Friday, 31 August 2012

 Yet again, Boston is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. A report in Wednesday’s Daily Mail  – and read by millions more on the newspaper’s website – put  Boston at the head of a list of the  “Dirty Dozen” councils paying themselves colossal increases in allowances. “What recession? Councillors give themselves 'completely unjustifiable' 28% pay rise,” proclaimed the headline. 

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The story added that the increases had been condemned by local government minister Bob Neill as “completely unjustifiable.” Nonetheless, council leader Peter Bedford made a lame attempt, claiming that allowances for the authority “lagged far behind all others in Lincolnshire”  - which may simply be because our leaders are worth less … or should that be worthless? It may be true, but it doesn’t change anything. Boston has awarded its 32 elected members a 28%   increase which pushes the basic allowance for a councillor with no special responsibilities – which in these cabinet dominated days is most of them - from £2,378 a year to £3,052. A further increase to £3,727 followed this spring, and next year there will be another rise to £4,400. This will amount to 85% since 2010, pushing basic “pay” from £46 to £85 a week.

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Publicity enthusiast Councillor Yvonne Gunter is apparently undeterred by the absence of a Borough Council bulletin for August – in which could normally be expected to include several photographs of her. In another ground breaking move – similar to the one which saw her included as a portfolio holder on a commemorative plaque alongside the mayor – we note that a report prepared on her behalf by an officer on allotment strategy includes a large colour portrait above her “foreward” (sic) to the document. It has until now not been the norm for a bog standard report to be graced with a 4x4 inch photo of a portfolio holder. The only time we can recall such illustration previously is with the borough’s annual report, or specially produced documents, where top rankers’ photos have been used for illustration.
We had a case of the “Prince Harry in LA pictures shock” in miniature this week, after a reader sent us some photos that appeared on a Facebook page showing one of our local councillors in a less than glamorous light. The councillor in question – the borough’s youngest member, Tory Aaron Spencer, who represents Five Village ward – was pictured slouched in a chair variously puffing on a Churchill-sized cigar and upending a bottle of Glenfiddich  – one of the world’s most famous and expensive whiskies – to his lips. Our reader commented: “. .. these photos set a disgusting example, for both an elected representative and for other young people. Swilling whisky from the bottle is what we have come to expect from the yobs which blight our towns on a Friday night. I am not trying to be a killjoy, and young people should have fun. But the image there has more in common with the Bullingdon Club before a riot. For a councillor it’s a disgrace.” It’s a truism these days that people in the public eye – and that includes councillors – must be mindful of their behaviour at all times, so we broached the issue with Councillor Spencer. His initial response was to roll with the punch, and say: “The Facebook photos were taken by a 'friend' at a small private function. The picture shows a posed shot of me apparently drinking from the bottle. I have to admit that I don't have the constitution to gulp strong liquor straight from the bottle, but sipping it from a glass of course doesn't have quite the same 'photographic' appeal! Clearly, on the face of it this does not set a good example, but given that the photo is posed and it was taken in private it's perhaps not quite the same as the headline could suggest? I wonder if this is analogous to the recent Vegas Pool Party?  Of course I'm a local councillor, and he's third in line to the throne, but only one of us was photographed apparently drinking from a bottle at home.” We would have shown you the pictures  – which have since been removed from the page in question – so that you could judge for yourselves  but Councillor Spencer subsequently gave us a lecture on copyright law and the need for permission to reproduce them. As we weren’t too exercised about that, we said that we would instead describe them, at which point we received an e-mail including an extract from the Press Complaints Commission guidelines on privacy and concluding: “I think you agree that publishing this story is a violation of my privacy as it was at my home and is really none of the public's business. So I would suggest you don't publish anything about my private life, and I must say I will take it further if you do.” Incidentally one of the controversial “private” pictures of “cigar chomping” is the profile photo  on Councillor Spencer’s own Facebook page - on which he offers the basic information “19 years old. Thinks suits are awsome cuz lets face it people they are!  drinks whiskey and sherry.  gets by with a little help from his friends. :)” He also styles himself “Arron Cllr Spencer” – a bit like Alfred, Lord Tennyson!
Whilst litter is a nuisance in itself, when it gets mangled by mowers it becomes a hazard. A reader who complained after his dog cut a paw on a sharp-edged can – sculpted by a mower – has written to Boston Borough Council to complain. Despite assurances that staff carry out a litter pick before they start, the item  pictured on the right was left behind the other day. Our reader told the powers that be: “After last week’s bad publicity caused by the council’s grounds maintenance team and the cemetery I would have thought you would have all bucked up your ideas, but you all obviously hold the public and ratepayers - or dare I even say customers - with so much contempt it beggars belief.”
If you thought that giving away £1,000 of council taxpayers’ money so that people could chalk on the pavements to celebrate National Volunteering Week was a waste of money, then take a deep breath before you read on. Boston Town Area Committee gave the money to our old friends the South Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service for the event in July. With obvious prudence, the  CVS managed to spend the exact sum -  £455.40 on room hire and £544.60 on marketing, publicity and materials. The event was dogged by bad weather, and as a result, a lot of the materials were left over. Now, the SLCVS are asking permission to use the leftovers at the forthcoming Community Showcase on 9th September. With such a large amount of money being spent, we think that BTAC might have insisted on the purchase of materials on a sale or return basis. That way we might have got some of our money back for use on more worthwhile projects.
But it seems that BTAC is something of a spendthrift committee, with  little interest in where the money goes. It also made a grant of £5,000 to fund the disastrous Jubilee celebrations in Central Park in June - which included items such as £425 for stage hire, £490 for sound equipment, £65 on medals, £150 for pens and mugs and around £1,000 for stewards and staff costs. You will be pleased to know that the cabbages for the world green bowls championship cost taxpayers nothing at all - they were donated! However, despite this and other spending, the total came to £2460.62 - less than half. All very thrifty, but questions are now being asked about what has happened to the remaining £2539.38!
However,  the bill to beat the band is the one disclosed by Independent Councillor Carol Taylor in her blog last week. It’s for the cost of hosting the Olympic torch as it passed between Wrangle and Boston for 15 minutes and through Boston itself for half-an-hour.  Items purchased included £2,780 worth of traffic signs, £4,916 for crowd barriers and traffic cones, whilst event and health and safety staff overtime claims totalled £3,772 -  although given that the event occurred in the daytime, we’re a little baffled by the need for overtime. We also mentioned at the time the difference in cost between buying and hiring crowd barriers. The latter is much cheaper, but given the pristine state of the barriers that we saw,  we guess that the council opted for the dearer alternative. All told, the cost of this event came to £14,727 – and at that price, we have to question whether it was worth it. Regionally, Boston got a nanosecond’s exposure on the BBC’s Look North, and that was about the long and the short of it. And what about all those traffic signs? Presumably, they are no use for anything else. Do they have a scrap value, we wonder.
Interest in local news continues to decline. This week the Audit Bureau of Circulation published the latest figures for weekly newspaper sales between January and  June, with the  percentage change year on year. These showed that the Boston Standard sold 8,236 copies a week  - down 1.9%  - whilst the Boston Target  shifted 15,193 copies – a fall of  20.7%.  Ironically, the news came as the Standard gets a mention in the Guardian’s media pages, which said:  “A motivated staff  have helped lift sales slightly (not according to the ABC figures) and a commitment to local digital journalism helped boost web audiences by 200%. And while the overall total of 25,000 monthly uniques (single visits) is modest, when you have 250 newspapers across your group, the numbers can add up.” But on a gloomier note,  the story adds that is it hard to see how  the  parent company’s  hopes of windfalls from selling company property and  a possible  merger with a rival can offset “ the headwinds that are making it so it hard to sustain investment in newspapers in Boston and elsewhere.”
We see that the Bank Holiday weekend has meant a bonus for this week’s free puff for “Boston Labour Councillors” in our weekly “newspapers.” Normally their Wednesday blog contribution is the same as their letter to the editor, in that it is often the only locally relevant piece of the week. However, this week sees one letter about housing benefit payments and another about disability hate crime – both of them sourced from the blog. We cannot understand why our newspapers so slavishly give Labour a weekly platform like this. Often the letters have no relevance to Boston, but have become a publication habit that our editors seem reluctant to break.
Boston Borough Council wasn’t kidding when it reported that “The Mayor of Boston hosted a small reception for the local elite athletes to offer congratulations and support to them on their achievements and future sporting goals.” Only three sporting youngsters from the Borough are among the 50 athletes across the county supported by the Lincolnshire Elite Athlete Programme – one aged 15, and two thirteen year-olds - and they turned out in force! We did hear that more people were invited than attended  – but the good news for those at a meeting elsewhere in the Worst Street building was the offer of a huge mountain of left over sandwiches!
Despite objections, Boston Borough Council has approved plans to build a new hotel with as many as 80 bedrooms at Wyberton. A report says that the scheme “will add to the leisure and tourism opportunities and attractiveness of the area. Frankly, Boston seems very well served for hotel accommodation at present, and we have certainly never heard of people having a problem getting booked in. Meanwhile, we hear of concerns among residents of Puritan Way, where householders have received a letter telling them that a new Marina is going to be excavated in a nearby field adjoining the river, and they have obvious concerns about the bank being breached so close to residential properties. The idea is to accommodate 161 boats on a site covering almost 18 acres. Whilst there are ambitious plans for a Fen Waterways Link at some unspecified point in the future, we feel that projects like this are putting the cart before the horse. Big new hotels and massive marinas are one thing -  but creating capacity for hordes of visitors fails to address the issue of what Boston has to offer when people come here. At the moment the answer is “not a lot.” As we have stressed on countless previous occasions, Boston needs a realistically crafted, well thought out plan which relies not on buzzwords and catchphrases but co-ordinated and well-constructed action.
Finally .... a chocolate teapot is something that is not thought to be  suitable for purpose – and we found just such a thing in the small ads in this week’s Boston Target.

A disabled wheelchair? Could a puncture repair kit provide the answer?

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  1. Scouter 41August 31, 2012

    So, apart from partying and assuming the role of pseudo-intellectual, what exactly does 'Aaron Cllr Spencer' do for Boston to justify his allowance (and recent increase)?

    Clearly, attending meetings and consulting with his constituents, does not constitute an intrinsic responsibility to him in order to earn his 'keep'. Then again, that ethos might readily apply to many of the other existing Councillors of a Tory persuasion.....

  2. As a result of the Labour Party column inches I have heard a positive buzz from people about the reds, someone even wrote to the paper to say they have surprised themselves by becoming advocates after seeing their pro-activity compared to the Cons.

    It is no surprise that they are winning fans. At least they are trying to make a change.

    I was quite emotional after reading Paul Kenny's column about disabled hate crime. This is because I have been a victim myself, twice, and I have only been disabled for two years. I have broad shoulders but was surprised how I felt when I got home and it made me wonder how the hell others felt in a worse situation than me. I hope the Boston Labour Councillors do set something up.

    So, Boston Eye, Hate Crime against disabled people is a delicate subject and rather than scolding them for their duplicate stories it would be good if you could do something positive to support them in their Hate Crime plight? #JustSaying .... I was a little disappointed that you skimmed over the actual topic. It could save a vulnerable person from physical and mental hatred caused by a nasty stigma. I for one would love to get involved and help others less fortunate than me. I hope you will.