising from this use of the permit.
“I have checked with the council who have confirmed that no payments have been made to, or demanded by, HMRC because of this issue.”
Mr Abbott sticks to his guns.
“The letter I received from the Inland Revenue a couple years ago suggested that this section presumed that the parking facility was a private facility that a cash value could not be attached to. The letter went on to draw on the fact that the council staff park in a public car park;  the provision of the space in this car park, whether by the council or private employer, could be deemed as having cash value of £280 (the price of a permit at that time).
"Therefore as the benefit has cash value, it should be declared …
"I have spoken to one of the local inspectors who confirmed this provision may be deemed as a benefit by the Revenue because of the cash value. The letter also suggested that the Council could have a PAYE Settlement Agreement (PSA) in place.”
Something that Boston Eye would like clarifying is:  Do staff paying to park as “a result of carrying out their job” include those who sit behind a desk all day and do not  need to leave it until close of business?
Surely, a car is needed to carry out one’s job only if it is used as part of that job – and not merely as a means of transport from home to work?
And the council has a fleet of pool cars for  staff who need the use of a vehicle during the working day.

*Councillor Carol Taylor’s blog, which we understand will be updated every Thursday,  can be read by clicking on the link  http://councillorcaroltaylor.blogspot.com/  

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

Monday, 20 February 2012

Row over how Chief Executive Richard Harbord is paid by Boston Borough Council

The way in which Boston’s Chief Executive, Richard Harbord, is paid,  has entered the spotlight -  at a time when public sector pay deals are under  a broader  and highly controversial review.
Reports and interviews on BBC Radio Lincolnshire  on Friday said that Mr Harbord, whose contract with Boston Borough Council runs until May next year, is not directly employed by Boston Borough Council – but as a consultant via a private company, which means that he isn’t charged tax or national insurance as an ordinary council employee would be.
Mr Harbord’s contract is worth around £108,000 a year for 15 days a month at £600 a day.
A Lincoln accountant told BBC Radio Lincolnshire that when someone is paid as an employee, national insurance and income tax  are charged at 20% up to the basic tax threshold of £34,370 and 40% thereafter up to £150,000.
But if a company is paid instead, tax is charged at only 20% - up to £300,000.
The BBC news reports reminded us that senior public sector pay hit the headlines earlier this month when it was revealed that the Chief Executive of Student Loan Company was paid via a private service company, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, ordered an immediate review into the appropriateness of allowing senior public sector staff to be paid this way.
Boston Borough Council Leader, Conservative Councillor Peter Bedford, said that Mr Harbord was not employed by a private service company and that care should be taken comparing the  Boston arrangements with those recently publicised.
He said: “Our Chief Executive is only a part-time position. He is perfectly at liberty to work for other clients … The council’s contract with the company means that the council has no liability for holiday pay, sick pay, national insurance or pension contributions. There is also no question of employment rights and the cost arising from that.”
Asked about a possible perception by other workers that he doesn’t have to pay National Insurance and income tax, the Leader replied:
“Well he does as well, I am sure. Our Chief Executive would also say there is  (sic) no tax benefits to him in these arrangements as far as he is concerned. The company that employs him pays Corporation Tax and is registered for PAYE, so that any payments to him personally attract full income tax and national insurance deductions.”
Informed that the government had ordered an inquiry into these kinds of arrangements in the civil service and public sector, and asked the arrangement would now be reviewed, Councillor Bedford replied: “No. Not until May 2013.”
Challenged that “some people are disputing the manner of his employment,” he responded: “There is one person who I had a complaint from. So it’s like everything else, there will be winners and there will be losers. Mr Harbord, this year, on his new contract which we extended, we reduced it through negotiations by three per-cent. So how many people have taken a three per-cent pay deduction this year in the civil service?”
Labour Councillor Paul Gleeson said he found the affair “concerning.”
“Richard Harbord, who is a good officer, was employed initially on short term contracts, but last November he was given a permanent employment for a limited time, and when I learned in January that he was still being paid in this way, I did raise it with our Section 151 officer (the officer responsible for finance) who said this was all right.
"But I think what you’ve got to do as a councillor, you’ve go to ask yourself what would somebody looking in, not with all the knowledge or information, think about a council that is paying a member of their staff in a way when you have government ministers saying that they’re not happy with that method.
“And I think Peter Bedford does have to ask himself - and maybe ask some of his senior colleagues   -is this the right way to do it?"
Asked whether this was the politics of envy, Councillor Gleeson responded: “He can earn in 23 days what the average family in Boston have to live on for a year. He earns a lot of money.
"You have a council that is focussing a lot of the cuts that the government are forcing on to them on to the disabled people of Boston. And so you can see why people looking in think ‘why are the council paying this man in a rather peculiar way’ – a way that Andrew Lansley took time out on Thursday from privatising the NHS to apologise for, and say he’s going to look into. And yet we seem to be happy that we’re going on down this path.”
Was it a price worth paying for a well-run authority: “I don’t know. I’m certain there were people of equal ability who would do the job for less. But it’s not so much how much Richard Harbord’s been paid, it’s the way he’s being paid. He’s not being paid in the way that normally a council pay its staff.
“I’ve raised it with the Section 151 officer, and he says it’s all right, so we’ll raise it in council.
"We will raise it with the ruling group in the council and see if they can review it. I admit he’s now in a contract, and most likely they are in a situation that we are stuck in.
"But you have ministers promising to change it in their departments, so I don’t think it can be impossible for the borough to readdress the issue.”
Boston Eye says: One thing that hasn’t been made quite clear is when the decision to make the Chief Executive post part-time was taken.
The final extension to Mr Harbord’s contract was taken by the full council on 26th September - and included the announcement by Councillor Bedford that “within six months the council would start to look for a new chief executive.”
Almost five of those six months have elapsed with no hint of a start to the search.
The borough press release continued: “He (Bedford) said it was clear the council could no longer sustain a full-time chief executive, and talks would be held with neighbouring authorities to possibly share a chief executive, as one of the options for the future.”
Again, this implies a full-time status at that time – when it was clearly not the case.
So what appears to have happened is  - that on the departure of former Chief Executive Mick Gallagher, and the appointment of Richard Harbord, the post seamlessly moved from full to part-time status.
That’s fine as far as it goes – but bear in mind that Mr Harbord’s payment of £108,000 a year is the full time equivalent of £216,000.
On top of that, Mr Harbord receives travelling expenses and the cost of overnight stays - apparently around £1,500 a month .
Boston is one of the smallest local authorities  – ranked 331st of 354 English local authorities.
But the full-time equivalent payment to the current Chief Executive is still higher than the 2010 salary and allowances of the head of the  London Borough of Brent, which at 35th on the list is almost 300 places higher.
When Mick Gallagher left Boston Borough Council in mid 2009, his full-time pay was calculated at £91,932.
Mr Harbord’s appointment more than doubled the rate for the job by making it -  at half-time - an even higher sum.
What will Boston Borough Council do when the time comes to replace Mr Harbord?
It would be ridiculous to continue to offer the current going rate – our neighbouring authorities  currently pay their full-time Chief Executives a rate rate similar to that of Mr Harbord.
But how will they explain to applicants for a part-time job that once paid £108,000,  that the "new" rate will be around £50,000?
Meanwhile, as Councillor Bedford told the BBC,  our Chief Executive is "perfectly at liberty to work for other clients"  –  and Mr Harbord is apparently keeping busy during his time away from Boston.
According to the website Openly Local ,  Mr Harbord’s company MRF UK LTD – which was  once, it seems, previously named Modular Raised Floors (UK) Ltd - is located at Gooserye, Cooper Road, Updown Hill, Windlesham, Surrey – a street of two-storey houses which sell for around £400,000 a time.
A visit to the website Directorcheck,  finds Mr Harbord listed as holding 32 company director or secretary appointments – including those of a plumbing and an amusement company.
Also listed at the same address is on the site is Ms Jenny Harbord,  who has six company director or secretary appointments – including that of bookkeeper to MRF UK.

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

Friday, 17 February 2012

Our Friday miscellany
of the week's
news and events
Our question about where the Lincolnshire County Council staff were coming from to take over two floors of Boston Borough Council’s West Street offices has been answered. LCC wants to quit Boston’s County Hall to save money – it currently costs £192,000 a year to run the building. It houses the registration office, adult social care, children’s services, Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership and business support. And it is home to Boston Library, which will also have to move. Yet again, the plan highlights a lack of foresight by those who spend our council tax so freely. Just two years ago - on Monday 22nd February 2010 to be precise - the library reopened to a big fanfare after a costly refit. We can’t recall the exact price, but similar makeovers at other county libraries were in the region of £100,000. And now they want to move it. Aside from the fact that this is a colossal waste of our money, could we at least suggest one wholly suitable location which, coincidentally, is another council white elephant.
The now closed and on-the-market Haven Gallery (right) is in the town’s Arts Quarter. It is bright and spacious, and has a lift and disabled access - all of which makes it ideal for use as a library. It could also be used to display some of the town’s paintings and artefacts, which the Haven should have done but never really got round to.
Before it moves, Boston Library is to become only one of two in the county taking part in a regional pilot project to help people find online information about health and social care issues more easily. The other library is in Birchwood, near Lincoln - one of the city's most deprived areas. Library staff have been trained to help customers find local health and social care websites on the internet, and each library computer will also point users to NHS Choices and other local health care websites. It all sounds very helpful – but also potentially expensive for somewhere such as Boston, which is  already overburdened in this particular area.!
Don Ransome, a Wyberton parish councillor and UKIP activist, writes to Boston Eye to say that whilst he wishes Boston Borough Councillor  and Labour group leader Paul Kenny good luck as chairman of the Task and Finish group discussing local immigration issues, he questions if  he is the right man for the task. “In the 2005 General Election, he said the solution to the migrant worker influx was ‘to build more houses for them,’" writes Councillor Ransome. “I do hope he has seen sense since then, I really do.” By way of consolation, he adds: “I actually get on well with Paul and these are genuine doubts, meant with no disrespect to the man.”
Despite local protests, Lincolnshire County Council is persisting with a trial six-month ban on drivers turning right from Sleaford Road into Brothertoft Road. We use this road a lot, and have to say that we have seldom encountered much by way of problems. County Hall says it will be monitoring the experiment closely and will make it permanent if the trial is successful. We take that as meaning it will become permanent, regardless. According to a county highways officer, the ban is the “culmination of a number of initiatives to keep people moving in the town.” By an interesting coincidence, yesterday saw us heading out of town across the junction of Spilsby Road, Freiston Road and Willoughby Road, which was the subject of another  highways initiative, and variously denounced in the days of the BBI as a “death trap” and, ludicrously,  “the road rage capital of Europe” Fellow road users will recall that until the County Council intervened, drivers waited at the lights in two lanes, then raced frantically to force their way to the front as the roads merged into a single carriageway. After sixteen weeks of roadworks, the highways department unveiled a new junction … at which drivers wait at the lights in two lanes, then race frantically to force their way to the front as the roads merge into a single carriageway. Lincolnshire County Council calls this “initiatives to keep people moving.” Boston Eye calls it pointless and ineffectual tinkering.
Meanwhile, LCC tells us that plans to deliver further improvements for cyclists around the town are being investigated - including routes to Pilgrim Hospital, routes along Windsor Bank and Witham Bank, and improvements to the National Cycle Network route at South Square and Haven Bridge. Lincoln gets another bypass. Boston gets cycle tracks. If they’re trying to tell us something, they couldn’t make it much clearer! The idea of cycle routes on footways such as Windsor Bank and Witham Bank are all very fine if they are separate and distinct, and don’t make life even worse for pedestrians who often already find themselves at considerable risk from two-wheeled riders who ignore the cycling bans in force. At present neither of the footpaths named are wide enough for pedestrians and cyclists to co-exist in safety.
We welcome the news that Boston Borough Council is to continue to say prayers before the start of full council meetings. Not so much for reasons of faith, but because we feared that our overly politically correct leadership would not hesitate to fall in line after this week’s High Court ruling that prayers were not lawful. It seems that the decision was largely down to technicalities, and so our leaders are not actually being that brave - but we’re glad that the tradition will remain in Boston. A cynic might say that the council needs all the help it can get!
Last week we mentioned that Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue will soon have one of the UK’s largest flood rescue capabilities when it takes delivery of ten new rescue boats. The availability of these boats is something that has been vigorously pursued by Boston West County Councillor Ramonde Newell,  since the boat that was once based here in town was moved to Spalding. Last week’s announcement from County Hall said that the exact locations for the boats had not been determined, but in a statement to today’s County Council meeting in Lincoln Councillor Peter Robinson, Lincolnshire’s Executive member for Community Safety,  will say that the boats will be launched ceremonially on 28th March, and adds: “They will be deployed to whole time manned fire stations, including Boston.”
click on picture to enlarge
A local signatory to a petition to establish a close season to protect the hare population has been left disappointed by the response from Boston MP Mark Simmonds. The petition – to support an Early Day Motion in parliament - says that because of a lack of protection during the breeding season, tens of thousands of dependent young hares are left to die each year when their nursing mothers are killed. Mr Simmonds’s reply is somewhat ambiguous.On the one hand the letter recognises the importance of the issue, and also acknowledges that government efforts to increase the hare population have failed. Yet in the same breath, the MP cites this as a reason for not signing the motion  - as he feels the government is already doing enough. Surely, supporting the motion would have put pressure on the government to get its act together – although that might have been seen as a mite rebellious.
We wonder whether Boston is in line for a bold new innovation from Lincolnshire Police.  For some while now there has been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of prisoners between Boston and Spalding after the latter’s police cells were closed to save money. Now we hear that the police plan a £200 million contract with the private firm G4S to build a new two-storey custody suite with 30 cells. Although the location of the cells is still to be decided, the Boston area must surely be a prime candidate given the local concerns about the state of the cells that has recently been expressed.
Whilst household recycling figures in Lincolnshire remain encouraging, with the county recycling 52% of its waste, Boston is still the name which crops up as the guilty party which is dragging the rest of the place down. County Councillor Lewis Strange, Lincolnshire’s Executive member for Waste Services and Green Issues says: “If Boston joined the other districts in recycling their green waste stream, our total recycling figures should improve by a couple of percentage points." Recently published figures for 2010 put the borough at the bottom of the compost heap with a meagre 29% of recycling - whereas the top recyclers, West Lindsey, manage 56% .
The saga of Boston Borough Council’s vanishing website stories continues. Last week we mentioned the tale of a “giveaway” of unwanted materials such as paving slabs, bricks, kerbstones and other construction materials  - which public bodies and charitable organisations could apparently have for the asking, - but which vanished within hours of being posted. On Friday, just before knocking-off time, a report appeared about the burst water main in the Market Place.  It ended with the promise: “More information will be posted as it becomes available.” The message remained on the website throughout the weekend and into Monday morning, before it … vanished -  without another word. People may have been relying on their council for information that they didn't get. The moral? Don’t make promises that you can’t keep.
More news of the antics of Boston’s former Chief Executive, Mark James, who’s now chief executive at Carmarthenshire County Council. We’ve mentioned before the tough line he takes with local bloggers - in particularly Jacqui Thompson, who writes one entitled Carmarthenshire Planning Problems. Mr James has already been instrumental in getting Mrs Thompson arrested after she filmed a council meeting on her cellphone.  Subsequently, Mrs Thompson issued a libel writ against Mr James,  alleging that comments he posted on a blog were libellous. Now, according to local newspaper reports, Mr James is counter-suing as well as defending – and the council has agreed to foot the bill!  All of this reminds us of Mr James’s spell in Boston, and the scheme to build the Princess Royal Sports Arena – which he claimed would not cost local taxpayers a penny. Once in Carmarthen,  a similar scheme  was launched to construct a multi-million pound rugby and athletics arena, which has also cost local taxpayers a fortune.
Has this week’s Boston Standard inadvertently reproduced a howler from a quarter of a century ago? The paper’s Pages from the Past tell of a 1987 visit to a local school by a Mexican guitarist “simply known as One.”

click on picture to enlarge

One of the most popular names in Mexico is, of course Juan – which has two entries in the nation’s top twenty list.  Imagine the scenario 25 years ago.  Reporter: And what's your name? Guitarist: Juan. Reporter: One?  Guitarist: Si,  Juan. As the pronunciation of Juan is … One,  and we're talking about the Boston Standard here, the potential for disaster is inescapable!
Finally, in the interest of even-handedness, we reproduce this unforgivable pun from the Boston Target.

Sometime puns work well, and are funny. On other occasions they fail because they misuse words, and are pretty tasteless,  and this is one of those times. Aside from that, the issue is probably no laughing matter - as we are sure that anyone requiring ankle replacement surgery will confirm!.

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

Thursday, 16 February 2012

"Council paid tax bill on staff's free parking perks"

There’s been another twist in the tale of free parking for staff of Boston Borough Council.
A letter to Boston Eye from local businessman Darron Abbott – who stood for the council at last year’s elections – highlights abuses of the system, and a deal with the taxman under which the council footed the bill for charges that should have been paid by the permit holders.
“Having read with interest recently the various comments made about the charging of council staff for parking, I am surprised that the current administration has opened themselves up to this one,” writes Mr Abbott.
“Whilst most of them are new and a little naïve, I cannot believe that they had not noticed the subject being raised in the past.
“I have tried to raise the issue for a number of years, only to be met with a refusal by the councillors and officers to act on what is in my opinion is discrimination against the parkers of Boston. (Perhaps Councillor Richmond would like to offer his thoughts on this one).
“The excuses for not implementing the charges are still the same - apart from the one they offered three years ago, which was the staff may become depressed at the thought of paying for parking.
“Another excuse given by the council for providing the staff with free parking was that they may need their vehicle for use on official business, I assume this reason has been dropped with the purchase of the five pool cars last autumn.
“Let’s face facts, despite the promises made by the Conservatives that if they took power from the BBI they would also take power from the officers, they have failed to do so. The decision not to charge staff for parking was not taken by councillors but by officers; the phrase turkeys voting for Christmas comes to mind.
“Despite the council’s spokesperson declaring that the permit can only be used whilst the staff are working, from the evidence I gathered when we lived next to the Staniland car park this was not adhered to.
"Whilst I appreciate that this was a couple of years ago I cannot believe the behaviour of the staff has changed. Phil Drury (the council’s Strategic Director and Deputy Chief Executive) and Ian Martin (Economic Development Officer) were both made aware at the time of the abuse of the permits - not just the times of use, but breaches of other parking regulations knowing full well the car park attendants would turn a blind eye to their misdemeanours.
"On many occasions, council staff were found parking in the Staniland car park on Saturdays and bank holidays knowing that their staff permit would mean that no penalty notice would be issued. Then there was the case of one female employee of the council selling her car to her brother and not handing back her permit - he parked for free for a long time. When it was pointed out to Phil Drury, yes, the permit was taken back, but there was no action against the member of staff.
“It appears there are 281 staff permits issued,  and when multiplied by the cost of £328 it appears the loss of revenue to the council is £92,168.
“But it could be worse - as I found during my enquires a couple of year ago.
“I will apologise if the facts have changed and someone from the council produces evidence to prove me wrong. I also apologise if this gets a bit technical.
“The provision of parking for the staff constitutes a taxable benefit, and the staff should pay tax at the prevailing rate on the cost of the permit of £328. This would be 20% for anyone earning less than £42,475 and 40% for those earning more than this.
“When I enquired as to why the staff was not taxed on this benefit, it was suggested that an arrangement had been reached with the Inland Revenue for the council to pay the tax on behalf of the staff.
“This would mean that if all staff were paid below the 40% tax band the amount paid to the Revenue would be £23,042. Of course, we all know that many of the officers are paid more than the £42,475. "This would increase the tax payment due from £82 per person to £218.66 per person.
"On top of this the council would have to pay Class 1A National Insurance contributions at 13.8% which at the lowest amount be £15,898.98.
"So in summary, the lost revenue could total in excess of £131,108.98 - that’s hell of a contribution the ratepayers make to these hard hit poor council staff.

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

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

So many businesses want to leave ... Something must be done - but who is going to do it?


We mentioned last week the appearance of yet another long established local business in the commercial property for sale section of our local newspapers.
At the time we noted that just one agent had no fewer than sixteen shops and business on offer – which struck us as rather a lot.
Obviously, businesses turn over just as jobs do, but we decided to look further into the figures – and what surprised us was the amount of property and land that is on the market.
Some examples of land included
  •  £950,000: A freehold site of three self-contained offices with parking facilities which included a development site with permission to build four dwellings.
  • £800,000: Almost one and a half acres of development land on the site of the former Ford dealership fronting Fydell Crescent.
  • £420,000: A development site on Broadfield Lane, with planning permission for 13 three storey dwellings – an exciting opportunity, as the site is situated within walking distance of the town centre.
  • And those are just a few.
It has long been acknowledged that Boston needs more housing.But new homes come at a price in terms of added population which increases the pressure on local services such as schools, surgeries and hospitals – all of which are already stretched to breaking point.
Then there is the issue of gaining approval from organisations such as the Environment Agency, which still clings to the belief that Boston will sink beneath the waves any day now – and as a result often opposes new building plans, which further discourages would-be developers.
In terms of commercial property on the market, there is a worrying story beneath the surface.
A cursory glace through the lists shows
  •  A bank building and two major restaurants in the Market Place, along with the former Thresher’s off licence.
  • Properties in High Street, Emery Lane, West Street and Wormgate.
  • And those are just for starters …
Many of these sites and premises have been on sale since Noah was a lad, and what these figures declare is that no-one apparently wants to build in Boston, whilst many businesses are anxious to leave.
The slightly complacent approach adopted by the powers-that-be is to point to the relatively low number of vacant shops in Boston town centre.
A year ago Boston was listed as the best of a bad lot in Lincolnshire, with a 7% vacancy rate.
But if any of the local businesses with premises on the market tire of waiting, and decide to leave rather than soldiering on until a sale materialises, the picture could become very different.
We see the 7% vacancy rate as the tip of an iceberg –  with far more below the surface in terms of people who want to sell up and go.
We understand that Boston plans to bid for a share of the cash put up following the report by Mary Portas into the decline of our town centres.
A dozen cash grants of £100,000 are on offer to 12 councils which come up with the best ideas, but sadly, Boston’s track record is not what it could be.
The laughable My Boston project was launched after the borough was given a grant of £52,600 from a £3 million government kitty with the long-term aim to get empty shops open once again.
The project had three strands – in the short-term to decorate the windows of empty town centre shops using vinyl window graphics; to create a community/arts hub in the former Sketchleys and Card Fayre shops;  and to give a grant to help a new town centre business pay its business rates for the first year.
Strand One never happened because it was too much trouble; the second swallowed up all the money due to council ineptitude … so nothing was left for the third.
All we ended up with was a not very exciting art gallery, and a community hub apparently dedicated to helping us stop smoking, and which no-one ever seems to visit.
Boston Business Improvement District was involved with that project, and we would have thought that it might have shown an interest in the town’s current plight – as so many business are clearly anxious to pack up and go.
But in the way that Nero fiddled while Rome burned, the BID website still looks mainly to the past – except for a list of what’s on events which – aside from an e-commerce event to help businesses develop their websites for internet sales and purchases – includes the JCI President's Dinner … themed as a Mad Hatter's Boston Tea Party … the Queen's Diamon (sic) Jubilee picnic in Central Park, the Boston Bike Night and an exhortation to “enjoy a show at Blackfriars Art Centre.”
The more we explore, the more we get the feeling that Boston is bumping along on the bottom, and that it needs someone to get a grip on local shopping and business issues before the town becomes nothing more than a graveyard for charity shops and mobile ’phone outlets.
Boston BID and Boston Borough Council should be leading the list of organisations addressing these issues – but sadly seem otherwise engaged.

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

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Councillors praised after talks begin on immigration issues - now MP is under fire

It seems that Boston borough councillors have pleasantly surprised members of the town’s immigration protest march group with their positive approach at the first meeting of the Task and Finish group set up to discuss the issue.
The group met for the first time last Thursday, and will continue to do so over a seven month period.
It follows another meeting earlier in the week of something called a Good Relations Civic Workshop, involving the council, Boston police, Mayflower Housing, local businesses, members of the Eastern European Community and the protest campaigners -  whose leader, Dean Everitt, said afterwards that a lot of headway was made (see picture above)   ... and he was equally pleased after the Task and Finish meeting.
On the protest marchers' Facebook page, he told supporters: “I think it went really well - a bit fiery at times, but then we were never going to agree on all points.
“We’ve managed to get six key stages to look at, some local, some national - the main one being immigration …
“The council have now taken these points to see where we can take direct action and solve issues and others where we need to lobby government to get them to tackle the issues. The council are also going to invite an immigration minister to Boston to put issues to him, so hopefully this will start to put pressure in the right place.
“The council have also agreed to contact other councils within Lincolnshire to see whether we can get a joint effort on major immigration issues i.e. Spalding, Wisbech, etc - so things are looking good at present.”
His comments were backed by other protest group members.
One said: “Really surprised, especially with councillors. I think they really listened and realised there’s a problem. Came away feeling really positive. Well done everybody (that includes council.)
Another member wrote: “I too thought they were there to listen, and hopefully they will start working towards minimising the problems we have.”
A third commented: “I was reasonably surprised with the councillors as well, and when you think last year they were saying Boston doesn't have a problem etc, they know now - and that’s a good step forward! We know things ain’t gonna happen as fast as we'd all like them to, and that we'll never completely solve the problems, but if we can improve them as much as possible then it will all be worthwhile.”
Meanwhile, local MP Mark Simmonds, whom many group members feel is not doing enough on the immigration issues, is coming under mounting pressure.
All protesters are being urged to e-mail him, and Mr Everitt has started the ball rolling.
He tells the MP: “Since our last meeting I did rather expect you to show a little more interest in the problems Boston faces with mass immigration, however, you have not.
“On our last meeting I explained that Boston was a town that was close to breaking point. I feel that you didn't take this as serious.
“Since our last meeting things have got worse with yet another murder in the town. Jobs are still in very short supply and even more so if you are English. Schools are still struggling, so are the police, and the hospital is still under pressure.
“I see from a recent local paper that you and Mr Bedford have been to ask for further funding for Boston. This, I feel, will be like throwing petrol on a fire, and you will only improve things short term, and looking further ahead you will be making Boston’s problem worse as more will flock to the town. "I feel that as you are a Boston/Skegness MP you should be fighting for a cap on immigration on our behalf…
“I would like to see you attend one of our task and finish meetings so you can hear from other Boston people and get their opinion on the town so you are not only hearing my side. The invite is here for you to accept.”
One question that we would raise is to ask how the Task and Finish group will approach the issue. At this stage, it is fair enough to involve only councillors and members of the protest march group.
But will this be extended to include other groups and individuals around the borough?
Time will tell.
in the meantime, congratulations are clearly in order for the councillors on the Task and Finish group who it seems have got things off to a satisfactory start.
We would like to mention them individually, but although we contacted Boston Borough Council on Friday afternoon to ask who the group’s members were, we did not receive a reply.
However, on Monday afternoon an "account" appeared on the council's website mentioning the Centre for Good Relations meeting last Tuesday, also referred to Thursday's Task and Finish meeting , and named Labour group leader Councillor Paul Kenny as Chairman of the group.
He said that they planned to begin gathering evidence in March and April before entering an implementation stage late April/May, and that recommendations "aimed at creating harmony" would be monitored closely during the life of borough council, until 2015

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