90 days to the elections
Boston Borough Council has continued to try to suspend our disbelief by maintaining that the PRSA biomass boiler “survival” plan – which will cost taxpayers many more hundreds of thousands on top of the millions already spent – is a “no brainer” and that the arena is not the white elephant that critics claim it to be.
The “no brainer” declaration was especially entertaining.
It came from another of the council’s political kinsmen of the Time Lord, Doctor Who – Councillor David Witts – who apparently based his assertion on the fact that he “has run a biomass boiler himself for eight years.”
Well, that’s good enough, then.
How fortunate that people no longer raise a pig or two in the back garden as was once the case – or we might be looking at a methane-based system
There does, however, seem to be some confusion about the definition of a white elephant.
The one we quoted last week summed it up very succinctly:-
“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.”
We have highlighted the final paragraph to emphasise that it is entirely possible for something to be popular and useful – but to be a white elephant, nonetheless.
In local “newspaper” reports, Councillor Bedford is quoted as blaming “previous administrations” for the debacle (there’s a new one) – and forecasting that the PRSA “once it’s on proper footing, will fly.”
*If the words in our headline seem familiar, but you can’t quite place them, they feature in a song – from the appropriately named Walt Disney film … Dumbo.
We worry that Boston Borough Council is again being seduced into major expenditure by the lure of subsidies – such as the present case involving biomass installations, and a few years ago at that other money pit, the Moulder Leisure Centre.
The borough says that £560,000 spent on biomass boilers and other green energy measures at the PRSA and the Moulder will save enough to pay for £840,000 worth of repairs and improvements at the PRSA.
But a race is apparently on to get a move on before subsidy levels are reduced, and we just hope that this urgency will not override the need for scrutiny and caution where taxpayers’ money is concerned.
“Total income generation from biomass boilers and solar panels at both sites over 20 years are estimated to be £2.4 million,” breezed the Boston Daily Windbag.
Spending on the Moulder complex is well above the amount originally published, and when the borough blew £140,000 on solar panels three years ago it was said that that the roofs on which they would be mounted were in good condition and would have a life of at least 15 to 20 years.
Now it seems that income is being anticipated right until the very moment when the roofs might need replacement – and what state the PRSA might be in twenty years hence is anyone’s guess.
Still it’s not the councillors’ money, so why should they care?
And talking of which, we noticed tucked away in the small print of Windbag report “It was agreed to recommend that up to £75,000 is made available to deliver new management arrangements for the PRSA.”
Would anyone care to explain in more detail?
The PRSA is currently overseen by the charity Boston Sports Initiative, and managed by a company called 1Life.
Quite whom Boston Borough Council plans to pay £75,000 to for “new management arrangements” isn’t (as is so often the case with our local spending) made clear – but why should taxpayers be shouldering the additional burden?
As might be expected, Worst Street’s gung-ho coverage of the latest PRSA calamity tended to toe the leadership line.
After our coverage, and criticism of the lack of opposition being shown, we were e-mailed by the leader of the council’s Labour Group, Paul Gleeson, who said:
“In our manifesto for the 2011 borough elections we gave a commitment not to spend any more money on the PRSA and we have not voted for any of the funding proposals during this council.
“At Wednesday’s scrutiny meeting discussing the proposed expenditure all three Labour councillors attended and spoke against the spending of more money on the PRSA.
“I tweeted “…Boston Borough has history of bad decision making over PRSA yet ruling group determined to bounce council into a decision pre-election…” ".
This – and a reported comment by Labour councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Paul Kenny … which said he was “impressed by Peter Paine and GMLC but was not convinced about the PRSA.
“He said he had not spoken to one person who had said the council should support it. ‘I am not joining you on this journey,’” were all that rated a mention.
Fewer than 75 words from an 875 word report.
Worse was to come.
A few days after the first Windbag report, a clarification appeared, which read
Whilst the tautology of the wording makes it hard to follow, it is unclear whether the clarification has been made at Councillor Kenny’s request, or is an attempt by Worst Street to make his opposition seem less robust than intended.
The in-house coverage has also become a cause of political concern – and Councillor Gleeson has made a formal complaint about the “biased nature” of the PRSA article in the 26th January Boston Bulletin headed “White elephant? Thousands beg to differ.”
He told Boston Eye: “I have a series of issues with the Boston Bulletin and have been in discussion with the borough for a period of time.
“Council publications are covered by the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity which was issued by the Conservative Government on 31st March 2011.
“Paragraph 28 of the code states:
“...Local authorities should not publish or incur expenditure in commissioning in hard copy or on any website, newsletters, newssheets or similar communications which seek to emulate commercial newspapers in style or content. Where local authorities do commission or publish newsletters, newssheets or similar communications, they should not issue them more frequently than quarterly, apart from parish councils which should not issue them more frequently than monthly. Such communications should not include material other than information for the public about the business, services and amenities of the council or other local service providers..."
“(Bold type is mine and not the code’s)
“It is my contention that Paragraph 28 covers two eventualities. The first stops local authorities from issuing newsletters, newssheets or similar communications in the style of a commercial newspaper.
“‘Should not publish or incur expenditure" – the fact that there is no expenditure does not take the publication out of the code
“’Hard copy or on any website" – the fact that it is not produced in hard copy does not take it out of the code.
“’Seek to emulate commercial newspapers in style or content" – the Boston Bulletin is questionably in the style of a commercial newspaper
“The next eventuality is when a local authority issues newsletters, newssheets or similar communications which by inference are not in the style of a commercial newspaper (that already being prohibited by the first part of the code) and would apply to the Boston Bulletin if it was held not to fall foul of the first restriction.
“As Boston Borough is not a parish council, such publications are not to be more frequent than quarterly.
“The other issue is section 4 of the code states
“Publicity by local authorities should:-
• be lawful
• be cost effective
• be objective
• be even-handed
• be appropriate
• have regard to equality and diversity
• be issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity
“I have raised concerns about partiality in the publication.”
We were taken to task after last week’s rant about an effective opposition standing up to and perhaps loosening the stranglehold of the ruling Tory group on the decision making process.
A reader calculates – correctly, unlike us – that the council composition of 16 Conservatives … who will jump however high the leadership tells them to … versus three Labour, four Independent, four Independent 2’s, two Lincolnshire Independents (ex-Kippers) two “unaligned” and one English Democrat (remember him?) gives 16 Conservative and 16 “opposition” councillors.
As the mayor does not vote in full council unless there is a tied vote, any outcome would be 16-15 to the Conservatives.
We stand corrected – corrected but regretful!
The current debate on funding the PRSA reminds us of the wilful neglect demonstrated by successive councils over the years which led to the appalling decline in the condition of the Assembly Rooms – which we were told forced its closure because it was too costly to remedy the damage.
Perhaps someone could tell us why – in light of the amount being poured down the PRSA/Moulder drains – it was impossible to have come up with a far smaller sum to retain an important piece of our community heritage?
Unless, as we have said before, the PRSA was little more than a vanity project – which Leader Bedford now tells us involved too much being done by a “gentlemen’s agreement” – which ensuing leadership have felt compelled to underwrite.
In the way that history repeats itself, it may well be that Boston Crematorium will be next to feel the pinch.
Although it needs a decent overhaul to make it more presentable and to be more competitive, the crem will instead have to settle for a “programme of improvements” including road resurfacing, carpet renewal, redecoration of “other areas,” LED replacement lighting, removal of the illuminated cross and replacement with “a multimedia screen which will be able to display a cross for Christian services.”
It seems that “half of all services now had no religious content and requests were made to cover the cross.”
Last time we looked, this was still a Christian country – but in the light of such politically correct kowtowing – we wonder how long before councillors vote to remove all those annoying crosses which currently litter the cemetery.
However, the thirst for progress continues with the news that “Mourners on the other side of the world could ‘attend’ funerals at Boston Crematorium without ever leaving their homes” – assuming that anyone is likely to do that.
The idea was promoted by the borough after the council’s environment and performance committee was told by Independent Councillor Carol Taylor that she had attended a funeral service where similar equipment was used – and although she did not know the deceased well, the screen and use of family images made her feel that she really had known the person.
From the borough’s website to the BBC’s local news website is but a short hop electronically, but by the time it reached the bigger audience, the portfolio holder and Dignitary-in-Charge of cemeteries, Councillor Yvonne Gunter, was reportedly the person who had attended the funeral, with a polished quote ready for consumption.
Who knows, if this sort of thing catches on, we could see the most interesting service of the week aired as “Despatch of the Day” with suitable, non-denominational commentary, of course.
As if prompted by the recent re-publicising of its policy on rubbish removal, Boston Borough Council has resorted to its usual iron fist in the iron glove approach by warning ratepayers that “Household rubbish in a litter bin could end up costing you £2,500.”
That apparently is the maximum fine if you choose to “displace” general pedestrian litter with household rubbish.
Whilst we have seen evidence of this grievous abuse, we find it hard to imagine that the problem is so serious as to invoke Worst Street’s favoured bully-boy instincts, and feel sure that the problem might be better addressed without threats of punishment.
But we shan’t hold our breath.
As we feared, the first meeting of the new group aiming to boost business in Boston lived down to expectations with a poor turnout, despite being moderately well publicised in advance.
And sadly, the result echoed that which we have seen so many times before with similar organisations.
It seems almost inevitable that those who did take the trouble to attend will soon tire of the whole thing.
For the umpteenth time, suggestions included having more visitor events to attract people into the town and making better use of our history and tourism opportunities.
This is eminently doable, and none too difficult, but no one ever seems to bother.
Certainly, it would require willingness from Boston Borough Council which seems all but absent – except for riding on the coat-tails of other places which have embraced their local opportunities.
Our comments are well illustrated with the arrival of the 72-page Visit Lincolnshire brochure for 2015.
As always, Lincoln predominates – and this year the Magna Carta and Castle revamp give an extra excuse.
Boston rates a brief mention in the Market Towns section, a line or two if you’re a cycling enthusiast, a small splash about the River Witham, a mere two events for the entire year – including the misspelled Boston “Mayfair” – which indicates the dead hand of Worst Street, since the borough persistently misnames one of its major attractions.
Presumably, someone, somewhere in the corridors of power at Worst Street will consider all this a job done – and we will see no more by way of so-called “promotion” for another year.
We sincerely hope that any contributions to the paean of praise for Lincoln is pro-rata, so at least it won't have cost Boston taxpayers too much.
Meanwhile, the borough’s disheartening and gloomy coverage of Boston continued this week on the Daily Bulletin-the-back, which does so much to diminish the town when read by potential visitors or would-be residents.
Following the page of threats to those who put rubbish in, er, a … litter bin … there is yet another episode of the “name and shame” feature – you know the one, it never names or shames anyone at all.
Beneath the headline “Name these men – threw rubbish into river from town bridge, left pile of dog poo in middle of pavement,” we have the usual mug shots of desperadoes guilty of such heinous crimes as leaving a can on a bench, a cigarette on the ground, and – perhaps more seriously, throwing litter into the river.
We agree that people like this should be hounded to the ends of the earth, and once captured, consider that flogging is far too good for them.
But we also feel that a line needs to be drawn between a reasonable reaction to what is really very minor anti-social behaviour, and the endless depiction of Boston as a cross between Dodge City and Gomorrah by the very authority that is supposed to represent its best interests.
Let us not forget that the so-called "Bulletin" is Boston's only front-of-the-house contact with the public at large.
Apparently, we really did strike a nerve in last week’s blog when we light-heartedly suggested that the Monday “White elephant? Thousands beg to differ” borough bulletin was a knee-jerk reaction to our criticisms of the previous Friday.
But a Twit – sorry, that should be Tweet – from the Boston Standard deputy editor Andrew "Babbling" Brookes couldn't contemplate such a suggestion.
“Were the council stung on the PRSA comments he made or by the quote on the front page of our paper?" he wrote. "You decide ...”
To us, it’s what is popularly called a no-brainer.
The timescale makes it clear to anyone who can’t see the obvious.
Standard headline on Wednesday = No reaction from Boston Borough Council.
Standard headline still there on Thursday = No reaction from Boston Borough Council.
Standard headline still there on Friday = No reaction from Boston Borough Council.
Boston Eye headline on Friday = Boston Borough Council reaction on Monday.
We’re not claiming that we did nettle Worst Street – but the sub-Standard clearly didn’t.
Will-he-or-won’t-he stand Independent Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Boston and Skegness Paul Wooding is asking potential voters to put their money where his mouth is.
He has launched a page on the gofundme website headed Overcoming the Westminster Elite which sets out the background to his candidature and his arguments for our vote – and, of course, asking for our contributions in the hope of raising £750.
gofundme describes itself as “The World's #1 Personal Fundraising Website” and hit the headlines this week by amassing promised donations of more than £300,000 in support of 67 year-old Alan Barnes who has sight and growth problems and who was attacked and knocked to the ground outside his home by a thug who tried to rob him.
He suffered a broken collar bone and has been left extremely distressed and too frightened to return to his home.
We hadn’t realised, incidentally, that gofundme deducts a 5% fee from each donation received – plus a “small” processing fee of about 3% – which is a nice little earner of £21,000 in the case of Alan Barnes.
So far, we have to report that things are not going quite so well for Mr Wooding.
Of his appeal for £750 the amount raised earlier this week was Nil.
Finally, after the “clarification” of Councillor Kenny’s comments on the PRSA, we were reminded of a couple of other famous corrections, which we thought might make you smile.
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