62 days to the elections
Boston Borough Council's leadership doubtless regards freezing its share of the council tax for a further year as piece of genius – not to mention a vote winner ...
Even though the council is among the minority of Lincolnshire authorities to keep its share of the tax the same – aside from South Holland, which has actually reduced taxes for the fourth consecutive year – most have opted for a rise just below the two-per cent at which government sanctions could be introduced by way of an enforced referendum on any increase.
Lincolnshire Police wants another 1.95%.
The increases mean that a council forfeits a 1% allowance from the government for keeping prices static – but those who have increased the rate argue that the extra income is consolidated into their budget for future years, rather than being a “loss” through the government incentive scheme.
In a burst of mutual grooming at last week’s meeting of the cabinet of curiosities – worthy of a troop of macaques – councillors slapped themselves so heavily and repeatedly on the back as to run the risk of dislocation.
“To do this over the four years of this administration has been really good” said Councillor Michael Brookes in perhaps the most tepid adulation of the night.
Borough Chancellor Aaron, Councillor Spencer, said the budget would be delivered “without sacrificing front-line services” – although, as we have already observed, these are hard to identify any more.
A,CS referred to the refurbishment of facilities such as the public toilets (overlooking the fact that we have sold off the most convenient conveniences as part of the Assembly Rooms fiasco) and CCTV.
Time Lord relative Councillor Stephen Woodliffe added: “It’s been a remarkable achievement and yet we have not raised our council tax.”
Reports say that most of the £1.6 million budget for 2015/16 will go on “housing, disability grants and the broadband project.”
As the borough doesn’t build any houses, and the “broadband project” is unexplained, it's difficult so see why they are all so fired-up
Cabinet members said the public (that’s us, the hoi-polloi, the riff raff) needs to be told that Boston Borough Council had not put its council tax up – and that the increases were the fault of the police and the county council.
As one who normally demonstrates the savoir faire of a hermit crab, Councillor Derek “Knocker” Richmond correctly wailed: “As usual, we will get the blame for any increase in council tax.
“We really need to be robust in saying we have not increased it and we won’t.”
Whilst he may – for once – be right, the odds are stacked against his proposed argument.
Most council taxpayers in Boston are in Band A – the lowest level … which therefore is more likely to include those who can least afford to pay more.
Last year they stumped up a shade over £960 for the “service” they received from the county council, the borough council and Lincolnshire Police.
This year’s contribution to County Hall will rise by £13.50 and that to Lincolnshire Police by just under £2.50 – and so when Boston Borough Council’s tax demand arrives, it will be £16 more than last year.
In the overall scheme of things, that’s not a lot – but it won’t butter any parsnips with taxpayers – who this year represent a body of voters as well.
Last year’s tax demand notices waved a pathetic flag of semi-surrender above the embattled Worst Street trenches – “Only 12.77% of council tax is for Boston Borough Council.”
To this – most people will respond: “so what.”
At the end of the day, it is Boston Borough Council which collects the cash, drags non-payers into court to be criminalised, and which is seen as the Consigliere to Don Lincone at County Hall.
For what it would have cost, the council should have raised itself from its traditionally bended knee, charged a little more, and done us all a favour by improving rather than "maintaining" services.
Instead, taxpayers will be digging deeper to fund a wider area, and Boston will still be taking the blame.
A novel way to save money has been highlighted by that civic trio known as “Boston Labour Councillors” – who even this close to an election opt to remain anonymous in print ... even though not to do so might assist would-be voters to recognise them at the ballot box.
In a recent blog, they pose what they call a “big question” – which is whether to give council tax discounts to “community heroes” who give their time voluntarily to improve life in our area “doing things like picking litter, voluntary gardening projects, running voluntary groups, helping at food banks, volunteering in local communities and churches.
“We believe that those who tirelessly commit to running voluntary youth clubs or give their time to regularly help the older people should be among those who would benefit.”
Whilst it sounds good on paper, it could end up being divisive, as most people who do voluntary work do so because of a desire to give something back to society.
Tempting as it might be to reward such people, we suspect that many of them would find the idea insulting, whilst there are always others who might suddenly embrace volunteering for what’s in it for them rather than a more altruistic reason.
And where do you draw a line?
Does everyone who volunteers for this year’s Boston Big Clean-up get a couple of quid off their council tax … or only those who have volunteered for several years?
We already recognise good citizenship in a number of ways, and if a need is felt to do more, then fine – but introducing financial incentives is not a good idea.
We mentioned the infamously useless Boston Town Area Committee – B-Tacky – in last week’s blog in the context of the way in which it chooses to spend our money.
Now it seems that not content with frittering away what it receives through its special levy – it’s spreading its net for even more.
On last week’s agenda, we noted an item about improving play areas which mentioned in passing that “a bid has also been submitted to the Boston Big Local to renovate the existing basketball hoop on the Woodville Road site.”
Hold hard, as they say.
We’ve previously raised an Eyebrow over the relationship between Boston Big Local and B-Tacky – which was privileged to receive a special briefing on the £1 million pound project aimed at improving life in six of the most deprived town centre wards … fewer than the number covered by B-Tacky.
When the Big Local grant for Boston was announced, it was repeatedly emphasised that the organisation running it would be independent and must remain free from meddling by “official” organisations.
At the time, a senior officer of the South Lincolnshire Community Voluntary Service said – and has since repeated more than once – “There’s no government arm in Boston involved in any of this. It is totally community led.”
“This money will not be dictated by Boston Borough Council; it will not be dictated by the CVS. It will be totally dictated by the local community. We are absolutely there to galvanise this community into action. It is their say where this money is spent”
Until we read of the B-Tacky plan to send a begging letter to Boston Big Local, we were unaware that the group was issuing grants – and in fact we believe that this is not yet the case.
If – as will probably happen – Big Local stumps up some cash for Big Tacky this will be the thin end of what could become a very large wedge.
It also strikes us that B-Tacky is behaving quite improperly to try to access this money, and should withdraw the application and fund the project from its own resources ... which are more than ample.
Still with money – and given the largesse being heaped on the PRSA by Boston Borough Council – we think that it high time that the operators of the arena made an effort to get their act together.
A would-be swimmer of our acquaintance recently gave up the ghost after futile attempts to get information from the PRSA website.
Whilst membership information promises “unlimited access to the pool*, gym and studio*” there is no clue as to what qualifying conditions are imposed by the asterisks – but we suspect that the word “unlimited” might well mean quite the opposite to what most people expect.
Prices for membership packages vary – but each one includes a “joining fee.”
Your guess is as good as ours.
Nor is it clear whether or not it is possible to book a one-off visit to the pool if you want a test-swim.
There is a section headed “prices” at the foot of the webpage – but it is unhelpfully followed by the line ... “Coming soon.”
Perhaps we should not be surprised that the PRSA is such a stonking financial failure.
The borough’s spending on sport caught the eye of former councillor Brian Rush, amid concerns over the way such big decisions are taken – getting approval in this case first from the Environment and Performance Committee followed by a rubber stamping in full council.
“I get the impression,” he told us, “that meetings of ‘committees’ such as this are nothing more than an airing for ‘pet, officer projects.’
“It gives the powers that be a chance to tweak things here and there, before exposing them to the full glare of public scrutiny at full council, comforted by the fact that ‘members of the E&P gave its blessing, agreed the content and welcomed the initiative!’
“So... ‘in power’ members feel the system helps those less able members, of which there are quite a few in this pack, to see how the movers and shakers are ‘voting.’
“They can take note of the recommendation, and hey presto!, who the hell cares what Councillor Kenny thinks or does, we Tories have got ourselves a winner!
“I must say that I found many parts of the content irrelevant and therefore quite confusing.
“Some items and information seemed to be immersed in petty unconnected detail, all presented in council speak.
“It’s a wonder any members actually understood them .... in fact, having listened to some of the questions being asked, I am inclined to think most did not.
“So an opinion then.
“The PRSA bio-mass boilers, according to ‘members,’ are, it seems, going to save the PRSA.
“However, little was made of the fact that ‘it is necessary to always keep them stocked and running, Apparently they should never be switched off!
The fuel, I am told, is freely available, but most of it is in Canada, and some other equally distant places.
“So much for carbon footprints then.
“And the burners ... because of the extended burn time will of course need to be (expensively no doubt) replaced every now and then.
“Same old, same old.”
Is Worst Street softening the hard line attitude usually taken against humankind?
A recent item on the borough council’s website adopted its routine tone of menace by threatening unauthorised football players with fines of up to £80.
Apparently this misuse of pitches at Rosebery Avenue and Garfits Lane causes damage and makes them “un-playable” affecting teams in the Boston and District Football League who pay fees to play there.
But, following a slightly tongue-in-cheek phone call alerting the council to the worrying news that a group of "unauthorised" kids were having a kick-about on one of the pitches, when the piece was reprinted in the Boston Daily Bulletin there was an additional paragraph, which read:
“Boston Borough Council would never discourage children using the playing fields for a kickabout, in fact it would actively encourage such activities as part of its work in the borough on health and wellbeing.
“However, it has to be recognised that there is a difference between children enjoying healthy exercise and organised teams of players taking over the pitches for training purposes and spoiling the surface for other users.” (Especially ones who pay the council for the privilege - ed.)
That same edition then reverted to its Boston Daily Droppings mode, and the borough’s obsession with recycled dog food beneath the somewhat cryptic headline: “Please don’t decorate the dog poo tree”
Intrigued and mystified, we read on … to learn that in Robin Hood’s Walk, some offenders – maximum fine £50 – are disposing of their doggy droppings by putting them in an appropriate bag, but then hanging them on the boughs of trees in the road … even though a bin is provided.
Quite how many hundreds of plastic bags this involves is unclear – our photo on the right shows an extreme example from Manchester, which we doubt bears much resemblance to Boston – but the unpleasant problem is being dealt with by the borough council’s environmental crime enforcement team, who will hand deliver letters and leaflets to every property in Robin Hoods Walk reminding dog owners of their responsibilities for cleaning up after their pets.
Assuming that the residents are the culprits – which is by no means likely – this seems an excellent way of handling the problem.
And it seemed to us unnecessary to use an issue of the council’s newsletter to shout about it from the rooftops whilst managing to include the word “poo” six times in 300 words.
As we have often said, the borough website is the portal to the town for potential visitors and residents, and to trumpet a minor local problem most likely does more harm than good.
Even worse, there is now a dedicated link for internet users to find out about dog fouling – with the creation of www.boston.gov.uk/dogpoo.
What will they come up with next?
Interestingly, this page is packed with useful information – including a list of areas exempted from the borough’s order under the Dogs (fouling of land) Act 1996.
These include roads with speed limits over 40 mph and the land running alongside them; land used for agriculture or woodlands; land which is predominately marshland; and moor, heath and rural common land.
Frankly, whilst such information is useful for dog owners, we don’t think it particularly helpful to trumpet the fact – especially where woodland and common land is concerned!
We assume that being economical with the truth goes hand in glove with politics these days – but even so, Lincolnshire County Council and Lincolnshire Tories more than over-egged the pudding with this announcement.
The true story was clearly spelt out in the government press release detailing the announcement, which said that the plan was to create 300,000 extra jobs in the Midlands by backing the core strengths of the local economy like advanced manufacturing and engineering.
Aside from the fact that Lincolnshire scarcely has any of the core strengths mentioned, we note that the plan for the extra jobs is for the entire Midlands – not just the eastern conurbation that we, for some unaccountable reason, are lumped into.
But perhaps the powers that be in county hall are hoping that we voters will be so excited by the news that we won’t notice the flaws in the statement.
Whatever the reason, we somehow doubt that too many of these hundreds of thousands of jobs will trickle down into Lincolnshire – still less to us here in Boston.
A reader takes us to task over our attitude to CCTV in Boston, saying: “This facility has become a crucial instrument in monitoring the streets of Boston, particularly during night time hours.
“The Boston control room has been very well thought out and is staffed, in my opinion, by very good and competent people.
“In the face of draconian cuts to the police budget, it is well worth the investment and it is about the best investment Boston council has ever made.
“Perhaps more needs to be said about the successful and admirable results the facility consistently provides. There are many Bostonians who can testify to its worth – regrettably there is much that never gets disclosed to the public.
“I am not employed by Boston CCTV, before anybody jumps to a conclusion – but I do benefit from its watchful eye as we all do, albeit unknowingly perhaps.”
With the care and consideration towards we little people uppermost in its thoughts, we note that Boston Borough Council is exhorting one and all taxpayers to save “hundreds of pounds” on their fuel bills.
An auction for the Lincolnshire Energy Switch Scheme, which is a collaboration between Lincolnshire councils that is said to have helped more than 1,600 residents in the county switch suppliers and save £300,000 per year on their fuel bills, has been won by E.ON and Scottish Power.
According to the Consumers’ Association, the average saving when switching gas and electricity is £191 – on an average dual fuel annual bill of £1,264 … around 15%.
The borough’s spending figures for December show charges of more than £21,000 on electricity – spent with Scottish Electric – and around £10,000 on gas paid to a public sector owned professional buying organisation called ESPO.
We wonder whether the money men at Worst Street might consider joining the scheme that they are so actively promoting to local taxpayers – we calculate saving for that month alone would have been more than £4,500.
So much of everyday life these days seem to be part of a political charade.
Earlier this week there was much jubilation at the news that a “deep dive” Home Office task force will review Lincolnshire Police's funding after a visit by the Policing and Crime Minister Mike Penning to Lincoln and Boston.
His visit followed a letter from the county’s Chief Constable Neil Rhodes to Home Secretary Theresa “Daisy” May at the end of last year that said under current funding arrangements the force would be “unsustainable” by 2018 and become the “first in the country to fall”.
Mr Rhodes said the current budget proposals meant a further 236 front line officers would have to go.
But between then and now Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick announced that he intended to maintain police officer numbers and those of the irreplaceable police community support officers at their current levels for a further year.
Simply by increasing the police share of the council tax by a maximum of seven pence a week for most of us.
So, between December and March, we were scared into believing that our police force was falling apart – only for the problem to be solved with barely any fuss, but with the aim of getting a boost from the exchequer achieved .
What a pantomime!
Some bad news this week for our local “newspapers” – at least the only one of the two brave enough to admit it.
Figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation show that sales of the Boston Target between July and December last year fell by 26.2% to 8,681.
The rival Boston Standard refused to take part in the audit some years ago, and the last available figures were for the July-December period in 2012, when sales stood at 7,684. Comparable sales for the Target in that period were 14,121.
This ratio has been fairly constant over time, and even though the Standard now keeps stumm about its readership, a rough calculation suggests that its current circulation would be around 4,000 copies a week.
They say that the sign of a thriving town is a thriving newspaper – from that, you can draw your own conclusions.
Another week nearer the elections … and we welcome another political party – well, sort of.
Lyn Luxton, who after failing to win the Conservative nomination to represent Boston and Skegness at Westminster, set up shop as parliamentary candidate for the Lincolnshire Independents, has reportedly stood down to form her own party – the Pilgrim Party – citing the move as “a decision of conscience.”
It's reportedly because of “numerous” internet pages showing comments from a new member of Lincolnshire Independents … “comments about our diverse community, which we find both unacceptable and offensive.”
The choice of name for her party is an interesting one.
Given the low level of interest in politics in our neck of the woods, the inclusion of the word “Pilgrim” on a ballot paper could see her getting a good share of the vote – from people who think that they are either supporting Boston United, opposing the closure of our local hospital, or keen on ordering frozen food.
Still with general election news …
A few blogs ago, when we light-heartedly implied that the Boston Standard might perhaps be of a Conservative persuasion, we were roundly admonished.
Perhaps to emphasis its neutrality, this week’s “newspaper” has a strange omission.
The photo that dominates the front page has three people clearly pictured.
They are Police and Crime Minister and Tory MP Mike Penning, Boston’s prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate Matt Warman, and Council “Leader” Pete Bedford.
Despite this, the accompanying story makes no mention of Mr Warman whatever.
Quite how the Standard would explain this would be interesting to hear.
A last hoorah from outgoing MP Mark Simmons has attracted nationwide coverage with the news that his expenses in the last financial year include some eyebrow raising items.
The Daily Mirror’s Nick Sommerlad says that Mr Simmonds “who once moaned he could not live on his £67,000-a-year Parliamentary salary claimed £170,000 in the last financial year.”
The reporter writes: “Listeners who hear their local MP ‘kindly sponsors’ a hospital radio station might assume he has generously dipped into his own pocket.
“But the Mirror has found that Mark Simmonds has been claiming back the cost of the weekly publicity – £100 a year – from the taxpayer.
“The former Foreign Office minister has also claimed more than £10,000 for the cost of a string of advertising hoardings at local sports clubs, including Boston United FC.
“Privately-educated millionaire Mr Simmonds claimed £170,841.21 in expenses in the 2013/14 financial year, and employs his wife Lizbeth as an office manager.
“Local UKIP candidate for Mr Simmonds’ Boston and Skegness constituency, Councillor Robin Hunter-Clarke, said … “to pretend that he is sponsoring a hospital radio show, boasting of his generosity while in fact charging the taxpayer, is pretty low grade stuff”.
“Paul Kenny, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Boston and Skegness said: ‘There appear to be serious questions to answer for Mark Simmonds. Any abuse of public resources for party campaigning purposes would be a breach of rightly tight rules.
"’I hope he will explain himself immediately.’”
The Mirror report says that Mr Simmonds claimed £10,000 on “sports advertising” including £1,000 a year for hoardings at the home ground of Boston United.
A similar hoarding at Skegness FC cost £300 a year and a poster at a local rugby club was another £150 a year.
“Together with the initial cost of buying the hoardings, Mr Simmonds has claimed more than £10,000 for this advertising.”
Mr Simmonds has reportedly labelled the story “utterly ridiculous” – saying that this advertising is a “crucial” part of his role in the community.
“Making sure my constituents know how to contact me is a key part of my role as an MP and has proved invaluable for some constituents.
“All of my constituents will know how important Pilgrim Hospital is in the local community.
“I will not apologise for ensuring vulnerable people in hospital can contact their member of parliament.”
Finally, a much heralded demonstration by the activist group 38 degrees involving members in Boston and Skegness collecting signatures locally for the group’s “Save our NHS petition” turned out to be a damp squib.
Although around 40 people were expected, just seven turned up.
They included independent Councillor Carol Taylor – who has just retired after a lifetime in nursing, and retired consultant Dr Cyril Nyman.
A couple of prospective borough council candidates were also there, but, we understand, none of the main prospective parliamentary candidates or representatives from Worst Street or county hall.
But won’t they all squeal with indignation if a decision is taken to cut back on services at the Pilgrim Hospital?
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