Friday, 25 January 2013

The resignation of  Boston’s Independent Councillor Richard Leggott as Chairman of the council’s Audit and Governance Committee because he could no longer accept the leadership’s cavalier approach towards non-executive councillors chairing such committees, is still echoing down the threadbare corridors of Worst Street.  Among the latest to comment is Labour deputy leader Councillor Paul Gleeson, who says: “Richard was an effective, even-handed chairman. But, what is more important, he treated the position with the seriousness it deserved and always was fully on top of his brief, which meant his meetings were very workmanlike. Audit and Governance is a very technical committee – you can’t just turn up without having fully read and researched the papers you will be considering, and Richard was always on top of this. It will be interesting to see how the declaration of interest issue will be handled next Monday. I find it a bit rich that I am having to persuade the Tories to play fair and introduce their own Government’s legislation properly. I am having a similar struggle with notices of private meetings.”
Meanwhile, with no hint of irony, the council leader, Pete Bedford, says he is “sorry” that Councillor Leggott has stepped down. An indication of the depth of his grief is in the statement issued to one of our local “newspapers.” It reads: “I’m sorry that Councillor Leggott is going down the lane he’s going down. I thought he had far, far more about him than at the first obstacle, to revert back into the olden days was rejected, and his resignation was forthcoming accordingly. Richard and myself (sic) have been friends for many, many years and I’m sure that will continue both inside and outside the council, but playing political games is not good in any way for the people of Boston.”  Whilst some might call that damning with faint praise, to us it reads like a calculated insult. And to accuse someone of Councillor Leggott’s obvious integrity of “playing political games” is so impudent when you consider the source – or should that be sauce?
Back now to Councillor Gleeson, and another issue in his e-mail – the Boston Town Area Committee’s knife-edge decision to take over the running of Garfits Lane playing fields – thus easing the leadership’s overall financial problems. “I also read (English Democrat) Councillor Elliott Fountain’s report on my attempt to kick Garfits Lane into the long grass (or should I say very expensively cut short grass,) and one point that has been missed is that this will increase the “town” element of the council tax by 41%, – so contrary to the announced freeze, people living in the town will pay more. Ok, this is only about £4 a year more, but that is to pay for something we are already paying (well over the odds) for. On a slightly churlish note, had (fellow English Democrat) Councillor David Owens attended BTAC which he rarely does, the ‘opposition’ could have won the vote.”
Whilst most of us sit and shiver in the current icy spell, a certain irony has not escaped Don Ransome, the Wyberton based  East Midlands Regional Organiser for UKIP.  He notes two written answers from Boston MP Mark Simmonds in parliament on Wednesday.  In the first, he informs a questioner:” I was fortunate enough to attend the inauguration of President Mahama in Accra about two weeks ago …” whilst in the second answer he declares … “I will travel tomorrow to the African Union summit in Addis Ababa …” As Mr Ransome wryly comments: “Ah well, at least he is keeping warm!
All this essential globetrotting ensures that Mr Simmonds could not have had time to attend the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration in the House of Commons on Wednesday – that's if he ever had the inclination, of course. One person who was there was Boston’s  Labour group leader Councillor Paul Kenny, who chaired  last year’s Borough Council's task and finish group looking at the impact of population change. Sadly, we learned little about what went on from Councillor Kenny on the BBC’s Look North programme. Asked how one suggestion – limiting off licence premises in the town – would help Boston’s problems, Councillor Kenny did as he has so often done … which is to talk himself out of time. “One of the points that was raised during our enquiry was the number of off licences that we had in certain streets. One of the points that was raised to us was that some streets, or one particular street, where we had a large number. This issue has also been brought up in other towns within the country, and more recently there was an MP in Peterborough who had a similar issue …” At this point, host Peter Levy woke up and  intervened to try to get an answer, and as a result it was lost entirely … and the remainder of the interview descended into a ramble as well.  These windows of opportunity are so small that they have to be seized with precision and brevity if they are to get a point across. So much time has now been spent on this important issue with so little result, we cannot help wonder where the whole thing was worth it in the first place.
A refreshing piece of candour came from Independent Councillor Carol Taylor in her blog this week. She confessed to difficultly understanding the council’s financial structure, which made her think that she could not contribute effectively when it came to this complex subject. And we wonder how many of her colleagues were honest enough to agree when she added: “I am not alone and when I look round the table I am not too sure whether many other councillors do either … It does, however, raise some serious questions – including ‘are we serving our communities effectively?’ Somehow I just don't think so.”
Given the complexities of the borough’s balances it, comes as no consolation to see a photo of the leader and his deputies stifling smirks in the local press as they murmur darkly about the council’s own “fiscal cliff” – who until now we thought was a Welsh accountant. It is not enough to describe a problem through the means of solving it – which inevitably involves upping parking charges as the most common solution. We need to be told more clearly the nature. What the council spends and where it spends it remains as much a mystery today as it did before our leadership became so “open and transparent.”
One way that we can learn more is if our elected councillors decide to talk to us – and at the moment, apart from a couple of blogs, most of them treat their electorate as if they  were invisible. Before the election in May 2011, one of the most prolific bloggers was joint deputy leader Raymond Singleton-McGuire – but since then his communications have remained frozen in time.  This is particularly ironic as he is the councillor “in charge” of the finance portfolio. Last week a voter got in touch with Boston Borough Council to suggest that the time had some to consider updating the councillor’s blog, and was told “it was up to the individual councillors to update any details.” Subsequently, he was told that Councillor Singleton-McGuire would not remove the links as he felt they were “still useful.” So, if you are thirsting to know   the holders of annual  appointments to external bodies as at 27th May 2011, then  is the site to visit.
Still with matters financial, we wonder how long it will be before our leaders in the blue star chamber at Worst Street use the excuse that “they’re doing it in Lincoln”  to  start charging to remove green waste. Garden rubbish is easy to identify since district councils introduced brown bins to cart it away. Now, Lincoln City Council has upped the ante with a move to “save” – which means “charge” – £1 million by demanding £25 a year for the service. Generously, this is described as an “opt-in” service, which means that  if you don’t your bin won’t be emptied. Interestingly, other savings considered by the city council– but included raising parking charges and closing public toilets both were rejected.
The arrival of a new Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire co-incides with a “Policing Plan” to cover 2012 until 2015 which proclaims: “More action, less crime – it all adds up”   Boston gets just one name check in the entire 6,000 word report.  “We will start a process of replacing worn out custody facilities across the force, initially at Boston police station.” Boston is again top of the list … for all the wrong reasons!
With so many issues concerning the fight for decent democratic behaviour within Boston Borough Council, it is especially disappointing to learn that a meeting of “Opposition” councillors to discuss common issues was attended by  three Independent councillors,  and two Labour members.  Missing in inaction … one Labour, the entire Boston District “Independents” and the English Democrats
Finally … Boston Eye’s annual ski break in Saint Moritz means that we will not now be back until Monday 4th February.  But please keep in touch between now and then by e-mail …

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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Our blog yesterday led us to recall – that although Boston is often referred to as forgotten or neglected – we have, over time, enjoyed a considerable amount of financial largesse.
The problem is that we don’t seem to know how to spend the money wisely.
Back in   November 2009 the Department for Communities and Local Government awarded Boston Borough Council £53,000 under the Empty Shops Funding Grant Scheme to improve the look of the town centre.
That money was mostly wasted, and the only sign of it today is a shop devoted to helping people give up smoking – not exactly what was intended.
Then there was the £2 million Market Place refurbishment project – which has left us with an unattractive ocean of grey stone as far as the eye can see, on which pedestrians take their lives in their hands each time they try to cross it, and for which there seem to be no safety rules whatever.
Later this year work will start on a £600,000 replacement for St Botolph’s footbridge. A “consultation” on the best design generated a pathetic response – with only 137 questionnaires.
Conveniently, more than 80% of replies said the timescale for building the bridge was very important, which allowed Lincolnshire County Council to adopt an unsuitable design whose only merit is that it can conveniently be largely built off-site.
The result will be an unsympathetic construction that will be out of synch with the historic look of the area.
More money down the drain, then.
Yesterday, we heard of the first tottering steps being taken by the powers that be to get their sticky fingers into a £1 million pie that is supposed to be for the people of Boston  – and free from any interference by the  so-called great and good of the area.
And last week we were reminded of perhaps the most blatant waste of public funds for years – the Transported arts programme.
According to Boston Borough Council, which is a supporter of the scheme, “Art from Boston and South Holland will be seen from Sutterton to Spain, Holbeach to Holland, Benington to Belgium and Fleet to France as part of a travelling display set to clock up 125,000 miles a year.”
This “art” will involve “large-scale photographic commissions (big pictures to the likes of us) on vehicles that criss-cross Europe, will connect the local work force with the places and cultures the lorries travel to.”
But there’s more.
Boston and South Holland are among seven “areas of greatest need” that have been awarded funding to establish action research projects called Creative People and Places.
The investment will encourage long-term collaboration between local communities and arts organisations, museums, libraries and local authorities.
According to the jargon, it aims to “empower them to experiment with radically different approaches and develop inspiring, sustainable arts programmes that will engage audiences in those communities.”
It involves a consortium of representatives from artsNK, Lincs Artist Forum – which has the entirely appropriate acronym laf  –  and the usual suspects  ...  the South Lincolnshire Community Volunteer Service ... which between them want to  “take art of all forms out to the community and into often isolated rural areas where access can be limited.”
We’re sure that local villagers are waiting agog for this, and will have been for many years.
Amazingly, this project will run for three years and cost – a staggering £2.5 million in Arts Council funding.
In a nutshell – you give us the money – we’ll waste it.
It could be our new slogan.

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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

When the news that Boston is to get £1 million to spend over the next ten years was announced last December – one important point was emphasised again and again ... that this was something for the people to spend and not our self-styled masters.
The award was made by an organisation called Big Local – which is handing out funds from the National Lottery – that are then  being overseen by something called Local Trust to bring together “all the local talent, ambitions, skills and energy from individuals, groups and organisations who want to make their area an even better place to live.”

On its website, Big Local declares:
 ◦ Communities will be better able to identify local needs and take action in response to them.
 ◦ People will have increased skills and confidence, so that they continue to identify and respond to needs in the future.
 ◦ The community will make a difference to the needs it prioritises.
◦ People will feel that their area is an even better place to live.
And in a section headed “What’s it not about? “it emphasises
 “It’s NOT about your local authority, the government or a national organisation telling you what to do.
“It’s NOT about individual groups fixing their favourite problem without talking to a wide range of different people who live and work in the community.”

That’s pretty unambiguous.
So, why has the man tasked with overseeing the Boston scheme invited members of the 16-strong Boston Town Area Committee to a special briefing meeting next month?
The invitation has been e-mailed to the entire committee – even though only six of its wards are set to benefit.
They are described as the “most deprived” and comprise – Staniland South, Pilgrim, Skirbeck, Boston Central, Witham Ward and a small area of Fenside.
The man delivering the briefing is Ivan Annibal, who has had an impressive career in local government.
He now heads a Lincoln based group called Rose Regeneration   described as “Economic Development Practitioners”
Whilst the borough council e-mail invitation to BTAC says that Rose Regeneration is “involved” in the Big Local project, the company website simply describes Mr Annibal as a 'Big Local Rep.'
He is also referred to in this way on the Big Local website, which says he will “support local areas in deciding how to spend their allocations.”
We mentioned our unease about this grant within days of it being announced on BBC Radio Lincolnshire by Mandy Exley, the South Lincolnshire Community Voluntary Service Community Development Officer.
 There’s no government arm in Boston involved in any of this,” said Ms Exley. “It is totally community led.”
Later in the same interview, she insisted:  This money will not be dictated by Boston Borough Council; it will not be dictated by our organisation, the CVS.  It will be totally dictated by the local community. We are absolutely there to galvanise this community into action. It is their say where this money is spent”
Having said that, she went on to tell us that she and “colleagues and partner agencies” of the Lincolnshire Community Foundation  the biggest grant making trust in Lincolnshire –  are all going to be working together to help the residents work very, very closely with the lottery so the residents are equipped to manage this funding.
“There will be extensive community consultation done right across Boston, so everybody will have a say.”
Then there was mention that SLCVS would be sending one of their officers and another from Boston Borough Council to Ipswich, to see how a successful grant scheme there has worked – closely followed by the possibility of involving the pre-existing Placecheck schemes set up by the council and the SLCVS.
So this “community” project may well now involve Boston Borough Council, SLCVS, a Lincoln-based “Big Local Rep” – and also the Boston Town Area Committee.
We’re sure that no-one needs reminding of the criticisms repeatedly levelled at BTAC – that with its inbuilt Tory majority … which includes three cabinet members – it generally does what the cabinet tells it to.
So far, we seem to have a severe case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians  – and that’s before a single idea has been put forward as to how to spend this money or a single member of the public has apparently been recruited.
When the grant was announced, Councillor Mike Gilbert, Boston’s portfolio holder for communities, said: “The allocation of this funding is brilliant news for Boston. Wisely spent it will make Boston a great place to live.”
Councillor Gilbert is also the chairman of BTAC.

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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Boston Borough Council has been fluting about its namecheck on BBC Question Time programme, when a broad-based discussion on the pressures caused by immigration and the imminent arrival of more people from Romania and Bulgaria saw the debate suddenly turn to focus on the town.
According to the borough’s website, a council report on the impact of population change on the town “received praise on national television …”
… when panel member Mary Beard, a Cambridge University professor of classics,  declared "the most impressive single document that I have read on this issue comes from Boston council".
She went on: "It looks very carefully at the changes which have been happening in Boston over the past ten years. It identifies particular management issues with an influx of any kind of population..."
Beyond that, the council told us nothing more about what Professor Beard was shouting from the rooftops.
Professor Beard – famous for the BBC2 series Meet the Romans and for being called “too ugly for  TV” by writer AA Gill – went on to say: “It (the task and finish report on population change) does actually answer the question about public services, because it looks very carefully at the changes which have been happening in Boston over the last ten years.
“It does identify particular management issues with an influx of any kind of population – but at the same time what it makes absolutely clear is that actually we can cope with this and we can benefit from it.
“It is very clear for example that the European migrants have a low use of the benefit system, they have a low use of the health care system – they tend to be fit, strong people – and they take very, very, very small amounts of social housing … only one per-cent of social housing is actually occupied by people who are economic migrants.
“And I think that this report – partly because it actually does deal directly with local people’s concerns in one particular area with particular agricultural issues, not mass industrial issues – managed to draw the right boundary … denying that there was a problem, but also not being totally catastrophic about it. The answer is that public services can cope.”
Enter Rachel Bull, who has become someone of a celebrity in her own right since she challenged Professor Beard.
She told the Question Time panel – which was broadcasting from Lincoln: “I have a business in Boston, I have family that live in Boston and we’ve got land at Boston and we’ve had major issues with workers who’ve got nowhere to go, camping on our land and we can’t move them off because the police aren’t interested.
Boston is at breaking point; the locals can’t cope any more.
“The services, doctor’s surgeries, hospitals – I have a family member who is a midwife at the Pilgrim Hospital – the facilities are at breaking point because of these people coming into the country.
“And nothing is being done.
“There are hardly any locals there anymore, because they are all moving away. You go down Boston High Street and it’s just like you are in a foreign country. It’s got to stop.”
Interestingly, Mrs Bull is better qualified than many to comment on this issue – she  is descended from immigrants whose experience of life in Britain couldn’t be more different from those of their modern counterparts.
One set of grandparents was born in Boston, but her paternal grandfather was a Polish airman who served in the RAF during World War II and settled in Lincolnshire with his wife, another Pole.
But now, she says, Boston is seeing “a different generation of immigrants who are disrespectful and not bothered anymore.”
And from someone who knows whereof she speaks, it’s back to Professor Beard – an undoubted expert in the ancient Romans – and a big fan of Boston Borough Council ...
“When I referred to the report, it was really the fact that there are huge numbers of myths about the number of people who have entered Boston, and also the drain on public services, and there was a rather charming coda to this report, which said that the maternity unit of the Pilgrim Hospital had probably been kept open because of the increase in the population of Boston, rather than being closed.
We’re certain that this claim – first made by local MP Mark Simmonds to reinforce the idea that immigration is good for you – is true.
Only yesterday, a report from the Royal College of Midwives placed Boston in the top three of UK birth rate “hotspots” –   with a 53.5% increase in births between 2002 and 2011 –   behind Corby on 63% and Bournemouth with 54.1% in the same period.
Another panellist on the programme – former Communities and Local Government Minister Grant Shapps – also dared to contradict the professor, saying: “I had the leader of Boston council come to see me when I was a local government minister. There certainly are a lot of strains there; they are very concerned that the census information doesn’t represent it.
Boston is an unusual case in that regard – they are right at the extreme end of the stresses on services which are very real.”
Who do you vote for?
A classicist and expert on life in Roman Britain – 43 AD until about 410AD?
Or a local person who knows what she’s talking about?
We think that it is termed a no-brainer!
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Monday, 21 January 2013

It may sound a trifle melodramatic to say that the assassins of democracy have struck again in Boston – but ... the assassins of democracy have struck again in Boston.
Veteran Independent Boston Borough Councillor Richard Leggott has quit as Chairman of the council’s Audit and Governance Committee – which keeps a watchful eye on the council’s finances and performance.
His credentials in public service have to be among the best in the borough; a parish councillor for 48 years, and a borough councillor since 1991. During that time he has served as Mayor, sat on most council committees, deputy leader of the council from 2002, and a cabinet member for finance and performance, until May 2006.
His lifetime in farming has served him well as a representative for Boston Borough Council on the Witham Fourth District and the Welland and Deepings Internal Drainage Boards, the Lincolnshire County Council Flood and Drainage Management Scrutiny Committee and the Wash Estuary Strategy Members Group.
Whilst all this may read like a premature obituary –what it actually demonstrates is that Councillor Leggott is a man who knows whereof he speaks – unlike many of the recently elected Tory upstarts who appear to see power as the only prize worth winning.
Councillor Leggott has decided that he doesn’t want to be tarnished with the image of a Tory stooge by remaining chairman.
His full resignation statement read:

Having worked with several members of the present administration in opposition for four years, from 2007-2011, I was hopeful that their expressions of dissatisfaction re the exclusive decision making process employed by the past (BBI) administration were sincere.
It now appears that, after two years in power, the idea of changing the process from a single party, exclusive group process, and returning it to all elected councillors is to be forgotten.
I feel that to continue taking a position as Chairman under this administration, now they have declared their on-going position on this issue, could be seen as a financially advantageous, tacit approval of the situation.
I wish to remove any such possibility.
Therefore please accept my resignation as Chairman of BBC Audit and Governance as from 5pm this evening, Friday 18th January 2013.
I shall of course continue to perform all my duties as an elected councillor for Swineshead with Holland Fen ward and the present elected spokesperson of the Independent Group on Boston Borough Council.

Councillor Leggott told Boston Eye that he thought that the audit committee – whose job  is to be a “critical friend” regarding the performance of the council, and to work with internal and external auditors –   to be seen to be fulfilling its role best, should have a non-administration councillor as chairman.
 “It is only necessary that the chairman is prepared to see that the committee realises such and acts accordingly,” he added.
“There are several councillors – both Conservative and opposition – who could well perform the role.
“But I would deduce from the appointment, at this stage, of a Conservative to the chair (of the Environment and performance Scrutiny Committee) that this was the intention come AGM time.”
Speculation now is about who might get the job.
The anticipated appointment of Independent Councillor Carol Taylor as chairman of the Environment and Performance Scrutiny Committee – to replace fellow Independent Brian Rush, who resigned last year – was thwarted by some last minute manoeuvring, which saw two Conservative councillors who had apparently pledged their support backing out on the night.
One of them, Councillor Paul Mould, claimed to have been offered a chairmanship in April if he withdrew his vote, whilst the other, Councillor Gloria Smith, was far more mysterious, telling the meeting: “I was going to vote for Councillor Taylor, but I was told something this afternoon ..." before withdrawing her support.
So who might get the job?
Councillor Mould may well have burned his boats by showing his hand in public – but the decision not to appoint an Independent member at that meeting – had its roots in a purported call to him from Council Leader Peter Bedford, who is said to have claimed that as chairmen of scrutiny committees will be able to block council decisions, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles had advised that it was vital where possible to have Conservative chairmen. 
Councillor Leggott, told Boston Eye that he raised this point with Mr Pickles and asked for a comment on the content of that alleged e-mail.
“All I got in reply was a statement, way off-beam, from Bob Neill MP (the Under-secretary Robert James MacGillivray "Bob" Neill.)
“A second attempt, asking that my question be addressed, has been ignored.  There is usually a reason for MPs' silence. So often, to hide the truth, I'm afraid to say.
As a group spokesperson Councillor Leggott had tackled Councillor Bedford on the matter of opposition/administration Scrutiny Committee Chairmen to be appointed at this year's annual meeting in May, and was told that would be “for the group to decide what happens going forward.”
The group referred to was the Conservatives.
Since his resignation, Councillor Leggott says he has heard it said that he was protesting against the Cabinet system on the council.
 He added: “Whilst I do not think that the Cabinet and Leader system operating in Boston is the best system for local government, I can live with it – although there are, I believe, variations and other systems that would serve the people of the Borough better as far as democratic representation is concerned.
My resignation was to distance myself from the present exclusive way that local government is being operated in Boston.
“The BBI operated somewhat similarly after their first year and I declined then to be part of that system, taking no chair or v/chair positions offered, on principle.
“The present administration has become so like the last administration in its decision making process that I again felt it necessary to adopt the same position.”
Commenting on Councillor Leggott's resignation, Councillor Carol Taylor said that it came as no surprise to her.
“This is a man who has and continues to dedicate himself to the belief that an honest democratic process is vital if we are to serve the public as elected representatives.
“The lack of democracy within the current administration is sadly increasing and one prime example was the failure to include not only the public in the decision to sell the Assembly Rooms but also the exclusion of elected opposition councillors throughout the process.
When we lose a gentleman of Cllr Leggott's calibre from such an important role, things are bad, really bad!

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Friday, 18 January 2013

Despite the closure of even more stores in Boston town centre, we note that the powers that be apparently remain relaxed. The manager of Boston Business “Improvement” District tells the local papers: “It’s symptomatic of the economy,” adding that the BID is trying to promote the town to attract new business. What form this is taking is not explained, neither is there any sign yet of the drop-in sessions announced last September that promised to make it easier for BID levy payers to talk to board members. Nor is there any mention of the BID’s plans for spending the £10,000 consolation prize awarded to all failed bidders for a Portas Pilot Grant. This year the BID is hoping to be re-elected for a further five years – but we feel that it  has a lot more to do to have a chance of success. Meanwhile, Boston Town Centre portfolio holder Councillor Derek Richmond says the borough council is trying to push Boston’s history to help local businesses. “Come to Boston, it’s very old.” Now there’s a slogan for you! Or how about “Empty vessels make the most noise?”
Meanwhile, Market Rasen’s Mr BIG project continues to show Boston BID how the job should be done. Rasen was one of twelve successful bidders who received £100,000 from the Portas Pilot scheme with an imaginative application including a video presentation which put Boston’s drab and depressing effort to shame.  Since being awarded the money last May, Mr BIG has got on with the job, and has now applied for another £70,000 from the Future High Street X-Fund which is awarded to “creative and effective schemes” that have been completed to rejuvenate town centres. Rasen wants to continue to tidy up the town and needs more money for marketing and future ideas including a "blitz" on unkempt areas, and working with landlords to fill empty shops. Why is Boston BID so pathetic by comparison?
One shop of which there appears to be no shortage in Boston  is of the betting variety. We were surprised to read that the former butcher’s shop in the Market Place is to become a branch of Ladbrokes in a move that will give the company two betting shops in the town. Meanwhile a take-over of two local businesses will see Corals with five betting shops in the town centre, and we also have a branch of William Hill.  This strikes us as overkill, and we wonder whether so many bookies are really necessary.  Fairly soon the town centre will be dominated by betting shops, mobile ‘phone shops and charity shops. No wonder people choose to go elsewhere.
Amidst all of this, the papers report that some new shops could be on their way with the conversion of the Market Place public toilets into a shopping arcade.  The point that it being missed here is that at the moment, we do not need new shops – what we need are tenants for the empty ones. And we suspect that most people would prefer to have the toilets restored more than anything else. Empty shops are becoming a problem that detracts from the look of the area. A few years ago part of a plan to improve the appearance of the town centre included window sized self-cling pictures that would distract the eye from the empty shop behind. Sadly, this never happened – but the need is now becoming urgent.
Boston Borough Council has been bragging about its membership of “an exclusive club” of just 14 authorities out of 46 in the East Midlands to qualify for a Councillor Development Charter. However, membership doesn’t appear to have been entirely on merit.  Boston’s Labour group reports on its blog: “What the Tory councillors forgot to tell you was that they paid over £1,000 to get this charter –which means they have used your money to buy themselves an award.  They also forgot to tell you that this is such an exclusive club that all of the Tory councillors only vote when their leader tells them to, and they often sit in meetings and don’t speak or ask questions … because if they do, you can see them getting “dirty” looks from their colleagues. Yes, a very exclusive club – opposition councillors views were completely ignored during the accreditation visit.” Something that made us smile when the membership was announced was a quote from Councillor Mike Brookes, the chairman of the councillor development group. "Gone are the days when councillors got elected and just turned up at meetings,” he said. That’s true. These days some of them get elected and then don’t bother to turn up to meetings at all!
Accompanying the news that Labour Councillor Paul Kenny – chairman of the task and finish group which studied the impact of immigration on Boston – is to address a House of Commons parliamentary group about its findings, is a somewhat tepid piece of support from local MP Mark Simmonds.  Announcing that he had sent a copy of the report to Local Government minister Eric Pickles, he added: “While I have previously made clear my commitment to the government’s deficit reduction programme and am under no illusions about the state of the UK’s finances we inherited, I hope the secretary of state will read the report and agree that Boston requires the appropriate level of funding that relates to the population now living in Boston.” How much more positive might  he have sounded had he not bothered to cover his back by letting his big bosses know that he was still onside for all their cuts.
By something of a contradiction, Boston Borough Council reports that it has worked tirelessly to ensure the Government recognised the impact of migration and an ageing population on council services and believed this – along with the increased census figures – was partly reflected in higher than expected government funding for 2013/14. However, finance portfolio holder, Councillor Raymond Singleton-McGuire has isisued  a health warning for the next five years during which  the council must save around £1m.
Meanwhile, things are not going Councillor Singleton-McGuire’s way outside of his Worst Street fiefdom. Regular readers will recall that an application to use his private residence as a wedding venue was turned down by a planning committee dominated by his Tory peers – but he was unwilling to accept their word for it, and took his case to a government inspector … who has now dismissed his appeal once and for all.  Anyone with half an eye to the possible problems could easily predict the potential difficulties. The inspector went further, and spoke of a “harmful effect on living conditions in nearby houses and on traffic congestion and highway safety.” As one local put it: “On a cold, wet, Monday, it put a big smile on my face. The whole idea was silly anyway; it does actually give you some faith in the process that a majority Conservative committee would ensure by abstention or voting against it that an inappropriate application, as the inspector has confirmed, was not allowed to go through, even if it was one of their own who was the applicant.”
After our comments on the number of times Boston Borough Council agenda items have been debated in secret, and throwing out members of the public and press for various shonky reasons, we were interested to note that the number of freedom of information requests  to the council continued to increase -  with 149 received in the  second quarter of 2012 compared to 93 for the same period in 2011.  You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but it remains satisfying to know that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Honesty is still the best policy –  but we doubt that the Tory leadership will ever embrace that idea!
In an age when the powers that be claim to be trying to cut down on paperwork, we noted an interesting item in Boston Borough Council’s November spending on items costing £250 or more.  The amount is £4,300 for “A4 White Paper – 2,000 reams.” Of course, reams now rank among groats, ducats, farthings, chains and furlongs as ancient items of measure or quantity. But the general calculation is that a ream of paper amounts to 500 sheets. Ergo, 2,000 reams equal one million sheets of paper. What on earth will it all be used for, we wonder.
Still with Boston Borough Council …  its website amuses us very often  - but this week we think it really lost the plot with an item concerning the freeze on council tax (at least it wasn’t referred to a zero per-cent increase for once.)  Announcing “Council tax freeze for third year running” and telling us “Residents should not have to find a penny more in council tax in 2013/14 to pay for services provided by Boston Borough Council,” it uses the illustration (above right.). Do you see anything odd about it? Well, it suggests that council tax is going through the roof … when in fact the reverse is the case. Ah well …
And finally … our on-going criticism of the Boston Standard and its contemptuous attitude toward people  who have taken up the “loyalty” opportunity to subscribe to this steadily decaying  publication, will be disappointed if they try to take advantage of the latest offer to read the paper in its entirety using an App on their tablet computer of choice. That’s because this week’s  issue starts on page nine. Perhaps this is the first move to make people pay for it, but it is so ill thought out that it beggars belief.

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Thursday, 17 January 2013

Sometimes, you can look at a Boston Borough Council report and know instinctively that nothing will be done about it.
So it is with tonight’s Corporate and Community Committee meeting, which includes on its agenda a report by Chief Executive Richard Harbord to consider options for an alternative system of political management which could see the return of the committee system.
Committees were much maligned before their disappearance a dozen years ago.
But if nothing else, they gave off an air of thoroughness, and – dare we say it – a sense of democracy.
Yes – they were cumbersome and long-winded, but, as the report reminds us, the committees discussed everything concerning their particular service, and the chairman and vice chairman were elected by the committee members themselves and were not put in place by favouritism or patronage.
This first tier of decision-making was answerable to a Policy and Resources Committee,  which took all decisions involving finance, personnel and property – but the full council remained the major debating meeting.
Contrast that with the situation we are now lumbered with in Boston –  and Monday night’s full council meeting is a good example.
There are just three items on the agenda.
The first is to receive two sets of minutes of the audit and governance committee; the second is to discuss a report on the local council tax support scheme, and the third – which requires the eviction of the public and press from the chamber, as so often happens – is to receive a report on nominations for service to the community awards.
Without breaking any confidences, we can safely tell you that Boston Eye is not among those nominees.
When the 2000 Local Government Act appeared, it encouraged cabinet government, and was reinforced some years by a rule that leaders should select their own cabinets.
What has this done for us in Boston?
A tiny, smug, elite group of just seven people apparently believe that they have the collective brainpower to know what is best for Boston – and they make sure that no-one is allowed to contradict them.
This is not only arrogant – it is also self-delusory.
Some of these people – often the more vocal – have little if any previous experience in local government, yet adopt a “we-know-best” approach.
Mr Harbord’s report reminds us of the inefficiency of the committee system,  which was often overburdened with unnecessary and time-consuming business.
But equally, it is agreed that a benefit of the system was that it involved all members fully in council business.
“Members could ask questions in public, officers were forced to explain reports simply and committees did on occasion put forward a strong case for protection from budget cuts for a particular service,” he says.
Amusingly, he mentions the criticism that the system was “officer led” – apparently overlooking the fact that this same accusation is still being levelled today.
But he fails to mention the greatest problem.
The cabinet system in Boston abuses the democratic process.
The Gang of Seven determines what it wants to happen –  and then makes sure that it does.
Open discussion is stifled.
A Tory majority ensures that what the cabinet wants is supported by its sheepish back benchers.
Earlier this week we highlighted the inappropriate decision to use the Boston Town Area Committee as a means of juggling the council balances – not for  the first time.
Whilst it is clear that a return to the way things were 12 years ago would be a retrograde step, Mr Harbord’s report tells us: “There are many hybrid systems that could be looked at involving advisory committees, (and a) return to policy and resources committees with a few committees.”
He adds: “The way forward is for an informed discussion at scrutiny, and then – if    members wish to explore alternatives to the current system – a further report can come forward with a more detailed proposal for a new governance system.
Is it likely that the council leadership will consider this for a single moment?
We are reminded of a quote from one of the more bombastic members of the cabinet – that “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas

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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Last night’s meeting of the Boston Borough Council Cabinet celebrated its first secret session of 2013 by chucking out the public and the press to discuss a report on the Princess Royal Sports Arena by Chief Executive Richard Harbord.
The reason for treating the voters as people of no account was that allowing them to hear how millions of pounds of our council tax have been wasted during the past ten years might involve disclosure of “exempt” information.
When we search our files, it comes as no surprise that there are probably more references to the PRSA than anything else.
Yet despite promising for years that Boston taxpayers will cease  to fund this great white elephant, nothing has been done.
Whilst we await an announcement with bated breath, we note the amount of time that has passed since council leader Pete Bedford offered us his “vision” back in March 2011.
High on his list list of “immediate” priorities Tories was that arrangements for the Princess Royal Sports Arena would be settled “once and for all.
Since then, money has continued to be given to the Boston Sports Initiative, who are the trustees of the PRSA.
And in the current edition of the Boston Borough Council bulletin, Councillor Bedford is still banging the same drum, saying: “Arrangements are now at an advanced stage to put the Boston Sports Initiative into the position of managing the Princess Royal Sports Arena. This will enable it to become a successful venue for sport and public entertainment, providing an alternative venue for some of the more traditional Assembly Rooms events.”
So – what have they been doing for the past decade, we wonder?
Given the history of the BSI, (see the illustration  at the top of the page)  It is hard to imagine how – in  a single bound – it will go from rattling its begging bowl beneath the noses of successive council administrations to suddenly being able to manage a facility that it has spectacularly failed to do in the past.
More worryingly, Councillor Bedford’s most recent remarks carry no implication that the council will stop funding the PRSA’s losses – although this coming financial year is supposed to be the one in which the bonanza comes to an end. In August last year, the council gave the BSI £27,000, and in November, forked out £1,800 in “consultancy” fees.
Back in 2010, local news reports said that as a result of the council writing off a debt of almost £2 million to the BSI, the arena would now be “returned” to the council.
Well before that, a damning report by the Audit Commission noted that the development had gone £2 million over its construction budget than originally expected, and that  funds from other sources had  not  materialised to the extent expected. Estimates that the arena would make profits of £398,000 in its first five years were revised to predict a loss of £325,000 for the same period.
Then there was the deal with Boston Rugby Club that gave it exclusive rights to provide the PRSA catering.
The former chief executive of Boston Borough Council, Mark James, led the planning
of the project – and clearly thought that it was such a good idea that he took it with him to Carmarthenshire … where a rugby stadium has since cost his council taxpayers more than £10 million plus a £2.4 million  loan on top.
So what is the PRSA worth these days?
Boston Borough Council’s asset register for the year ended March 2010 values it at £11,242,000 as a “freehold let.”
However, in 2011, the BSI valued the arena including the stadium and attached facilities at a comparatively meagre £6,716,000.
click to enlarge photo
That valuation was made in the final report sent by the BSI to the Charity Commissioners, and we assume that there have been no further financial statements   because the PRSA’s unerring ability to lose money means that no further reports are required.
So what of Boston Rugby Club – the beneficiary of the sweetheart catering deal that took everyone by surprise?
Their accounts to the Charity Commission are long overdue  - see our illustration (right.) .
In fact, the next time they file their accounts will be the first time.
The word that springs to mind in this tragic saga is pussyfooting.
The people underwriting the borough council’s largesse  – that means you and us – are denied an explanation.
The beneficiaries seem to have gone into hiding.
Yet still, Boston Borough Council will not level with the public at large about the pathetic way they have handled the PRSA debacle.
Pretty Rotten State of Affairs.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

It seems to us that on the rare occasions Boston Borough Council’s leadership takes a shot at “transparency”  it does so only when there is no possible chance that we will understand the information presented to us.
So it is with the Tory budget proposals for 2013-2014, which are accessible on the borough’s webpage for "consultation" because there is “more than the usual uncertainty around the level of central Government support for local councils in the next five years.
Great, some consultation at last, we hear you cry – and cry you will when you set eyes on the document and realise that it might as well have been written in Cantonese for all the sense that it makes.
The most helpful starter for ten is the tip that pages 16 and 17 detail policy changes the council is proposing.
We’re not being patronising when we say that we are sure that there are quite a large number of councillors who are ultimately being asked to vote in favour of the budget who won’t have a clue about what it is saying – so what chance do we lesser mortals have to make sense of it?
The budget gets its first cantering out before the great and the good at today’s meeting of the borough’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
It starts with the now traditional red herring of the “zero per-cent increase” in council tax, which makes it appear as if our leaders have moved heaven and earth to freeze our bills, when in fact the government has slipped them £35,000 as compensation.
So who are the winners and losers?
With customary lack of imagination, we will see drivers who park in the town centre taking another big hit, with an increase in charges for all car parks of 20p which will start an hour earlier at 8 am from 1st October –  plus a £1 charge for overnight parking.
These "charges" are the report terms as “savings” of £43,000 this financial year, and £106,000 a year thereafter  until 2017-2018 – except, of course, that they will certainly have been increased more than once by then.
The rightly-praised staff loyalty is taking a hit as well with “Employee Terms and Conditions” generating savings of £167,000 next year – rising to £230,000 by 2017-2018.
We’ve already reported on the clumsy juggling which has  seen the cost of the Garfits Lane playing field dumped on  BTAC to “save” £34,000, whilst the discretionary rate relief budget will be amended  to reduce support by 25%  in 2014/15 – which will be a body blow for many small charity organisations.
There will also be changes to the budget for voluntary organisation grants in favour of Boston Citizens’ Advice Bureau at the expense of the flamboyantly extravagant South Lincolnshire Community Voluntary Service which until now has enjoyed vast amounts of taxpayers’ largesse.
The CAB's grant will increase from £45,000 to £65,000 to recognise “a significant increase in demand for their benefits advice and debt advice as the new council tax support regime and universal credit rules take effect.”
SLCVS will lose a corresponding amount and will only rake in £31,000 a year instead of £51,000 – although if it follows the practice of previous years, it will milk the BTAC budget.
Other “nice little earners” by way of new charges include a pall bearing service set to generate £5,000 a year, and charges for street naming and numbering – which will bring in  another £2,000.
A charge for events in Boston’s Central Park is estimated to generate £2,000 – and given how few events there are in a year this may prove a serious deterrent, and just as the weekly craft markets on the Market Place wall of death are settling, stallholders will have to find £6,000 a year between them to enjoy the privilege.
Finally, our vote for the daftest idea is the proposal to extend the current gym facilities at Creations at the Geoff Moulder Leisure Centre – which has already had hundreds of thousands of pounds lavished on it – well beyond the original estimate.
The budget report makes no mention of the likely cost  –  but claims that the investment “will result in increased membership income.”
Although we know that the council is hard pressed for cash – and likely to remain so for years to come – we cannot help but wonder whether the so-called proposed “solutions” will actually generate bigger problems than those they are meant to solve.

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Monday, 14 January 2013

As we reported on Friday, the Boston Town Area Committee bent the knee to the borough council’s cabinet and agreed to take over £34,000 of funding of the Garfits Lane playing field at its meeting last week.
For once, the decision was not as cut and dried as usual, and the meeting split 6:6 – leaving the casting vote to the chairman … and cabinet member … Mike Gilbert, who startled everyone by voting for the proposal (no, not really!)
Long standing BTAC critic and English Democrat group leader Councillor Elliott Fountain, described the evening as “All in all another sad meeting and voting like sheep and helping destroy the town and making a disastrous decision.  “Taking a park on with £34,000 expense and a £300 income – who would do that in the real world? 
“This makes all Boston council tax payers pay an increase in council tax – only by a few pounds – but an increase is an increase in anyone’s language.
“People are going to start hating the Conservatives.”
Councillor Fountain praised the “common-sense” suggestion by Labour Councillor Paul Gleeson, who called for a report before any decision and to postpone any move until next year’s budget,
“We reviewed the report but I am afraid to say the decision was already made before the meeting started.  How can a Boston parish council decide to take on a park with a £34,000 running cost and a £300 income in a 30 minute decision just because the council wants to offload it from their books? 
“Myself, Independent Councillor Carol Taylor, Councillors Paul Kenny, Paul Gleeson and Paul Goodale from Labour, and Conservative Gloria Smith voted against taking Garfits park on and increasing our budget by 44%.
“The vote went to wire with six Conservatives voting  in favour and Councillor Mike Gilbert having the deciding vote …  and we lost.”
“The Conservatives are voting like sheep, with no personal opinion. They are all waiting to be told what to do from the hierarchy.  Sad times for Boston.”
But worse was still to come.
Regular readers will remember that BTAC was railroaded into funding a £20,000 skateboard park in the St John’s recreation area, which at the time was acknowledged would be that “an investment in a council asset to be funded from BTAC funds.”
We commented at the time on the irony which followed. After allocating £500 to buy graffiti removal kits to tidy up the existing skate ramps, BTAC was recommended to spend £900 to fund a professional graffitist  to put it all back again during a two day “graffiti artwork” to mark the opening of the improved facility.
Last week’s meeting heard from three youngsters who used the skate park.
Councillor Fountain told Boston Eye: “They spoke about the town being a scary place and that vandals and drug users use the skate park, and that any money spent down there was a waste because it would be smashed up again.
“I asked the young lads if the skate park should be indoors, as it is in Skegness, and of course they agreed.
A small sub committee has now been formed to investigate moving the facility to the former  Fogarty Industrial Estate on  Fishtoft Road
“A lot of community stuff is happening down there at moment,” said Councillor Fountain, “with a new boxing gym by Cullum Johnson and a martial arts and MMA gym.”
“It seems like it is the new community hub for Boston, and not the council who are making things happen.”
We’ll watch with interest to see what develops.
But the bottom line is that £20,000 would appear to have been wasted on the skateboard park project that will now need re-siting, as the committee takes on yet another huge responsibility.
And the big question there is: “How on earth can you spend £34,000 a year on a playing field?
According to figures presented to BTAC, grounds maintenance accounts for £25,000 of that.
According to locals, the grass is cut a few times a year, and white lines are painted to mark the pitches – tasks which apparently cost £500 a week.

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