In these days when work is hard to find, you would think that a relatively cushy and safe number in local government would be just the ticket. But that is not apparently the case.
Boston Borough Council has taken to begging in a big way for people to come to work for it.
Council e-mails end with the message: “Ever thought about a career in Local Government? Vacancies and information about working for Boston Borough Council can be found at www.boston.gov.uk/jobs.”
Not only that, but a recent issue of the Boston Daily Dross – beneath the headline “Come and work for the council … and see the time fly” – posed the question: “Where did that day go to?”
And it continued in the same fatuous strain: “That’s a comment often heard uttered by staff working for Boston Borough Council.
“The council offers employment in many varied fields but all supplying the same thing for committed and dedicated staff – job satisfaction.
“The council currently has a number of vacancies to fill. They offer interesting work for motivated applicants, passionate about a career in local government.
“They offer security, competitive salaries and terms and conditions, chances of career progression and, just as important, interesting and fulfilling work to do for those looking for more than just the next job.”
Does anyone in their right mind seriously think that staff at Worst Street skip gaily from the building after their mind-numbing nine to five stint at the treadmill chattering “how time flies when you’re having fun?”
It’s scarcely five minutes since staff had a gun put to their heads by the so-called leadership and told either to accept less favourable conditions of service or be sacked.
When they all chose what the Tories felt was the only sensible option, council leader Pete Bedford had the gall and impudence to praise them for voting “with their hearts and their minds” declaring that “this selfless action has not passed unnoticed by elected members.”
That is certainly true, at least.
The opposition Labour group noticed that “this is a council who will not have open debates or discussions on the future of their staff.
“We are aware that the morale of many of the council’s staff is at an all-time low, as the actions and proposed budget of the council are making staff more and more worried that they are to bear the brunt of cuts with adverse changes to their terms and conditions which in real terms will mean a major pay cut for most of the staff, although we are not aware of any proposed pay cuts for the senior management team.”
So – who speaks with forked tongue?
The borough’s own recent figures show that staff take an average 7.8 days sickness absence compared to a target of seven days – although how you can prescribe the length of time that people should be ill for beats us.
If you want a clue to staff morale – as the people who work at Worst Street seem scared to speak for themselves – then their unions are speaking for them by calling a strike next week against the public sector “austerity pay policies.”
The national officer for local government in Unite, the country’s largest union, said: “Our members have endured four years of pay cuts in real terms and they have now voted overwhelmingly to strike on 10th July to drive home the message to ministers that ‘poverty pay’ in local government must end.
“The depth of feeling on the pay issue is reinforced by the fact that local government unions, GMB and Unison, and members of the National Union of Teachers are all taking action on 10th July.
“Poverty pay is widespread across local councils – household bills continue to soar – but our members’ buying power is constantly being eroded. The national minimum wage will soon overtake local government pay scales; members are choosing between heating and eating.”
The Local Government Association says that it is confident council staff will ignore the strike call – and who knows, Mr Bedford may decide to sack all those who don’t in pursuit of his iron fist in an iron glove policy.
And talking of the minimum wage – vacancies being touted by Boston Borough Council include “apprenticeships” on fixed-term 15 month contracts, at £125 per week – that’s equivalent to £3.57 an hour.
In March, the government announced that the national minimum wage will increase by 19p an hour to £6.50, in October, with the rate for those aged 16 and 17 will rise by 7p to £3.79, and an apprentice rate of £2.73.
The council does not specify an age for applicants – although the “official” band is between 16 and 24.
It’s hard to tell in these circumstances, whether the council is being stingy or generous – but it certainly appears to be offering less than some minima...
But in keeping with its skills at raising our hopes and then dashing them again, a note at the foot of the council advert tells us: “Please be aware salary for an apprenticeship post is £6,517.85 per annum NOT £16,517.85 as printed in the Target newspaper.”
And as an ironic postscript to Boston’s recruitment drive, it is being claimed that budget cuts at Lincolnshire County Council could mean 500 job losses, on top of the 1,000 that have already vanished after an announcement this week that the council is proposing to cut a further £90m from its budget after an earlier cut of £125m in 2010.
Mind you, if what we’ve been told is true, time at Worst Street certainly flies by for some.
A reader tells us that an attempt to speak to any one of the senior officer triumvirate this week was informed that they were all on leave.
Talk about a holiday camp!
Boston Borough Council sets great store by the word consultation – which is to say that it uses it a lot whilst defining it as whatever it chooses the word to mean.
We have often been critical in the past about the way that questions are posed to the public so that the answers can selectively be used to come up with the preferred outcome.
But now it appears to have gone one step further.
Off and on we have reported concerns about the way that the Garfit’s Lane playing field in Boston is being financed and managed.
It comes under the aegis of the Boston Town Area Committee – B-Tacky for short – which operates as the “parish council” for the town centre wards in Boston.
Fears have been voiced recently that the area’s days as a playing field and place of general recreation may well be numbered, and that in due course the almost seven acres of land owned freehold by the borough council might prove to be more attractive – and profitable – if disposed of for housing.
Back in March, Garfit’s Lane appeared on the B-Tacky agenda for members “to consider possible improvements to the site.”
Whilst the area was described as “attractive, serving a large population living in houses with restricted garden space” it was also referred to as “under-used and expensive to maintain”.
The play equipment was “tired and located on the far side of the field” and the need for it was questioned.
It was suggested an “alternative use for the field be considered,” and the minutes of the meeting went on to add: “the Strategic Director confirmed that business rates applied to the recreation area purely due to the existence of a building, which housed changing rooms, and potential for planning gain from planning applications could be explored.”
The committee recommended: “That sufficient funds be allocated to organise and publicise a public meeting about the future management options for the area.”
And as far as anyone with an interest in Garfit’s Lane and its future was concerned it was just a case of sitting back and waiting for the chance to have their say.
But now, it appears that this will not be the case.
As if by stealth, the public meeting has become a “Drop-in” – with notification being given in the newsletter of local Councillor Alison Austin, which has been poked through doors in her South Ward.
How many people will read it is open to question – as is the amount of interest such an event might be expected to generate.
In tandem with the newsletter “alert” a questionnaire has also been delivered – again by the rather unscientific method of getting people to hand deliver it.
It asks the usual questions that characterise council surveys of this type.
How often do you use the field? How far do you come to get there? How do you travel there? Why do you come? Do you bring children?
Etc. etc. etc …
Then comes the usual buck-passing which is now a regular part of the day to day “service” provided by the council.
What kind of community events would you be willing to provide, and would you volunteer to pick litter, maintain or manage the playing field.
The general outcome of all this is not hard to imagine.
We could almost write the report.
“Local people make little use of the Garfit’s Lane playing fields, and are unwilling to help the council to run it … blah blah blah … Only a handful of people responded to a questionnaire on the area’s future, and even fewer turned up to a drop-in meeting.”
This is known as putting the writing on the wall …
Even worse, there is some question about whether the B-Tacky chairman even knew about this.
One local resident concerned about the future of the playing fields texted chairman Councillor Mike Gilbert to ask – and didn’t mince his words.
“When was it decided not to hold a public meeting regarding the future of Garfit’s park? Is it another case of councillors not wanting to speak to us peasants?”
The reply was equally unambiguous: “I have no idea. I thought it was going ahead.”
But it seems that such a response is strictly non-PC, because not long afterwards an e-mail arrived from Worst Street which read: “I have been passed your message regarding the public consultation exercise currently being undertaken in respect of Garfit’s Lane Playing Field and a public meeting.
“My understanding is that a ‘drop in’ session is to be held at St. Thomas’ Church Hall, London Road, Boston, on Wednesday 16th July from 3pm to 7pm, when residents of the area will have the opportunity to put forward their views in respect of Garfit’s Lane Playing field. Both the Ward Member, Councillor Alison Austin and BTAC Chairman, Councillor Mike Gilbert are aware of this event and have the date in their diary.”
Further attempts at clarification from Councillor Gilbert about his knowledge or lack of it have been greeted by silence, we are told.
But what must be said is that a public meeting and a “drop-in” session are not the same thing.
We had to smile at an item on the Boston Standard website which claims that the question of which side the paper is on in the Quadrant development debate has been asked a lot recently.
To answer its own question, the piece continued: “The simple, and honest, answer is that the paper will not pick a side. When it comes to big planning applications – and there hasn’t been one this big for a fair old while – our job is to keep the coverage neutral, tell you all what is going on and let you all decide for yourselves.
“That’s not sitting on the fence; it’s just the right thing to do.”
Is this the same local “newspaper” that in the past has not been backward in coming forward with its campaigns for action, having organised petitions for such disparate issues as the relocation of the post office and the charging of blue badge holders to park?
It surely is.
Given that the decision on the Quadrant will be taken not by the public, but by the council – which will decide whatever it wants regardless of public opinion – we would have thought that any local paper worth its salt should analyse the issue and if it felt that the development would do more harm than good, then to be brave enough to say so.
This way the council is put in a more difficult position if it rejects public opinion against a backdrop of concern from a significant source of comment.
Of course, if a newspaper were bold enough to oppose such a plan, it might find itself on the receiving end of sanctions from advertisers representing interested parties … and possibly even editorial pressures.
And if a newspaper were bold enough to support such a plan … it might find itself on the receiving end of sanctions from a different set of advertisers representing interested parties … and possibly even editorial pressures.
In these circumstances, the easy option is to do nothing, as it makes for an easy life.
Anywhere else, this would be called sitting on the fence
The Standard’s fine words about neutrality rang a tad hollow when we read a letter on the Quadrant issue in this week’s edition.
We have often been struck by the stupidity shown by some letter writers to newspapers, but in our view, the example reproduced below stands head and shoulders above the rest.
We would be surprised if it were possible to write a more ill-informed, biased, heavily slanted piece of rubbish, and would bet that if nothing else, the writer is a Boston United supporter who has been sucked in by the claims that refusing the first phase of the Quadrant development would sound the death knell for the club.
The writer’s conclusion that the “few” who oppose the scheme could “go and move to some other backwater where their out-dated views and lack of foresight would be more appreciated” appears to have been written without any sense of irony, given his address.
We look forward to more such neutrality from our local press champions.
The phrase “to minimise disruption as much as possible” – spewed out and chanted like a mantra by Lincolnshire County Council ahead of any road works in Boston – appears to have acquired a whole new definition.
Last Sunday morning at 8am, contractors descended on the Main Ridge/Eastwood Road/Freiston Road/Church Road area where they had been dragging work out for more than five weeks without any sign of the promised “phasing” and closed the lot. Church Road was blocked by double parked lorries, Main Ridge was coned off, Eastwood Road blocked by a mountain of tarmac whilst half of Freiston Road was blocked by a lorry – which didn’t really matter, as traffic wasn’t going anywhere even if it could have squeezed by. No advance warning was given, and no diversion signs were put up.
The few motorists around at that time were impatiently waved off by workmen who wanted nothing to do with the mess.
A drive along Eastwood Road last week saw motorists presented with a chicane system, with the road surface shaved by a couple of inches to its foundations causing huge problems for drivers – and offering little sign of the promised “resurfacing.”
This was just a patch – a make do and mend piece of work.
Elsewhere around the town, signs proclaimed the Sluice Bridge to be closed – even though it could have remained open over the weekend at least, we are sure.
On Monday morning, traffic into Boston from the south tailed back as far as Kirton.
The situation remained the same for the rest of the week by all accounts.
Certainly, a trip out of town on Wednesday saw all incoming roads gridlocked, with traffic on Sleaford Road backed up as far as the Boardsides roundabout.
What a wonderful opportunity for some enterprising member of the Worst Street staff to have gone out and about with the council’s video camera and filmed this chaos – then edited it into a brief horror movie to show to the senior Highwaymen at County Hall to demonstrate just how hollow their promises of reducing disruption really were.
Meanwhile, the best that we can suggest is to send your comments to your favourite county council – with copies to the elected numbskulls in Worst Street who are quite happy to let Lincoln ride roughshod over Boston at every opportunity.
Still with traffic, we’ve mentioned Brylaine buses a time or two, and we continue to find a case to argue for better manners from some of their Into Town drivers.
Vehicles are still travelling too fast when going through Strait Bargate, and on one recent occasion, we saw a driver cooling his hand by hanging it out of the window on a particularly warm day whilst driving in busy traffic.
And do we not recall a promise that the buses would travel singly through the pedestrian precinct to keep things as comfortable as possible for pedestrians? These days, two buses meeping their polluting nose-to-tail path through the shoppers seems to be the rule, rather than the exception.
No sooner did we ask the question than the answer was forthcoming in the Boston Daily Drivel.
Boston Borough Council’s misleadingly named “public” subscription to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War will see a stone obelisk costing more than £4,000 erected in the town’s memorial gardens.
As our photo shows, there are already enough obelisks to cobble dogs with, and yet another will make the place look rather cluttered.
Apparently, an obelisk was the preferred choice of the veterans.
The council’s initial idea was to fund seating – with some appropriate wording on it.
That would have afforded visitors to the gardens somewhere suitable to sit and reflect for a few minutes if they wanted to recall a relative lost in either of the two world wars.
Will someone please tell us what the point of another obelisk is meant to be?
And don’t say that it’s at the top!
However, we are pleased to see that this appeal is at last in sight of its target – with yet another story in the Daily Drivel … which has made more than a dozen mentions so far.
It served to remind us of one of the earliest council plugs for the appeal, which declared: “The centenary of the start of the First World War will be marked in Boston with the unveiling and dedication of a pair of specially-designed memorial benches in the town's Memorial Gardens on the day of the anniversary - Monday, August 4.”
Not only was the report wrong about the benches – but we note from a local “newspaper” report that the date has also been changed, and the obelisk will now be unveiled on Armistice Day, 11th November, which seems to render the entire exercise a complete waste of time.
It could only happen in Boston, we are certain.
Just as we were mourning the passing of Independent Councillor Carol Taylor’s blog – the sole remaining voice of a councillor in Boston making use of modern communications – we hear that it is to be resurrected.
Her all-new, better-looking blog is scheduled to resume on Thursday 10th July, and you can find it by clicking on http://councillorcaroltaylor.blogspot.co.uk/
Finally, we are indebted to the Sunday Times columnist AA Gill for drawing to our attention a famous name which is unaccountably absent from Boston Borough Council’s Roll of Achievement – that long forgotten failure now gathering dust in the bowels of the borough’s website.
But having said that, somehow we do not expect that he is likely to appear at any time soon.
The celebrity in question is Paul Verlaine (pictured right) described by Gill as “the symbolist poet who dumped his wife and child to run off with Arthur Rimbaud, a pert little lad who also turned out to be a symbolist poet.
“Verlaine then fell for a boy who died of typhoid, and became a drug addict and an alcoholic living in slums, drinking absinthe in Parisian bars and behaving symbolically.
“Verlaine worked as a teacher (hence the schoolboys) and for some years he taught French, Greek and Latin near Boston, Lincs. Why no one has ever written a comedy about the maudlin, junkie, gay, French symbolist poet in the cabbages and sprouts of the Victorian Fens is beyond me.”
The school in question is the William Lovell in Stickney, and more information is available from the local village history website – at http://www.stickneyhistory.co.uk/documents/paul%20velaine.pdf .
Interestingly, as evidence of the phrase plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, the site tells us – “Foreigners were regarded with suspicion in rural Lincolnshire in the 1870s!”
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Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com