Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Less than artful dodgers still try to duck opposition questions

Apart from the occasional ballyhoo surrounding contentious issues, Boston Borough Council meetings are mainly rubber stamping affairs - with the Tories doing the stamping.
This is why we always find it interesting to read the minutes of the meeting prior to the one on the agenda and see what questions were asked by opposition councillors.
Thus it was that ahead of last Thursday’s full council meeting to rubber stamp plans to charge disabled blue badge holders for parking, we found ourselves looking at questions from last November’s meeting.
A persistent interrogator on these occasions is Independent Councillor Richard Leggott, and despite the best efforts of the cabinet’s town centre major-domo Councillor Derek Richmond, to avoid talking about Boston Business “Improvement” District, Councillor Leggott persists.
He wanted to know - “what monitoring of efforts to improve the communication problem, identified by the council's Task and Finish Group within BID, has he been party to since my last question on that subject. And what improvements can he describe to this council?”
Stand by for the brush-off.
“Councillor Leggott will be fully aware that it was agreed by cabinet that a full progress report on the implementation and outcomes of recommended actions by the Task and Finish Group (on which I know Councillor Leggott sat) is scheduled to be brought to a Scrutiny Committee meeting in March 2012. I consider that to go into significant detail now would be premature.
“Nevertheless, I perceive that with the support of this council, BID has continued to make great strides forward, significantly aided I know by my regular round the table meetings with them and by BID’s attendance with myself and officers, at various town centre related meetings and in our co-ordination together of town centre Christmas Market and Market Place activities and associated publicity arrangements.”
But Councillor Leggott was not to be deterred. “You have failed to answer the question ... of what monitoring of improvements in BID communications you have been party to. I note at the last meeting of the council you stated you were not attending meetings with BID on a regular basis; now say you are. Which are we to believe, and if you are now attending, why the change?”
The reply from Councillor Richmond was one that we have frequently heard when our “leaders” find that they have painted themselves into a corner.
I will provide a written response.”
The point raised by Councillor Leggott is a valid one.
Councillor Richmond has previously said that he has invited the BID manager to portfolio holder meetings on about a monthly basis – but emphasised: “I didn’t, nor do I intend to have regular meetings with the BID board to discuss their business, that’s not for me to do.”
He has also told meetings: “I do not monitor BID, I do not believe that is within my remit, it wasn't done in the past and nowhere in the Task and Finish report does it state that I or anybody else should be doing this. As it should be, BID themselves will update the Scrutiny Committee in March.”
And at an even earlier meeting, his response to a question from Councillor Leggott about what monitoring took place on the effectiveness of measures to improve the BID, he replied: “The only monitoring that takes place is if I ask and they tell me.”
So what’s he going to do to avoid the issue now that March has arrived?
We wonder how satisfied Councillor Richmond would be if a car he drove was giving trouble, and when he took it to the garage, the mechanic told him: “The service is due in eight months’ time, so we’ll look at it then” – because that exactly the line he’s been peddling when asked reasonable questions about BID’s underperformance before and since the Task and Finish meeting.
Another point that he overlooks is that BID is an independent company – not one that should have “support” or “aid” from the council to do its job properly. If Councillor Richmond and his henchpeople need to hold the company’s hand, then something is seriously wrong somewhere.
The report referred to by Councillor Richmond is awaited with interest, but as he has disclosed that BID will be providing it, we will not be surprised if it turns out to be exemplary.
One other question from November’s minutes that caught our eye came from another persistent questioner – Independent Councillor Brian Rush.
We can imagine the sharp intake of breath around the chamber as he asked Councillor Raymond Singleton-McGuire, the portfolio holder for finance: “We do need a safe pair of hands on the council’s finances, so can you assure me that no member of the cabinet is under investigation for election expenses?”
The response?
“I can’t answer that at this point in time as I am not aware of any such investigation.”
Interestingly, the question also prompted a response from Boston’s Chief Executive, Richard Harbord, who said that an important issue had been raised and wished to confirm that, as far as the council was aware, “no investigation had been undertaken.”
That comes as a relief – because we couldn’t for one minute begin to imagine to whom the question might refer had an investigation been confirmed.

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