Friday, 28 March 2014

Last week, we mentioned the absence of information as to where our hard-earned wages go once they are turned into local government confetti – otherwise known as the council tax.Since then, we have been looking back on some recent spending by Boston Borough Council on the town’s Geoff Moulder Leisure Centre, the figures for which are only available by poring through spreadsheets that list every sou over and above £250 that the council spends each month.
Whilst this may pay lip service to the buzzwords of openness and transparency, we still think that the presentation could be improved if the powers that be really wanted us to find out what they’re up to.
Regular readers will recall that  the council came to the rescue of the Moulder pool by creating a five-year partnership with the Witham Schools Federation and Boston Amateur Swimming Club, which started late in 2011.
The plan involved spending £195,000 from reserves, with £150,000 being repaid over five years from the “partners,” and the remaining £45,000 being funded from the capital reserve – in other words, written off.
A rough tally of spending between the start of the deal until mid-2012 saw spending reach almost £275,000 – and without any apparent discussion.
But the spending doesn’t appear to have ceased.
In November last year, the cost of “GMLC Equipment” was listed at £54,000, and alterations at Creations Gym were more than £71,000.
Another £4,000 was spent the following month.
But supposedly it wasn’t all bad news.
A couple of years ago, Boston Borough Council approved the installation of solar panels at the GMLC – rushing  through a £125,000 spend which was heavily criticised at the time – along with other energy “efficiencies.”
Whilst huge savings were trumpeted, we note that  the GMLC electricity bill for last October was £6,100 – compared with just under £5,000 in February 2011 …  a year before the super saving panels were installed.
Just as an aside, another item that caught our Boston Eye was a charge of £875 for a “safety officer for Boston Christmas market. Would that be the same Christmas Market that was cancelled after the much welcomed demise of Boston Business “Improvement” District? It surely would!

However, accounting of some sort is available on the Boston Borough Council website in the form of a virtual booklet of the kind that would, no doubt, have been sent with our tax demand had the need for savings apparently not been so great.
The assumption behind such a production is that people will seek out information of this kind on the internet – but it is still no substitute for making sure that taxpayers properly understand where their money is going.
And nor is it even that.
In the case of this year’s booklet, it tells us little about how money has been spent on items that are of direct benefit to us as contributors – but merely looks forward to blowing next year’s contributions.
After explanations of the tax itself and details of payments and exemptions, we are told: “Your Council Tax goes towards paying for the following (examples given, not an exhaustive list.)”
Leisure” will spend £823,500 in the coming year, on such things as the Geoff Moulder Leisure Complex – there’s a surprise – plus healthy walks and sports and play development.
Housing, property and communities” will get through £1,970,000 to pay for the Municipal Buildings, helping the homeless, footway lighting, country parks, and property services.
Operations” – no, nothing to do with the Pilgrim Hospital –  will spend £1,722,000 on  refuse collection, markets, the Central Park and play areas (why this doesn’t come under the leisure heading is a mystery)  bereavement services, street cleaning, trade waste, recycling, tree management, vehicles, toilets, grounds maintenance, and office cleaning.
Finance” will cost £23,330,480 gross, less £21,832,840 income, leaving £1,497,640  to be spent on benefits, staff salaries, accountancy, internal audit, debt management, treasury management, insurance, VAT, creditor payments.
A fairly modest £26,400 expenditure on IT buys computer and technology services.
Something called “built environment and development" will pay £529,100 for planning, building controls, advice and enforcement, parking, and the May Fair.
HR and Business transformation" will blow £308,000 on civic functions, communications, training, recruitment, payroll, and graphics.
And so it goes on …
What all this comes down to is that Boston Borough Council – unlike days gone by, when councils were truly responsible for our local community – now spends most of its income on its own existence.
And what is that existence for …?
Mainly to collect the council tax for the benefit of Lincolnshire County Council and Lincolnshire Police since – as the borough council continues to remind us, it retains less than 12% of the tax it collects for is own needs – and much of that goes on salaries, offices, IT and all the rest of the costly razzamatazz that accompanies top heavy bureaucracy.
As we observed last week, the thrust continually to save money by sharing services with neighbouring authorities is little more than a lemming-like leap from the cliff top that will eventually result in district councils themselves being merged in favour of an even more Lincoln centric situation than we have already. 
Even worse, when Boston Borough Council tries to justify its charges with promises of service, what does it come up with?
Improving our town centre … It was supposed to happen but despite all the expense never did. The mess in the Market Place bears daily witness to this.
Supporting rural communities … to do what, exactly?
Delivering “one-stop” council services in Boston … presumably this means a gradual closure of facilities until there is just one place to stop at to pay bills, get advice, etc, etc.  The back end of W H Smith’s shop, perhaps?
Improving prospects for business … the figures speak for themselves.
Investment and employment … by whom, and where? See above.
Protecting our history and heritage … See “improving our town centre.”
Promoting tourism … too many opportunities have already been missed for this promise to have a snowball’s chance in hell – the road to which we are told is paved with good intentions.


Talk about rubbing salt in the wound to squeeze that extra morsel of satisfaction out of a one-sided victory …
With no apparent sense of irony Council Leader Pete Bedford has written to a local “newspaper” to “praise” council staff  “for all they have done to safeguard services.” He goes on to talk of the recent “100 per cent voluntary sign-up to changes in terms and conditions” against a history of pay freezes.
“As everyone is aware the continued economic difficulties have impacted severely on the public sector and local government and this will only worsen into the future rather than improve,” he goes on.
“However, much has been achieved in the most difficult circumstances of the past few years and none of this would have been possible if the staff had not been willing to work with us.”
So what form did this willingness take?
At the beginning of the year, the council told us that whilst it hoped that the proposed changes to terms and conditions would be voluntarily accepted by all staff, “the council intends to issue notices of dismissal with the offer of re-engagement on the new terms and conditions for those who do not voluntarily accept.”
If you put a gun to someone’s head, it is scarcely surprising if they go along with whatever you ask them to “volunteer.”
Treating the electorate with similar contempt by assuming that their attention span is so short that they will be stupid enough to overlook the fact that a threat of redundancy becomes heroic team playing in the space of just three months adds insult to injury.
Last week’s revelations about the visit by the Latvian Ambassador almost beggared belief – but one interesting side effect was that it apparently lured Boston’s sole English Democrat Councillor, David Owens out of hibernation to join the howls of protest.
We use the H word because at the last count of figures for attendance at meetings, Councillor Owens has missed every one of the Boston Town Area Committee meetings – which is where his ward is most greatly affected – and every other meeting of the full council.
That’s the bad news.  The good news is that he doesn’t have a place on any other committees – or else his record would probably be worse.
As far as the Latvian “invasion” was concerned, we hear that Councillor Owens was concerned that everyone – rather than a select few – should have been invited to attend the meeting.
We’re sure that he would have attended.
Still more news of the enthusiasm with which our local police tackle problems in Boston.
A reader tells us that at 3-30pm on Monday, no fewer than nine youths on cycles were riding through Strait Bargate in a group with several stragglers following behind – doubtless seeing the area as a Haven for their Hijinks
One of them was pedalling whilst holding holding a second bike which he passed to another youth who came from New Street, who joined them, doing wheelies among the pedestrians.
We’ve lost count of the number of times that the police have promised to “clamp down” and “get tough” with cyclists who ignore the rules.
But it was good to hear from our mystery shopper that the police were to be seen out and about at the time.
A few minutes later in Pescod Square, he spotted two PCSOs standing around outside Wilko chatting to a couple of local schoolgirls. – doubtless stressing the importance of crime prevention.

Finally as you've been so kind since our return, we're giving you a week off for good behaviour – well, actually we're out of circulation for a few days, and back on Friday 11th  April

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Friday, 21 March 2014


As Russia flexes its might against the West, a Cold War of a much lower magnitude seems to have broken out in Boston.
It follows a visit to the town by no lesser a dignitary than the Latvian Ambassador to the UK, Andris Teikmanis, in response to an invitation by the Boston Community Forum – a vague group which has done little to make its presence felt despite the obvious need for such an organisation.
The invitation to the Ambassador annoyed quite a number of Boston borough councillors for the quite obvious reason that scarcely any of them were aware of it.
It was a Saturday affair apparently instigated by the Forum Chairman Robert Lauberts “an active community volunteer” with a finger in more local pies than he has fingers, and another member of the group
As part of a busy day in the town, the arrangements included a meeting between the Ambassador and members of the Social Impact of Population Change in Boston Task and Finish Group, “group leaders” (except for one) and a senior council officer to boot.
However, when challenged about why so few councillors were involved, Chief Executive Richard Harbord, fell back on his “nuthin’ to do with me, or with the council, guv” defence that has proved so convenient recently – claiming an absence of any formal contact, leaving him out of the loop entirely.
This argument still failed to cut much ice in some quarters – especially since the meeting was held at the Worst Street offices
We have to say that we are sympathetic to the way councillors appear to have been roughed up – and the apparent lack of concern that any Tom, Dick or Harry with vague claims to “community” credentials can snap his fingers and summon senior political figures to a meeting at which he chooses the attendees.
It’s a serious case of the tail wagging the dog – and one that requires closer investigation and a less dismissive approach to the relevant concerns of elected members
Boston hit the headlines in the Daily Mail again last week – which invariably means that the story will not be a good one.
The headline reported: “Library forced to employ SECURITY GUARDS to prevent visitors viewing pornography on its computers.”
And the story drooled on: “A library has been forced to employ security guards to clamp down on visitors constantly watching porn on its public computers.
“Members of the public are regularly flocking to Boston Library, Lincolnshire, to take advantage of the free internet facilities.
“However, library users have reported seeing middle-aged men sitting at the desktop computers shamelessly gawping at X-rated videos.”
Granted, the Mail account seemed to be more triple X-rated than our local “newspaper” reports, but it nonetheless begs the question of why Lincolnshire County Council is doing nothing to prevent such prurient activity in our halls of learning. County Hall’s head of libraries – what few that remain of them – said: “We have software in place to help stop people downloading inappropriate material, which works on both English and foreign language sites.
“Anyone misusing our computers will be asked to leave the library, and repeat offenders will be banned.
“If we suspect illegal material has been downloaded, we will report the matter to the police.”
Surely this is too little, too late.
Local authorities elsewhere in the country can render it well-nigh impossible for library users to access this sort of material.
But in easy-going Boston, it seems to be a case of three or four strikes before you’re out.

The inexorable move away from the concept of a district council being responsible for err – a particular district – has taken another step forward … yet again, helped by Boston Borough Council.
Last month we heard that Boston had formed a partnership with East Lindsey District Council in a move which is expected to result in unspecified but “substantial” savings when Boston's binmen collect household waste from some residents over the East Lindsey border.
This follows an earlier decision by the two authorities to share a statutory post – again to save money.
Now, Boston Borough Council is taking control of South Holland’s closed circuit television scheme.
Aside from the obvious opportunity this presents for the Big Brothers of Worst Street to slather the streets of Spalding, Holbeach, Crowland, Long Sutton and Sutton Bridge with posters aimed at making ordinary citizens feel like criminals as well as scaring them half to death, is anyone prepared to speculate how soon it will be before the powers that be decide first to merge districts into larger, more cost efficient groupings before ultimately devolving the entire district tier of local government to county level?
It’s everyone’s favourite time of year when their council tax demands drop through the letterbox – and this year they’re accompanied by multi-lingual “DIY guide to help keep floodwater at bay.”
It includes some useful ideas to use binbags filled with soil or sand to stop water backing up through ground floor toilets and sinks – but some less clever suggestions such as taping up air bricks, which is fine at a time of flood but could also, if misunderstood, result in stopping essential ventilation to rooms containing gas fires and the like.
Nevertheless, extra information is always useful – but this year sees the disappearance of some as well.
Until now, our annual tax demand has been accompanied by a handy booklet in which Lincolnshire County Council, Boston Borough Council and Lincolnshire Police offered some sort of cursory accounting of the way they have parted with our hard earned pounds.
Whilst nine out of every ten of these probably travel straight from the letterbox to the recycling bin, there are still enough people – some of whom have written to Boston Eye to tell us – who resent the fact that the powers that be no longer feel a duty to tell us in simple terms what they are doing with our money.
It seems that so long as we pay up, that’s the most we can expect.

Speaking of flooding … although the Boston deluge receded long ago, Boston Borough Council seems reluctant to drop the event from its webpages and local version of Pravda.
At its peak, council leader Pete Bedford spoke of the “devastation” caused by the floods in which “the lives of many people, including business owners, have been turned upside down.  Talking to those affected you can see the heartache in their eyes – personal belongings ruined; their homes and businesses destroyed.”
We were struck by a certain irony in these quotes when we noted Councillor Bedford’s earlier comments in one of his many local “newspaper” comment columns. In August last year  he used his monthly propaganda facility  “to urge all home owners to shop around for their flood insurance now that the landscape has changed, due, in part, to representations made by Boston Borough Council,” going on to chortle about how much money he had saved on his house insurance cover,
Given that last December’s floods in and around the town far surpassed even the events of 1953, we wonder whether the landscape has changed yet again – and if Councillor Bedford might be regretting his over-confidence.
Some news is better late than never – not least the information that Boston Borough Council’s garden waste collections resumed at the start of this week. However, despite all the gung-ho waffle about what a difference a few sunny days make to the way our gardens grow, we suspect that some people would have welcomed slightly more by way of lead time to start filling their bins. We hope the assurance that brown bin collections will follow the same routes and days as last year means exactly that – because we seem to recall problems arising pretty much every year since the service started which left some people less than happy.
But as we scoured the borough’s website to ensure that this will be the case, we were left wondering.  A section about recycling told us that – among several methods – extra supplies of blue collection bags are available by visiting the council depot at Fen Road.
Would this be the same Fen Road depot where staff were left “dewy eyed” and cliché ridden by the “end of an era” as the final load of waste for recycling left the site last September?
It surely would.

Finally, we reported the absence of any police enthusiasm a few weeks ago after a break in which caused a lot of damage and distress. Since then we have heard of at least two more such offences nearby. In every case, the police came, and went – and that was that as far as they were concerned. However, we note in one of our local “newspapers” that –  after reports of daffodils planted by volunteers being picked by local people who probably think that there’s nothing wrong in what they are doing – the police have issued a warning that they will take the matter “seriously.”
Anyone taking daffodils could be arrested for anti-social behaviour or theft.
A spokesman said – whilst presumably keeping a straight face: “Picking flowers may be viewed as an anti-social behaviour offence, and if a person digs up a bulb and sells it for profit, they may have committed a theft so we would warn anyone considering such action that we do take such incidents seriously and would deal with any offenders under the appropriate legislation.”
Remind us to keep a bunch or two of daffs in our garage from now on.

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Friday, 14 March 2014

Welcome to our new look blog. We have changed the appearance of Boston Eye in response to comments by readers. We hope that you will find it is easier to read. And please, let us know if there are other changes which might make it better.

Last week we continued our coverage of the saga in which a vehicle owned by a Really Senior Member of Boston Borough Council was parked in the Market Place by an employee – not only in contravention of a clear ban on parking … but displaying a council permit which allows free parking only if the occupant is a councillor on council business, which was not the case.
The action was challenged by a member of the public, who was reported to the police for his pains, and who subsequently protested in very strong terms to the powers that b’ain’t in Worst Street.
As we said, a complaint form was completed and returned – but given the reluctance of anyone dealing with the matter up to that point, we did not suggest anticipating a result too soon.
However, we bargained without the speed with which the council can muster when its interests are served by a rapid reaction – and especially when an obvious opportunity to pass the buck presents itself.
Within days of the complaint a reply came back from the Chief Executive, Richard Harbord.
And guess what – the bottom line of the response was the convenient “nothin’ to do with us, guv.”
And why was that, we hear you cry?
“As it happens the vehicle was in an area which is subject to County Council rather than Borough enforcement.”
This response was like a red rag to a bull, and prompted the reply: “Can I presume you will be passing this atrocious misuse on to the County then, to see that this is tackled – as the borough seems to treat this as something no one wants to tackle in Boston. Do you think this is an awful case of ‘do as we say not as we do?’ It’s certainly a case of looking after your own.”
Back came the smooth reply: “I think you have misunderstood my response to you.*
“It was open to the County to enforce their parking regulations in this case. Regardless of anything else, Members Parking Permits do not allow them to park on County land or highway in any case. It was therefore not a breach of the permit more a breach of parking process. In other words as it happens the parking permit was irrelevant in this instance.”
So That’s All Right Then.
By way of one small crumb of comfort, Mr Harbord said that he had “re-iterated to all Elected Members the conditions under which they have a Parking Permit.”
We’re sure that this will make a lot of difference!
Interestingly, the councillor at the centre of this affair appeared at least until recently to believe that the police enquiry he instigated was being hotly pursued.
But this view is not shared by the man who reported the parking infringement. He recalls an amicable and sympathetic discussion with the police and the strong impression that a line had been drawn under the incident as a result of their visit.

A stroll around the town last Sunday morning produced an interesting insight into the way that our hard-earned wages are spent once they become council tax.
On two different occasions and at two different sites we noted vehicles belonging to the Lincolnshire County Council Highways Alliance (that’s road menders to you and us) parked up while maintenance was being carried out to traffic light columns. In one case, one man stood importantly by whilst a second scraped rust bubbles from the paint on a metal pillar. In another, a vehicle checked in with a second one where a similar job had been completed. The Lincolnshire County Council Highways Alliance is a partnership between May Gurney, Mouchel, Imtech Traffic and Infra (traffic signals) and the county council’s highways department. Perhaps that’s why it needs at least two vehicles and at least three men, most probably travelling from Lincoln to Boston at double time for a Sunday to do a job that could easily have been done more cheaply by someone local on a normal working day.

We note without surprise that five of the ten UKIP county councillors elected last year –   among them Boston borough councillors Bob McAuley and Patrisha Ann Keywood-Wainwright no longer want to be associated with the party because they think officials have shown them a “complete lack of respect.” The quintet stuck with councillor Chris Pain in a breakaway group after he was removed as county leader by the national party – a move which cost the party its place as the official opposition at county hall. It also saw the group members suspended from the party and rename themselves “UKIP Lincolnshire.”
An appeal fell on deaf ears so the group decided that “owing to the complete lack of respect, and the unprofessionalism which the party officers have shown in this matter, we no longer have any desire to be associated with UKIP. To comply with council rules we must have a group name but one no longer including the word UKIP.
“A group name will be registered once we have consulted with the council.”
Whilst we never expected much from UKIP, all these delicate little blossoms have done is thrown away a chance to have a greater impact on Lincolnshire politics than they do now by behaving like spoiled brats.
Stuck for a new name?
How about Politicians Resigning Are Truly Stupid?
That’s PRATS  for short!

Hats off to whoever came up with the great idea that a council that always tries to portray itself as caring, kindly and thoughtful should now adopt the concept of fear and intrusion into privacy as a way of whipping residents into submission – albeit in the interests of good public order.
The picture on the right shows the original movie poster and below it the borough's brilliant  burlesque – with threats in four languages – which is its big idea to stop people using Hatters Lane between Bridge Street and West Street for defecation and urination... “during broad daylight.”
Whether this means that taking a pee and doing one’s big jobs at night is ok isn’t clear.
But our Big Brother Council thinks that “the psychological effect of a pair of staring eyes”   will put an end to the problem once and for all.
Whilst we know that some of our residents aren’t particularly fussy when it comes to obeying the call of nature, we think that a cynic might suggest that the closure of the toilet facility that used to be just a few yards away could a contributory factor.
And we were struck by the council fanfare trumpeting the campaign which said that Hatter’s Lane “is close to the town centre, little used and very narrow.” Could something similar be said about the Worst Street mind that dreamed up this feeble idea?

It was great to see Boston taking part in the worldwide celebrations to mark Commonwealth Day. But what a pity that the Commonwealth Day flag – which paled into insignificance when pictured beside Councillor Yvonne Gunter in Boston’s daily Pravda on  February 18th  – was flown from the council offices in Worst Street. The idea of a flag atop a pole is that the height dominates the scene – so that it can be seen from a wide distance. To fly the flag – or any flag for that matter from a ledge on the side of the council offices – is a waste of time, pure and simple.
The borough’s propaganda picture of that showed something more resembling a tatty duster strung like a home-made surrender flag from an episode of Dad’s Army  flapping limply from a shonky broom handle.
All this served to remind us of something which we hoped that some of our councillors might have remembered.
When Boston’s Assembly Rooms were sold for peanuts to become a much needed night club in November 2012, we were told: “Flags will continue to fly over the Assembly Rooms at times of public celebration and for civic occasions despite change of ownership.
“Owner Matt Clark said: ‘I stressed at the time of the handover that I wanted to see a continuation of community uses at the Assembly Rooms, and this includes use of the flagpole. I have said on many public forums that the flagpole is not lost and will not be. I am very happy in continuing to fly any flag that the council would like'"
This, of course, is the same Matt Clark who signed a deal which promised external re-painting of the Assembly Rooms within a year of the deal going through.
Although our old eyes are not as good as once they were, even without our specs we can see that this was a broken promise.
Has the same thing happened again – or did the council “not like” the Commonwealth Flag enough to ask for it to be flown from where the whole town could see it?
If so, it seems surprising that the council “leader” Pete Bedford said at the time the promise was made: “This was important to us. He has made no secret of his support for community uses and it went without saying, we thought, that this would include public use of the flagpole, which the council is obviously very pleased to support."
Yeah. Blah, blah, blah …

One of the saddest and most feeble political excuses is to blame a previous government/council/manager/postman/dogsbody for the inability of the current incumbent to achieve as much as they could have done.
What’s even sadder locally is to see that argument proffered by Tory councillor and cabinet member Mike Gilbert, who is quoted as saying: “We were subject to an administration that weren’t doing things as efficiently as I would argue we are as a Conservative administration.”
He underlined his colleagues’ feeble performance to date by boasting: “I think we’ve done an extremely good job, getting efficiencies, delivering excellent services and improving some of the things we inherited from the last administration.”
All this is rather disappointing, coming as it does from a councillor that we have always regarded as the one bright firework in a cabinet box of otherwise damp squibs and duds.
Whilst we  were as critical of the Boston Bypass Independents as anyone, their former leader – and current Boston councillor Richard Austin – pointed out in an e-mail at the time we stopped blogging in May:“ The BBI inherited a financial overspend that had been kept going by very large increases in council tax that were well above the rate of inflation. In addition there had been a catalogue of maladministrative blunders such as failure to sign contracts. A new and very experienced Chief Executive was appointed and a financial recovery plan put in place. A big reduction in staffing costs was achieved at the same time as increasing staff morale. By the end of our four-year term we were described by our auditor as one of the most improved councils in the country.”
Interestingly, the newly arrived Tory administration was quick to hijack the retrospective plaudits from the auditor, and overlook the fact that the previous administration to the BBI – although technically one of No Overall Control – was in fact run by the Conservatives.
As far as the appointment of the Chief Executive is concerned, instead of regarding him as something “inherited” from the previous administration, the Tories have fallen over themselves to extend his contract time and again – most recently until after next year’s local elections. Not only that but they continue to pay his company – the former Modular Raised Floors (UK) – £9,780 a month for just 15 days work.
Not only is this equivalent to an annual pay packet of £230,000 a year – one of the highest pay packets for a chief executive anywhere in the country – but  its final extension goes beyond next May’s elections.
Check out comments by the local government minister Eric Pickles over the last several months, and you will find that the local Tories are quite happy to ignore the party pronouncements when it apparently suits them.

Finally, despite last week’s mutterings of discontent, we note that Councillor Yvonne Gunter remains undeterred as far as her enthusiasm to be photographed is concerned. Aside from appearances on both the Boston Standard newspaper and website she turns up in both the borough’s daily Pravda and website as well.
The latter story concerns a stunt involving local schoolchildren on national no-smoking day.
In one of the council’s photos children are pictured flanked by Councillor Gunter and Councillor Stephen Woodliffe, the borough’s regulatory services portfolio holder, which has a vague connection to health issues, and therefore, presumably, smoking
So why is Councillor Gunter in the picture?
Well, the photo is taken in Central Park, and Councillor G’s portfolio includes parks along with bridges, planters, flags and cemeteries.
As far as we can tell, that’s the only reason – in fact, even Big Cig, “a grumpy-looking giant cigarette” was worried when someone stole his thunder!

* It never fails to amuse us when highly paid public “servants” decide that the best form of reply is to treat their respondents as if they are idiots.

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Friday, 7 March 2014

Welcome to this week’s Boston Eye – a week of pith and moment – but, as you might expect … mostly pith.
After all the hoo-hah, the new St Botolph’s footbridge was officially opened last week – only to close immediately for a few days for the handrail and lighting to be fitted – eventually opening on Tuesday.
Did it not occur to anyone that it might be better to delay the opening so that the bridge could be all singing and all dancing from Day One? But no, that would most likely not have fitted in with their diaries at County Hall in Lincoln.
The £750,000 bridge – jointly funded by Lincolnshire County Council and a European Union grant – was chosen from three possible designs, and the county council said it would take the public feedback into consideration before it chose the winner … a line we have heard more recently in connection with the move of the post office in Boston – and with a similar outcome, i.e. that after public consultation the consulter does exactly as it pleases..
Unsurprisingly, it chose what was probably the cheapest and easiest bridge to build  – despite there being at least one design that was far more appropriate to such an historic setting.
As you might expect, the great and the good were out in force – but even though this was a distinctly local event, the dead hand of Lincolnshire County Council cast its shadow over the proceedings.
The county had apparently decided that Boston’s two ward councillors for the area – Conservative Mary Wright and Independent Carol Taylor – who had put a lot of effort into planning the day – should attend, and also announced that that Boston’s Mayor would be there as well.
This came as news to our first citizen, who wasn’t available, but his deputy was able to take on the job of cutting the ribbon to open the bridge.
The county had decided that their portfolio holder for highways, Councillor Richard Davies, was the man formally to open the bridge, but also wanted at least one borough bigwig to attend as well – as something of an afterthought, it would appear.
The leader was otherwise engaged, as was Councillor Derek “Knocker” Richmond, who would seem a sensible choice (!) as portfolio holder for the town centre. After that, one might have thought that either of the joint deputy leaders would have been next on the call sheet.
But no – the third time lucky-for-some choice was Councillor Yvonne Gunter, who is already Portfolio Holder for Flags and Town Centre Planters, and has now added Bridges to her impressive civic briefs.
So with a bigwig at last appointed, the event went ahead.
The Boston contingent treated the event with the gravity it deserved – turning out smartly as befits an significant civic event.
But County Councillor Davies surprised some people by turning up tieless in jeans and a reflective high-viz safety vest.
His appearance divided opinion – some thought that he had mistaken the event for the sod-turning ceremony rather than the official opening, whilst others thought he had decided that as young schoolchildren were attending the event, dressing as Bob the Builder would make them feel more at home.
And although added as a civic makeweight, Councillor Gunter ruffled a few feathers by standing front and left when the civic camera was clicking – which always ensures that one dominates a photo … and thus gets pole position when the front page honours are handed out for the Boston Borough Council’s daily local edition of Pravda. However, the entry on the borough’s website sought to pour oil on troubled waters. Although Councillor Gunter was seen lurking in one or two photos, the one in which she dominated did not appear – and neither did her name!

Parking complaint makes all the indifference at Worst Street

After last week’s report of the parking infringement by a vehicle belonging to a Really Senior Member of Boston Borough Council, a wave of reluctance followed when the authority was asked to address the matter.  The complaint was sent to town centre portfolio holder Derek “Knocker" Richmond who gave the impression that the councillor concerned would be in touch with the complainant. Whilst this failed to materialise, the now famous knock on the door from two Lincolnshire Police officers did.  The complaint then passed hither, thither and yon like the political hot potato that it was without a response. Only after chasing the officer with whom the issue was also raised, was the complainant contacted – by yet another officer (council, not police.)  A complaint form has now been completed and returned – but given the performance so far, we would not recommend holding your breath for a result.

It’s speech all right – but is it free?

In recent times, Boston Borough Council has made a big deal about its so-called transparency, and its openness to the public. The latest in this reluctant line of democratic moves has been to allow cameras into the council chamber. The first bold step – on the Boston Standard’s website – saw half of the people concerned hidden behind pillars when their turn came to answer questions, which was something of a disappointmen
In the meantime, however, one part of local democracy seems to have engaged reverse gear. This week’s meeting of the cabinet piggybank – also known as the Boston Town Area Committee – had eight items on the agenda. In the good old days before openness was adopted, agenda items were usually accompanied by detailed written reports which interested members of the public could read. Not so any more. Of the eight items before the committee, five – that’s more than 60 per-cent - were down for verbal responses.
This means that anyone living in the Boston town ward who wants to know what their “parish council” is up to was denied the privilege – unless they turned up at the meeting to witness proceedings. This is often none-too-easy to do … especially when the meeting starts at 6-30pm. Yes, we know that the councillors manage it – well, some of them, anyway – but then that’s what they signed up for. Taking verbal reports instead of providing ones that can easily be accessed by the public is tantamount to holding the discussions in secret. Or perhaps that is the idea.

Price up – readership most probably down

They say that everyone loves a surprise, but we wonder whether that was necessarily true for readers of the Boston Standard, who opened last week issue to be told: “You will no doubt have noticed when you bought today’s paper  that the price has gone up by 5p – bringing it to 70p a week” – that’s a tad over seven per-cent. Co-incidentally, the price hike came as the latest circulation figures for weekly papers were announced.
They showed that only a handful of weekly newspaper titles audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulation increased their print sales year on year in 2013.  The figures are no longer as comprehensive as they once were.  At the end of 2012 some 373 paid-for weekly titles were audited by ABC, whereas last week’s figure totalled around 270. The picture is further complicated by the fact that some titles are now audited six-monthly and some annually.
The Boston Target has not been afraid to grasp the nettle, and reported a circulation fall of 16.7% on last year to a weekly total of 11,769
So what about the Boston Standard? Some 71 Johnston Press titles have resigned from the ABC, and the Standard’s disappearance from the list suggests that it is one of them. Given that the circulation trend for almost all local weekly papers is a downward one, we can only assume that it has plunged ever lower, but that its owners are simply too cowardly to tell us just how bad things are. The last time that the Standard owned up to how many copies it sold was in the second half of  2012 when it declared a drop of 12.4% to 7,684 – a truly terrible figure which must nudge it towards the threat of closure.

Down memory lane …. 2

An update in the on-going saga involving Mark James – one time Chief Executive of Boston Borough Council. ...  A vote of no confidence in the leadership of Carmarthenshire council where he now rules, has failed by 28 votes to 41, and councillors agreed to accept the findings of a Wales Audit Office report which ruled payments made to Mr James were "unlawful".
Mr James has stepped aside while police investigate why he was allowed to opt out of a pension scheme and receive cash instead. Payments for this and for libel action costs in an action involving a local blogger were unlawful, the WAO ruled.
The council has defended its actions and welcomed the police investigation.

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