83 days to the elections
History will decide whether the Princess Royal Sports Arena is or is not a white elephant.
Large numbers of people believe that it is, whilst Boston Borough Council clings to the wreckage of yet another plan that was going to “put the town on the map” proclaiming the contrary as the costs continue to mount.
By a happy co-incidence, (or unhappy, depending on your point of view) the report of the trustees and financial statements for the year ended 31st March 2014 made a timely appearance on the Charity Commission website at the end of January – and to say that it makes interesting reading is an understatement.
Follow the link here to read the full report.
The Boston Sports Initiative – which is the charity with overall responsibility for the PRSA – has just three trustees … one of whom is also the company secretary.
Under the terms of the company's Articles of Association, there should be a minimum of six trustees and a maximum of 12.
The quorum for meetings is three – so it is perhaps just as well that meetings are held on an ad hoc basis.
Having said that, the trustees have taken legal advice regarding the required minimum number of six.
“When the number of trustees has fallen below six, the directors have continued to make decisions for the charity. All decisions have been made within the quorum requirements,” says the annual report, which adds that: “the on-going issues have meant that attracting further trustees has been considered not appropriate.”
We wonder why that should be.
The charity's aim is that the board should, if possible, include trustees with “a wide range of relevant interests and skills”, in particular:
- Involvement with the sports of athletics and rugby, or in the promotion of sport and recreation generally, in the Boston area
- Experience in the management of sports facilities
- Relevant business skills, e.g. finance, legal skills, marketing, human resources or property skills.
The three trustees named in the report are Janet Inman, David Wylde and Councillor Yvonne Gunter.
Mrs Inman appears to be the only one of the trio with seriously relevant qualifications.
As well as her roles with the PRSA, she heads the Lincolnshire Sports Partnership – whose directors coincidentally include Phil Drury, Boston Borough Council’s Interim Chief Executive – and holds senior positions in a Lincolnshire network community interest company, and Lincoln City FC sport and education trust. She also spent 14 years as Development Director for Volleyball England.
The other trustees are listed as David Wylde, who we understand is an accountant with a London address, and Councillor Yvonne Gunter – whose position is not mentioned in her Boston Borough Council website CV, and nor listed as an outside organisation to which councillors are appointed.
Her credentials on Company Director Check UK gives her background as nail technician, involvement in PR promotions, and a shopkeeper.
Whilst the current trustees apparently don’t think that any more are needed, we have to disagree.
Enthusiasm for a trusteeship has never been great – even though, if the whole project crashed in flames, individual liability is limited to just £1.
Five years ago, there were six trustees – a number from the great and the good of the local community … including people who knew something about sport … and the PRSA secretary was a separate member of the team.
Over time, this has dwindled – and three years ago we saw a dash for the exit when there were seven resignations!
If local council taxpayers are to continue to be forced to fund the PRSA, they deserve a broader based board of trustees – including members who will monitor the on-going use of public funds to support the arena.
Boston Borough Council’s so-called “rescue plan” for the PRSA has as its foundation the concept that spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a biomass boiler heating system for the PRSA and the Moulder Leisure Centre will “save” enough to allow £840,000 to be ploughed into maintenance and repairs at the PRSA.
On paper, this may seem feasible.
But a look at the latest PRSA accounts makes it seem less simple.
According to the latest report, the arena’s total income – including £188,000 in grant funding resources was £721,777 against spending totalling £843,994.
This includes an astounding “management” fee of £48,000 for the appointed operator, which was Nuffield Health until the end of May 2013 and which then became the much criticised Leisure Connection (now born again as 1Life.).
So at face value, it would seem that the borough council is supporting the PRSA in terms of on-going maintenance for the coming decades – but the unanswered question is that of where the money will be coming from to underwrite the continuing shortfall in income?
The latest Boston Sports Initiative report – under the heading “Achievement and performance” says that “The trustees have given significant attention to the going concern position of the charitable company, and are pleased that negotiations are continuing, and that resolutions to the major uncertainties surrounding both the future operator and financial arrangements appear to be in sight.
“This was supported by the decision of Boston Borough Council's cabinet in May 2013 to pursue negotiations to keep the Arena open and use the £88,000 included in the council's 2013/14 budget, until leases are signed.
“A further £175,000 of funding included in the council's 2014/15 budget has been made available to support the charitable company.”
Later, the report says: “From 1st June 2013 Leisure Connection (… which is now known as 1Life), took over the running of the Arena for an initial interim period of six months. This has now been extended on a month by month rolling basis.
“This enables further discussions to be held between the charity, the interim operator, and Boston Borough Council to investigate potential future operational arrangements.
“The trustees have sought assurances from Boston Borough Council that support for the current operational agreement with Leisure Connection, (now known as 1Life), will be extended.
“Boston Borough Council referred Boston Sports Initiative to the minutes of the Cabinet meeting held on 15th May 2013, which set out the Council's position. To assist readers, these are set out below:-
“(1) That negotiations be pursued to keep the PRSA open.
“(2) That the amount in the budget for 2013-2014 of £88,000 be used until final leases are signed.
“(3) That all the Council's and land donor's necessary legal costs incurred in drawing up the BSI lease and both sides' costs for the Covenant with the donor be met."
“In addition, Boston Borough Council confirmed that: ‘Whilst the current agency arrangement with Leisure Connection is due to expire on 30th November 2013, rolling monthly extensions will be put in place until the outstanding issues are finalised."
“In the view of the trustees, this gives sufficient confidence that Boston Borough Council will continue to support operational arrangements until the on-going lease negotiations have been concluded, and a sustainable future for the Arena is achieved.”
So exactly what constitutes a “sustainable future?”
Clearly, it has to be one where the PRSA pays its way – and perhaps even shows a profit … but we don’t see that happening overnight.
In that it would seem far from likely that the borough council’s rescue plan will do anything more than fund repairs – the trustees seem to have an underlying faith that the borough won’t let them down.
Somehow, we do not see the council taxpayers of Boston being released from the borough council’s obsession with the PRSA, and expect to hear of many more “rescues” in the years ahead.
It would also be interesting to know with whom the BSI “negotiates” at Boston Borough Council – especially as Councillor Gunter’s role as a trustee would seem to be ex-officio and unconnected with her civic duties.
One final piece of mystification in the report appears beneath the headline: “Tangible fixed assets,” and reads: “The land on which the leasehold buildings have been constructed is held as leasehold under a 125 year lease that is to be granted to Boston Sports Initiative on completion of the project by Boston Borough Council.
“This lease remains unsigned at the year-end date.
“The cost of this leasehold land, on which no depreciation has been provided, is £215,000.
“The trustees have once again considered the carrying value of the charitable company's principle asset, being the Arena including the stadium and attached facilities. These assets are currently recorded at the net book value of £6,108,785 (2013 - £6,309,348).
“During the year ended 31st March 2010 the trustees commissioned the District Valuer to establish the value of the lease.
“The District Valuer informed the charitable company that, in his opinion, with the property being subject to certain covenants and the fact that the lease is currently unsigned then the lease has a negligible value and that any surrender of the lease should take place at a nil value.
“Whilst the District Valuer's report reflects the market value of the lease it does not reflect the value in use to the charitable company of the assets.
“The trustees therefore consider that to include the assets in the financial statements at a nil value would be inappropriate as there is intrinsic value based on the delivery of the charitable company's aims and objectives.
“The charitable company has also noted that the stadium and attached facilities are currently insured at an amount of £11,250,421 (2013 - £11,029,825.)”
Aside from the PRSA, it’s not often that the chance to waste more than a million pounds comes one’s way – but once again Boston Borough Council is the exception to the rule.
On Tuesday, the borough’s Daily Drivel bragged that the council, working with Heritage Lincolnshire, had won initial support for a Townscape Heritage bid from the Heritage Lottery Fund for Boston town centre.
Development funding of £73,000 will allow the two organisations to progress plans eventually to apply for a full grant of £1,069,000.
“The project aims to make a further investment to the eastern side of the Market Place in Boston, continuing the regeneration of the area through the conservation and enhancement of its historic architecture and street layout,” waffled The Drivel.
“It will enable essential repairs to historic buildings in parts of Market Place, Dolphin Lane and Pump Square, including work that enhances those properties, such as the reinstatement of traditional shop fronts.”
This would be good news if we hadn’t heard it all before.
First there was the £2 million “refurbishment” of the Market Place.
The result was endless chaos and mess which resulted in a bodged job that has left the area looking like a cobbled wilderness with some shabby planters dotted here and there to bring some sort of order to the place and to try to prevent cars meandering willy-nilly.
Then – four years ago – we were told that a £650,000 scheme to help with the cost of restoration and repair to buildings in the conservation area had been introduced by English Heritage.
Most of the eligible buildings were either listed or “sensitive,” and Boston Borough Council claimed that the availability of grants to renovate them and restore missing features, would be “a huge benefit to the revitalisation of the area.”
Owners of eligible properties were told that they needed to move quickly because the cash would be allocated on a first come-first served basis in the form of a straight 50% of eligible costs for repairs and 90% for reinstatements.
So, what happened?
There were few takers, and the scheme all but sank without trace – until a reminder by Boston Borough Council that it had been such a success, that it had been “extended” into what was actually scheduled to be its final year.
Now, it’s a case of “Play it again, Sam,” to misquote the legendary Humphrey Bogart, and round up the usual suspects …
Council “Leader” Pete Bedford, it quoted thus: “It is encouraging to hear that what Boston has to offer is considered good enough by the Heritage Lottery Fund to attract funding. This has the potential to be a very exciting project helping maintain and restore the most attractive aspects of some of our most historic town centre properties.”
And echoing his words – as you might expect – Councillor Derek Richmond, head of all things town centre, said: “This can only be good in further enhancing the vitality and viability of Boston.”
No, it wasn’t an echo, they did say that only this week …
And a few weeks ago …
And a few months ago …
And a few years ago.
But the largesse doesn’t end there.
We learn from the powers that be in Worst Street that “Boston’s exceptional historic and heritage offer has also proved a magic ingredient in convincing the Heritage Lottery Fund to make £50,000 available for new direction and information signage.”
Worded so as to ensure that it’s impossible to hold anyone to anything by way of tangibility, the chortle goes on: “The project will maximise the use of existing fingerposts, deliver new signs in the town and establish a cohesive look and feel to the new signage, which will help to illustrate the town’s special character.
“New maps, incorporating character and retail/business zones will also be installed. “The project is aimed specifically at encouraging people to engage with the cultural and historic offer of Boston as well as its allied retail and visitor economy and to create a cohesive and intuitive signage solution which gives confidence to visitors and users in understanding and exploring the area.
“The project will not redesign but maximise the impact of the existing street furniture, which is mostly traditional in nature, ensuring it is sympathetic to and complementary of the historic town centre.”
We think that what all this means is that if you go for a stroll around the Market Place, you will not only have to keep your eyes peeled to avoid cars and planters, but also guard against the risk of bumping into a sign or three, or impaling yourself on a maximised fingerpost.
We hope that’s cohesive enough for you.
By the way, we think that the existing sympathetic and complementary traditional street furniture means those specially-designed-to-be-as-uncomfortable-as-possible curly blue benches which resemble an aerial drain grating – and which many people fail to understand how to use, instead sitting on the backrest whilst resting their feet on the seats.
Whatever changes are made to Boston Market Place, still more are on the cards for other central areas of the town in the future.
Two adverts this week are offering large retail sites for sale or lease.
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The first is the current clutch of eyesores at the top of Wide Bargate and Strait Bargate comprising the former Age Concern and Community Rooms at 32-34 and 36 Strait Bargate and the former beauty salon at number 4 Strait Bargate currently being used by UKIP – plus the NCP car park behind the site which is let until 2021.
The asking price for the site is £3,250,000.
The other site on offer is the current QD shop, which was formerly occupied by Woolworths, and which is being offered to let for the princely sum of £195,000 a year – plus VAT.
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There have been recent rumours that QD was planning to relocate to bigger premises – with the soon to be vacated Homebase premises on Grantham Road as a strong possibility when it closes on March7th.
This may come as news to the staff at QD – and unfortunately, whilst the agent seeking to lease the Strait Bargate premises lists the instructions as “confidential” because the staff are “unaware” that idea falls at the first fence when the particulars are put out on the internet.
Finally, on both listings, Boston is described as a “bustling” market town.
We assume that this is because of the buses that use the pedestrian areas as a rat run, fouling it with noise, pollution and potential harm to pedestrians – despite the political promises to end the practice … especially from the ruling Conservative group, which has, of course, done what you might expect.
We mentioned Councillor Yvonne Gunter earlier, and she bobbed up again in the letters column of the Boston Standard recently, fulminating against the paper’s commentator.
We feel some sympathy for her victim here, as he so often echoes what we write in Boston Eye, and were disappointed at Councillor Gunter’s reaction.
She attacks the writer for drawing attention – if it were needed – to litter dropped in the streets, traders lacking commercial success, lack of a bypass, impact of population change and the decline and decay of the town and describes all this as “a one-man demolition job of running it down.”
Sadly this is typical of senior councillors when called to account.
“How about helping put the pride back into Boston for a change?” she witters – with the implication that restoring pride means denying reality.
Failing that, Councillor Gunter suggests that such consistent criticism might cause readers to think that the writer has “some sort of obsessive/compulsive/depressive disorder” – a line which we feel all sufferers of such malaises found side-splittingly hilarious.
Signing herself Proud of Boston, she concludes: “I’m not saying we always get it right. I am saying we always TRY to get it right. Constructive criticism is always welcome, but there’s a big difference between constructive criticism and week in, week out moaning …”
Not for the first time, Councillor Gunter has missed an important point.
To be proud of Boston, sadly includes lamenting the way the town has been dis-served by its elected members in the past few years – not least by the current leadership of which she is a dignitary.
To the statement: “We always TRY to get it right,” we would say: “Please try to get it right FOR ONCE.”
In similar vein – and not for the first time – we are struck by how neighbouring district councils deal with the same problems that Boston faces but in a much subtler way.
Here, we have problems with litter – which we have tackled for years with the futile name and shame campaign.
The fact that it has gone on for so long is a testament to its ineffectiveness.
Not only that, but the way the campaign is mounted – through the borough’s website and from there to the local “newspapers” might well be likened to the charge by Councillor Gunter of “a demolition job of running it down.”
In South Kesteven on the other hand, the tactic is local and in its own way quite attractive – using banners on lampposts to push the message home.
Similarly, in South Holland the approach encourages public participation rather than highlighting the anti-social activities of residents, with a Pride in South Holland campaign which appears to be making big inroads into problem areas.
We know that Boston has the Big Clean-up, but it is now heading towards something like its seventh year – and at the end of the day serves only to ensure that the streets of Boston are clean for just one week out of 52.
The amount of litter collected in that week also highlights just how much is left lying around for the rest of the year.
We had to supress a smile when we looked at the planning application to build a Lidl store in Tawney Street – and later when we read reports of the meeting which gave it reluctant approval.
Those of you with long memories will recall the incessant meddling by Boston Borough Council when ASDA wanted to build its new store, which might well have led another, less patient, company to change its mind.
There was a lot of long-winded debate about saving a money puzzle tree, which droned on for months, and then another about conserving a listed building – which led to a house being abandoned on an island in the middle of the entrance which neither helps the building nor the traffic flow.
Throughout all of this ASDA maintained what we considered to be an almost soporific calm – but not so Lidl.
With Teutonic determination, it brooked no nonsense about arguments concerning the so called “look” of the so-called “Conservation area.”
The report to councillors admitted: “Discussions have taken place with the applicant regarding modifications to this scheme but the applicant does not wish to change the design and requests that the application is assessed as submitted.”
Which is just what happened.
When it came to the meeting to discuss the plans the most vocal attendee was Councillor Alison Austin, who asserted: “I feel like everyone is sitting, grinning and bearing it – but we do not have to do this.
“We should say what we would like done to our town as Boston deserves better.”
Fortunately, despite this presumptuous declaration, common-sense prevailed and the application was approved – with … this is Boston, never forget … strings attached – by a tooth-grinding vote of nine in favour, two against, and two abstentions.
Amidst all the objections, we were especially struck by one, which said: “The fact that Lidl offers a wide range of goods at low prices will encourage a large amount of people to use this store as so many families are on low incomes especially in this area of Boston.”
Dear Lord, don’t let it be a magnet for poor people – and in the heart of the conservation area as well. And, as a colleague pointed out, Iceland isn’t exactly Fortnum and Mason, is it?
Just how bothered are the Tories about hanging on to Boston in May’s general election, we wonder?
After the last election, it was considered a safe seat – although a poll some time ago predicted it falling to UKIP.
Now, a report in Conservative Home – the cleverly named “Home of Conservatism” – says that a “schoolboy error” at Tory headquarters inadvertently made public a list of 101 seats the Tories consider “non-target.”
The website says “non-target” appears to include several different categories of constituency – some are safe Tory seats, some are safe seats held by other parties, but others are, on the face of it, potential marginals.
Conservative Home comments “Individual seats aside, there’s a more general issue here, too. We’ve written before about the growing resentment among non-40/40 candidates about the way they are treated by the centre.
“Being publicly labelled due to a cock-up like this won’t do anything to improve relations.
The 40/40 strategy aimed at winning the next election is based on holding 40 marginal seats and winning 40 target seats – and does not include Boston and Skegness.
However, listing our constituency as a “non-target” seat paints an interesting picture.
We cannot believe that the Tories would be so naïve as to consider Boston a safe seat in the light of recent polls.
It is clearly not a safe seat held by another party – so all that remains is the implications that Head Office considers us to be a marginal seat.
If that were the case, we would have thought Boston and Skegness should be among the 40/40 batch – as with such a large majority in 2010, a determined push ought to drive UKIP into the North Sea.
Unless, of course, the seat is considered worth sacrificing in the minds of Tory grandees.
Christmas seems like a long time ago – but among the echoes that we recall are questions about the tree in the town centre … which was lit with a £1,000 donation from local business Magnadata.
Certainly disappointment was voiced that such a large donation resulted in such a relatively low-key display.
We also raised the question about the borough council’s on-going commitment to spend £30,000 a year on hiring lights for the festive season.
Some clarity has emerged at last with the long awaited publication by Boston Borough Council of its spending in December.
We are told that the first line of the account represents the Magnadata donation – but it has apparently been spent on hire, and falls well below the £1,000 donation … even allowing for VAT.
The other entries – totalling almost £30,000 are clearly for hire as well … but of what?
Our perambulations around the town over the festive season and conversations with people that we met raise the question: “where were the lights?”
Perhaps, Worst Street’s Head of Christmas Lights could enlighten us!
A few days ago, we read reports that foreign nurses recruited to plug staff shortages at Lincolnshire's hospitals are leaving the county because it was “too rural.”
A BBC report said that in November 2013, United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust hired nurses from Greece, Spain and Portugal to reduce spending on agency staff, but since then about a third of the 99 foreign nurses have left.
ULHT's Gary Marsh, who was involved in the recruitment process, is quoted as saying: “We have met with those nurses and fully understand why they are leaving.
"It's not about the quality of their working experience – it's about the locality of the hospitals."
Mr Marsh said most of the nurses who left worked in Boston and wanted to move closer to airports so they could visit their families more often.
But it seems, every cloud has a silver lining – for the hospital trust at least.
A report in Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph disclosed that United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust sent teams to Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal in 2013 and 2014.
Five staff went to the Hotel Divani Caravel in Athens, which boasts a spa, and a rooftop pool with views of the Acropolis.
Their visit in October 2013 cost more than £100,000, including recruitment agency fees.
They hired 39 Greek nurses– at least 10 of whom have since left.
Five staff from ULHT also went on a trip last March to the four-star Hotel Universo in Rome, and Crowne Plaza, Athens, at an estimated cost of £72,000, including agency fees. The visit recruited 29 nurses, 23 of whom were still in post eight months later.
Is it any wonder that the trust has financial problems?
We hope that they’re not reading this at the Pilgrim – because a couple of visits next week mean that that there will be no blog on Friday 20th . All things being equal we hope to be back on the 27th.
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Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com