104 days to the elections
As the four-year term of the current Boston Borough Council coughs and wheezes its final tottering steps to the political graveyard, the quote of the Olympiad must surely be the one by Council Leader Pete Bedford concerning the Princess Royal Sports Arena.
This whitest elephant of them all has cost the council many millions of pounds that otherwise might have been spent on transforming the face of the town beyond all recognition and lifting if out of the slough into which it has sunk in the past few years.
And we all felt considerable relief when he made his leadership position clear shortly after the Tories took control of the council in May 2011.
Just a few days after their surprise win – they were more surprised than the voters – Councillor Bedford issued his “vision.”
It included a pledge that arrangements for the Princess Royal Sports Arena will be “settled once and for all.”
And later, in an edition of the Boston Daily Drivel, he maintained: “Arrangements are now at an advanced stage to put the Boston Sports Initiative into the position of managing the Princess Royal Sports Arena. This will enable it to become a successful venue for sport and public entertainment …”
The total of the reckless spending on this disastrous project is lost in the anals of time (this is not a misprint) – but the last attempt at a tally was a year before the elections when the “grand” total of the cost to Boston taxpayers was put at £8,275,298.
Since then, of course there has been a lot more – much of which appears to have been spent but not specified.
As we reported at the beginning of the year, the most recent financial report from the PRSA charity Boston Sports Initiative showed an income of £616,166 – including £141,001 grant funding – against expenditure of £825,386, along with the news that “an exceptional amount of £2,059,820 was generated by the write off by Boston Borough Council of outstanding loan balances which had been previously retained in the financial statements, as Boston Borough Council did not formally implement the resolutions until May 2013.”
So, whilst any right thinking individual might come to the conclusion that “settled once and for all” meant exactly that, it would appear that the borough’s white elephant is merely being washed down with a load of old flannel.
Because now, the council has announced a plan for an “umbilical cord to be cut” so as stop funding the PRSA year after year.
This has, of course, already happened, if we are to believe previous announcements.
In March 2011 – just before the election – a £2 million scheme which would have seen the private firm Leisure Connections take over the running of the Geoff Moulder and the PRSA was scrapped.
The council decided to maintain day-to-day control of the Geoff Moulder but leave the Boston Sports Initiative in charge of the PRSA – with taxpayer funded grants of £176,000 in subsidies 2011/12 and £88,000 in 2012/13 “before seeing the hand outs end in 2013/14.”
In fact, it was as long ago as 2012 that Councillor Bedford again revealed that the next priority for the council would be the Princess Royal Sports Arena.
“We will put proper leases in place with all the partners so that the place can trade correctly.”
If you look skyward at this point, you may well notice some pie flying around – because not content with wasting millions of our pounds on the PRSA since it opened in 2003, our leaders appear to relish the wasteful process so much that they plan to carry on for a few more years yet.
At the end of the month the council’s Environment and Performance Committee will be asked to agree to plunder its reserves for £560,000 to fund energy efficiency measures at both the PRSA and Geoff Moulder Leisure Complex which it claims will bring in £1.5 million and therefore more than cover the PRSA works and cost of installation – with the proceeds going back into the reserves.
The PRSA works?
Over the period of a ten-year lease, £840,000 will be needed for “repairs and commercial investment.”
Yet in the last set of asset valuation figures we could lay our hands on, Boston Borough Council reported that the value of the PRSA was between £11,242,000 and £11,371,772 depending on whose assessment you took and described the building as a freehold let in good condition.
Apparently disregarding all of the above, Councillor Bedford is jubilant at the thought of leaving a huge legacy of spending to whoever takes over at Worst Street in May. He is quoted as saying: “This points the way to a successful future for the PRSA at minimal cost to the council taxpayer. It will ensure the centre’s future. It has an important role to play in tackling health inequalities for the residents of the borough. It is a well-used facility.”
The PRSA seems to have bad luck as far as its structural durability is concerned.
As long ago as 2007 there were reports that part of the roof had been leaking for about a year – apparently with nothing being done until storms made matters worse, when the arena’s insurance company footed the bill.
Another interesting sidebar is in the timeline of the “management” of the facility.
The PRSA website says: “Princess Royal Sports Arena is operated by the Boston Sports Initiative and managed by 1Life.”
Four years ago, when Leisure Connection was in line to take over the running of the centre the plan was hailed by the borough as “all systems go for a bright new future for leisure services in Boston.”
This was despite the company’s reputation in managing other civic facilities where it was severely criticised. The nearest locally, was in South Kesteven, where users of the Meres Leisure Centre reported “filthy, smelly and vile” conditions.
However, with one bound, Jack was free, and since then, Leisure Connection has metamorphosed into Harpers Fitness in 2008, and from last year became known as - yes, you’ve guessed it 1Life.
What’s the quotation?
A rose by any other name would smell as much.
Whilst we are quoting Councillor Bedford, it is worth recalling that in the same “vision” (he appears to have had almost as many as Saint Bernadette) he had shortly after the 2011 election he told the adoring electorate: “We want to be seen as forward thinking, supporting businesses and development and putting a spring back into the step of people in Boston.”
There appears to be no mention as to how this would have been achieved either between now and the elections – or even over the forthcoming decade.
Or perhaps the ambition to put a spring in our step is why we now have two sports centres leeching our tax contributions.
Meanwhile, the leadership’s monomania with closing Boston incrementally continues unabated.
The latest admission that the management of the town is beyond their grasp comes with the news that Hatter Lane is next on the list of streets for closure because of the usual urination/defecation problems.
This one size fits all approach has already been tried on Archers Lane, off Wormgate, which was poetically rechristened Poo Corner to aid the borough’s prurient attempts at publicity.
Now – like a naughty child with a new toy – the powers that b’aint are flexing their newly acquired SPO muscles to gate both the West Street and High Street ends of Hatter Lane having failed to discourage unwanted behaviour by cleaning the lane on a daily basis in the hope that this would set a shining example and discourage midnight dumping by drunks.
The news comes at an interesting time.
Last week we had some critical words about the town’s CCTV system, which were countered in the Boston Daily Prattle on Tuesday with the defensive claim that it is Boston’s “force for good.”
Given all the huffing and puffing about naming and shaming and the wonderful work of the unsleeping eye that watches over us all like a guardian angel clutching a summons, why has a temporary CCTV camera not been set up in Hatter Lane?
Instead, the arbitrary decision has been taken to make it a no-go area – and to add insult to injury the council that can’t cope plans to charge the residential and business properties in the area for the cost of installing and maintaining the gates if the plan goes ahead.
Obviously a solution has to be found to problems of the kind being faced in Hatter Lane.
But the leadership solution is yet again destructive.
Before it started denying public access to public routes, we saw vast swathes of trees and shrubs hacked out to prevent them being used for nefarious purposes – including in the town’s Central Park.
And, of course, on the assumption that every public bench in the town was being used by drinkers, rather than people wishing to feed the ducks or enjoy a quiet moment of contemplation, a decision was taken to remove dozens of pieces of public amenity furniture.
Given this knee jerk reaction, we wonder what the response might be in Boston to a story such as this one – which appeared in the Wigan Evening Post last week.
We envisage a mass uprooting of all pillar boxes and pronouncements by councillors to the effect that this sort of thing has to be stamped out – if you’ll forgive the pun.
Mention of the drinking SPO reminds us that Boston Police were quick to claim some sort of success with the news that five people have had alcohol taken off (sic) them as part of Boston’s new ‘street-drinking ban.’
All this means at this stage is that the cops were compelled to come up with some sort of result to show that they were enforcing the ban – although we have no doubt that this will prove to have been a flash in the pan.
And did we detect a hint of disappointment when a force spokesman said that there had been no arrests because everyone asked to give up their hooch had done so?
All this hoo-ha about street drinking reminds us of just how small was the demand for a ban in the first place.
As with the council’s slash and burn policy in our parks and other open spaces, and the removal of amenity seating without any consultation in many instances because people “demanded action,” a “short” survey ran from 7th March last year until to 22nd April.
Residents were encouraged to fill the survey out online; however paper copies were available from Worst Street or could be posted on request.
From a population of around 65,000 people in the borough … 491 responses were received – that’s around 0.75% – of whom 459 wanted a ban on street drinking.
There was also a straw poll taken during a meeting of the Rotary Club of Boston St Botolph’s. Of the 14 members present, the response to the question “should people be allowed to drink alcohol in a public place? the unsurprising outcome was “yes” – 1 vote “no” – 13 votes.
We are sure that this was the clincher – although it made no difference to the percentage figure.
The decision based on such a pathetic response led to an expenditure of £10,000 of ratepayers’ taxes – but that’s a mere can of lager down the drain when compared with the cornucopia of cash being wasted on the PRSA and Moulder Leisure Pool.
Then again, it seems double standards are de rigueur in Boston.
A mysterious “street poet’s” chalked contributions to the pavement in Strait Bargate have greatly exercised the minds of some of our councillors and our Principal Community Safety Officer.
He told councillors: “We are fully aware of the ‘Street Poet’ as he calls himself, we have CCTV images of him in the act and the cleansing team on a daily basis go and clean off his chalk writing.
“We have also asked (two PCs) to go a warning (sic) that gentleman that if he continues to keep writing on the pavements, he may receive either a fixed penalty ticket and/or clean up charge from the cleansing team, we are still researching what offence he is committing as the argument will be he is not criminally defacing or damaging the footpath as he is writing in chalk only, but are aware that police in another part of the country have given fixed penalty tickets to individuals drawing on paths with chalk, so we have enquired (or the police are) under what offence.”
Sadly for the Worst Street Fun Police, the culprit moved on before falling victim to the shock and awe tactics of the powers that be.
We saw his work on the street – and although it was too faded to read properly, it seemed to be fairly harmless.
The council’s attitude seems strangely contradictory – especially in light of a £1,000 grant made by the B-Tacky committee in 2012 to the South Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service to celebrate National Volunteering Week … by encouraging people to chalk all over the pavement.
Earlier we credited the council “leader” with the quote of the Olympiad – and the quote of the week must surely come from Councillor Yvonne Gunter during a discussion on how the council could improve its grass cutting services.
One idea was to save a staggering £17,000 by removing provision for floral schemes for Boston in Bloom.
This is a ridiculous sum of money for the results that we see around the place for the few weeks when Boston is tarted up so that the council can try to win another badge.
But Councillor Gunter rejected the idea out of hand.
“We’re working very, very hard to get the town looking beautiful,” she is quoted as saying. “If we lost it, the town would look like any other town – very, very boring, with lots of litter.”
Is it our imagination, or does Councillor Gunter need to get out more?
Having said that, Alison Fairman, chairman of the Boston in Bloom committee has gone even further with this Tweet …
Beatify? “To announce formally in the Roman Catholic Church that someone who is dead has lived a holy life, usually as the first stage in making that person a saint.” Arise Saint Boston in Bloom!
The debate over the “localness” of parliamentary candidates for Boston and Skegness may not be as important as people would have us think.
An exclusive poll for Red Box – a daily political round up produced by The Times – asked people: "How do you think you will actually cast your vote?"
Seventy-one per cent said it would be "for the party or candidate that I most want to win" whilst 17% said "for a party or candidate that is not my first choice, but who can stop a party I don't like from winning"
Participants were also asked: "Which of the following is most important to you when deciding who to vote for in a general election?"
Top of the list was "values and priorities" – 44 per cent.
"Specific policies" – 21 per cent.
"Best PM" – 9 per cent.
"Local candidates" – 7 per cent.
"Local issues" – 6 per cent.
"Don't know" – 13 per cent.
Having said that, we have just acquired another local candidate in the race to become the next MP for Boston and Skegness.
The Green Party's Victoria Percival lives in Boston and runs her own small business, and is quoted as saying that she is confident she can give the electorate a fresh choice from the rest of the field and can win in what is set to be an unpredictable vote.
“I am there to give people a choice. If they don’t want to vote for the usual parties - or UKIP - I am there to give people something different.
“I do believe that social media and the media are giving us a voice. People realise we are not just ‘yoghurt weavers’ – we have got policies and they are pretty good policies.”
Yoghurt weavers, eh?
Meanwhile, our departing MP Mark Simmonds has made an interesting foray into a former stamping ground.
After a three year stint as a health minister, which ended in 2010, he subsequently took on a job as “strategic adviser” to Circle Health, the first private firm to take control of an NHS hospital, for £50,000 a year to work just 10 hours a month.
That ceased when he became an Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in September 2012, and recently, Circle Health announced that it wanted to pull out of its deal to run Hinchingbrooke Hospital because its franchise is "no longer viable under current terms."
Mr Simmonds, however, seems still to favour healthcare as a means of keeping his name in political lights.
Last week he published a lengthy piece in Conservative Home praising improved survival rates for cancer.
Given his distance from health matters these days, and his imminent departure from the House of Commons we wonder if this is an attempt to raise a signal flag saying “open for business.”
Finally, job descriptions these days are often designed to dignify the post holder with a sense of importance that lifts them from the run of the mill dogsbody.
Hence such titles as Media Distribution Officer (paperboy); Education Centre Nourishment Consultant (school dinner lady); Petroleum Transfer Engineer (petrol pump attendant); Customer Experience Enhancement Consultant (shop assistant); Gastronomical Hygiene Technician (dishwasher) and Mortar Logistics Engineer (bricklayer.)
Not to be left out, Boston has recently acquired an equally prestigious title.
As we shopped in a local supermarket, a call went out over the tannoy: “All Queuebusters to the checkouts …”
Who else are ya gonna call …?
We are sorry that Boston Eye is shorter than usual this week. This is due to extended guest appearances at the Pilgrim Hospital, which have cut into our writing time. Depending on the outcome, we hope to be back next week – but if not, then certainly the week following.
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