They’re rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic – aka the bad ship SS Worst Street – in the aftermath of the removal of the former deputy leader Councillor Raymond Singleton-McGuire from his cabinet and committee duties … as the leadership gets busy reinventing – and contradicting – itself.
In one breath, our “leadership” claimed that Councillor Singleton-McGuire’s departure was “pending completion of proceedings relating to his personal business interests” … and that “in the interim the leader and deputy leader, Councillor Michael Brookes, will jointly discharge the portfolio responsibilities.”
There is no ambiguity about such a statement, yet within days came the announcement that Councillor Aaron Spencer had taken over the finance portfolio with the leader’s confidence that “he will carry on the excellent work that Councillor Singleton-McGuire has done.”
What Councillor Singleton-McGuire – who was due to appear before Boston magistrates yesterday in an action being brought by the borough council and Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue – might have to say about this, is anyone’s guess.
Councillor Spencer – at 23 one of the youngest councillors in the country – was elected to represent Five Villages ward at Boston Borough Council in May 2011 at the age of 19.
But he is not letting the importance of the role – which as well as finance including revenues and benefits, takes in procurement, IT, corporate governance, customer services, freedom of information, and complaints – dim his confidence.
“I look forward to the challenge of taking the lead in the financial affairs of the borough council.
“I recognise the importance of the role – it is something which impacts in some way on practically every person living in the borough.
“It’s a big job, but I have worked in the commercial world (we are told that he is currently a “car sales executive”) and I will have the support of the council’s excellent financial team, and I take up the reigns (sic) from a good starting point.”
Councillor Spencer’s elevation to the Worst Street peerage follows a torpid time since his election. In his first year, he attended just over half of the meetings where he was a member – 11 out of 21.
He was reported as saying that having a job in the daytime stopped him attending many meetings.
“When I was running for office they said it would be great to get young blood and fresh ideas. In reality I have found it to be quite different.
“The meetings are at awkward times. I work from 9am to 6pm and when I explained this to the council they don’t seem to listen.
“I love helping people in my ward and do a lot for the community. Sitting in a meeting where everything has already been decided really isn’t what being a councillor seemed about.
“My opinion is that if the council was run logically like a business for the best of the town rather than for an agenda it would be a lot better.”
The most recent attendance figures also show that Councillor Spencer – whose early offer to run as the country’s youngest elected mayor was turned down – is still having problems.
Whilst he has managed 100% attendance at full council meetings, he has only turned up to three out of five meetings of the Environment and Performance Committee – the only other committee on which he sits … although now, he will join the cabinet as well.
We understand that as well as Councillor Spencer, another member of the Tory squad stepped forward to volunteer to take on the finance portfolio – although that report may just be a glorious myth.
As far as attendances are concerned, an observer might wonder whether councillors are getting demob happy.
The latest figures for the current political year show some notable absentees.
Only four of the thirteen members of the Planning Committee managed to attend all lessons – with Labour group leader Paul Gleeson managing just three out of eight meetings … a meagre 38%
However, Councillor Gleeson told Boston Eye: “My poor attendance at planning committee this year was due to my breaking my leg in May. Whilst being laid up kept me from attending all meeting for a while, it has had a bigger impact on my attendance at planning meetings, as I was not physically able to do some of the inspections that were a prerequisite of being at the meeting and I had to miss one as it clashed with a hospital appointment.
“I think you will find that my attendance at meetings prior to my accident was quite good and whilst I am still not as mobile as I would like I am once again regularly attending meetings.” Fair enough – but it might be worth Boston Borough Council’s while explaining such absences, rather than merely publishing what looks like a bad attendance record.
Councillor David Witts – leader of Independent Group 2 – was next with a 63% attendance, or five meetings out of eight, the same as independent Ossy Snell.
Audit and Governance committee meetings managed without the presence of Independent Stuart Ashton, a recent aspirant to be our next Conservative MP. He shared the record with Conservative councillors Judith Skinner and Gloria Smith.
All told, four of the nine members failed to attend a meeting in June or September.
All told, four of the nine members failed to attend a meeting in June or September.
The committee has responsibility for member standards issues and is formally recognised as that charged with governance and with independence from scrutiny committees, and reports directly to council.
Sounds important, doesn’t it – although it can’t be if so many don’t bother to attend.
Another committee which is important as far as the people whom it represents are concerned is the Boston Town Area Committee – B-Tacky – whose 16 members are responsible for the “non-parished” wards, and have money to spend for their benefit.
Three of the members have failed to attend meetings so far this business year according to the borough council.Two are Conservative – Yvonne Gunter and Dr Gurdip Samra – whilst the third, English Democrat David Owens, continues to thumb his nose at the electorate and avoids as many meetings as he can.
Hopefully, he will not have the brass to seek re-election next year.
Of the eleven members of the Corporate and Community Committee, only five have managed full attendance – with the worst being former Mayor Colin Brotherton’s 33% attendance record.
Full council meetings are better attended – with the exception of Councillor Owens once again – although the meetings are nothing more than an exercise in rubber stamping which crushes debate and democracy both.
Finally, the Environment and Performance Committee – where just two of the eleven members managed full attendance.
Overall the attendance figures are pretty dismal – but we bet that come next year’s elections, all those seeking another four years of money for nothing will be polishing their high flying words and phrases to tell us how devoted they are to serving their communities and why we should return them yet again.
On now to the bigger politics – and at last the battle lines for the general election, which will be held on the same 7th May date next year as the local election, are being drawn.
An early casualty was UKIP contender Paul Wooding, who withdrew his candidacy at the last minute ahead of the appointment of Robin Hunter-Clarke – the local UKIP chairman as well as a Lincolnshire county and Skegness town councillor.
Mr Wooding told Boston Eye: “After a few days of soul searching, I have concluded that UKIP and myself are diametrically opposed in respect of ethics, honesty, principle and integrity. The utter contempt that UKIP appear to show the electorate regarding the secretive pre-ordained selection process will undoubtedly manifest itself in the results of May 2015.
“With regard to the hustings on 13th November (postponed from 11th September giving Clacton by election as a reason which I believe was in fact a ruse,) Hunter-Clarke had not applied in the first instance to stand and was part of a selection committee in August to choose a shortlist.
“He saw all of the candidates’ CVs and also requested by email, accompanying letters detailing candidates’ agendas for the hustings.”
Mr Wooding said that the selection committee chose him, Neil Hamilton, and three others for the play-off, and claims that all the candidates were chosen and perceived as weak to allow Neil Hamilton to win.
“ The night before the hustings, I was sent an email informing me that the NEC had removed one candidate and replaced that person with Hunter-Clarke around a month ago (Hamilton).
“I was also informed that one candidate had now pulled out of the hustings.
“Hunter-Clarke was advised to send an email to all the candidates to share the CV's, and I received the full details at 0630hrs on the 13th November.
“I decided at that point that I was not prepared to lend credibility to a pre-ordained, corrupt pantomime orchestrated by the all-powerful NEC.
“I do not feel as though I have lost an honest contest, as for one to lose, one must attend the contest in the first place.
“The real losers are the ordinary people of Boston and Skegness ... nothing will change with their everyday lives and it will be business as usual for the ‘cosy UKIP elite.’
“The narrow-minded political agenda of having the youngest candidate to stand in the 2015 general election will backfire in my opinion.
“UKIP have appeared to put strategy over public affinity, secrecy over openness and agenda over ethics.
“Nothing was learned from the Boston and Skegness Conservative open primary whereby the general publics’ feeling was that they did not want, and did not choose a career politician, a councillor, a media magnet or someone with no life skills ... they chose an ordinary worker, Matt Warman.
“UKIP instead shoehorned a 21 year-old ex-Conservative with no life skills to speak of, who defected in December 2012 at the UKIP party Conference just eight weeks before an election.
“A Farage sycophant, (who is equally at ease with a certain Mr Neil Hamilton since their introduction in Chester,) won his Lincolnshire County Council by just 50 votes and was told at a full council meeting to “grow up and be less childish” by the chairman who is the holder of an OBE.” (**see Footnote)
“Farage says in his televised speeches that Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have never had a proper job, leaving university and going straight into politics.
“Well, that mirrors Hunter-Clarke’s résumé, and I believe UKIP has done itself a massive disservice in pre-positioning him to be selected.
“He appears not to live in the same world as the majority of the voters there, and I firmly believe that UKIP could well have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Boston and Skegness in May 2015.
“In the New Year, I shall ask the electorate of Boston and Skegness six simple questions.
“The answers to them will have a massive impact upon their future.”
Whilst we cannot speculate on what these questions might be, it is interesting to note that Mr Wooding now styles himself as: “Paul Wooding Ind PC” – which suggests that he plans to go it alone.
Interestingly we have had a sight of some of the e-mails going the rounds during all of this, and they certainly raise a few questions.
As far back as September, Robin Hunter-Clark was e-mailing interested parties to express members’ concern “that the selection process will be turned into a public debate between candidates” if local newspapers were allowed to discuss the selection process “which cannot be permitted in the branch’s eyes. A view I share!
“I am going to ask all candidates from this point onwards not to discuss the selection process with the press and especially not to talk about other candidates who may have applied. I hope you will agree to this?”
Then on 12th November – the day before the selection of a candidate – another email to candidates from Graham Westmore, the, Boston and Skegness UKIP branch secretary, told that “an anomalous situation (definition: deviating from what is standard, normal, or expected) has arisen which we are doing our best to rectify.”
It went on: “At the time of our original short-listing meeting at the end of August the CVs of all the candidates had been received and were considered by the meeting. The shortlist was duly drawn up and was submitted to the NEC.
“Unusually, they made adjustments to the list and one name was withdrawn and was replaced by another.
“The name that was the replacement is that of Robin Hunter-Clarke who was, and currently remains, the chairman of this branch.
“This process took a long time and we were only presented with the revised shortlist about a month ago.
“It was recognised that an irregularity had been created in that Mr Hunter-Clarke had had sight of your CVs at the time of the original selection meeting in August as he was one of the four of us who were on the selection committee.
“At that time there was no suggestion that he would be a candidate.
“Clearly, this was an undesirable situation and the only remedy seemed to be for all of you to have sight of each other’s’ CVs in order to create a level playing field. “Consequently, once we had been informed of the identity of the Chairman of the Hustings (Mr David Soutter - UKIP Head of Candidates) I wrote to him setting out the situation and suggesting the above remedy.
“That was 2½ weeks ago and I have just today received Mr Soutter’s agreement as to this proposed course of action.
“Accordingly, I have asked Mr Hunter-Clarke to send to each one of you as soon as possible the CVs of himself and of the other two candidates. (There are now four candidates, one of the original five having withdrawn.)
“I greatly regret that this situation has arisen and I hope that you will appreciate that it has done so solely as a result of the intervention of the NEC.
“I should add that there is no connection between these events and the concurrent directive (also derived from the NEC) that the identities of the candidates on the shortlist should not be revealed.”
Criticism notwithstanding, the bookies seem confident that UKIP can win Boston and Skegness.
The party is ranked as 4/7 favourite to take the seat from the Conservatives, who are second favourites at 11/8.
A Ladbrokes' spokesman said: "UKIP have been targeting this seat for some time and because the current MP Mark Simmonds is stepping down at the general election, we expect them to win that seat."
If the bookies are to be believed, Boston and Skegness will see a straight fight between Matt Warman and Robin Hunter-Clarke.
Meanwhile, the most recent polling shows Labour five points ahead in this week’s Ashcroft National Poll, conducted last weekend.
Labour’s share is up two points since last week at 32%, with the Conservatives down two at 27%, the Liberal Democrats down two at 7%, UKIP up two at 18%, the Greens unchanged on 7%.
Having said that, when we watched Mr Hunter-Clarke’s victory speech on local television, we came away completely underwhelmed.
Our reaction was Gee – which includes Gasconism, Glib, and Grating among possible definitions.
Having spent some time during our career coaching people who crave the public’s confidence and support, we think that a few quid spent on image building and presentation would be money well spent.
And no – we are not offering our services!
We still have until Sunday to comment on Boston Borough Council’s latest cunning plan – which is to stop people drinking in public by declaring a Public Space Protection Order prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in an oddly shaped area of the town – which at one point includes the width of a single bridge!
Under the new rules, any person failing to stop drinking when requested will be committing an offence and can be arrested and fined – £100 for a first offence and up to £500 for a second offence committed within six months of the first.
As the PSPO is certain to be approved by the council, we can say with equal confidence that it will not work.
The reason for that is the same reason that all earlier ideas have failed – such a scheme can only succeed if the area is policed and the order is enforced.
This has not happened in the past, and we can see no reason to imagine that anything different will change things in the future.
But it will cost £10,000 for all the pre-publicity and signage – compared with just under £7,000 for the same exercise with the failed Designated Public Place Order which preceded it.
It’s taken a few years, but one of Boston Eye’s suggestions has at last been given a test run.
Boston Borough Council informed us last week that a “new currency” was being put into circulation for yesterday’s Boston Big Local street food and craft fare (sic.)
The so-called “test trading” event to encourage “more micro-business growth” saw each of the first 100 people attending being given three “Botolph Pounds” a local currency aimed at “keeping money local.”
Wind the clock back to February 2009 and an item in Boston Eye.
“If Boston wants to encourage people to use what local shops there are to boost the local economy, why not take a leaf out of the book of Lewes, in East Sussex
“There, they have issued a local currency in the form of the Lewes Pound which is bought and circulated locally.
“As the Lewis Pound website promoting the idea (www.thelewespound.org) says: "Money spent locally circulates within, and benefits the local economy. Money spent in national chains doesn't. The Lewes Pound encourages demand for local goods and services. In turn this builds resilience to the rising costs of energy, transport and food."
You saw it first on Boston Eye.
They say that bad news travels fast, and that certainly seems to be the case where Boston’s public toilets are concerned.
Not content with nauseating local readers of the borough’s bulletin and the local papers that slavishly follow its lead, the borough has bogged itself down yet again – this time with a story headlined “Praise for council toilet cleaners.”
The plaudits come from a lady called Gillian Kemp, the leader of something called the Truckers Toilets UK Campaign, which is part of the British Toilet Association.
In a message to Councillor Derek “Knocker” Richmond, Ms Kemp speaks of her dismay at the state the Lincoln Lane lavvies were left in recently, which she describes as “unbelievable” and creating a “dreadfully unpleasant” task for the cleaners.
This in turn has prompted Councillor Richmond to ask us to suspend our disbelief by claiming that “toilet cleaners are an invisible force for good.”
Whilst we acknowledge the sterling work done by our cleaners in difficult circumstances it is sad but inevitable that the borough again took the opportunity to remind us of the disgusting specifics that led to the publication of the original item.
The British Toilet Association is based in Bangor, County Down – and how they stumbled across the story is anyone’s guess.
How many more times, we wonder, will Boston Borough Council seek to promote the news those visitors to its toilets might be in for a nasty shock?
One important date that slipped beneath the borough’s radar this year was that World Toilet Day – which was inaugurated in 2001 – was celebrated on 19th November this year … which gives the powers that be almost a full year to plan for a fresh assault on our sensitivities.
We think it is quite right that criticism has been made of the decision to allow local produce firm Staples permission for 52 more caravans on its site to add to the 63 already there to accommodate as many as 650 “students” in the peak season.
The issue first reared its head in 2009 when Staples took on eastern European "students" under SAWS – the government Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.
Then as now, it claimed that local workers were hard to find and that those provided by local agencies were less reliable.
SAWS allowed UK farmers and growers to recruit low-skilled overseas workers solely from Bulgaria or Romania at the agricultural minimum wage for up to six months.
Since then, the scheme has been closed because labour market curbs for workers from those countries were lifted at the end of 2013.
Home Office Minister Mark Harper said then: "At a time of unemployment in the UK and the European Union there should be sufficient workers from within those labour markets to meet the needs of the horticultural industry."
But, adieu SAWS, bonjour HOPS – the Harvesting Opportunities Permit Scheme which has taken over.
Staples says it suffers an ‘inability to recruit from the indigenous population’, but adds Lincolnshire ‘still thrives because foreign students visit the area to work’.
Given what we often hear local people say, this takes some swallowing – and we wonder just how hard Staples searched for local workers before deciding that a transient, temporarily captive workforce is a lot easier to manage – not to mention a whole lot cheaper!
Not wishing to sound a bit of a killjoy, but either our emergency services are strapped for resources, or they are not.
Local papers reported the appearance of “mysterious eggs” at a number of the Phoenix “family” of schools in the borough – including the Park Academy, where a “Mystery Object Investigation Team” was brought in to examine the egg, which had to be fetched down by a crew from Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue while Lincolnshire Police guarded the team.
It was all part of a scheme to get children to create stories and videos about the experience which will be shortlisted in a competition – and no doubt the youngsters involved enjoyed it all immensely.
But next time our emergency services tell us how short of funds they are, we will take it with a pinch of salt!
Our apologies, but due to circumstances beyond our control there will be no blog next week.
All things being equal, Boston Eye will be back on Friday December 12th.
**Footnote: The episode occurred after Councillor Hunter-Clarke asked why council leader Martin Hill’s dog was allowed into County Offices and whether it posed a risk to allergy sufferers.
Councillor Hill told Hunter-Clarke: "You have been elected on to a large £1 billion organisation that's delivering services to a large population in Lincolnshire.
"If you have an issue the place is not here and perhaps you should grow up and be less childish."
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