97 days to the elections
Whenever Boston Borough Council bites back, it’s a sure sign that Worst Street is running scared.
And for a dinosaur to reject so quickly the charge that it was backing a white elephant was something almost unheard of.
“WHITE ELEPHANT? Thousands beg to differ” shrilled the headline in Monday’s Boston Daily Bleat – and coming so soon after Friday’s Boston Eye led us to speculate if we had touched a nerve.
But in case we had dropped some awful clanger, we turned to the dictionary for help.
The general definition of a White Elephant is: “A possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.”
Now there was a definition that didn’t mince its words – but we also found another, written with business in mind.
It read: “Any investment that nobody wants because it will most likely end up being unprofitable. An unprofitable investment, property or business that is so expensive to operate and maintain that it is extremely difficult to actually make a profit. An item whose cost of upkeep is not in line with how useful or valuable the item is.”
Based on that, we stand by our definition
We also had to raise an Eye-brow at the way Boston Borough Council came to the conclusion that the PRSA was not a White Elephant after all.
Someone went down there and asked people who were using it.
And – surprise, surprise – they all declared that it was a stonking success and well worth the hundreds of thousands of our council tax that it’s planned to pour down its copious drains during the coming years.
To call such a straw poll slanted is akin to describing the Leaning Tower of Pisa as upright.
And, as well as punters using the arena, who else better to ask than the chairman of Boston Rugby Club – which enjoys a money making sweetheart deal as sole caterer at the stadium – an agreement that no-one can ever explain.
According to Monday’s council confection, last year more than 103,000 people went through the PRSA’s doors, which must have generated a decent sum of money.
And yet the place remains a net loser.
We suspect that this is literally because all that is being reported is a head count of people who “came through the door.”
Many of them would have been parents accompanying their children and spectators for rugby club events and the like – people who trip the counter and nothing else.
One Boston Eye reader has produced a formula which calculates that if people use the gym for five days a week for 50 weeks of the year this would be 250 visits.
With a total visitor figure claim of 103,000, then (103,000 divided by 250 visits per person) could mean that as few as 412 people have actually visited the place.
It reminds us of the famous “footfall” counts which the borough uses to persuade us of the success of the town as a magnet for shoppers which are not reflected in the cash registers of our local shops.
Why spending £840,000 on repairs to make the building leasable is suddenly going to reverse the arena’s fortunes is anyone’s guess – and it is scarcely the “once and for all” solution promised by council leader Pete Bedford in his famous “vision” shortly after taking power.
The report which was rubber stamped by councillors on Wednesday, said that the proposed spend would take the total projected capital cost of the PRSA to the taxpayer up to £7,141,258.
This is despite the report which we mentioned last week – made just before the Bypass Independents lost control of the council – which said that the total as long ago as May 2010 was £8,275,298.
Perhaps someone could tell us why there is a discrepancy of more than a million pounds?
Given the internal feelings about the PRSA and the huge amount that has been frittered away by successive councils – largely as a continuing face-saving exercise – we would have thought that enough opposition existed to try to block this latest wastefulness.
Numerically, the combined opposition councillors do this, and if they did so they would win a “no” vote by 16-15 and without a tie, the mayor does not have a casting vote.
But could you seriously imagine the supine and largely silent opposition of the last three and a half years having the spine to stand up for the people of Boston after all this time?
Of course you couldn’t.
The closest we got was a Tweet from Councillor Paul Kenny – one of “Boston’s Labour Councillors” of letters to the editor writing fame – and prospective parliamentary Labour candidate for Boston at the general election.
He wrote: “Boston Council scrutiny committee is meeting tonight to consider whether to give PRSA yet more money. Should Boston give PRSA more money?”
What was the point of that?
The one smile to be had from all of this came when Boston Borough Council tried to promote the story on Twitter.
It made us wonder whether the huge support for the PRSA was actually due to the fact that people were using it as a place to sleep overnight.
The same Daily Drone that brought us the PRSA rebuttal also managed to include an old friend of Worst Street’s with the news that Pinchin’s family farm shop in Algarkirk was supporting National Breakfast Week – with a link to the firm’s website and pricelist.
We’ve mentioned the borough’s mysterious enthusiasm for promoting Pinchin’s before – and as this latest plug appeared to resemble an advert, mused as to whether it had been paid for – or just produced gratis.
And more to the point … why does just this one company come in for such favourable coverage?
Promises of jam tomorrow are, of course, stock in trade for politicians.
Now council leader Bedford has resorted to them as well with his latest comment in the Bostory Standard.
Telling us to “watch this space” he tells of “serious interest” in developing Haven Wharf on the river along High Street.
“This shows confidence in the Barrier scheme being delivered on time and able to do its job of flood protection,” he flutes.
“I think we are in for an exciting time ahead.”
Councillor Bedford is also quoted in a Lincolnshire County Council report on the Boston Barrier which announces that County Hall will decide how best to realise the economic benefits arising from the £90 million project – towards which is has “earmarked” £11m to give Boston an “economic boost.”
Boston Borough Council’s Head Office in Lincoln says that certain economic benefits will happen automatically as a result of reducing the risk of tidal flooding in the borough.
But the crock at the end of the rainbow for them is that future waterways improvements, such as the Fens Waterway Link, will become possible because the barrier can be used to hold water in the Haven.
Until recently it was thought that doing this straight away would bring “significant” economic regeneration.
But now we are told that leaving it until later, and making other investments, such as new moorings and upgraded locks first will bring benefits sooner “and with greater certainty.”
In his customary “how high” response to the council’s instruction to jump, leader Bedford is quoted as saying “It has always been the Borough Council’s and the community’s view that the vital flood defence elements of the Boston Barrier must take absolute priority and be delivered on time.
“Using the Barrier to also hold water back in The Haven to create new regeneration opportunities is also very exciting, and now might form a future phase of the project, while regeneration monies are spent on associated and more immediate improvements at Grand Sluice and on additional moorings.
“This will ensure that our town sees earlier benefits from Lincolnshire County Council’s investment without disadvantaging our existing boating community or slowing progress on the Barrier.”
It must be very comforting to the powers that be in Lincoln to know that an investment of around ten per cent of the project cost gives them a 100 per cent say in what happens as far as the people of Boston are concerned.
The Leader is certainly in an upbeat mood these days.
Elsewhere in his Bostory Standard manifesto, he turns to the state of the town’s shops.
“I know and understand concerns about some shop premises becoming vacant in the town,” he says – in an apparent admission that everything’s perhaps not coming up roses in the garden after all.
“We are never complacent about this,” he rambles.
“Some will continue to trade and are moving to other premises.
“And two national chains are prepared to put their money into the town, showing they have confidence in Boston's future.
“Lidl has applied for permission to build a new supermarket and Pandora, a national jewellery chain, is already here.
“Jewellery is a luxury purchase, but two other jewellers have big plans. Maude’s is moving to bigger premises and Wilcox and Carter is expanding and having a revamp. “When businesses trading in luxury items are prepared to invest it says a lot about confidence in the future.”
All this speculation about what prompts investment is rather vacuous, and proves nothing at all.
We suspect that the raison d'être behind Lidl’s decision to set up shop in Boston – which may not have the smoothest ride when it reaches the planning committee next week – is more likely driven by the fact that it has stores open or planned almost everywhere else of any size, and that Boston represents one of the few remaining missing links in its chain.
As far as the move by Maude’s is concerned, we suspect that if truth be told it is more likely prompted by a desire to quit the ethnic quarter that much of West Street has now become.
And as for Wilcox and Carter – after years of operating from a space little bigger than the broom cupboard in many other shops– it seems not unreasonable that they should want a bit more room to swing a tiara.
Recently, we mentioned that South Holland District Council was the only absentee from the proposed “business pool” involving Lincolnshire County Council and the other districts.
Whilst our suggestion that Boston might well lose out on the deal, which would see the county council benefit by more than £1 million, could still be correct, it seems that South Holland has very valid reason for keeping its distance at this stage.
An insider tells us: “This ‘pool’ is better described as a Business Rates Growth Pool and will benefit Boston Borough Council as well as Lincolnshire County Council provided income from business rates grows.
“It will be a dis-benefit if the opposite applies however!
“South Holland have not signed up to this pool because the power station in Peterborough has sought a revaluation of its rateable value.
“Until the result of this appeal is known, SHDC face an unacceptable risk of incurring the dis-benefit noted above as there are two power stations (Spalding and Sutton Bridge) in the district which could follow suit if the appeal is successful.
“By not signing up, any dis-benefit risk remains in Westminster, not SHDC or the pool.”
In the debate over “career politicians” the charge has been made on several occasions that the UKIP candidate for Boston and Skegness – Robin Hunter-Clarke – has no real-life work experience.
So, when the picture here appeared in our local “newspapers” we thought that he might be trading on his minimal credentials as a part time usher at the Embassy Centre in Skegness by announcing a ventriloquism act.
It wasn’t until we read further that we realised that the candidate was introducing his youngest recruit – fourteen year old Billy Brookes.
But when we read on, we wondered whether we had been right in the first place.
The dialogue went like this:
BB: I am looking forward to getting more involved and fighting for a UKIP victory in May. Robin has proved young people can succeed in politics as he is 22, a local councillor and now standing for parliament. We need real change in our town and I will definitely be standing for council as soon as I am 18."
RH-C: “This is great news for the party locally and for Skegness. Younger people are turning to UKIP, as the other parties have betrayed them and let them down on many issues such as tuition fees.
"I am a huge advocate for getting more young people involved in politics and I am very pleased Billy has decided to join the team.
"He is now our youngest member, and could well be one of the youngest members nationally.
"It is clear to me that he has a very bright future ahead of him indeed."
After this piece of mutual back-slapping, we were left wondering which of them could say “a gottle of gear” without moving his lips.
Amidst all this, Master Hunter-Clarke vowed that he was committed to a free NHS – and said that the Pilgrim Hospital would benefit from his party’s pledge for extra funding.
This drew a stern rebuke from his one-time rival for the constituency nomination, Paul Wooding, who said: “Talk is cheap Hunter-Clarke ... and your 'story' of the hypothetical £3 billion is indeed ‘ab absurdo’ (from absurdity – editor’s helping hand)
“It's all pie in the sky figures designed to fool voters to vote for them.
“What kind of pre-election, vote garnering hype of a quote is...'the Pilgrim Hospital will benefit from his party's pledge for extra funding?'
“He might as well promise a nice pink fluffy bunny to each of the patients as well for what good his empty rhetoric means.
“The £3 billion extra promised by UKIP is as likely as a contestant left standing in a one legged a*se kicking competition.
“It's a figment of their imagination designed to sidestep the furore caused when Nigel Farage, Matthew Richardson and Paul Nuttell have all but said they would eventually privatise the NHS.
“It's in print, in the papers, on video and on the news.....it's real.....so the £3 billion is just an illusionist's clever deceptive move.
"Haud ignota loquor (I say things that are known – editor’s helping hand).
"You use second hand motions in council; hardly speak in chambers (just pulling silly childish faces).
"Any potential voter should really tune in to the (county) council webcam to see your performance.
"He has not even had the courage to come clean to the voting public and answer the long awaited questions being asked by the electorate....those being.....
“a) Explain how it transpired that you were able to inveigle the Boston and Skegness candidacy from under the noses of the shortlist you selected?
“b) Was Farage involved in, or in collusion for you to be added to the list even though you had not applied originally?
“c) When your name was added by the NEC at least a month before the hustings, why did you not either refuse participation on moral grounds or give the other shortlisted candidates, including me, enough time to prepare to go up against a branch manager?
“d) Why did you email me and the others in August asking us to send a CV and A4 speech idea sheet to your personal email for you to study and use in an underhand way?
“e) Why did you have from August till November to prepare your speech and the rest of the shortlist, including me, had less than 24 hours?
"Finally, a Latin phrase I truly believe suits your character...." marcet sine adversario virtus" (English translation; "Valour becomes feeble without an opponent.”
The above quote is by Seneca (editor’s helping hand)
We don’t know what the Latin is for “this correspondence is now closed,” but Mr Wooding has asked for support for his stance as an Independent if enough people wish him to do so – which they can do by texting “yes” or no” to 07770 192960, tweet @djsharkyp : email firstname.lastname@example.org or comment in the Boston Eye.
We are happy to give him this opportunity to comment on other candidates’ statements – as we would with any other contender – but not to continually use the platform to rubbish the successful candidate and his selection process.
It’s now water under the bridge.
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