Monday, 16 April 2012

Now you see it ...
click to enlarge photo
... now you don't

We don’t know about you, but if we held shares in a company turning over tens of millions of pounds with an annual budget of around £10 million and a staff of 275, we’d assume that the people who ran the firm would be pretty busy.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case at Boston Borough Council – where the next meeting of the full council “with the agreement of the Mayor**” has just been cancelled “due to insufficient business.”
Earlier this year, we remarked on the borough’s laid back approach when a number of other meetings were cancelled for the same reason – and we observed that a fallow month in the calendar could be an excellent time to get ahead of the jobs that need doing, rather than simply taking it easy.
Apparently, though, this is not the case. For a council that is struggling to balance the books and with a leadership totally devoid of ideas, you might think that a meeting of minds at which all councillors could contribute would be a get-together worth having.
But no.
There is “not enough business.”
Since the decision some years ago to run a cabinet-style operation at the council, the bulk of day-to-day decision making is taken by just seven people, and selected items are then rubber-stamped by the council as a whole.
We say “rubber-stamped” because as the Conservatives have an overall majority in the council chamber there is no way that a vote will go against the cabinet – unless some Tories rebel … which is as likely as hell freezing over.
It is quite clear that many more decisions are taken behind the scenes, but we seldom hear about them – despite a promise of greater transparency made when the current leaders were begging for our votes.
As with such accidental structures, we wonder whether our cabinet is truly of the quality that it should be –  especially when so few decide so much.
And with such a tiny representation, we think it would be helpful if members could make more effort to attend, as we note that - of the last nine cabinet meetings, no fewer than four had absentees.
However, once the cabinet makes its "mind" up, a decision is unlikely to fail – especially with an army of backbench Tories who never speak and do the leadership’s bidding in their sleep.
Even if there really is “not enough business” to warrant a council meeting,  the decision denies non-Conservative members a basic right – to challenge and question the executive’s work and decisions.
In recent months, questions to portfolio holders from non-Conservative elected members have seen issues raised such as the communication problems in Boston’s Business “Improvement” District, staff pension concerns, the funding of Boston Stump, and broadband provision .
Often there are half a dozen questions from elected members at meetings, and members of the public also have an opportunity to raise points of concern with portfolio holders.
Surely, that is business enough in its own right?
The so-called “transparency” of the authority has proved to be little more than gesture politics.
Attendance records are patchy and therefore unhelpful when it comes to seeing who goes to which meetings.
An on-line register of members’ interests is “coming shortly” having been fended off for doubtful reasons for many months since it was first requested.
And wouldn’t it be interesting to know how councillors actually voted on the few issues that do come before them, so that we punters could see what line they followed on particular matters of interest to us?
Even the list of spending on items costing more than £500 is now presented in a format that is harder to explore than before, and which is no longer “flexible” which means columns cannot be navigated to find information.
But it’s not all bad news.
At least one other full council meeting scheduled for April is going ahead.
Wednesday will see the presentation of Community Service Awards, which the borough instigated in 1980, and which honours three or four residents for their contribution to the community.
It’s a peculiar thing, as it is little publicised, and in the recent past appears to have taken the form of people being nominated for awards by local councillors who have known them for years.
We think that it is really well overdue for an overhaul – and also perhaps a change of date  - as it now clashes with the much larger and heavily publicised Pride Awards run by the Boston Standard.
However, one big thing in its favour is a £500 buffet, plus a £150 drinks trolley – and travel claims for the members who do bother to go.
We mention the latter because a couple of years or so ago only 18 of the borough’s 32 councillors bothered to attend a meeting that lasted little more than half an hour.
Let’s hope  that in case of a repeat of that instance everyone has taken a doggy bag or two!
Insufficient business” – our Eye!

**Quote from the Mayor at a planning meeting on 25th May last year: “Women have far more important things to do, like cook dinner and look after their husbands and families than attend meetings in the evenings.”

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  1. I'd been thinking along these lines too! Is there just "lack of business" or is there business going on behind closed doors? Either way it worries me. Perhaps the current administration is so transparent that we can see right through them and there really is nothing there or that they are just cardboard cut-outs? Alternatively, is nothing happening in Boston because all the decisions are being made in Lincoln?
    Now I've previewed my comment I've seen your polite request that I should prove that I'm not a robot. Perhaps this should be applied to the current administration too!

  2. Continuing my previous comment - as a matter of both duty and courtesy I will be attending the Awards night. However I'm not bothered about eating the buffet, I won't be consuming any alcohol and I certainly won't be claiming any travel allowance.
    Please don't tar us all with the same brush.