Each year at this time, we try to produce our own Christmas card that summarises the past 12 months in Boston. This year, we pondered the question what if? … what if the events of 2,014 years ago happened in Boston today? Sadly, the outcome is more festering than festive – but we hope that it will raise a smile regardless – please click on the image above to see the full sized version.
The fact that the card is as it is, is largely due to the efforts of Boston Borough Council during the year.
As we studied its internet news offerings a pretty depressing picture began to take shape.
We found 21 references to flooding, six about the need to ban street drinking, and four about the feeble “name and shame” campaign – which ironically neither names nor shames the people who appear in the photographs.
Clearly, the issue of flooding was one that could not be ignored but – like some toothless old dog worrying at a bone, the borough milked the event for far longer than was necessary.
Although we have said it before, it bears repeating that Boston Borough Council’s website is the front-of-house for the borough for people from around the world. It embraces a huge gamut, from those planning a relatively local visit to tourists from further afield – even overseas – as well as people auditioning the area as a place to work and live, there is really nowhere else much for people to turn to.
And what do they find when they take the trouble to explore further?
Warnings about the litter strewn state of the town, drinking in the streets, coupled with the use of public areas as outside lavatories.
Other public areas are gated off, and leisure seating removed – all in the name of improving public order around the place.
We know how we would feel if we visited the site with a visit to Boston planned for whatever reason.
We’d look for somewhere more pleasant and civilised instead – such as Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or North Korea!
Whilst a spade must be called a spade, and bad news not brushed beneath the carpet, the borough council unfailingly wrings the last drop of misery from anything that reflects badly on Boston – and for the life of us, we can’t understand why.
Having said that, one recent attempt to generate some encouraging news proved slightly baffling as far as we are concerned.
A recent announcement that Phil Drury has been appointed as the council's acting chief executive after Richard Harbord, left the council at the end of November included a statement by the great and glorious leader, Pete Bedford, that the acting position “would be maintained for no longer than 12 months” pending a permanent appointment.
The report outlining this to the full council said that “Savings of approximately £10,000 per month will accrue during the period the post is vacant and filled on an ‘acting up’ basis. This will be reported through the quarterly performance reporting process.”
This implies the potential for saving up to £120,000 if the post is not filled for the entire 12-month period.
But our understanding of the way that local government finance works is that budgets are drawn up on an annual basis starting in April of each year.
In other words, the high salary enjoyed by Mr Harbord ceases to be a part of the budget at the end of March next year.
As he has left the authority, there is no need for his salary to appear in the next budget and therefore no “savings” to be made, either.
At least we can be relieved that Mr Harbord’s contract was apparently constructed in the way that it was, which means there will be no costs surrounding his departure.
In a BBC radio interview almost three years ago in which he defended Mr Harbord’s salary of more than £120,000 for just fifteen days’ work a month, leader Bedford said: “Our Chief Executive is only a part-time position. He is perfectly at liberty to work for other clients on the days he does not work for us. The council’s contract with the company means that the council has no liability for holiday pay, sick pay, national insurance or pension contributions. There is also no question of employment rights and the cost arising from that.”
That’s all right then.
Whatever happens next, the council will be considerably better off financially.
The report to the council said that its Chief Officer Employment Panel considered options for the future which would consider a permanent shared or part time Chief Executive for Boston.
However, all of this raises more questions than it answers.
Mr Harbord ran the shop for five years before his departure – on a high salary, yet only part time.
He was brought in as a trouble shooter, and was much needed after the hapless reign of the Boston Bypass Independents.
As far as we can see, the trouble bit the dust at a fairly early stage, but the largesse continued through contract extension after contract extension.
Had he not left early, Mr Harbord’s contract would have seen him in post until 31st July 2015 “to provide stability and oversee any changes that may occur at the next election in May 2015.”
Given the latest developments, this seemed especially pointless, as Mr Drury has worked at Boston Borough Council since Noah was a lad, and was perfectly capable of taking over the role in an acting capacity at the point this “final” extension was agreed.
Now, by the sound of things, he is destined to be a bridesmaid rather than a bride, as we can see no way that Boston Borough Council – which is one of the smallest district authorities in the country – can possibly justify a separate full time £100,000 a year job ... especially whilst someone else will have been doing that job plus the duties of the Strategic Director for just £125 a week more than the council has been paying.
It seems to us that the council – rather than saving a fortune as is now being claimed – has been frittering one away for years and years.
Meanwhile, as fast as we write, the bad news overtakes the good, or so it seems.
The council’s bulletin has even managed to take away some of the joy and anticipation of Christmas beneath the headline: “Community Safety’s 12 golden rules for the 12 days of Christmas.”
It begins “Christmas is a time for giving and receiving. Sadly there are some who only want to receive ... mainly your property when you are not at home or your guard is down.”
Sick bags at the ready …
“Because they love you all, (yeuchh) Boston Borough Council’s community safety team (Peter, Adam and Donna) have put together 12 golden rules for the 12 days of Christmas to keep you safe and sound.
There follows a spoof version on the 12 days of Christmas with the first verse setting the dreary scene.
“On the first day of Christmas my true love said to me...
“Always remember to lock your car and don’t leave windows open.
“Use a steering lock. Don’t leave keys in the ignition and the car unattended.”
The following 11 days offer seasonal advice on things such as “stranger danger, bike and shed thefts and the wisdom of not leaving your drink unattended in case someone spikes it.
We’re glad that Boston community safety staff love us all – though we have to say we find that hard to believe.
But we really could do with less mollycoddling from Worst Street – whose image of a “true love” more closely resembles one of a music hall mother-in-law.
The advice is nothing more than basic crime prevention – which is the job of the police, not the borough council in any case … and we are sure that the people in blue will be saying precisely the same thing in the near future.
Any day now we expect Boston Borough Council to put the fear of god into us with suggestions as to how electrical faults in the tree lights and unattended candles will burn our houses down over Christmas – even though that’s the job of the fire brigade.
Just for once, couldn’t they simply wish us a merry Christmas – and sound as though they mean it?
Meanwhile, Boston Citizens’ Advice Bureau has been piling on the agony by announcing that the exploitation of migrant workers is increasing after the number of people seeking help had doubled in the last year to 12 cases a week.
A spokesman for Lincolnshire police added the icing on the Christmas cake by telling the BBC "There is a level of exploitation, through slavery and servitude, through sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, that because it is hidden behind doors, or it is in factories, people just don't see it but we will see more and more of this going on unless we do something about it.”
And it seems that even if you do earn a decent wage, a greedy landlord is on standby to part you from as much of it as possible.
Recent figures claimed that Boston is one of the most unaffordable places to live in the East Midlands … taking third place in a list of 20 locations where rent is not affordable compared to annual earnings.
The figures, compiled by the National Housing Federation, match an average monthly rent of £560 in Boston against annual income for a person in the town of £20,748 which means Boston is more ‘unaffordable’ to rent a property in than Melton, Wellingborough and Mansfield.
If all of the above paints a bleak and gloomy portrait, that’s because it’s bleak and gloomy out there.
But so much could be done to make improvements which would have the knock-on effect of bettering Boston’s image. The problem is that the political will seems to be lacking – and despite the fact that we now have a combined opposition that is well placed to push for the delivery of some of the many improvements it has been calling for, all its members do is sit on their hands and say nothing.
Meanwhile the best that anyone seems to come up with is to bask in the reflected glory of others who are getting on with the real business of trying to develop interest in their home towns.
One such example is the decision to sign up to a re-incarnated Hanseatic League which has apparently done good things for tourism and business in Kings Lynn – which is therefore taken to mean that it could do the same in Boston.
Next, of course, Boston will be throwing its lot in with the celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the departure of the Pilgrim Fathers for the new world in 1620 – even though the Pilgrim Fathers’ link to Boston is far more tenuous than many Bostonians like to imagine.
Irony is cruel sometimes – and an excellent demonstration can be seen in the latest contribution to the local free magazine Simply Boston from our great and glorious leader.
For as long as we can recall, Mr Bedford has managed to fob the magazine off by sending “Peter’s Notes” that are not only hopelessly out of date, but which have often been published somewhere else previously.
For his first apparent stab at originality, it is therefore unfortunate that he chose CCTV to praise as an outstanding achievement by Boston Borough Council.
Yet again, the piece mentions the “name and shame” campaign – which, as far as we are aware – neither names nor shames anyone.
But it does roll trillingly off the tongue and makes a good headline, doesn’t it?
Boston’s CCTV system was recently upgraded at a cost of £230,000 and the cameras are now described as “state of the art” – whatever that means.
“They record everything they see,” the leader huffed in Simply Boston.
“They see in the dark. They zoom in, they track.”
What a pity then, that they don’t apparently cover important areas where some of the town’s night clubs are located.
Way, way back in August, there was what the police have called a “sexually motivated” attack in Liquorpond Street.
A photo of a man that they wanted to trace was circulated from a camera at the H20 nightclub.
The police said that: “After leaving the club, the man is captured on town CCTV walking along the street, and we are now releasing that moving footage in the hope that it may jog someone’s memory …”
However, the video is not of any great help – and if you don’t believe us – take a look at a couple of stills from it.
It might be thought that a nightclub would be a slam dunk as a location for one of Boston’s “state of the art” cameras – but apparently not.
As a result, whilst Boston Borough Council can issue a detailed en print between the time it takes for someone to spit and for the gobbet to hit the ground, it has taken the police almost four months to cobble together scraps of near useless footage to try to detect a much more serious event – which may well go unsolved as a result
To compound the irony, it is only two and a half years ago that the self-same leader who now preaches the value of CCTV was threatening that security cameras could be turned off in a debate over who should pay for them.
A local “newspaper” reported: “Boston Borough Council leader Peter Bedford told councillors … that it was looking to cut its spending on CCTV provision.
“He called for businesses in the town to foot some of the bill and singled out housing association Boston Mayflower as a particularly ‘big user’ of the cameras to cover its properties in Fenside.
“Councillor Bedford revealed the social housing provider had ‘never paid a fee’ and warned: ‘If Mayflower are not going to pay the cameras will have to be removed.’"
“After the meeting a council spokesman said: "As part of our on-going efficiency programme the council is considering the future of its CCTV coverage of the Fenside Estate.
"Fenside has the highest level of CCTV coverage of any residential area in the borough which, as a consequence of our on-going review, has prompted us to question the value for money these cameras return.”
Value for money?
Was it being said that crime is only worth monitoring and possibly preventing if there was a big enough pay back for Boston Borough Council?
It would seem so.
The same story also reported: “Questions have been raised about the council's plans to save £70,000 a year by sharing CCTV control room services with City of Lincoln Council and South Kesteven District Council.
“A council spokesman stressed the control room proposal was ‘unconnected’ to the issue over the Fenside cameras and said talks were continuing with the ‘potential partner organisations.’”
Isn’t it interesting that Fenside … where 123 crimes were reported in October, and which is considered one of the most deprived wards in the country was not that long ago deemed not to be worth the expense of CCTV cameras – unless someone else was paying, of course?
The phone rang whilst we were writing this, and a nervous young man identified himself as a canvasser for the Boston and Skegness branch of UKIP – although the number was not a local one.
Perhaps we’ve been lucky in the last and not received this type of call, but if not, it demonstrates an escalation in the war for our votes.
And no-one seems to have been in the wars more than UKIP in recent days, with yet another candidate – Kerry Smith – resigning for saying things that he shouldn’t in this day and age.
Although the seat involved was way dahn sarf – in South Basildon and East Thurrock – the name of Neil Hamilton surfaced yet again.
Hamilton had been shortlisted for the seat and expected to win when he stepped aside in favour of Smith, who was deselected in October without explanation and a new contest was ordered, which was due to include Hamilton and Natasha Bolter, a former Labour supporter.
Pay attention – we may ask questions afterwards.
The contest descended into chaos as UKIP queried Hamilton’s expenses and Bolter became involved in a controversy about whether the party’s general secretary, Roger Bird, had made inappropriate sexual advances towards her.
The upshot was that Hamilton withdrew at the 11th hour, and Smith was re-selected – only to resign within a day or so.
Every time stories like these appear, the Boston and Skegness constituency name is trawled through the mire and it is ironic that Hamilton pulled out of our local race after saying of Boston: “I came, I saw, I liked what I saw and that is what has made my mind up."
He added that he had decided to stand in the constituency because it won the highest number of regional votes for UKIP in the European elections in May.
“I obviously want to be in at the kill," he declared.
Then he went, stood elsewhere, nearly got selected and then withdrew yet again.
In an effort to clarify matters the Financial Times reported on Monday: “War has broken out at the top of the UK Independence party, with officials accusing one of its most significant funders of trying to pressure them into accepting the parliamentary candidacy of Neil Hamilton, the former Conservative MP.
"Two senior UKIP officials have told the Financial Times that Stuart Wheeler, the party’s second-largest donor, has threatened not to give any more money before the next election if Mr Hamilton does not get a seat.
“The row blew up on Wednesday night after a letter was leaked from UKIP high command to Mr Hamilton asking him to explain apparent anomalies in his expense claims.
“Mr Hamilton, who saw the letter as he arrived at a hustings event in Basildon South, one of UKIP's top targets for 2015, withdrew his candidacy, but criticised the leak as a “dirty tricks” campaign. He did not comment on the veracity of the allegations.
“Mr Hamilton, who was once accused of accepting money to ask parliamentary questions when he was a Tory MP — something he denies — is being supported by Mr Wheeler. One member of the party leadership said: “I don’t care how powerful his patron is, we are not caving [in] to this.”
“Andrew Reid, who took over from Mr Wheeler as the party’s treasurer six months ago, told the FT: “Nobody gets to buy a seat for someone else in UKIP.”
“Others in the party are furious at what they see as unfair treatment of Mr Hamilton, who previously stood aside from the seat of Boston and Skegness under what they claim was heavy pressure from Nigel Farage, the party leader.
“A spokesman for Mr Farage did not comment.
“One senior party member close to the dispute said: “This is all to do with Nigel's ego. He thinks he may not win in Thanet South [the seat for which he has been selected], so he is determined to bring Neil down. He cannot bear the thought Neil might be an MP but not Nigel.”
We thought that general elections were a grown up affair.
How wrong can you get?
Co-incidentally we saw two of our candidates in action last weekend.
Conservative Matt Warman was manning a flagpole in the middle of Strait Bargate, and perhaps musing on whether to rechristen himself Matt Coldman after a few hours of such campaigning.
At least he’ll appreciate why people are moaning when the complaints about being brushed aside by passing Brylaine buses using the town’s most notorious rat run are being made.
The other candidate was UKIP’s Boy Wonder Robin Hunter-Clark, who had a far more comfortable time of things in a session with a couple of other candidates on Sunday’s Dermot Murnaghan political marathon on Sky news.
We watched the encounter and found nothing noteworthy – although we would counsel the candidate against gurning as often as he did, as it is most disconcerting.
However, one thing he declared with great emphasis was “when you vote UKIP, you get UKIP.”
Whilst it’s a splendid sound bite, it rings a little hollow here in Lincolnshire, where voting UKIP got you UKIP for as long as it took everyone to fall out, call themselves something else entirely for a brief spell and in many cases then defect to the Lincolnshire Independents – which are now reported to be considering a coalition with UKIP to seize the official opposition on Lincolnshire Council from Labour.
Such a pity that all they seem to spend their time doing is posturing and playing power games instead of trying to make Lincolnshire a better place for the people who live here.
But we did get a smile out of politics for a change when Nigel Farage appeared on BBC’s Question Time, and responded to a question on whether politics had become too petty and adversarial in nature.
One thing that he did highlight was the changing nature of the modern candidate … click on the video clip below to hear what he said …
A career professional political class?
Never had a job in their lives?
Straight into the back office aged 23, and then become career politicians
They lack a breadth of experience …
… No proper ideology in politics.
Who on earth could Mr Farage have had in mind?
Perhaps we could ask 22 year-old Robin Hunter-Clark, who has never had what you might call a "real" job, and whose “ideology” in politics has already seen him defect from the Tories to UKIP having started in the “back office” of a Skegness town council seat.
We note that the location of polling stations in Boston borough has been rearranged ahead of next May’s local elections which will see a change in the structure of the council and its members.
The number of councillors will fall from 32 to 30, and some new ward names will appear to reflect the changes to the planned areas.
Newcomers will include Trinity, Station and St Thomas.
Boston Borough Council says that all registered electors will be notified of the changes in advance of May 7th next year – but without saying how soon.
We think that sooner, rather than later, would be preferable, as it would be helpful to see a simple map to show electors who will be voting in new wards where they are and whether the numerical representation will be changing.
It seems as if the New Year will start with yet another vacant shop front in Boston. A notice in the window of the Age Concern premises in the community rooms tells us that they are moving to the former Garfit’s Bank in the High Street, which has a chequered history.
The listed building, which was the first bank in Boston, lay in a ruinous state for years – not helped by the meddling of Boston Borough Council which at the end of the day cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds.
It is now used for community purposes – one of a growing number in the town, whose purpose is little more than one step up from being a mobile phone or charity shop.
Whilst Age Concern worked hard to keep its present Wide Bargate premises – the former Sketchley’s Cleaners – in the same dilapidated state in which they found them, the building was at least well placed as a central community focus.
Quite what the thinking is behind moving way down the High Street, where access and parking is difficult, is anyone’s guess.
Quite what the thinking is behind moving way down the High Street, where access and parking is difficult, is anyone’s guess.
Certainly, we cannot see that it will benefit the people the organisation is meant to be serving – although it will doubtless be far more pleasant for those who work there.
Finally, we believe that Boston Borough Council omitted two golden rules from the earlier list of suggestions apparently designed to keep you sleepless with worry throughout the festive period.
The doomsayers omitted the following vital warnings.
“On the 13th Day of Christmas, my true love said to me – be sure to fit a cowl on your chimney pot. Should Santa Claus get stuck in the flue there is a serious risk of the occupants of the house suffering from the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“On the 14th day of Christmas, my true love said to me – make sure that you take the proper precautions to prevent reindeer from landing on the roof, where they could cause considerable damage and unwanted insurance claims at this already expensive time of year.
“For the avoidance of doubt, spending money, and being helpful to taxpayers, Boston Borough Council does not offer any assistance in preventing a reindeer incident.
“There are proprietary products available such as Hoof-Off™ and ClopStop™ so don’t waste your breath asking us for help, as the responsibility for safeguarding homes and businesses lies with the owner.
“Having said that, some supplies are being held at the council offices specifically to secure the solar panels at the Moulder Leisure Centre, and protect them from harm.”
That’s it for this week – and for this year.
We really mean it when we say that we wish you a merry Christmas and happy New Year, and we thank all our readers for their loyalty to Boston Eye during the year.
Our next blog will appear – external factors permitting – on Friday 9th January 2015
You can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org Your e-mails will be treated in confidence and published anonymously if requested.
Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com