13 days to the elections
Boston Eye begins this week with a warning to householders across the borough to be on the lookout for doorstep tricksters posing as politicians seeking their votes for a place in the Worst Street council chamber.
A major problem is that whilst most of them are perfectly genuine, some are only after your vote because they like being called “councillor”– which makes them feel more important – and pocketing the £4,400 a year basic allowance that comes with it.
Often it is possible to pick up that extra £366 a month by doing little if almost anything other than sounding important – and long- term perpetrators of this scam can be so persuasive that their gullible victims are sucked in without realising it.
Boston Eye was told: “It is very important that you don’t vote for the wrong sort of person who has no real interest in you, or your ward.
“There have been a number of examples over the years of councillors getting elected and then almost totally ignoring the people who put them in power in the first place.
“No matter how serious these people might seem to be, remember, that at heart they are politicians, and as such regard economy with the truth as a stock in trade.”
Meanwhile, a fuller version of the controlling Conservative group’s list of promises is dropping through letterboxes.
Hoarders of such stuff may initially be confused, as its main page mimics almost completely the “five promise clipboard” leaflet issued four years ago.
The latest propaganda reminds us of the pledges made then and are accompanied by a list of four completely different things that have been delivered.
Top of the list is the Assembly Rooms – “sold for £1/2 million ... saving £60,000 a year in upkeep ... saving you the £500,000 repair costs.”
Well, sort of ...
The Assembly Rooms were actually sold for £465,000 after years and years on the market – but what’s £35,000 between friends when half a million pounds sounds so much better.
And the reason why the repair costs had become so great was because of the refusal by a number of previous administrations to maintain it – a self-inflicted injury.
Next on the list is a self-congratulatory slap on the back for the “sensible financial management” that enabled the reopening of the Moulder Training Pool.
Spending on the Moulder has become a runaway train in recent years, involving hundreds of thousands of pounds and a couple of raids on the borough's reserves – which begs the question of how one defines the word “sensible.”
The list goes on ... introduction of green waste collection, a new depot, and sharing of bin lorries, and “state of the art” (whatever that means) CCTV at a cost of £230,000. Boston’s CCTV empire has now spread its electronic tentacles into South Holland and East Lindsey – prompting concerns that its worth might be diminished because Boston Borough Council has bitten off more than it can chew.
Moving on, we encounter promises to “Deliver our Long Term Local Plan to enable the Distributor Road bypassing Boston to be built, so we can Grow the Local Economy to provide private housing and jobs throughout our local community.” The capital letters are theirs, not ours.
There’s an undertaking to review car parking and reduce prices where possible; work with drainage boards, the Environment Agency and other local authorities to deliver the Boston Flood Barrier.
And finally, from a leadership mired in secrecy, comes the droll idea of “Cabinet Question Time” public meetings with the idea that voters can “ask questions and hold councillors to account on the issues that matter most.”
At present, Boston doesn’t have much by way of a long term local plan.
The South East Lincolnshire Joint Strategic Planning Committee opened for business in 2011, tasked with looking as far ahead as 2036. In fact it is already so far behind the times that its most recent Tweet urges us to “Come along to the South East Lincolnshire Joint Strategic Planning Committee, Monday 25th November 9.30am at Boston Borough Council Offices.”
It was posted in November 2013.
That’s despite an invitation to “keep up-to-date with progress via Twitter and Facebook.”
A local development scheme is now in its third revision but will probably not be worth the paper it’s printed on in 25 years’ time.
And it’s likely to be that far in the future – or perhaps even longer – before any meaningful kind of “distributor road” emerges ... and it will all depend on browbeating developers into proving it stretch by stretch.
That’s something we don’t really imagine happening.
The irony of a question time at which the council can be held accountable also reeks of pie in the sky.
The Assembly Rooms sale mentioned earlier took place against a backdrop of secrecy which saw journalists and the public kicked out of a special meeting, whilst most of the events surrounding the sale remained a closed book to the voters – who were technically the owners of the public building being dumped.
Somehow, we can't see our leadership leopards changing their spots if re– elected on 7th May.
One thing that we do know, is that the Conservatives do not tolerate what their leader once upon a time referred to as “mavericks” defined by the dictionary as “independent- minded persons” – or put more simply, people who think for themselves.
After the Tories’ 26 wannabes, Labour are fielding 19 candidates, UKIP 18, and Independents 14.
So far, we have not had sight of a Labour leaflet, but will tell you what it says when we see one.
However, looking back at what Labour had to say after the 2011 elections, we are sorry to say that the group’s delivery has been totally lacking.
As we said at the time, Labour probably had the most ambitious manifesto but given that the party was not contesting enough seats to gain control of Boston Borough Council, it would not therefore be faced with the threat of delivering on any of its promises.
High on the list four years ago was a pledge to campaign to make Strait Bargate a pedestrian area once again – but we can’t recall anything taking place after that.
Then we were told:, “Our new councillors will be urging the new Conservative administration to reinstate a dog warden, as this would have a major impact on our estates – firstly by removing stray dogs; and secondly enforcing the horrific environmental blight of dog fouling in our streets and parks.”
Nope, that didn't happen either.
And finally, the only current pledge of which we have heard has been disinterred from the 2011 tomb of promises and dusted off for this year’s campaign – the return of the Party in the Park.
“We will campaign vigorously to reinstate Party in the Park,” said Labour after the 2011 elections. “Sadly – we are likely to be too late to reinstate it this year, but we believe that 2012 would be an excellent year, as it is also the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and the Olympics year, to bring our local communities together.”
Aside from the promises about ending the Strait Bargate rat run, which would have been heartily opposed by the county council and the bus operators both, we would have thought that at least a dog warden would not have been beyond the realm of possibility.
But to resurrect the idea of a free for all booze up in the heart of the town having done little, if anything, since the promise was last made four years ago, seems little more than a blatant and none too transparent stunt to win some votes.
With so many candidates this time around, Labour might have a chance of winning more than three seats, and if they do, we trust that their promises won’t fizzle out as they did last time.
Moving on, the UKIP approach is quite interesting – and given their successes at recent elections, it is entirely possible one way or another that the Conservatives will lose overall control at Worst Street and the council will revert to its more commonplace status of having no one group in charge.
Despite their individual independence there is a broad Local Manifesto drawn up which stresses that Kipper councillors do not have to toe the party line.
Pledges at borough council level include stimulating the local economy, keeping police on the streets along with a zero tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour, supporting the work of the voluntary sector and restoring weekly bin collections.
The manifesto includes references to controlling immigration to ease the burden on local services – but of course that is well above the pay grade of a local district council.
Don Ransome, Boston's Mr UKIP told us: “All UKIP councillors are un-whipped and are free to follow their consciences and more importantly their residents’ majority wishes.
“Whilst our local election manifesto sets out our broader aims, many of our candidates have specific ideas on their local wards.
“Where we really hope to differ from previous administrations is our determination to listen to the electorate and actually find out what the majority want us to do for them by surveys and referendums and not just pay lip service to the needs of the residents of the borough.”
The offer of local referenda is something that bothers us because of the cost.
It is said that a borough referendum would cost between £50,000 and £70,000 – so we would hope that there wasn't a demand for too many!
A key slogan of UKIP’s is “If you vote UKIP – you get UKIP” and if the party wins some seats, we hope that this will be the case.
Our one-time Kippers on Boston Borough Council appeared to spend more time changing their party name than anything else – from UKIP to UKIP Lincolnshire, the Independence from Europe group, to Lincolnshire Independents.
At next month’s elections one is not standing, whilst the other is seeking election as an Independent.
One stunt that UKIP did come up with – which, no doubt, provoked an interesting reaction, was a propaganda display to greet council staff and councillors as they entered their Worst Street car park at the start of the week.
More annoyingly for the Tory rulers, it was on private land and put there with the owner’s permission!
It seems that yet again Boston might not be getting quite the best it deserves from developers.
Back in February, our respected and beloved leader told us that “serious interest” had been expressed to the council in developing of Haven Wharf on the river alongside Boston High Street, and added “I think we are in for an exciting time ahead.”
This has now come to pass.
But if you’re expecting some sympathetic development, reflecting the heritage and architecture of the water side, prepare to be disappointed.
Back in 2008, the Boston Waterways Development plan referred to the “key location on the Haven where the inner ring road crosses the river, the site comprises a group of industrial brick warehouses which are currently vacant and semi-derelict.
“Boston has lost much of its industrial waterways heritage over the years for a variety of reasons and it is seen as important that good examples of the type are preserved wherever possible.
“The vision for this site seeks to retain the warehouse buildings, with new development facilitating the conversion of the warehouses to new uses. The proposed development respects the bulk and materials of the warehouses, follows the east/west orientation of traditional riverside developments, and creates a striking urban form on the inner ring road corner.
“As shown, the site could accommodate significant commercial or educational uses. Alternatively, a scheme of conversion and new build for residential use could be appropriate.”
Dream on ...
Instead, we are looking at the wholesale demolition of the buildings on the site to be replaced by two grim-looking seven storey detached apartment blocks containing 75 apartments a cafe and a gym, and a few houses to fill in the gaps.
The application has been made by a company called Hanseatic Developments, but – scour Google as hard as we might, we can find no mention of them.
In fact, Companies House – the bible of company listings – has no record of a company of this name being registered.
It’s ironic though that Boston’s decision to ride piggyback on the Die Hanse organisation which is celebrating ancient trading links between ports and towns should coincide with plans to demolish what are clearly characterful and iconic buildings which reminds us strongly of our maritime heritage.
Which reminds us, what happened to plans to build a £3m marina at Fenside in Boston containing 161 berths and an 80-seat family restaurant which we were told could bring millions of pounds of investment to the town, according to local councillors?
The plans were approved two years ago, and work was supposed to have begun last year.
A search on the internet finds the only two official sites connected to the project dead in the water, if you’ll excuse the pun. One site is no longer available, whilst the other is “under construction” – unlike the marina, apparently.
At the time the plans were approved, our ever optimistic leader Pete Bedford declared: “it should bring millions to the town, push up property prices and get people coming to Boston – it is a very exciting prospect."
Whilst he seems to like the word “exciting,” we have yet to experience even the smallest frisson of pleasure from what’s going on – or not going on.
One of the big national and local debating points in Boston as 7th May approaches is the issue of immigration, and a constant bone of contention has been whether or not there are pay differentials between the migrant community and the indigenous population.
Generally the view from the top has been that our local people have become workshy.
Both our outgoing MP Mark Simmonds and council leader Bedford have separately made this claim.
When Simmonds was asked about the lack of jobs for local people, he responded: “I can meet some young people in Boston who say ‘Mark, when are you going to get all these migrants out of our town', and I say to them, ‘Well, when you’re prepared to go into the fields or the packhouses'.”
Councillor Bedford, meanwhile, offered this verdict on jobs: “It’s the fact that our population have got to get used to the fact of starting to apply for such jobs (in the packhouses) again.”
A recent report compiled locally highlighted serious exploitation faced by some members of the Latvian community.
Many locals have insisted that the reason they no longer seek land work is because migrant labourers receive a lower rate – one that they could not afford to live on.
Whilst many of the great and the good have challenged this, a couple of reluctant admissions indicate that there might be some truth in the claims after all.
Last week, in a report entitled “Town's firms wary of praising migrant workers” the BBC’s World Service British Affairs correspondent, obtained reluctant confirmation from Simon Beardsley, chief executive of Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce – who actually visited Boston for the interview.
"Below the radar there are businesses that do feel it is positive (but) in a small town, you can alienate yourself very quickly,” he is quoted as saying.
"Initially there was a mood of scepticism around individuals coming in and the impact that they would make on the town and the economy. Over a period of time those impressions have changed and the acceptance of migration into the town has changed.
"Without the numbers coming in, the businesses would suffer because predominantly the area is made up of lowskilled, low-wage jobs in agriculture and food processing and there isn't the indigenous population looking to take up those jobs."
The report continued: “Mr Beardsley says many employers would suffer if they couldn't recruit the labour they needed and, even if they were to entice British workers to apply, the higher wages necessary would drive up the costs.
“Despite numerous BBC requests, we found, with a fierce election contest underway, those employing east Europeans in large numbers all refused to speak about it.
“‘Most of the land work is taken up by the east Europeans now,’ one young man tells me .... he says those who want that work on the land, as he once did, see the arrivals as competition.
"’If you were ever stuck for a job there was always land work, but it has got a bit more difficult now everybody is having to work more, because they work all the hours God sends.
"’The east European gangs will work for a lot less, for a lot longer, than the English gangs."
Later in the report, viewers are told: “Asked if businesses like immigration because the arrivals had pushed down wages, Simon Beardsley answers obliquely.
“‘There is a supply and demand issue here in terms of the flood of labour into the market. Businesses do need the labour, without it they would struggle to do what they need to do, so yes it is potentially a lower cost base," he says.
Some more election snippets for you now...
We hear of frayed tempers in Worst Street – where for the first time that we can think of, the “P” word is being bandied about in anger.
The “P” in question stands for “Purdah” – the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers, especially by means of a curtain – and quaintly adopted by politicians to describe a pre-election period during which certain restrictions apply to publicity matters.
So far, one candidate has received a slightly worrying visit from the police, and we understand that a council committee meeting was cancelled as a result of complaint that to let it go ahead might confer political benefit on one of the people who would have been participating.
After this, a complaint was made that the purdah rules were being breached in the borough council’s mercifully now only thrice-weekly “news” bulletin with repeated references to the Mayor, Councillor Alison Austin, and her husband consort, Richard, both of whom are seeking re-election.
This involved the lead officer for Electoral Malpractice in Lincolnshire Police being made aware, and the Electoral Commission being advised as a matter of course ... but the police quickly washed their hands of the complaint.
However, the Department for Communities and Local Government advice was that a formal complaint could be made to the council about “perceived inappropriate publicity.”
That has received the response that promoting the mayor is not a breach of the rules.
Incidentally, this is not the first time that the borough bulletin has come under the spotlight.
Earlier this year, it was the subject of a formal complaint about bias, and the Labour group leader Paul Gleeson told Boston Eye he had “a series of issues and have been in discussion with the borough for a period of time.”
What became of that?
Labour strikes again.
UKIP nationally is having a hissy fit over the results of the latest ComRes poll of ten key Conservative-held UKIP target seats – including Boston and Skegness.
It ranks the Conservatives top of the list on 39%, followed by Labour on 29% and UKIP with 21%.
The figure is well below the massive lead quoted earlier in the year, when an Ashcroft poll published in February put UKIP just three points behind the Tories (35 per cent to 38 per cent) and some private polling by Survation in September last year that gave the party 45 per cent, with the Conservative vote at just 26 per cent.
Of the latest poll, Katharine Peacock, ComRes managing director: “While UKIP’s support nationally has fallen away from its peak last year, this poll of Conservative– held target seats suggests that estimates of UKIP winning any more than a handful of seats at the general election were overly optimistic. They are still in play in a small number of seats, but have not managed to become to the main challenger to the Conservatives in the way they had hoped.”
But a UKIP source is quoted in the Spectator as criticising a ‘terrible way of doing the poll’. The party’s main gripe appears to that be several of the seats polled by ComRes are not top targets for the party.
We raise our cap an inch or so to Boston Borough Council Conservative candidate Daniel Elkington, whom we criticised last week for the rough ride he gave fellow contenders in Boston’s Witham Ward. in his blog “Boston Tory.”
“After reading the comments in the new Boston Eye blog I get the feeling that I'm being sucked into the negative campaigning that I, personally, don't like,” he wrote.
“It's so terribly easy to get sucked into it though, especially when this time round it is so important ... “
Remember Boston song thrush and county councillor Andrea Jenkyns? She lost the seat for Boston North West two years ago then headed for Yorkshire to contest the Morley and Outwood seat currently held by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls with the slender majority of 1,101.
Whilst no one has much fancied her chances, she’s now making optimistic noises and thinks that she will beat Balls after reports that a number of the many undecided voters have been provoked by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon into backing the Tories. Hmmmm.
It was last October that we highlighted the appalling state of the Liquorpond Street roundabout – as a direct result of the “experimental” ban on traffic turning right from South End.
We have noted time and again that nothing appears to have been done to repair the mess, but a new hazard has now emerged for drivers as the heavy five-inch stone block cubes that form the surround are finding their way into the path of traffic.
The right hand turn ban began on 21st August last year, with a public “consultation” promised after six months – which would have been in February.
Does anyone know what happened?
Last week, we read about an “excellent meeting” about new signage for Boston – something that’s supposed to be happening as part of various grant aided improvement packages for the town. Sadly, the Tweet that mentioned it made us wise after the event, and we recall no pre-publicity that might have encouraged input from a wider audience.
Once again, it seems that decisions which might make the town a better place are being contained within a narrow group of the great and the good – which is really quite shameful.
As Pilgrim Hospital begins showing signs of improvement, we can suggest another area that could be reviewed as soon as possible.
More than one reader has been in touch about the ridiculous state of the car parks at the hospital in recent weeks. One reported that – driving alone to an early afternoon appointment – she was forced to cancel it after fruitlessly touring the car parks to find somewhere to stop.
Earlier this week, we heard another case, when a patient with an appointment was accompanied by a relative, but had to be dumped outside as again, there were no parking places to be had.
Unfortunately, the car park barriers do not display the useful information that the place is full which means collecting a ticket and then wasting time driving around, then using the same ticket to exit and try somewhere else.
What is crystal clear is that the car parks are jammed with visitors – sometimes to the exclusion of patients.
Some wards display signs limiting the number of visitors to a bed – but these are never enforced.
We suppose that the hospital couldn't care less so long as it is trousering a fortune in parking charges.
But don’t they whine and moan when appointments are cancelled at the last minute – even though it is sometimes their fault.
Finally, this week’s “Damned if You Do and Damned if You Don’t” Award goes to Boston Borough Council – now there’s a surprise.
After the incessant and often nauseating attention Worst Street has lavished on people who treat public areas as outdoor privies, we note that when someone shows a bit of initiative, they still end up in deep sh*t.
A clear attempt to improve things by installing a loo in one of the town’s parking areas was carted off by the Boston Big Clean-up volunteers amid the usual condemnation.
Sometimes, you just can’t win!!
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Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com