Friday, 30 November 2012

So few voters bother to attend meetings of Boston Borough Council, that it was refreshing to note a letter in our local papers this week from Tom Ashton of Wrangle commenting on the debate about increasing allowances for the council's elite members which he “was privileged to observe as a member of the public.” He had some harsh words about the opposition groups who argued against the 20% increase on “narrow minded and populist grounds.” He then went on with facts and figures comparing Boston with South Holland District Council and argued for the rights of the citizenry for payment to offset to cost of council work. It’s so nice to see a well-informed member of the public taking the time to attend. Having said that, the name Tom Ashton rang a bell with us. Of course, there may be two people of that name living in Wrangle, but the one that we know is the chairman of Lincolnshire Conservative First, where he is described as “an assured Conservative supporter since his earliest political memories.”  He is a parish councillor in Wrangle  – which co-incidentally is in the ward represented by Boston Conservative leader Pete Bedford on Lincolnshire County Council. According to Conservative First he is also secretary of the Boston branch, and a co-opted representative on the Boston and Skegness Association executive. If this is the writer of the letter, then he is less of a “member of the public” and more representative of that group of Tories who regard voters as idiots who will believe everything that they are told.
The meeting that discussed the allowance hike also rejected a call to withdraw free computer and internet facilities from councillors to partly cover the cost.  We’ve gone on record as saying that in this age of hi-tech communication, we felt that all councillors should be given such a facility.  So did the meeting. Whilst voting in the allowances rise, they rejected losing their computers –  so the money for the rises will have to be found elsewhere. Whilst keeping their computers is the right thing to do, we have to smile at the way that our leadership is never willing to concede anything that might see them getting less in the way of money and perks, rather than more.
Combining the sale of the Assembly Rooms with council perks proved irresistible for one contributor to the Boston Protest March Facebook page …

Perhaps that’s one story that the leader and his officers would rather not have been told in a picture!
As you might expect, there are a number of loose ends surrounding the sale of the Assembly Rooms, so here’s an update.  The day of the sale coincided with a regular blood donor session – but unfortunately when staff arrived the lift was out of use, and as the equipment couldn't be carried up the stairs, the session was cancelled and moved to the Princess Royal Sports Arena. Despite the problems, 47 units of blood were collected. The good news is that the new owner of the Assembly Rooms has said the blood donor sessions will continue and anyone who wants to help, can book an appointment to give blood in the Boston area via or by calling 0300 123 23 23.
Meanwhile, the debate over the closure of the public toilets goes on. Boston District Independent Councillor Alison Austin reports a suggestion from a 97 year-old  member of her South Ward, who asks whether Boston Borough Council has considered renting the now closed public conveniences from the new owner of the Assembly Rooms in the same manner as the shops are leased? Councillor Austin has passed the suggestion on to the leader – but we do not anticipate a positive response.
In fact the leader excelled even himself with some political posturing on the wireless the other day. Asked by breakfast show presenter Rod Whiting whether there were any plans to provide more toilets in the town, the conversation ran thus: PB: Not within the town centre. We have three sets of toilets on the park at the cattle market and down at the bus station and I would then have to turn round and say probably to you – you tell me in the centre of Lincoln how many sets of toilets there are there. RW: Are you asking me?  PB: Yes of course I’m asking you. RW: Well, I’ve no idea. PB: Well, there isn’t any, is there? (sic)  RW:  I did try and use one the other day and then saw it had gone. PB: Precisely. What a smooth talker our leader is! But what on earth was the point he was trying to make?
Incidentally, now that the Assembly Rooms have been sold, what of the future for the Haven Gallery?  A year ago it was advertised at an annual rent of £38,000 a year for a five to ten year period, and in July we were told  that a lease on the gallery had “moved forward with terms being agreed.” Why is it that Boston Borough Council takes so long to get things done?
We’re told that joint deputy leader Councillor Raymond Singleton-McGuire was less than pleased with Boston Eye’s piece about the billing mistakes which have resulted in – among other things – someone who has been dead for the past seven years being summonsed to court. Apparently Councillor Singleton-McGuire was concerned that the report painted “his” staff in a bad light. As Boston Borough Council issues payment demands to BID members and follows them up with summonses if they are not settled, we wonder if there is any other kind of light in which this cock-up could be painted.
Interestingly, soon after that item appeared, a reader wrote to tell us of a visit to one of the town’s shops on a Christmas present buying spree. Whilst he was chatting with one of the staff, someone turned up to install the shop’s Christmas tree on the front of the premises. “I asked whether the borough was doing that, to which she replied, ‘you won't believe this, but last week our accountant was in doing our books and he asked me to sign a cheque payable to Boston Borough Council for the Christmas tree two years ago.’ Now, how much money does this council have still outstanding and not even billed …?"  Why is it that Boston Borough Council takes so long to get things done?
We hear that there has been an element of swagger shown by the new Civil Parking Enforcement Squad as they set about putting motorists to rights over where they can park in the Market Place and where they cannot. But little seems to have changed as a result. A reader reports: “I look at Boston Market Place with a different eye now. The area was full of traffic this afternoon, cars parked all around the edge, and  not many taxis as it was school leaving time. I noticed no hazards with the Into Town bus – but one white van unloading for some reason in the middle of the area … and lots of bicycles! I felt quite uncomfortable, so many young men around, not English, by the accents, but only one drinking on the street. However, there so much spitting going on that I had an awful thought that I was probably walking on it. Yuk!”  Meanwhile town centre portfolio holder Councillor Derek Richmond has announced the arrival of colour coded signs to make it easier to show drivers where to park. We hate to say we told you so, but Boston Eye suggested something similar several months ago. Had our suggestion been followed at the time, a lot of unpleasantness might have easily been avoided. Why is it that Boston Borough Council takes so long to get things done?
Boston’s Christmas shopping guide – produced in conjunction with the Boston Standard –  is like the curate’s egg ... good in parts. We can forgive the odd spelling mistakes – but why Endeavour Radio should want to “compare” the events of two different days tends to elude us. What we can’t forgive is the cover photo

click to enlarge
Superficially, it’s a charming picture of Boston Stump in the snow – but on closer inspection you will note that it is a rare snap taken in 2005, when the tower was sheathed in scaffolding. Would it not have been better to use a photo of the pride of the town that showed it in a better light – even if it was without the snow …?  
Talking of the Stump, we are delighted to learn that Wednesday’s meeting of the Boston Town Area Committee approved an appeal by Independent Councillor Carol Taylor for a contribution towards lighting the church during the most important religious festival periods such as Easter and Christmas.   Councillor Taylor had requested   £1,500 , but BTAC has offered up to £1,000 to sponsor the illumination from the 10th December through to January 3rd and then at Easter. To ensure that the Stump is lit for the Christmas Market weekend, Councillor Taylor and friends are  sponsoring tonight's lights  and Sunday's and a sponsor is being sought for tomorrow. Why hadn't Boston BID thought of the lights? Voting at he BTAC meeting squeaked through by six votes to three – with two abstentions. Sadly the “no” votes reflected the animosity towards Councillor Taylor from certain parties. As the lights go on tonight, we hope that the gainsayers will seize the moment to reflect on the beam that is in their own eye rather than beholding the mote that they perceive in another’s.
Having spent six weeks trying to arrange a subscription to the Boston Standard, our vouchers arrived in time to buy this week’s issue.  Imagine our feelings when the paper ncluded an “early gift” of four weeks of coupons to buy it for 50p rather than the 65p cover price –  and just 2p more than the subscription offer. Do we feel cheated? You bet your life we do! What’s more concerning is that this might be a prelude to a cut in the cover price, back to something more sensible – but which either way treats subscribers with contempt.
And finally … We know that demands on the Mayor’s time are always considerable, and wonder whether Boston Borough Council has decided to take a leaf from our local PCSOs to field a cardboard cut-out, as they do in the town’s ASDA store…

click to enlarge
The three  photos above were taken at the Boston Standard’s Business Awards – and the ASDA cut-out is included. Has the Mayor moved between photos? Has he changed expression? This could be a money saving winner for the future. Alternate Mayors and Mayoresses, mounted with sticky backed plastic on a piece of cardboard to replace the often unreal thing! Who knows? People may not notice the difference!

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Thursday, 29 November 2012

With the smile of a used car salesman who’s finally dumped the banger he thought would never sell – to an unsuspecting mug who has no idea what he’s let himself in for, Boston Borough Council Leader Pete Bedford's picture litters our local newspaper front pages.
The organ that came nearer to stating the truth was to describe the deal as Boston’s worst-kept secret.
Certainly the name of the owner and the intended use of the building were common knowledge  weeks ago – we seem to recall mentioning most of the detail here on Boston Eye.
What amuses us is the claim on the council’s website that the new owner – Spalding based leisure entrepreneur Matt Clark “made immediate assurances to quell anxieties in some quarters about the future of the building.”
It’s always good when someone decides to level with us - but is this the same Matt Clark who … when asked some while ago if he was the prospective buyer … told the Boston Standard that he was not involved.
It surely is.
For now, we shall take his words at face value.
More was spelled  out on the wireless on Tuesday morning, when Mr Clark told us:
“I think that people will start to get a lot more confidence in the building and ultimately … hopefully we’re going to deliver a product here that the people of Boston want in the commerciality use, so the building can be upkept to a good standard.”
English please!
“Entertainment is our catalyst and we want to put on some big acts here that bring out everyone from 18 to 40, 50, and 60 years old that can enjoy it.”
So – will the place be run as a bar every night of the week?
“The final plans aren’t there yet. It’s anticipated that, yes, it will remain pretty much as it is in forms of operation, but there will be a licensed area there will be an area for dancing and there will be a stage  – so we don’t see any radical changes to the building that it was actually constructed for.
“Again, it’s just that people are scared of the word night club I suppose in the property.”
So … what’s in it for the town?
“There’s a huge economic benefit for Boston. We’re looking at putting six figures into the modernisation of the building and a constant figure each year into keeping it in a good state of repair, let alone the amount of people we’ll be employing in the building.
“Although we haven’t got the final plans there yet of what it will be, we’re going to be looking at anywhere between thirty and fifty members of staff.
Leader Pete – defining oleaginous  to perfection – denied that people were kept in the dark over the sale deliberately.
And he also had problems understanding the word night club.
“I don’t think night club as such is quite the right terminology.
“Yes, Mr Clark certainly runs an entertainment business but the great thing about it is the fact that he is a local chap, I mean he was born in Kirton just down the road from Boston instead of selling it to somebody who was an absentee landlord some of the bidders and Mr Clark was the highest bidder because it was a closed tender, but some of them were from Brighton and Southampton and all over you then end up with absentee landlords. How do you then you know control things that’s going on? We’ve got somebody now who we are confident will deliver something for Boston.”
We apologise for the above, which was transcribed from the wireless.
Normally – and especially when Councillor Pete is involved – we do our best to insert punctuation where we feel it might aid translation.
But on this occasion, even we were defeated.
Councillor Bedford felt that the mention of a six figure sum was encouraging – adding that: “Part of the terms of the sale was that the outside has to be redecorated to English Heritage standards every five years, and that’s something that’s never happened in my lifetime.”
That’s a sad admission, as Councillor Bedford’s political history with Boston Borough Council  goes back to 1991 when he was first elected …  and which makes him a long standing member of the council club that  allowed the Assembly Rooms to decline so far as to be beyond salvation.
However, his indifference is still a matter of interest … as we shall see when other parts of the broadcast are published tomorrow.
And for those with fears about the future of blood donor sessions, we shall also have an answer as well.

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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

As the town lurches into Christmas celebration mode, a seasonal opportunity for Boston Borough Council to redeem some of its wastefulness comes in the form of an appeal at tonight’s Boston Town Area Committee.
Independent Councillor Carol Taylor – a member of the committee – has registered an appeal for a contribution towards illuminating St Botolph’s church … bka  (better known as)  the Stump.
For a number of years, the Stump was lit after dark by sponsorship from local business but – as with all these things –a time came when it was no longer affordable.
It has been very sad in recent years to look across the town at night and realise that there is no sign of the Stump.
It is such a major part of the life of the town – and yet it is sadly becoming increasingly ignored.
As Councillor Taylor points out in her submission to BTAC: “It has been a life-saving beacon down the centuries – both spiritually and literally, to the religious and secular. “It has guided to safety those in peril on the sea and in the air – Second World War pilots limping back from action took a sighting of the Stump as an indication that they were safe and almost home.
We are all proud of it, and rightly so. We should want all to see and admire it. No one coming to Boston should return home without having at least noticed the Stump.
“But … come after dark, which, let’s face it, is mid-afternoon in the mid-winter, and it may as well not be there.
“Scan the skyline after the sun has set and you may well miss it altogether.”
It costs £3,000 for the Stump to be floodlit at night for an entire year.
Unfortunately the church is now lit on just a handful of occasions.
Individuals can pay £25 to dedicate a single night’s illumination, which is accompanied by a notice in the porch to explain the reason to visitors.
We have done this on a few occasions, and the pleasure that it brings cannot be quantified.
At present, donations to light the church in this way provide a meagre £400 – representing about 16 days a year.
Councillor Taylor’s application goes on: “I am asking that BTAC, as the parish council of Boston, demonstrates its pride in, and love for, the Stump by granting £1,500 so that it can be a blazing glory for all to see at times of most popularity and footfall – during the most important religious festival periods such as Easter and Christmas.
“I know you have plenty of other very worthwhile calls for contribution, but I consider this to be one of the most important you could make and one of the most demonstrative of your support for Boston.”
We’re not sure about the “worthwhileness” of some previous calls on BTAC’s coffers.
They have included funding the feeble Jubilee celebration in the town’s Central Park to the tune of £5,000, and paying at least £1,000 for the vandal-prone Jubilee Fountain.
Interestingly, both of these projects benefitted the wider Boston public rather than the town – which were therefore beyond the BTAC remit, and should therefore have been funded from the borough’s budget.
BTAC also found it in their hearts to give £1,000 to the leechlike South Lincolnshire Community Voluntary Service to buy chalks for people to scrawl on the pavements to celebrate volunteering week  … on top of the £5,000 the SLCVS had already received to “celebrate volunteering” during the Jubilee.
Unfortunately, we know that Councillor Taylor is not currently the flavour of the month with some council colleagues – who see her challenges to the bureaucracy as rocking the boat … which is something to be regarded as intolerable and punishable.
However, the facts remain that in recent years Boston Borough Council has roughed up the parish church for nothing more than selfish, financial interestsand the time to put things right is long overdue.
Just for once, a gesture involving a small sum in overall terms could well reap benefits that might improve the council’s tattered image.
Well, they do say that Christmas is a time for miracles!

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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

And Boston Borough Council is just as bad
Just when you thought that Boston BID couldn’t come up with anything to make itself look more stupid than ever, comes news of the issuing of court summonses  for non-payment of the involuntary compulsory levy– including one  sent to a man who has been dead for seven years.
This latest act in the BID farce has been exposed by a former director – local businessman Darron Abbott, who quit the organisation in protest at how it was run.
He writes:  “What a few days BID has planned for the businesses in the town.
“On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we are promised a Christmas extravaganza – the likes of which Boston has never seen before.
“Then, on Monday 3rd December at 1.30pm several of the BID levy payers will be at the town’s County Court to plead their cases as to why they have declined to pay.
“From what I have heard, there are several business owners who are planning to attend, so the chances are that the matter will be simply adjourned to a later date, as I doubt any one from Boston BID or Boston Borough Council will be bothered to attend to defend.
“I have heard that two of those summonsed by the court will not appear.
“The first is one of my clients who received a summons, and then rang me thinking I was still a director of BID.
“After I explained I had resigned because I was not happy that the BID manager had lost over £10,000 of the levy payers’ money which he had no authority to spend on an event in Central Park that did not happen, they asked me to look at the summons. “Upon inspection it was immediately apparent that the summons was in the name of one of the directors personally - and not the company that owned the premises.
“There were in fact two summonses – as for some reason this property has two account numbers with Boston BID for the same property.
“The client claimed they had never received any previous correspondence from BID.
“I thought that a quick phone call to the ever-efficient BID Manager would sort this out, so I left a message on his answer machine, but there was no returned call.
“Throughout the day I tried on numerous occasions to call again, but got the same answering machine.
“So I decided to contact Boston Borough Council, and was put through to the Business Rates department – only to be asked by another answer machine to leave my name and number and told that someone should get back to me within three working days.
“This meant that I had to ring the council again to insist on actually talking to someone, and whilst discussing the matter it became apparent that the previous correspondence had been delivered to the flat above the business premises and the tenants had not passed it on.
“The court summons was cancelled very quickly and new demands are to be issued with the £94 worth of costs to be forgotten about.
The second person who will not be attending is a gentleman who passed away seven years ago  yes that’s right … three years before Boston BID even came into existence.
“Everything seemed sorted until I visited another one of my clients on Thursday evening. He had received a letter from a firm of civil enforcement agents appointed by Boston Borough Council.
“So my first job on Friday morning was to ring this firm to find out why they had received this letter for proposed seizure of goods for a property they had vacated two years ago.
“They said they could not help, and that if there was a query I would have to contact Boston Borough Council.
“Then a phone call to Mrs Butler at the council to be abruptly informed it related to a BID levy.
“When I explained that my client had vacated the premises, she confirmed that … yes, the computer showed a date of December 2010.  I then explained that my client had received no correspondence.
“She said that was nothing to do with her and that I should ring Niall Armstrong (the BID Manager.)
“The same answer machine greeted me that that had done earlier in the week, that had not responded to my previous message.
“A phone call then to the BID Chairman, who suggested I spoke to the council as it was their responsibility – and after brief discussion it was apparent he was not interested. Another call to Mrs Butler who said once again I should contact the BID Manager.
“Having explained I had tried this to no avail and the BID chairman had referred me back to the council, Mrs Butler was little more helpful, and explained that all of the correspondence had actually gone to the premises that the council knew had been vacated two years ago –  and this included the court summons.
“She then stated she could do nothing about it I should take it up with the BID Manager.
“What was the point of going on with this, I thought?  So, a phone call to Pauline Chapman at the council and a quick explanation was followed three hours later by message to pay the £36.16 BID levy and forget about the £154.50 costs.
“I am afraid the week’s episodes leave me with even less confidence in the management of BID; the manager has lost the levy payers in excess of £10,000 on a non-event –   and the loss in erroneous court costs above is £250 alone.
“One final question for the time being is about the management of the BID.
“The accounts for the year ended 31st March 2012 must be filed with Companies House by 31st December.  These accounts were not presented at the BID board meeting last week. There are no further board meetings planed until the New Near.
So when will the Board approve these accounts? Will it be a case that the Chairman has learnt from the BID manager and will act unilaterally and sign the accounts without the approval of the board?

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Monday, 26 November 2012

It seems that the “leadership” of Boston Borough Council simply does not know when to quit.
Instead of taking on the chin the unsurprising public reaction to the inflation busting increases to the top tier recipients of special responsibility allowances, whoever passes for the borough’s chief spin doctor has come up with an interesting explanation.
Not for the first time, it works on the premise that all council taxpayers are idiots and will believe anything that anyone with the noun preface “councillor” cares to tell them.
In this case, the spin-ster of our parish is none other than Council Leader Pete Bedford – who in a moment of rare insight into public opinion tells Boston’s poor, tired and huddled masses: "There will never be a best time for increases.”
He goes on to add: “There have not been any in Boston for six years. We have slipped further and further behind our colleagues in the other Lincolnshire authorities, and still remain substantially below them.”
Then, just as we were reaching for our box of Kleenex, he added the fatuous comment.
It does demonstrate that we represent value for money here in Boston.”
Well, no it doesn’t.
Value for money – from the point of view of a council taxpayer – is the quality of service we get from the people who style themselves our leaders.
The reality is that what Councillor Bedford and his henchpeople have delivered so far does not represent “value.”
What have they done to date?
Apart from approving two huge increases in allowances in 18 months?
Sold an historic publicly owned asset in conditions surrounded by secrecy … which has meant …
The closure of an important set of public toilets.
Begun charging disabled blue badge holders to park their invalid carriages – with a “back of a fag packet” concession of a “free” thirty minute extension …
Continued funding the white elephant known as the Princess Royal Sports Arena … Wasted thousands on silly projects …
The list goes on and on.
Boston council taxpayers care nothing about how much more neighbouring districts are paid.
As far as we can tell, they are delivering better and improved services and are therefore worth it.
The borough council website tells us: “It will be eight years since the last increase before this increase is fully in place averaging at around 2.5 per cent per year.”
Interesting, eh?
Take a 20% increase over two years, but include the fact that is the first in six years, then juggle the figures to make it look reasonable and more or less in line with inflation.
We have a resident maths whizz as well, whose calculations show that these 10% increases are more like twelve and a half per cent.
The new allowance minus the old allowance gives us the increase, which, divided by the old allowance and multiplied by 100 provides the percentage % increase
In the case of the leader, the figures are £7,322 - £6,487   = £835, which
divided by £6,487 times 100 = 12.87%  not 10%.

FOOTNOTE: The word on the street says that Boston’s Assembly Rooms are to be handed over to their new owners in a small ceremony outside the building at 10 am today.  If true – expect another load of eyewash from our leaders about what a great deal this is for the town.

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Friday, 23 November 2012

There has been much trumpeting this week about the naming of Boston’s Market Place as the best in England – but is the accolade really as important as is being made out? The borough council website reports that its leader Pete Bedford was “taken by surprise”when a picture of the Market Place was screened as the best scheme in England this year. He was then asked to stand and offer a few words, which we wish we had heard. As it happened the event was photographed, and as you can see from the picture below, was not exactly the best attended.

According to the organisation’s website, Heritage Champions are usually local councillors, who have been nominated by their authority to do the job. There are currently 264 local authorities with Heritage Champions– and as you can see from the photo barely more thirty turned out for the dog-hanging. So how many voted? And if the vote involved all members, why was Councillor Bedford “taken by surprise?” And wasn’t the choice of Boston Market Place a pretty obvious one for such recognition – surely it had to qualify simply on the grounds of cost, if nothing else. Interestingly the Heritage Champions website says that probably the most important thing local representatives can do is “tell people you are there” – which appears to have happened at last!.
At the event, Councillor Bedford stressed the return to a more traditional Market Place with a shared space in which vehicles did not automatically assume priority. Afterwards he was heard on the wireless commenting that “hopefully this will now put some of the recent doubters' minds at rest.” We think that it will take a lot more than that. Letters to the local papers continue to stress the danger to pedestrians in particular using the area. Boston Eye is also still receiving comments. One reader wrote succinctly: “Best in England... more like most dangerous in England!” Another told us: “My son, who lives in London, made a visit to Boston last week and on seeing the huge space and the ground surface in particular, referred to it as 'Lego Land'.”
Yet a third correspondent wrote to say: “In my opinion, the Market Place refurbishment was never any more than current councillors trying to put a stamp on their term of office, and maybe even be remembered for it. They will now! The Into Town bus does not go down well with either pedestrians, or the shop workers, and visitors I bring to see Boston think it's hilarious! How anyone could ever think that traffic and people eating outside was ever going to mix is beyond me; it’s not lanes of traffic, it’s random. If I wished to open a cafĂ© in the Market Place, I would want my shop to be away from traffic, not in danger from it. It occurs to me at this point that the Assembly Rooms could have had money spent on them, the area in front would have been lovely for sitting outside, and inside would have been good for high class shops who really can't afford to have non shuttered windows? Also in London, there are old buildings that house several different catering places, but who all share the same outside space, it works, it gives choice.
Interestingly, Leader Bedford put his own spin on the Assembly Rooms at the aforementioned Heritage Champions’ meeting, when – according to the borough’s website – he included in his mention of a return to a more traditional Market Place “private investment in the area with the sale of the Assembly Rooms.” It seems a little early to be gilding the lily in this way. This was not private “investment.” It was the desperate flogging by the council of a key heritage site which has been so badly neglected by successive administrations that the cost of restoring it was beyond their reach, and whose sole option was to find a way to dump it on someone else – although this has not yet happened because of on-going delays. The last we heard was that the deal – which was a week overdue for completion today, is now unlikely to happen this week either.
A comment from Boston Independent group spokesman Councillor Richard Leggott on our Tuesday report on wheeling and dealing behind the scenesby former Councillor Brian Rush says: “Opposition members to the Boston Bypass Independents administration did not withdraw their attendance at committeesas your column would seem to be saying. To do so would have been a dereliction of our duty as councillors. What happened was this. After futile attempts by Councillor Richard Austin to tell opposition parties who would or would not be acceptable to the BBI Party as chairs and/or vice chairs – to the extent of naming members for chairs and vice chairs on committees to which they had not been appointed by their groups – we, the opposition, were handed a list of such positions asking for our nominations and tasked to 'fill in the blanks.' This we did – only to be told that some names were unacceptable to councillors Austin and Jordan with whom we met to discuss the issue. Opposition reaction was that we had been presented with a blank list to be filled in therefore non-acceptance of our nominations was just the same interference as before; 'all or none' were the terms. The answer was not ‘all’ – thus leading to opposition groups unanimously telling BBI ‘what they could do with their chairs.’ It would appear that the present administration is quite happy to repeat past mistakesin spite of an agreement to replace the departing chair of Environment and Performance scrutiny committee in accordance with keeping the political balance. A political balance dictated by Councillor Bedford, until now, as requiring scrutiny chairs to be opposition councillors.
We’ve often wondered whether Councillor Bedford has a sense of humour – and now we think we have detected one. After this week’s reported change of voting heart by Councillor Paul Mould – followingthe offer of a chairmanship next April – we took a look at the calendar. The start of that month is also Easter Monday – but while Councillor Mould is anticipating an Easter egg from his leader, we think it more likely that it will turn out to be an April Fool joke on a slow fuse! Time will tell.
It’s been a busy week for Boston Eye. with correspondence from readers concerning events of the past few days. Leader Pete Bedford’s explanation for the extension of the contract of the borough’s Cheap Executive – Councillor Bedford’s word, not ours – saw a local businessman of many years standing writing to say: “It has always worried me how our elected councillors have been so incompetent at appointing a suitable chief executive. The salary being paid at present for 15 days a month is nothing less than scandalous, this salary would, I believe attract a younger more vibrant candidate in a full time capacity.” Good point – but why would our mostly ageing blue rinse brigade want something as threatening as that?
Still on the Chief Executive’s contract extension, another reader sent us extracts from the minutes relating to the previous and “final”extension debated on 26th September last year. These noted that the Chief Officer Employment Panel had taken into account the need to have continued strong management to oversee significant challenges facing the council and to take forward key projects. Extending Mr Harbord’s contract until 31 May 2013 “would also allow sufficient time for the “council to determine the best long term Chief Executive arrangement for the future.” The minutes noted: “Councillor Bedford stated that within six months (note – that would have been in March this year) the Chief Officer Employment Panel would start to consider options for the Chief Executive role going forward, but the council should be fully aware that it could no longer sustain a full-time Chief Executive.” Now, the same arguments have been repeated for yet another contract extension. What worries us is that no-one is saying what problems and key objectives between now and 2015 are so crucial that no-one other than Mr Harbord is capable of dealing with them. If there is something nasty in the woodshed – such as that seen by Aunt Ada Doom – then we should know about them.
It seems impossible to open a local newspaper these days without reading of the amazing Christmas celebrations being arranged to entertain us by the Boston Business “Improvement” District. Sadly, the BID seems to have got so enmeshed in all of this that there could be a risk that it is taking its eye off the ball in other matters. A meeting called earlier this week folded up because there were not enough directors to form a quorum, and there will not now be another meeting until the New Year. An earlier meeting was attended by quite a few people who are apparently not directors. This will be the final year in which the BID will be chipping in £10,000 of levy payers’ money towards the Christmas lights – unless of course it is re-elected for a further five year term. We also hear that issues have arisen regarding the twice-cancelled Boston Beat “free” pop music event that cost the levy payers a further £10,000 and have been passed to solicitors. And – as everything seem to come in threes … in this case of then tens of thousands of pounds … we hope the £10k town team award from the government won’t simply vanish into a growing black hole.
We were interested to note the reluctance of Boston’s senior police officer to reveal the number of extra officers “on the beat” for last week’s immigration protest. Is this because anyone who can count knows that any number above zero will constitute an “extra”presence?
And talking of the police – it was interesting to see how the voting for Lincolnshire’s first Police and Crime Commissioner bucked most of the predictions and trends. Polls had suggested that Labour was likely to be most successful overall. In Lincolnshire, the party came bottom of the poll, followed by the Conservative candidate. The final stage was interesting as well, with Independent latecomer Alan Hardwick topping the poll ahead of former Lincolnshire County Council Chief Executive and famous whistle-blower David Bowles. Mr Bowles started out as an independent, but later adopted the less than alluring slogan of “Campaign to Stop Politicians Running Policing” – which might have sounded a trifle outrĂ© for many Lincolnshire folk. Interestingly, former YTV Calendar newsman Hardwick was elected 35 years after former Calendar newsman Austin Mitchell was elected MP for Great Grimsby in 1977.
As the garden waste collections for this year come to an end, new figures show that Boston is still at the bottom of the Lincolnshire district council league table for household waste collection overall. It’s estimated that in this first season – which got off to a slow start – Boston's garden waste kerbside collection service collected around 2,500 tonnes to convert into compost. The latest figures show Boston’s collection rate at 33.1% - and the Borough Council’s estimate for the coming season is to improve this figure to 50% - which seems a shade ambitious.

We also wonder what happens to all this compost. We welcomed the brown bin collections – as – by the time they started, we were running three compost bins, and had more of the sludgy brown stuff than we could ever need. And that was before the Tories took over the running of the council!

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

We’ve been taking a look at the background which led to the decision by Boston Borough Council to increase allowances for its top twenty post holders by 20% over just two years.
Interestingly, a questionnaire sent to all 32 councillors elicited responses from 65.6% of them, or 21, or … just about the same number as are set to benefit from the pay hike!
A word that cropped up was “stress.”
One claim was that a cabinet post exposed a councillor to “demands” which are not compatible with any other roles within the council, and a portfolio holder’s allowance should reflect the stress of managing a portfolio.
We not persuaded by this argument.
On the evidence from their own mouths, some of our portfolio holders are clearly out of touch – other than in the broadest terms – with the tasks for which they are responsible.
They are probably stressed because they have bitten off more than they can chew.
If the increased allowances could by some miraculous process transform the recipients so that they could do the job better rather than just taking more money for it, the money would be well spent.
Interestingly, we spotted a neat hidden rise within the stonking increase approved on Monday.
The resolution was: “That all special responsibility allowances be increased by 20% over a two year period and that an annual increase for inflation based on the consumer price index be applied for each of those years.”
So we are looking at the addition of at least 2% on top of the ten per-cent proposed over the next two years.
At the heart of all this, we are told, is the ambition to bring the special responsibility allowances in line with increases in the basic allowance “and be sufficient as to not financially disadvantage an average working person from standing for council and taking on positions which attract additional responsibility.”
At a rough guess, around half of Boston borough councillors are retired, and the reason for this is that retirees are people with time on their hands who are  more willing to do the job.
Having said that, a look at the list of serving members shows one or two that are now clearly past their sell-by date – and if the true intention is to provide the best possible level of service, there ought to be some in-house tidying before the next election.
To us, there seems absolutely no possibility that an “average working person” will ever be likely to find an employer with such a high regard for his local council as to be give the full amount of time off necessary to do the job properly if – as the responses in the questionnaire claim – they are working between eight and eighty hours a week already … and that is just for recipients of the basic allowance.
Another argument trotted out to justify increasing special responsibility payments is to fall  in line with other district councils in Lincolnshire.
No two of our seven district councils are the same – and Boston Borough is far and away the smallest of them. Just because a larger authority may pay more does not automatically justify an increase for the smaller one.
Council Leader Pete Bedford's feeble justification for a jumbo pay rise was heard on BBC Radio on Tuesday.
“Boston is way the lowest,with no increase for six years.
“Everybody has walked away from this issue, and I’m afraid that its time it has to be addressed.
Why now?
One of the very first things that new newly-elected Conservative group “addressed” after last May’s elections was to award themselves a pay rise of 85.03% over three years.
Now this latest big award for the council elite gives them another 20 per-cent plus.
One thing that almost everyone agrees on is that was not the time to address such an issue.
But as the Tories have already begin behaving as though they expect to lose control of the council after the elections in May 2015, the “timing” of the rises ensures that they leave the council better off than when they came in.
So much for the concept of public service.
The leadership at Boston would do far better to start a campaign to make people want to become councillors for the right reasons.
At present, Boston Borough Council has a rotten and secretive image – largely due to its leadership – and public interest in what it does must surely be at an all-time low.
Change that, and other benefits might surely follow.

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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

How could we have been so silly as to imagine anything other than the big pay rise for big wheels among Boston borough councillors was anything other than an absolutely necessary rebalancing act of fairness?
Monday night’s meeting of the council which saw this – and the extension of Chief Executive Richard Harbord’s gold-plated contract to a date when it becomes another administration’s problem to sort out – both steamrollered through, for once saw opposition councillors reject political rhetoric and say what they really felt for once.
On the wireless yesterday morning, Independent group leader Richard Leggott summed it up thus: “I’ll use one word … crass. It’s absolutely terrible. It’s not as if we’ve got any surplus in our budgets … We’re asking the electorate to be mindful that budgets are thin, services have got to be funded, they may not have the same richness of service – and then for them to see the councillors waving through a large increase over two years for certain members – I don’t think that’s right.”
Labour group leader Paul Kenny was in similar “tell it how it is mode.”
“The big issue that concerns me and should concern the people of Boston is that the administration decided to give themselves a 20% hike on their allowances and at the same meeting were also discussed negotiations to cut the pay and conditions of our staff .
“I just couldn’t believe it – it was a bit like 1st April – what are these people playing about at?
“They’re going to be asking to reduce their services, they’re asking staff to reduce their pay and conditions and the top people in the organisation are technically getting more money. That’s not right.”
He also attacked the decision to extend the contract of Chief Executive Richard Harbord as “the Leader and the Chief Executive getting together and saying I want to stay around for another fifteen months.
What we want is a plan for the long term sustainability of the council ….  a bit of vision for the future. What we are getting is him propping up the existing administration. He’s agreed to stay around for a couple of months past the next election so that the Conservative group of Boston Borough Council can feel happy that they’ve got everything in place, and that they’re not going to have any difficulties.
“When you make a decision, shouldn’t it be a round decision – not based on one or two factors, but on a lot of factors. And the point that we’d make to the people of Boston is that this decision was only made for the benefit of one political group.”
Enter Boston Borough Council’s political Wile E. Coyote  - leader Pete Bedford – talking as always  like a speak your weight machine.
“Richard Harbord is paid £675 a day. That is it. There is no on cost, there is no pension, there is no pay as you earn, no travel expenses, nothing.
"The average wage of a Chief Executive in an authority the size of ours is £144,000 a year. Put on top of that, anywhere between 26% and 40% pension rights, and pay as you earn on top of it, then all their expenses when they go to seminars and I’ll think that you’ll find that Richard Harbord turns out to be quite cheap.”
He added: “Most of the chief officers at Boston, barring one, are long serving officers, and since Richard has been there their game level has raised significantly because of the support of a very, very experienced chief executive.”
Surely, this begs the question why they were allowed to get away with taking it so easy  – something that might well have continued had another in-house boss been brought in.
On the pay rise for the “top” tier of councillors, Councillor Bedford was indignantly pedantic.
“20% – That is over two years – it’s ten per cent per year, so let’s get that absolutely straight to start with.”
Oh, so it’s just 10% a year, then – well, that’s ok, isn’t it?
“Boston is way the lowest no increase for six years. “Everybody has walked away from this issue and I’m afraid that its time it has to be addressed.”
Well, it would be, wouldn’t it – if  you want to pocket some cash while you still can?
He also rejected Councillor Kenny’s charges about staff on minimum pay.
“Fifteen per-cent of staff are not on the minimum wage – they are actually above it. “We have nobody at Boston borough on the minimum wage, and in fact the average hourly rate is £11.09 an hour.”
It may be true that there are no staff on the minimum wage.
As Councillor Bedford pointed out on Monday night in a written answer: “The national minimum wage is currently £6.19 per hour.  The lowest hourly rate at this council is £6.29 per hour, which is significantly higher.
Of course it is – a whole £4 a week more for a 40 hour week.
And Councillor Bedford’s rise for that extra responsibility?
His annual increase will be £1,567 – which at the same rate is a rise of £30 a week.

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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Murky goings on have emerged from last week’s election for a Chairman of Boston Borough Council’s Environment and Performance Committee – with  last minute wheeling and dealing apparently robbing the candidate anticipated to be the favourite for the job.
Members of the committee are: Councillors Stuart Ashton,  Alison Austin, Mark Baker, Elliott Fountain, Paul Goodale, James Knowles, Paul Mould, Gloria Smith, Aaron Spencer, Carol Taylor and Mary Wright.
This report comes to us from the former committee chairman – Brian Rush – who recently resigned as an Independent councillor …  in part in protest at the abuse of the democratic process.
He writes:
I have to assume that an accurate account has been related to me, regarding the behaviour of our ruling group during the Overview and Scrutiny Meeting.
The item in question was the selection of Chairperson, for which two candidates had been put forward.
In order for readers to be aware of the ‘special circumstances’ regarding ‘chairmanships of committees,’ it is important to know the position adopted during the BBI  administration by certain members of the new ruling group and its leader, Peter Bedford.
The ‘opposition’ at that time took a very strong stance against the ‘allocation’ of chairs that was considered to be anti-democratic – so much so that opposition members refused to sit on any committees.
Councillors Raymond Singleton-McGuire, Mike Brookes, Peter Bedford, Colin Brotherton, Maureen Dennis and Mike Gilbert subscribed to this.
The ruling group’s actions instigated an intervention by the Local Government Association Improvement Board, and chairmanships formed part of their concerns.
They recommended that in order to address political openness, it was good practice to offer chairmanships to opposition groups.
Councillor Carol Taylor, an Independent, put herself forward for Chair of Scrutiny last Wednesday evening to challenge Councillor Mark Baker (Conservative) who as Vice Chairman replaced myself, Brian Rush.
Councillor Taylor had been given personal assurances by two Conservative councillors of their support.
At the eleventh hour she received this from one of them,  Councillor Paul Mould:
“I told Mary I would not second Mark Baker for chairman at the planning meeting yesterday, and Peter (Bedford) phoned me last night. 
“He says that the position has changed, and the chairman of scrutiny committees will now be able to prevent council decisions, so Eric Pickles (the Communities and Local Government Secretary) has advised that it is vital where possible to have Conservative chairmen.  He argued with me for   20 minutes and in the end promised I would get a chairman position in April.
He was trying to get in touch with Gloria, but she has flitted.  I will be voting for Mark but, if Gloria still votes for you, you should win 6-5.
Sorry to let you down but I hope you still win.”
Councillor Taylor tells me that in open forum, Councillor Gloria Smith announced that she had also ‘been told something today that had now led her to withdraw her promise’ to support Councillor Taylor, and decided to abstain.
I passed the following to Councillor Taylor before the meeting, when I heard of the reasons for Councillor Mould`s change of position.
The constitution says under PART 4 (Section E) 17. The party whip 17.1
(a) The DETR guidance views whipping as incompatible with Overview and Scrutiny.
(b) When considering any matter in respect of which a Member of an O&S Committee is subject to a party  whip,  the member must declare the existence of the whip and the nature of it before the commencement of the committee’s deliberations on the matter.
The declaration and the detail of the whipping arrangements shall be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.
 A party whip is "any instruction given by or on behalf of a political group to any member of that group as to how the councillor shall speak or vote on any matter before council or any committee or sub-committee, or threat to apply any sanction by the group in respect of that councillor, should she or he speak or vote in a particular manner. This must be declared.
This I believe is a very serious situation, not only unconstitutional, but there are obvious acts of discrimination taking place by senior conservative members, supported by officers of the council who may well also be in breach of the equal opportunities policy of the council.
Even if the Pickles thing were true, which I find very difficult to believe, this would have to go before full council in order to effect the change. Our constitution as written now is what we are bound by.
Peter Bedford must be brought to book for this!
Opposition Members should now stand up and be counted and call in the ‘Government’ to examine this despicable behaviour.

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Monday, 19 November 2012

Christmas comes early for the real-life Scrooges of Worst Street – with a recommendation at tonight’s full council meeting of a bumper boost in the allowances of top councillors only and another contract extension for Boston’s highly-paid Chief Executive.
Unlike Scrooge, we suspect that there will be no eleventh hour Damascene conversion to bring about a change of heart – and the recommendation for a 20% rise in allowances to councillors with special responsibilities is particularly ill-timed, coming as it does against a backdrop of reports that as many 120 council staff face cuts in pay and conditions to try to save £1 million.
We mentioned both of these briefly last week – but today want  to concentrate on Chief Executive Richard Harbord’s contract.
It was last extended in September last year “for a further,  final period to 31st May 2013.”
It now apparently suits the council leadership to ignore this decision and propose extending the contract until 31st July 2015.
Sometimes, Council Leader Pete Bedford prefers to fall in with previous recommendations – as he did during the controversy over the sale of the town’s Assembly Rooms.
Councillor Bedford told the BBC:  “… the actual decision was taken in 2006 at a cabinet meeting then, and it has never been rescinded, so the original decision in 2006 is the one that we are actually working on.”
We wonder whether the decision to extend Mr Harbord’s tenure for a “final” time will be rescinded tonight before a vote is taken – but suspect that this will not happen.
Mr Harbord’s pay is well documented.
He will get £121,500 a year for just 15 days’ “work” a month. Pro rata, this places him among the highest paid local government officers in the country – whilst working for one of the smallest and poorest councils.
Boston is ranked 331st out of 354 English local councils.
Not bad for  an official "old age pensioner" – as we believe he is passed his 65th birthday!
At an annualised rate, Mr Harbord receives £243,000 a year – compared with Prime Minister David Cameron, who is paid £142,500.
Mr Harbord is paid through a contract with his own company Mrf UK – formerly Modular Raised Floors (UK) – an arrangement that brings with it certain tax benefits.
Councillor Bedford has been at pains in the past to stress that this also brings benefits for Boston Borough Council.
In a BBC radio interview in February last year, he said: “Our Chief Executive is only a part-time position. He is perfectly at liberty to work for other clients on the days he does not work for us. 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.”
We are puzzled at the way these comments conflict – given   a warning in tonight’s recommendation to the council, which has appeared before.
Under the section “Legal Implications” we are told:  “As the Chief Executive has been employed continuously since August 2009, albeit on a series of short term contracts, he may have statutory employment rights. This broadly means that if he were to be dismissed the council would have to follow a fair and legally recognised procedure for dismissal. If the position were to be made redundant, redundancy pay may be payable.
An earlier version of this caveat includes the sentence: “If an employee does not have unfair dismissal rights, then these steps are not necessary, although with an organisation the size of the council, these steps should not be omitted even where they legally can be.”
This sounds to us to be paving the way for a possible payment – despite Councillor Bedford’s claims to the contrary.
These warnings also carry the implication that failure to renew a contract on expiry constitutes dismissal – which is nonsense.
We have worked on contracts in the past, and the arrangement is quite unambiguous. A contract is drawn up for agreed services, to be provided for an agreed period, and at an agreed rate.
When that time is up – that’s it!
We know of people who have worked on annual renewable contracts which have not been renewed after twenty years with absolutely no employment rights whatsoever.
This is the advantage of such contracts to the people who hold them – they can work for more than one employer – and  this is usually whythey work under the umbrella of their own company.
However, an interesting line in the council recommendation mentions a “contract of employment for a peppercorn sum of £10 per annum.”
So on one hand, we appear to have an employee on contract, but also with a foothold on the staff ladder.
This is something that needs questioning at tonight’s meeting.
Another worrying aspect of all this is the decision to extend the contract to 31st July 2015 – almost three months after the next local elections.
Ostensibly, this will “allow the current Chief Executive to remain   to provide stability and oversee any changes that may occur at the next election in May 2015.”
Superficially, this sounds a good idea, as it appears to presume a change in political control of the council – which would be excellent.
However, what it also does – if Mr Harbord were to qualify for redundancy pay – is to drop that particular time bomb into the lap of a future administration … and allow our present so-called leadership neatly to pass the buck on to their successors.
In recent months, many decisions by Boston’s un-magnificent seven cabinet members have attracted major criticism – including  the sale of the Assembly Rooms, and charging disabled blue badge holders to park.
However, these protests have fallen into the “all mouth and no trousers” category – creating nothing more than noise … and no real action.
In the case of Mr Harbord’s contract, a senior Labour councillor wrote to the Chief Executive of the Audit Commission  – motto “Protecting the public purse” –  to ask for an investigation. The reply was received to say that an auditor would be in touch “shortly."
On 31st October the post of district auditor ceased to exist.
A final point concerns the report to tonight’s meeting.
Its subject is “Role of the Chief Executive.”
And the report’s author?
Head of Chief Executive’s Office.”
Ought it not have been written from more of a distance?
If no questions are raised about this tonight, then our so-called representatives are guilty of negligence in their duties toward Boston and its council taxpayers.

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