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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  1. Oh dearie me the saga of the alleged misuse of a really senior councillors parking permit is getting the expected run-around treatment and becoming a paper shuffling exercise, what a surprise I don't think.

  2. Have just seen & read the "Boston Eye" - what a great blog! The writer manages 2 "say it as it is" with a great deal of wit & humour, whilst keeping it factual. I have been spending time on reading up on earlier blogs - what an eye-opener!
    Thanks 4 all your hard work - please keep it up - I shall be checking my "In Box" eagerly each week 2 ensure that I stay abreast of all the latest items of news that really matters as it concerns the Council that is supposed 2 be acting in my best interests & which obviously (4 the most part), isn't!!!
    Many thanks 4 such an informative (& entertaining) blog.