Monday, 10 December 2012

Last week’s request by Boston Borough Council’s Independent group spokesman Councillor Richard Leggott for the council’s version of events at Boston Magistrates’ Court (see “Court napping …) has borne fruit. 
It follows a critical report of events in Boston Eye by local businessman Darron Abbott – who attended the hearings for non-payment of the Boston Business “Improvement” District levy to represent three local businesses who had been summonsed.
Although Councillor Leggott’s request was copied to all councillors and leader Pete Bedford, Mr Harbord’s reply has been sent to him alone, and copied to Councillor Bedford.
The report he has sent is prefaced with the sentence “The factual report attached is as amazing as the account in Boston Eye.”
Without wishing to seem pedantic, a report is just a report.
To call it “factual” is supportive of the staff who wrote it – as you might expect – but, we know that some of the content is already in dispute, so it may be too soon to be that precise.
The report says that council officer Graham Cooper attended  court with the intention of obtaining liability orders for non-payment of the Boston BID levy, and that when he arrived he was met by Mr Abbott “who claimed to be representing six other individuals who had been summoned to court for non-payment.” 
Mr Cooper claimed that Mr Abbott had “clearly fuelled these people” who were immediately angry and confrontational. 
“He found their actions to be rude, personal, intimidating and at times their behaviour almost got to the point of physical violence.
None of the defendants’ names appeared on the court list on public display, but the report says that despite this, “the Magistrates’ Court were well aware that the council’s intention was to obtain liability orders for non-payment … as they approve all summonses prior to issue.”
Although the council was acting on behalf of Boston BID, “nobody from Boston BID was in attendance at court, and although good practice, this is not necessary as Boston BID have sight of a list of defaulters prior to any summons being issued.”
The report then gave a detailed account of the outcome of the cases involving all six businesspeople in court.
What does emerge is that some people were clearly confused about the summonses issued.
In two cases, defendants had paid for the current year, whilst the summonses were issued for earlier years, and were correct.
In the case of a widow whose late husband was summonsed for non-payment of BID levy, the summons was withdrawn in the light that “we have incorrectly issued a summons to a deceased person” and arrangements have been made to change the account name. 
In defence, the council report argued that  the woman concerned had paid business rates demanded from her late husband for the last seven years, and that the council had no record of his widow informing them that her husband had passed away – despite  her claims that she had told the council and even provided copies of death certificates.
In another case, a defendant visited the council buildings to see an officer but was told that none was available. An appointment offered for another day was declined because the man concerned was too busy.
When Mr Abbott tried to illustrate his argument by ringing the West Street offices to speak to an officer, he got an answerphone because the officer concerned “had a face to face appointment with a business rates customer and was therefore unable to answer the phone.”
The report concludes: “Mr Abbott’s perception of the whole situation is totally incorrect.”
Mr Abbott challenges much of the content of the report, and has lodged a formal complaint about it.
All we would say is that it does appear that there was confusion regarding some of these summonses, and there certainly appear to be problems in contacting “real” members of staff in the council’s business rates department.
This is an area where “customers” often have  important concerns and worries, and it is essential that they should be able to discuss them  person-to-person on the phone, or face-to-face if they visit West Street – rather than to be told to come back again another day.
And we also think that in future, Boston BID should adopt the “good practice” referred to and have the politeness to turn up in court.

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