A few days ago, Boston Borough Council’s joint deputy leader and portfolio holder for finance was telling us how well the council was doing – how much it has saved in recent years, and how greatly improved it is.Obviously, economies had to be made – if for no other reason than that the government has reduced the money it hands out to local authorities each year.
But what is equally interesting is to see what the council does spend our money on – as occasionally, some items raise questions concerning both cost, and value for money.
Once a month, the council lists its spending on items costing more than £250 – which covers just about everything of significance.
Top of the list every time is the Geoff Moulder Leisure Centre.
It’s now more than a year since the council’s cabinet took another of those secret decisions to reopen the pool for the benefit of the Witham Schools’ Federation and Boston Amateur Swimming Club – using £195,000 from the council’s reserves to bring it up to scratch.
Last time we checked – using the council’s own returns – the cost of “improving” the pool since September 2011 had reached around £280,000 at the end of June.
Nothing was listed for July, but we have been looking at the returns for August, September and October.
In August, improvements at the Geoff Moulder Centre were listed at £2,820.
In September, “refurbishment” costs totalled more than £51,000, and in October new air conditioning cost £1,740, plus leisure pool services uniforms costing £775.
Also in October, there is an item “GMLP refurbishment GMLC interim no. 2 £211,303.”
What on earth does that mean?
Interestingly, whilst the report earlier this week mentioned historic concerns about the financial viability of the Princess Royal Sports Arena/Boston Sports Initiative, we note that three months ago, “revenue support” to Boston Sports Initiative totalled £27,000 for the period to the end of last March.
Items where money might have been saved are also fairly common.
Under “Civic Hospitality” we note a payment of almost £5,000 for barriers and cones for the Olympic torch relay. Given that we know that they can be hired very cheaply, we assume that they were bought especially for the occasion, and are now most probably gathering dust in a council store somewhere.
A regular payment is to the Master Gardener programme – which in October received £1,840. This scheme was launched in July last year, when it received £2,347, and then another £5,461 in April this year.
Although local master gardeners are volunteers, their training is paid for by the council taxpayers.
In January, there were six such volunteers – and when we looked yesterday, there were … six such volunteers.
Surely, this is a very costly way to encourage people to grow their own veg?
From the Director of Community Services account, we funded a dinner for 38 members costing £475 – plus drinks for guests at £364.
In other areas, “Boston marketplace conservation” saw us pay the Heritage Trust of Lincolnshire £4,680.
A new boiler “at volunteer centre” set us back almost £4,000. Only two places are listed as volunteer centres in Boston. One is run by the Lincolnshire Community Volunteer Service – them again – at the Len Medlock Centre, while the “Boston Volunteer Centre Charity” – is based in the former Sketchley shop in Wide Bargate – another Boston Borough Council white elephant which squandered tens of thousands of pounds in government grants. Whichever of these organisations has had a new boiler on the taxpayers’ account, the question must be asked … why?
Small, but nonetheless interesting expenses, included an iPad for the Boston Area Partnership “to deliver food programme” costing £485; five hundred “hens on allotments leaflets” for £270; and a polytunnel “for thistles” – a snip at £752.
Another expense that we particularly liked was for two “Kettlecise (sic) courses” – at £330 – although whether this was per course or for both is unclear.
For those of you not in the know, Kettlercise is a brand new fitness craze that incorporates the use of kettlebell training in a friendly group atmosphere … and we are sure that it is essential for today's council’s staff – well, two of them at least.
And finally, whilst we are all in favour of civic pride, was it necessary to film the Mayor-making ceremony at a cost of £349 – plus another £350 to produce “the mayor's portrait and CD?”
Obviously many expenses are essential – but then again, many are not.
And it is insufficient merely to list where the money is going.
The cost of refurbishing the Geoff Moulder Leisure Centre already far outweighs any possible benefits from increased attendances.
Not only that, but it is an ageing facility with a lifespan of around 25 more years.
We hope that someone is monitoring the totals, and also that someone, somewhere in the council, will consider raising the issue of these costs and asking how high they have to get before they stop.
When questions were first asked about the pool deal, the Boston District Independent group welcomed it , and insisted that their attempts to get it called in for further discussion were non-political, but were “to protect council tax payers from another disastrous PRSA-type situation.”
As the costs continue to mount, we fear that these concerns may well be justified.
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