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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