Monday, 29 October 2012

We’ve published a couple of points recently concerning accountability of councillors – but an area of civic responsibility that has not been addressed  is touched on in the recent report of the Boundary Commission, which is reshaping Boston Borough Council from the 2015 elections.
The main aim of the review is to try to ensure electoral equality, which means that each councillor represents about the same number of electors.
Boston Borough Council currently has 32 councillors in 18 wards.
The commission’s recommendations proposed 30 councillors in 15 wards – with each councillor responsible to around 1,600 voters.
So far, so good – but what none of this tells us is how busy the members of the new look council will be.
Until last year’s election the council had been under no overall control since local government reorganisation in 1973 – but a strong Tory influence gave them the upper hand most of the time which allowed them to fiddle while Boston burned.
Since last election, when the Tories won control of the council, they have had the free run of the Worst Street asylum – which allows them to tinker with the works and generally rough up the people who elected them.
A point raised in Boston Eye last week by the Labour Group deputy leader Councillor Paul Gleeson was that new rules relating to the information required for the register of councillors’ disclosable pecuniary interests were very limited.
At the time they were adopted, he suggested that –  for the purposes of transparency and openness – the register of interests that was applied before the introduction of the new regulations should continue, and that  such interests declared by members as appropriate during formal meetings.
This motion was lost – presumably because the ruling Tory group preferred the idea of as little information being available as possible.
The Labour Group has been very persistent on the issue of information being made available to voters. They started with demands for a list of councillors’ attendances at meetings to be published on the borough council’s website – and now it is available it is proving to be quite an eye-opener.
Labour has also pressed for the introduction of annual reports compiled by individual councillors to show how well –  or otherwise – they have represented the electorate and the area in the previous twelve months.
So what does this have to do with the Boundary Commission changes?
Well, now that representation is so specific – with 1,600 voters per councillor – the idea of an annual report makes a lot of sense.
For instance, we have no idea how hard our councillors work other than b y looking at their attendance record.
It may be that those who turn up to few meetings are doing twice the ward word of those who attend all lessons.
But we don’t know.
Over the past fifteen or so years, we have raised issues with local councillors on several occasions. We have also written to three different Chief Executives and two leaders during that time.
Generally speaking, the responses have been political rather than constructive in that they contain much in the way of mouth, but little in the form of trousers.
If  things are the same at ward level, it would paint a portrait of a council that is little more than a home for largely retired people with time on their hands for whom an easy couple of thousand a year is a welcome bonus.
We’ve taken a look at the website of Kirklees borough council, which is cited by Labour as an example of best practice in providing specific information about the individual duties of councillors.
This makes it very easy to see which councillors are pulling their weight, and which are having a relatively easy ride.
We agree with the Labour group that the more information is made available to voters, the better informed they will be when it comes to deciding where to put their cross at election time.
As has often been said, politics should have no place at local level.
The quality and loyalty to voters shown by councillors is far more important than their political colours.
But don’t expect much by way of action.
After all, whilst the Tories all but duplicated their election literature for the recent Frampton and Holme election, the glaring omission was last year’s promise of increased transparency and accountability.

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Friday, 26 October 2012

Last week we mentioned that an e-mail to all councillors raised fears over insurance cover after news that Assembly Rooms were being sold to a company with limited liability set up specially to run the establishment.  The author sought assurance that in the event of a major fire either during the refurbishment period or during its subsequent use, that the insurance would completely cover the full restoration of the building. Boston District Councillor Alison Austin tells us that is was she who raised the issue and has received the following reply from Chief Executive Richard Harbord: “Cllr Alison Austin. Thank you for your e mail. As ewe (sic) are selling the freehold we will have no way of insisting on any particular level of insurance cover. However the bank lending the money to them will insist on full insurance as part of the loan conditions.”   Somehow, we feel that something more concrete by way of reassurance than that ought to be obtained, don’t you?
Talking of Chief Executives – it’s now more than a year since Mr Harbord’s contract was extended for one final time – until May next year. It was said at the time that the search for a successor would begin within six months – although fourteen have now passed without any sign of action. Perhaps a reason for this could have something to do with a rumour that reached our ears to the effect that the Tory leadership is considering a further “final” contract extension – to May 2015 … when the next local elections are due. We’ve no idea why this should be necessary – but, if true, the cost of it concern us. Mr Harbord’s company is paid around £600 a day for fifteen days of his services each month which totals £108,000 a year – making the job worth almost £220,000 a year pro rata. That ranks Boston among the highest paying local authorities in the country for this role – despite the fact that it is one of the smallest and poorest councils. Surely, a council trying to make economies should not even be thinking about such extravagance for a further three and a half years.
Once or twice, we’ve joked that the next assets likely to be sold off by our cash hungry council leaders will be the civic insignia - which is worth a cool million at least. But has comedy become reality? The other day we visited Boston Borough Council’s website link to learn more about the borough civic history, and this is what we found …
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As you can see, the page offers more about the civic regalia, amongst other things – but appears concerningly blank. Has our family silver found its way into the vaults of the local branch of Cash Generator, we wonder?
The question that we raised the other day about declaration of interests by councillors was read with interest by Boston’s Deputy Labour group leader Paul Gleeson – who drew our attention to the minutes of council for 25th July. At that meeting Councillor Gleeson raised concerns relating to the limited information that was required to be given in the Register of Disclosable Pecuniary Interests and proposed that, for purposes of transparency and openness, the register of interests that was in operation before the introduction of the new regulations should still be used and such interests declared by members as appropriate during formal meetings. The motion was lost. So much for the Tory pledges of openness and transparency.
Is there some sort of curse on Lincolnshire County Council’s survey which is seeking to find out what people think about the Boston Market Place refurbishment? It was announced by Boston Borough Council at the end of last month, and included in the September issue of the council’s good news bulletin. Then it turned out that there was a glitch in the system,  which mean that it couldn’t be accessed, and now, the borough reports “some slight technical difficulties” for some of us trying to complete the survey online from the website. The advice is to copy and paste the entire link directly into the web browser address bar or if that fails, keying the link address into your address bar yourself. We wonder whether the idea to discourage people from bothering to complete the thing at all. Whatever, the borough tells us that because of these difficulties the survey deadline has now been extended – and closes today … so don’t miss your chance to complete it. Given all the problems, we were amused to note that the organisation that produced the software is called Survey Monkey. Perhaps if you pay survey monkeys, you get peanuts!
We note that Boston’s Mayor, Colin Brotherton, is holding a charity fish and chip supper at Kirton Town Hall four weeks from today. We wonder whether this is to avoid problems after the story that went around earlier this year concerning a sausage and mash supper organised at the Conservative Club by the then Mayor, Councillor Mary Wright. The legend has it that as 8pm arrived, the food didn’t – and there was a frantic rush around the corner to make the shortage good with replacement fish and chips from Tate’s.  It remains folkloric because – although we asked Boston Borough Council about it – they never replied.
A week or so ago, we had six candidates for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire – including two Boston Borough Councillors. Now we have just four. One pulled out earlier this week following allegations about his campaign in a national Sunday newspaper, and one of our two local councillors – English Democrat Elliott Fountain – also seems to have withdrawn, but although we asked him about this at the start of the week, we have not received a reply. However, he has not been seen at recent public meetings where the other candidates for next month’s elections have faced public questions. So we now have two Independent candidates, David Bowles and Alan Hardwick, Conservative Richard Davies, and Labour’s Paul Gleeson, our local councillor. Given the lack of enthusiasm for the PCC elections – with the prediction that the turnout may be the lowest in English voting history – we’re beginning to wonder whether the whole ideas would be better off being kicked into touch.
Talking of Lincolnshire Police, we were surprised to read a report saying that the force had the third highest number of allegations of misconduct across all forces in England and Wales last year – with an average of 316 allegations were made for every 1,000 workers. The national average was 213. A spokesman said: "We accept that there has been a 14% increase in overall complaints during the year against the national picture of a reduction of 9%, but this must be read in the context that 87% of the complaints investigated were found to be to unproven following investigation. “This is the third highest percentage of 'not upheld' complaints in England and Wales. Maths is not our strong suit – but something doesn’t seem to add up here.
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A popular photo doing the rounds of Boston Borough Councillors and others depicts a two storey outside lavatory (pictured right)  – with the top level allocated to politicians and the lower one for the voters. The expression life imitating art springs to mind!
A point that we recently raised about the involvement of Boston College in business rather than educational matters was echoed by a reader in an e-mail this week: “As a parent and governor of a local secondary school I was somewhat surprised when a friend showed me a letter she received from Boston College. My friend is a single parent who has bought up her children on her own very successfully like many out there do. The letter in question concerned food vouchers. It's states ‘the 16-18 Bursary Fund has been oversubscribed and this has unfortunately meant that food vouchers for applicants will be reduced to £3 per day for a maximum of 3 days per week ( a reduction for £20 a week to £9) from Monday 29th  October.’ They do say they will review it monthly. I find this somewhat hard to swallow considering the amount of money the college seems to have to purchase and invest in various buildings around Boston and Spalding.  As a school governor I know many families have struggled to send their children to college this year with the bus fare costing over £300 a year and having a reduction in free school meal is a real kick up the backside. The government does give extra money for any students on free school meals. So I can't see why it's being reduced when they receive extra money.  I've always wondered if the college has gone from its core values of learning to now a business as its snaps up real estate across Boston and South Holland.” A good question. We wonder whether there is a good answer?
A reader e-mails to ask, tantalisingly: “Why has Boston Council decided to hold a meeting in private on 7th November to discuss CCTV options?” The meeting on that day is a Cabinet session, and because we are not yet within five days of it, no agenda has to be published – so it will be interesting to see what eventually appears. The speed cameras on John Adams Way have recently been removed for the official reason that drivers are now behaving so well, that they are no longer needed. Ho, Ho. We think that the real answer has more to do with money than anything else, which is usually the case these days. So, is the Cabinet thinking of cutting back on the cameras? Normally, we would say wait until the agenda appears. But when it does, the item will doubtless be flagged for discussion in secret.

We mentioned last week the trend to sub-edit newspapers from distant “hubs” to cut costs – although often at the cost of accuracy because local knowledge can be lacking. We wonder whether this could explain the catalogue of disasters in a local obituary notice in the week’s Boston Standard - pictured on the left. Would it be possible, we wonder, to cram any more mistakes into so few lines, after misspelling the surname, getting the name of her village wrong, and then as a final insult, changing her sex. In our days on newspapers, the births, marriages and deaths section was one of the most carefully checked sections of the paper, as an error could inflict hurt  and disappointment on readers – often during one of the most important periods of their lives. Not any more, it seems

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Thursday, 25 October 2012

If money held the answer to all of Boston’s problems, we would be one of the most carefree towns around – but sadly, when we get it, we don’t seem to know how best to use it.
The news this week that Boston has been awarded £10,000 by the government to help boost its town centre just means yet another chance to pour money down the nearest drain.
The announcement of the cash injection came from the unfortunately titled Local Growth Minister, Mark Prisk.
Boston has really done nothing to earn the cash, as the awards have been made to every town that applied to be a Portas Pilot – more than 300 of them.
The submission for Town Team Partner status was made by Boston BID following a failure to gain one of ten £100,000 cash prizes under the Portas scheme.
The fact that we didn’t win came as no surprise since the lacklustre entry, accompanied by a tedious and dreary video, was never going to be a contender. Instead, the line was taken that Boston’s bid had most probably failed because the town had already received £2 million to refurbish the Market Place, and had access to a further £650,000 from English Heritage over five years to   improve the looks of the town centre listed buildings.
We all know what has happened since then.
We have a featureless Market Place that looks like a grim Stalinist-era parade ground, and just one local shop applying for cash from this first year’s English Heritage grant.
Making the Town Teams announcement Mr Prisk said: “By putting your Town Teams forward as Town Team Partners, you have ensured that real progress can be made."
Boston will now be able access a support package produced the Association of Town Centre Management has prepared for Town Team Partners.
Why this should be newly available is anyone guess, as Boston Borough Council is already a member of ACTM – which charges between £620 and £1,000 for membership.
That aside, Mr Prisk says the extra support will help the teams to strengthen their leadership on the ground, and enable them to try new ideas on their high streets to make them more attractive and competitive.
Boston Business “Improvement” District has – as often reported in Boston Eye – never had a good idea since it began, and somehow we doubt that much will emerge from this latest largesse.
The BID’s imagination seems to begin and end with the Town Rangers, whose hours they are planning to extend into the evenings – at a cost of a further £16,000.
By a gloomy co-incidence, around three years ago, Boston Borough Council received a £53,000 government grant from a £3 million package shared between 57 towns and cities which the Communities Department felt were blighted by empty shops.
As the council occasionally does, it shrugged much the job off on to Boston BID, who promptly messed it up.
A total of £30,000 was allocated to turn two empty shops in Strait Bargate into the Giles Art Gallery and community hub, together with short term measures costing £12,000  provide graphics to decorate empty shop windows, and longer term plans costing £10,000 for a grant scheme to offer new retailers taking on an empty shop funding towards  business rates for their first year.
The short term plan fizzled out because the idea was to buy “bespoke graphics” to decorate the windows of empty shops – instead of a one size fits all self-cling version.  Being “bespoke” they could only be used in the shops they were designed for - and not be transferable. 
Estimates of £20,000 to bring the shops up to scratch for the community “Hub” were accepted before the  discovery that meeting building regulations would bump the costs up by a staggering 60%   to £32,000, and the idea of grants towards the cost of business rates for retailers occupying empty shops was side-lined to fund that massive overspend.  
But worse was to come. It was then estimated that another £10,000 would be needed for the landlords’ fees,  and to fit out the shops, pay the BID levy and cover the utility costs.
Then, when vandals smashed a window that cost £2,300 to replace, it turned out that this was not covered by insurance -  and a mistaken assumption that the South Lincolnshire Community Voluntary Service would get discretionary rate relief swallowed up another £5,750.
So, after months of delay and incompetence we ended up with an allocation of £5,000 for large scale maps produced by Boston BID and £47,000 for a shop to promote stopping smoking.
The legacy is that we now have not one, but two shops flogging this particular horse – which is just what we don’t need in two primely positioned shops.
Do you appreciate why we don’t expect much from Boston BID – except to carry on wasting our money as before?

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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

We’ve had an e-mail from West Street insider who claims that Boston Borough Council Cabinet member Councillor Yvonne Gunter failed to declare an interest at two recent committee meetings.
The first concerned a review of a premises licence – for the Red Cow Hotel in Wide Bargate.
Although Councillor Gunter lives nearby, our correspondent said that she made no declaration of interest at that meeting.
The second claim concerned a planning committee meeting in May, and said that Councillor Gunter was believed to be the mentor/buddy of Councillor James Knowles.
Councillor Knowles, who lives in Granville Avenue in Wyberton, spoke against a planning application for a house some 25 metres up the road – which was granted subject to conditions.
Councillor Gunter told Boston Eye: “Under the current legislation introduced in July 2012 by the Relevant Authorities (Disclosable Pecuniary Interests) Regulations 2012, councillors are required to register their disclosable pecuniary interests with the Monitoring Officer. 
“These interests are required to be registered, and where a member has a connection with the matter under discussion, the member cannot participate in the debate at a meeting (but no longer - under the law – has to make a verbal declaration of interest and leave the room) and to employment, trade, profession, contracts, or any company with which we are associated, and wider financial interests we might have … for example trust funds, investments and assets including land and property. 
Owning a property in the vicinity of a public house which is subject to a licensing hearing is not a disclosable pecuniary interest, and therefore I was able to take part in the meeting, in accordance with the regulations.
“Similarly, in respect of the planning application for Granville Avenue considered by the Planning Committee in May 2012, being a colleague of a councillor who spoke in opposition to the application was not reason for declaring a personal or prejudicial interest, which was the system in place at that time. 
“You should note that the application was granted with no member of the Planning Committee voting against it.”
This is not the first time that questions have arisen since the changes in the rules regarding disclosure by councillors – but it seems clear that more needs to be done to clarify precisely – but simply – what is covered, and what is not.
We are sure that the majority of our councillors are anxious to be “open and transparent” where the electorate is concerned – but it should also be easy to understand the rules and regulations.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

We mentioned briefly last week that in these times of low inflation, the Boston Standard has decided to buck the trend with an unannounced price rise for its redesigned paper of 15 pence a week – that’s 30%.
It is the fashion these days for newspaper rises to be introduced without warning – as a pre-announcement might cause people to cancel their subscription.
In fact, so well-concealed was the rise, that one of our local newsagents was completely unaware of it, and continued selling the paper for 50 pence until someone tipped him the wink.
However, the newspaper is using the re-launch and the price hike to promote a subscription scheme which will “lower” the price to 37 pence.
Editor Stephen Stray told Boston Eye: “The Boston Standard has previously gone a considerable length of time without a cover price increase, and during a period which last year saw printing costs rise substantially.
“With our fantastic subscription offer readers can in fact enjoy the Boston Standard for just 37p, which is exceptional value.
“As well as bringing in a fresh and bright redesign, the team have worked hard to offer great new content, much of which came about from reader feedback. For example, we now offer daily coverage from Boston Magistrates' Court, jobs listings from the Jobcentre, greater coverage from surrounding villages in our new neighbourhood section, and improved entertainment and sports sections, to name just a few.
 "We will continue to build on this moving forward and are, as always, keen to hear feedback from our readers."
Some early feedback from this reader is that the redesign seems to be capitalising on an apparent world surplus of red ink – daubed by the gallon across the pages, which, incidentally have been created by a group of Spanish design consultants.
Neither are the papers sub-edited locally - but at "regional hubs” … in our case most likely in Peterborough, alongside some of the group’s newspapers from Sussex, of all places.
“We also feel that in terms of value for money it would be nice to have more news – rather than four pages promoting a “Tiny Tots” contest and another two trumpeting the Standard Sports Awards.
Checking back on the Standard’s pricing history, we reported in February last year a 10% increase in the cover price to 50p, whilst the year before that the price rose from 42p to 45p.
And whilst the editor is following the party line, his boss of bosses - Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield  - is openly cynical in his explanation of a deliberate strategy of  increasing prices.
The new look for the paper is one of  five different design templates imposed across the 170 paid-for daily and weekly newspapers in the group, and aims to reduce production costs –  and not the thoughtful gift to  readers that it is being sold as.
Highfield says: “The intention was to encourage people to take out subscriptions covering both print and online for less than they pay for the paper. We’re looking at making our newspapers a better proposition by investing in them and being able to put the cover prices up. That’s not something that our readers are going to rejoice about but they do understand that the papers need to be charged at a price that’s value for money.
“I think the future for our business is to drive subscription levels. So if you take something like the Boston Standard, where we’re putting the price up, we’re actually holding the subscription level down at 37p, which is considerably lower than the price before we even put the price up. What we’re trying to do is move people to a subscription where they’ll get the paper, the iPad app, the website, everything in one bundle for considerably less than the cover price of the paper.”
Boston Eye has sympathy with the staff at the Standard - who are clearly trying their best  to get on with the job.
But the fact is that their parent company is saddled with hundreds of millions in debt, and trying to milk readers as cash cows to get the business back on its feet. The group has closed newspapers, and turned dailies into weeklies in pursuit of profit, and it is not unreasonable to believe that if the Standard fails to cut the mustard it might also be sacrificed.
Incidentally, we tried to subscribe – both because we think that local papers are important, and in our case, we need to see one every week without breaking the bank.
So on Friday we tried to take out a subscription.
A link from the Standard’s website page gave an offer code, but when we submitted it, were told that it no longer existed, and to proceed without using it. We did this, and completed all the details - which included our bank account details.
After that, we were asked to select the newspaper we wished to subscribe to,  and were then taken to a page which asked for the information  - including bank details - all over again. At this stage we abandoned the process, for fear that we might end up with two subscriptions rather than just one – although we suspect that nothing will happen at all.
As a courtesy, we e-mailed the Editor to tell him of the problem – but the message was rejected.
We sent it again – with the same result.
Aside from all this trouble, we are not sure that people who are currently happy to hand over a couple of coins to their newsagent for a local paper, will be keen to stump up £14.30 for a six month subscription (that’s 15% off) or £24.96 for 52 weeks.
Not only that, but the paper manages to turn it into a saving of “over 40%” by relating the saving to the “pre-increase levels.”
We think that you’re meant to be!

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Monday, 22 October 2012

Last Thursday saw the result of the Frampton and Holme election for a seat on Boston Borough Council – and a victory for Independent Stuart Ashton, a local farmer and businessman.
Boston Eye was the first to publish the result on Friday, and today we’re taking a more analytical look at the way things went.
Unlike by-elections nationally, there are no reasons not to vote, nor to cast a protest vote, but it was interesting to note that the votes for the big parties in Frampton bucked the national trend of party standings, which currently shows the  Conservatives with 30%, Labour 43%, UKIP 12%, and the Lib-Dems on 8% - with other parties standing at 7%.
At last year’s elections, Frampton had the biggest turnout of all the borough’s 32 seats. A total of 654 voters placed their cross on the ballot paper – representing 48.83%  of the electorate.
But last week, only 35.6% turned out – 520 voters.
Frampton is traditionally an independent voting ward, and the results appeared almost in alphabetical order:
Stuart Ashton (Independent)  204 = 39.2%
Maggie Peberdy (Independent) 139 = 26.7%
Claire Rylott (Cons) 126 = 24.2%
Sue Ransome UKIP 32 = 6.1%
Mike Sheridan-Shinn (Lab) 19 = 3.6%
Last time round there were just three candidates – Independent, UKIP and the Boston Bypass Independents.
So, what impact did the inclusion of the Conservatives and Labour into the recipe contribute?
The answer is – not a lot.
The Conservatives fell back on the same leaflet template that they used last year – which unfortunately made it easier to compare promises between May 2011 and October 2012
Last year’s “Shared working with other councils” and the pledge “to save taxpayers money by being innovative and sharing resources with other authorities,” this year became: “Working with other councillors,” with the promise “to save taxpayers money by sharing ideas, being resourceful and innovative. Bring our local issues to the forefront.”
Students of irony will have been amused by the slightly odd phrase “working with other councillors” – which is precisely what the Tories on Boston Borough Council do not do – unless the other councillors involved happen to fellow Conservatives.
Equally, promises to keep council tax rates among the lowest in the country can be easily made –  as for the past couple of years the charges have been out of the control of local authorities and dictated by central government - which we know intends to freeze them again next year.
And as we have already pointed out – most notably absent from this year’s pledges was the one on accountability and transparency – ending “behind closed doors policies” and becoming open and accountable to the taxpayers.
Even a leadership that regards the people who elected it  as so stupid that they will believe almost anything, drew the line at  repeating that most broken of all promises.
As we say, the Tories bucked the trend in terms of party standings, but that probably says more about the political make-up of the ward than anything else.
Perhaps that is why we are told that the candidate's name did not even appear on local posters in the early stages of the campaign - merely the exhortation to "Vote Conservative."
However, we suspect that the fall in turnout had a lot to do with the Conservatives overall, and the fact that voters have become heartily sick and tired of being ruled by an arrogant and out of touch clique who see themselves as the masters and the voters as the servants.
Doubtless, they are all subscribers to the Andrew Mitchell Political Charm School.
Finally –  the Labour contribution.
Again –   as we have previously pointed out –  it seemed to miss a basic point.
The election flyer declared opposition to selling the Assembly Rooms in “the Market Place,” wasting £2 million on “our Market Place,” calling for zero tolerance on drinking “in our town,” and the unfairness of charging disabled blue badge holders to park.
Whilst issues such as these would certainly resonate with voters in Frampton and Holme, not one of them was local or relevant.
It was a manifesto for a town ward, not a country one.
We congratulate Stuart Ashton on his election, and are cheered to hear him say that he believes there is no place for party politics at local level, and that he sees himself – not as a politician – but as someone who wants to do the best for the area.
Perhaps once he’s settled in, he could offer lessons to Boston’s Conservative group.

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Friday, 19 October 2012

Independendent candidate Stuart Ashton won yesterday's election for a seat on Boston Borough Council's Frampton and Holme ward. The full results were:
Stuart Ashton (Independent) 204 = 39.2%
Maggie Peberdy (Independent) 139 = 26.7%
Claire Rylot (Cons) 126 = 24.2%
Sue Ransome UKIP 32 = 6.1%
Mike Sheridan-Shinn (Lab) 19 = 3.6%

Last week’s Boston Standard came wrapped in a cover telling us all about the new look paper  (pictured left) and a generous subscription offer that would save 28p a copy.
What wasn’t mentioned anywhere was that the new look would coincide with a price hike of 15 pence a week a rise of thirty per-cent.  Editor Stephen Stray told Boston Eye that the Standard has previously gone “a considerable length of time” without a cover price increase, and that the fantastic subscription offer of 37p a copy was exceptional value.  We’ll have more on this next week.
A small victory for common sense and respect for history and tradition was announced this week by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England in its final recommendations for new electoral arrangements for Boston Borough Council. The original proposal would have seen the loss of the Skirbeck ward – apparently suggested by Boston Borough Council. But many people argued to retain it, a number citing the importance of keeping the historic name of the settlement that preceded Boston. Sadly, the Pilgrim Ward has not been so lucky, although we would have thought it worth keeping for the same historic connection which so many companies and organisations around the town have adopted.
Our disappointment at the news that Boston’s Conservation area has been named as being at risk and deteriorating has not been echoed by Boston Borough Council. A local newspaper report quotes the council’s head of planning and strategy as saying that the town centre is on the list because it was mentioned last year, and remains so because “all works and initiatives are on-going.” What works? What initiatives? Since the completion of the Market Place “improvements” all that appears to have happened is that one shop has taken up a share of the £120,000 grant available for improvements this year. The offer period for 2012 is nearly over – but even so there are several hundred thousand pounds on offer for the following four years. This is no time for complacency. We should be driving forward the need to improve the town centre as a matter of urgency. It is already a mess – and getting worse by the day.
At the end of July, we noted reports in the local papers of plans by Boston’s joint deputy leader, Councillor Raymond Singleton-McGuire, to turn the former HSBC bank building next to the White Hart Hotel into a café or restaurant - possibly in time for Christmas. There was even speculation that it might become a Starbuck’s coffee shop. The building had been advertised for rent at £27,500 a year for some while, and Councillor Singleton McGuire was quoted as saying that he regarded it as “very prestigious” and “almost a landmark.”  Now we note that it is back on the market for rent at the same price. So, what went wrong?
Speaking of planning matters, we note the appearance this week of an application by Lincolnshire County Council to replace St Botolph’s footbridge. Originally there were three designs of bridge to vote for, and the  one chosen as most popular a bowstring – pictured on the left in our photo.  It is not one that we liked – we much preferred the more traditional design on the right. Now the Market Place work is over, it strikes us even more forcefully that the right hand design would look better. 
When the designs went out for a four-week “consultation,” only 137 questionnaires were returned, plus some letters and emails regarding the proposals. More than 80% of respondents said that the time required to build the new bridge was very important. And Lo and behold - Lincolnshire County Council says that the preferred design can achieve just that as it can be largely built off site. Fortunately, all is not yet a fait accompi  – and if you have any observations before planning permission is granted, you have until the end of the month to make them.
It is said of buses that you can wait for one for ages, and then three of them arrive at the same time.  A  political equivalent of that occurred yesterday, with the co-incidence of the Frampton and Holme election for a seat on Boston Borough Council, the meeting of the council task and finish group into population change, and the local hustings when there was a chance to hear from and questions the five candidates for Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner. All three of these events were likely to be of interest to our local councillors, and members of the public. What a shame that no forethought was exercised to prevent the public interest being forced to choose which event to attend and which to ignore.
As the top secret sale of Boston’s Assembly Rooms trundles implacably ahead, we hear of a new concern. An e-mail to all of Boston’s 31 councillors reports fears that the Assembly Rooms are being sold to a company with limited liability set up specially to run the establishment. It asks the most sensible question: “Can we be assured that in the event of there being a major fire either during the refurbishment period or during its subsequent use, that the insurance would completely cover the full restoration of the building?”
The answer would be interesting, as Boston Borough Council has an uneven history where insurance is concerned.  The council is the “lay rector” of St Botolph’s - and is thus legally obliged to contribute towards the upkeep of the Chancel.  Once upon a time, it contributed towards the cost of insuring this responsibility – but  withdrew is some years ago. This means that the chancel is no longer protected.  In July, the council had – forgive the pun – to stump up almost £1,200 to refund the cost of repairing a vandalised window in the chancel. Whilst that leaves the council well in pocket, an official at the church told us recently that any local disaster such as flooding or fire could cost the council millions of pounds to put right.
And still on the subject of vandalism … some time ago, we were led to believe that once the  plantings in the Jubilee Fountain in Boston’s Central Park (pictured left) had died off, the fountain would be restored to its former “glory.” Well –   as yesterday’s photo makes clear –   the plants are long dead and gone … but of the fountain, there is no sign. Will it be replaced? Or it is destined to slip into obscurity – despite the promises of leisure and crematorium portfolio holder and dignitary Councillor Yvonne Gunter that Boston “will be one of the few places with a lasting legacy of the day - our magnificent Jubilee Fountain.”  It lasted less than a week – and now it looks as though it has been consigned to Boston Borough Council’s Fen Road waste site.
Earlier this week we mentioned the authorisation of Boston’s Chief Executive to seek quotations and employ appropriate lawyers to draw up leases for the continuing operation of the Princess Royal Sports Arena – which appears to view the council in much the same way as Bonnie and Clyde regarded banks. We also raised concerns that Boston Rugby Football Club – which benefits hugely from the PRSA deal – was well overdue with the submission of its accounts to the Charity Commission, and expressed the hope that someone would raise a concern or two. Gratifyingly, we are told that news of the club’s tardiness was sent to the borough’s chief officers and all councillors on 10th October. Two councillors have already expressed their concerns, and Chief Executive Richard Harbord has said that the affair will be “looked into.” We are sure that his involvement will be seen as deeply comforting.

Boston may have been relegated from its position as the flood risk capital of the nation – but someone still needs to rattle the cages of the people responsible for ensuring that the town’s drains and sewers are kept functioning properly. Yesterday’s rains resulted in localised flooding beside John Adams Way - pictured on the right.  This is a regular occurrence – and is usually followed by the arrival of BT to pump out its telephone conduits. Could someone among the powers that be please ask those whose neglect forces people to paddle through inches of water to do their job properly?
Finally, in our searches for news about heritage in Boston, we came across this little morsel of delight in a borough council report …

A shrunken  medieval village?  Who would have thought that members of  the Dyak tribe from Borneo could have found their way to Algarkirk all those years ago?

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Thursday, 18 October 2012

We have been taken to task over a piece we wrote last week – and quite properly so!
Writing about the closure of the Somerfield supermarket on London Road, we referred to it as being in an “awkward location”
Of course, it all depends on where you live – as Councillor Alison Austin, who represents South Ward was quick to point out.
“I consider its site to be just the opposite, namely extremely accessible and very convenient for the south east quadrant of Boston,” she said.
“Since the improved traffic flow up Spalding Road, where there now are rarely any serious hold-ups, this store can be reached very easily by anyone living in Wyberton, Frampton or Kirton - as well as residents of the south east section of the town. “Moreover, it can easily be accessed from the north east of the river when coming from the Skirbeck Road direction, over the Haven Bridge and left onto High Street South and London Road.
“For residents of much of my ward, South Ward, Somerfield was an extremely well-placed supermarket. 
“Councillor Mike Gilbert has already commented likewise for residents of Central Ward. 
“Asda and Tesco are only easily reached from certain areas and can involve serious traffic congestion at peak times.
“The Spar shops in the locality are very ‘convenient.’ especially at odd times, but they do not carry the stock for the average weekly shop.
“‘Poor trading performance’ is also cited. 
“That is hardly surprising since the Co-op has repeatedly run down the amount and variety of its stock, and also has considerably reduced the area of shelving, leaving vast empty areas within the store.
“In recent years many residents in the areas mentioned above have got used to turning the opposite way and travelling down the A16 to either Morrison’s or Sainsbury’s stores in Spalding.
It is to be hoped that one of these two firms would now capitalize on the fact that they have an established following amongst the Boston population and move into the soon-to-be vacant site. 
“Admittedly the existing store is extremely dated, being little better than a tin can, and should be demolished and replaced by a new one. 
“London Road offers a large, easily accessed site with a big population waiting to be served.”
Good points all – and whilst Morrison’s have already ruled out a move to London Road, we can think of no reason why Sainsbury’s should not be approached to see if they would consider coming to Boston.
In the top ten pecking order of favourite supermarkets, Tesco is number one, followed by ASDA, and then Sainsbury’s.
The company already has stores in Spalding, Stamford, Lincoln, Spilsby, and Bourne, and a seventh was planned for Louth – but strong local opposition led to the application being refused … although the developers are considering an appeal.
Boston Borough Council’s economic development strategy includes a pledge to “Develop the business environment in order to allow existing business to grow and to also attract new and competitive industry to the borough.”
It would be nice to think that the council is putting out feelers to Sainsbury’s to see if they can be encouraged to come to Boston – after all, it is something of a slight on the town that they have branches in some many other Lincolnshire towns but not us.
Boston is already well-served by bargain basement shops. Not that long ago, the  former  Kwik Save store  was taken on by the budget chain B and M Bargains – joining a long list including  QD, Poundstretcher, Poundland,  and Home Bargains –  and that list doesn’t include a number of  local cut price outlets.
The nearest we came to a new big name store that would have drawn more shoppers to the town was the doomed Merchants Quay project, which featured Debenhams as an “anchor” store.
Then Debenhams pulled out of the deal, the developers failed and were taken over … and the glittering dream turned to ashes.
Now there’s a glimmer of a chance.
So come on Boston Borough Council – roll out the welcome mat and press to move shopping to the town further up the ladder.


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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Elections are in the news at present.
Firstly, a reminder that tomorrow sees the election for a councillor in Boston Borough Council’s Frampton and Holme ward, with polling between 7am and 10pm.
Five candidates are standing – two Independents, Conservative, Labour and UKIP – and a lot of canvassing has been done. If you live in the ward, don’t forget to vote.
An election of a different kind is taking place of November 15th when the whole county is being asked to vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire.
Six candidates are standing – three Independent, one Conservative, one Labour and one English Democrat.
There have already been warnings to the Home Secretary that the elections could see the lowest turnout in British election history – and here in Boston one of our county councillors has criticised politicisation of the Police Commissioner role.
County Councillor Ray Newell who represents Boston West as an Independent, wrote to Boston Eye and our local papers to say that  a political Police Commissioner is “quite wrong.”
“But,” he added, “the  political parties recognise that they can deliver the votes.
“With 41 Police Commissioner posts and 41 Deputy Police Commissioner posts, the party HQs count on a large number of jobs for the “boys.
“You the taxpayer, will of course, pay the considerable salaries these posts attract.
“With Conservatives in power in Boston Borough Council, and holding six of the seven Boston seats on Lincolnshire County Council – where conservatives hold 62 of the 77 County Council seats –  a conservative Police Commissioner may be a foregone conclusion.
“With Prime Minister David Cameron controlling the government, Councillor Martin Hill with his massive majority controlling Lincolnshire County Council, and Councillor Peter Bedford controlling Boston Borough Council – the Conservative party has absolute control, from top to bottom. What could possibly go wrong?
“At national level – The EU is challenging. Our national finances are fixed, or being fixed. [Police funding may be fixed or cut].
“At Lincolnshire County Council level – Boston has no traffic problems, [except for no distributor road.]  Migration is no problem [unless you live in Boston.]  Anti-social behaviour is challenging. Low police presence is challenging. Police funding – being the lowest in the country – is challenging.  
“At Boston Borough level – There are no financial problems. Migrant unrest is possible. Shops and businesses are closing at an alarming rate [but fingers are crossed.] The distributor road is not on the horizon. Car parking may become exciting. Anti-social behaviour is challenging. Low police presence is challenging.
Gerrymandering by political parties is quite wrong.
In a second letter to Boston Eye and the county press, Councillor Newell further underlined his objections.
“The election of Police Commissioners has been hijacked. The law and justice is too important to be the plaything of political parties.
“People want Commissioners who are trustworthy, unbiased, honest, independent and caring.  They do not want whipped, party hacks who owe their job to the party. They do not want party politicians like the government’s chief whip, with his arrogant view of his protectors as plebs, threatening their jobs as policemen.
“Party politicians with their allowances scandal, cheated the taxpayer with the connivance of their party.
Party politicians are ranked below their friendly greedy bankers, cheating drug fuelled sportsmen, lying newspaper owners, editors, and dishonest tax dodging billionaires. 
“The electorate know that political leaders break their promises, à la Clegg, renege on promises for an EU referendum, and uncaringly sacrifice the lives of brave, loyal soldiers on the altar of political dogma in a pointless, unwinnable war in Afghanistan. 
“The promised economic recovery has not taken place. People feel cheated as UK factory output falls and trade deficit widens.
“The people of Lincolnshire can vote for an independent candidate for the post of Police Commissioner for Lincolnshire.”

Footnote:  For those who want to learn more, former Boston Borough Councillor Anne Dorrian has organised a hustings starting at 7pm tomorrow night at the Marian Campus of Haven High Academy.  
The event aimed at the general public – and everyone is welcome.
Witham Schools Federation’s Adrian Reed will chair the meeting – which will run along similar lines to the BBC Question Time programme.
It’s hoped that refreshments will be available afterwards so that the public can meet the candidates.

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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

It’s bad enough when important and irreplaceable historic buildings are allowed to become run down and decay – but when a town’s entire conservation area becomes so neglected that it heads a regional list of areas at risk, then things have really reached rock bottom.
Despite all the talk and the offer of hundreds of thousands of pounds in improvement money – English Heritage has branded Boston’s conservation area as in a very bad condition, and deteriorating … despite the £2 million Market Place Refurbishment scheme.
There are more than 9,500 Conservation Areas in England, and 524 of them are considered to be at risk.
The irony where Boston is concerned is that money is there to help smarten the area up.
It’s almost a year since Boston Borough Council and English Heritage announced  that £650,000 would be made available over five years – and despite a couple of reminders, only one business has come forward to get a share of this first year’s £120,000 kitty.
Another irony amidst all of this is that whilst Boston Borough Council has been blathering about our heritage, it is this self-same local authority that has allowed the town’s most prominent historic building – the Georgian Assembly Rooms – to fall into such a state of decay that it cannot now afford to restore it and is selling it to a private buyer, who is widely expected to convert it into a nightclub – whilst  closing a central block of public toilets.
It’s not as though Boston Borough Council is unaware of the benefits of conservation. A report a couple of years ago said that investment in the historic environment attracts businesses, and brings more visitors to local areas and encourages them to spend more and that historic environment attractions generate local wealth.
Specifically, it quoted a figure of £1.60 of additional economic activity is generated for every £1 of historic environment investment over a 10 year period, and that
Ironically, the report highlighted the impressive work done in Spalding as part of a five year scheme to improve conservation of historic buildings.
We wonder what English Heritage makes of  all this.
In February last year, members of the organisation’s governing board – The Commission – went on a walking tour of the town’s historic sites as part of an ad hoc visit  to keep in touch with “the vital task of protecting and sustaining the quality of historic places.”
Dr Anthony Streeten, East Midlands planning director, said at the time: “We chose to visit Boston because there is such huge potential for heritage to lead the way in regeneration.”
He described the Boston Town Centre Conservation Area as “one of the finest in the country,” adding: “Residents of Boston can take real pride in the history of their town and visitors have the promise of a true gem under the vast skies of the Fens.”
And a council spokesman said: "English Heritage's interest in Boston is long-standing and arises from the nationally-outstanding significance of much of Boston's built heritage.
"In the past few years, English Heritage has been involved in a broad range of issues in the town including heritage-led regeneration, master planning and urban design, grant aid for urgent works, archaeology and planning advice.
"During their tour of the town centre, English Heritage said Boston is one of the most significant unspoilt historic towns in the country and, with its support and that of the borough and county councils and through the use of European money, there is the opportunity to make improvements."
That was then – this is now.
Despite all the fancy phrases, it seems as though the conservation area has declined rapidly in the past 19 months.
And who is to blame?
English Heritage has provided the water in the form of a massive financial allocation but Boston Borough Council seems unable to get the horses to drink from the trough.
Apparently, we have a Conservation Project Officer in the council – so we hope that this latest bad news from English Heritage will act as a spur to get things moving.
Oh – and if you thought that the Boston Conservation was alone in Lincolnshire in being at risk … it isn’t.
The Kirton Conservation Area is on the list as well.

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