As the leader of Lincolnshire County Council Martin Hill was outlining plans for a brave new world which would see the county operating as a single authority, Boston was getting used to the idea that the clock was being wound back.
As he was telling the council’s annual meeting: “The signal to Whitehall could hardly be clearer – councils are ready for change,” Boston Borough Council was announcing a Heath Robinson amalgamation of the previous leaderships in what has aptly been called a “soft” coalition.
The sheer desperation of such a move – clearly intended solely as a way for the Conservative group to cling on to power and share as little as possible with the UKIP members ... who hold as many seats as the Tories – beggars belief.
Four years ago, when the Tories gained power from the Boston Bypass Independents, the BBI was said to have subjected Boston to "four years of nonsense" prompting "time for a change" and a "more democratic and transparent council."
In the four years between 2011 and 2015, the Conservatives have blamed almost every single problem faced by Boston Borough Council on the BBI – and their dislike for each other has blazed like a desert sun.
Now though, the willingness of two so-called “independents” to weigh in and give council leader Peter Bedford the majority he needs means that the Tories have apparently put their animosity behind them – although we somehow doubt it.
Quite what the rank and file made of the council’s own coverage of the coalition and the prominence given to the Austins after they had spent so many years being scapegoated for the state in which they allegedly left the authority is anyone’s guess.
But clearly, this was not a plan that gained instant approval, as it took far longer than the returned-unopposed leader had predicted – and he has never been wrong before!
As this is politics, we are sure that the ex-BBI sheep in wolf’s clothing are not acting from the goodness of their hearts by helping Bedford force his dreary and unimaginative policies on voters, many of whom don’t want them.
Wait and see, and we are sure that some handsome benefits will be doled out to this saintly duo who have given the word independent an entirely new meaning.
The real irony for voters is that historically, they elected the BBI on the strength of promises they couldn’t deliver, then threw them out as a punishment and elected the Tories ... who have now been rejected for precisely the same reasons.
Bedford’s new look cabinet – well, more secondhand than new – is his best effort at making a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
Moving seamlessly from the previous line-up to the present one are Councillor Michael Brookes, Aaron Councillor Spencer and Councillor “Who” ... Stephen Woodliffe.
Paul Skinner – a one-time county councillor, and husband of Judith, who was re-elected to Worst Street earlier this month – takes over the poisoned chalice of town centre development and management, car parks, markets and public toilets ... a portfolio memorably held by Councillor Derek “Knocker” Richmond.
The remaining cabinet posts are filled by Councillors Claire Rylott and Ben Evans, who take on leisure services, and housing respectively.
Leader Bedford unsurprisingly called his crew “a good mix of people for the council’s cabinet – some with council experience and all of them very level headed. These are people the residents of the town and borough and the staff of the council can have confidence in.
“They will help drive forward good governance and performance from the firm basis provided by the past four years. We are all committed to the regeneration of Boston, for which much of the groundwork has now been done.
“National chains are showing confidence in Boston with expansion and new development and we will continue to seek value for money with shared services such as the current arrangements for refuse collection that we have with East Lindsey District Council and CCTV with South Holland and North Kesteven District Councils.”
Aside from the fact that his description of his colleagues was what we expected (“you can’t have maverick voices”) we are less confident about his remaining claims.
Quite what has been done to regenerate the place aside from the Market Place which was “refurbished” and then abandoned by the council years ago is hard to recall.
The national chains interested in Boston tend to be of the pound shop variety and promises of still more shared services may well be subsumed along with Boston Borough Council into a single Lincolnshire authority.
Though he has little to be optimistic about these days, Leader Bedford is reported to be unfazed by talk of a unitary authority
“There are no plans to abolish district councils following the meeting of Lincolnshire County Council on Friday,” said the man who is not a member and as far as we know was not at the meeting.
"There are no plans to abolish district councils. We continue to focus on making a difference for our residents and communities.
“We have a strong track record of delivery and clear plans for the future, with robust financial strategies and a great team. We can be proud of what we have achieved, and we can move forward with confidence."
He reportedly said that Boston Borough Council would “continue to work in the best interests of its communities',” and “engage with partners on a wide range of issues.”
We don't know what he’s smoking, but we hope that it runs out soon, so that he can re-join the real world.
To us, a key issue to be addressed in Boston remains the Market Place.
Promises of regular events and entertainment have failed to materialise.
Promises to review the use of the pedestrianised area by noisy and polluting buses have not been kept.
Promises to address the relationship between pedestrians and drivers have been forgotten
We hope that Councillor Skinner will be allowed to bring a breath of fresh air to his portfolio, as it would be disastrous if the prescription of the mixture as before was allowed to continue.
One of the few planks in the leadership’s creaking manifesto board-walk has become a little squeakier with the latest news concerning the Boston Barrier.
The good news in the latest update on the project is that the barrier remains on track to be completed by the end of 2019.
Something called a “design freeze” has taken place – which means that the main parts of the scheme have been finalised so that design work can be completed.
What happens now?
An “Environmental Statement” to confirm the impact of the project is being drawn up to accompany the Transport and Works Act Order Application to the Secretary of State.
As this is jobsworth driven, this will not happen until early 2016.
Apart from the sluggish timetable, progress on the barrier is excellent news.
But the sting in the tail is that Boston again looks like being a loser in the game of making the town a more attractive place for the people who live here as well as those who visit.
Part of the plan involved a financial injection of £11 million by Lincolnshire County Council.
This would have gone towards a project to hold back the water behind the barrier which would mean better conditions for boats to travel through Boston and to stop on their way through.
It was said at the time that this would enable Boston to become part of Fens Waterways Link, which would have seen boats travelling between the cathedral cities of Lincoln, Peterborough and Ely able to pay us a visit as well.
But now, the county council is to adopt a “phased approach” to managing the water levels – which in essence means doing nothing other than saving £11 million in the short term, which despite promises in these fraught economic times to reinvest the £11 million into “the schemes that emerge from it” are unlikely ever to be reallocated to the project.
Recently, we asked whatever became of the plans for a £3 million marina project off Fenside Road for a 161-berth basin with facilities including a restaurant, shops and workshops.
The plans were hailed as an opportunity to harness the potential of one of the great assets in the area, and a step towards regenerating the town as a whole.
They formed a cornerstone of the Fens Waterways Link, which probably explains why they appear to have sunk without trace.
At the time the marina plan was approved, council leader Bedford said: “This is an exciting development for Boston, and justifies the county council putting £11 million funding up for the Boston Barrier and the waterways.”
We wonder what he might say today – given that the leadership position seems to be to look the other way whenever there is bad news to report.
No river link. No marina. No bypass – nor any chance of getting anything other than a Lego-style “distributor road” which might take decades to achieve … if ever it comes to pass – no pun intended.
It seems that yet again, the council that is “committed to the regeneration of Boston” has kowtowed to county hall at the expense of Boston’s future.
As the wheeling and dealing by the Tories to retain control of Boston went on, there was even a suggestion that the two-strong Labour group might have been planning some input in a coalition.
But any such ideas were dismissed by their group leader Councillor Paul Gleeson, who told Boston Eye: “Because of both our ideological differences and a genuine belief they would not work for all the communities in our town, we would oppose any attempt by UKIP to control the council or committees of the council. I think they realise that and we have not been approached by them. In fact I am not aware of any attempt by them to try and form an administration.
“In respect of the Tories (coalition) the situation is as last council.
“The Labour group as opposition councillors are prepared to play an active role in the scrutiny process.
“Otherwise and without predetermining anything, I cannot envisage a situation where we would support the administration in setting the budget. Other policy proposals will be considered on their merits.”
The love affair between Boston Borough Council and the Clan Austin continued this week with Wednesday’s Boston Daily Drone dedicating its entire issue to Councillor Richard Austin – who was elected as mayor at yesterday’s full council meeting.
Apparently, Councillor Austin is an authority on nematodes – a form of worm that likes potatoes even more than fish and chip addicts – and which make him the sort of man with whom we would not like to be stuck in a lift with in the event of a breakdown.
Whilst Lincolnshire has always been a hard-to-reach destination, we were surprised to read in the Boston Bulletin that a young Richard Austin was parachuted into the fens to help potato growers battling the dreaded worm.
There follows an almost day-by-day account of his life since then, reminding us that he has had “good preparation” for the job of Boston’s 481st Mayor.
His wife, Alison has just completed a mayoral year with Mr Austin as mayor’s consort, and Alison now moves from being mayor to mayoress – only the second time this has happened.
For those readers fearful that the Austin mayoral dynasty might fizzle out in twelve months’ time, we are pleased to be able to tell you that according to the bulletin, they share their Wyberton home with Archie, the ginger cat.
Given the Austins’ interestingly influential position within the Worst Street structure, we are sure that a minor amendment or two to the council’s constitution could see the creation of Boston's first cat as mayor – Comarchus Archie Austin Cattus – as the idea is not without precedent.
Mickelin the Cat was the leader of the Swedish Ezenhemmer Plastic Bags and Child Rearing Utensils Party; in 1997, a cat named Stubbs was elected mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska; Hank the Cat, a Maine Coon, ran for Virginia's Senate seat in 2012 and earned third place with nearly 7,000 votes, whilst Tuxedo Stan, from Halifax, Nova Scotia was a mayoral candidate in 2012.
The alliance between the Tories and their one-time Bypass Independent foes, prompted an interesting e-mail from local UKIP organiser Don Ransome – who was struck that the names of the proponents are both those of now-obsolete cars and vans.
And he came up with his own description of the “the Austin-Bedford charabanc transport service” – calling it “A retro style vehicle normally stuck in reverse, running on part-worn policies, ready to take the taxpayers of Boston for a ride along the virtual bypass route!”
By an eerie coincidence, his thoughts mirrored our own from nine years ago, when we wrote about the creation of the Austin-Jordan OBE (old banger executive) at the time when Richard Austin led the council and his deputy was Councillor Peter Jordan.
Our description of it ran thus: “It has two cylinders, a dickey seat (other parts aren't too good either!) and the car comes with rose tinted glass and a back seat driver as standard.
“It has no brakes so that it can continue to ride roughshod over anyone who stands in its way, and no reverse gear. There is no steering thus ensuring that U turns, however necessary, are impossible - and an automatic gearbox with two speeds – dead slow and stop.
“Extras include hot air conditioning and a dimmer switch.
"In a nod to the environment the car has been produced (on the back of a fag packet) in a green version.
“Initially, there were plans to run the engine using steam, but the BBI ran out of this very early on in the design stage.
“It will now run on methane - powered by its own bull***t.”
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Both of these are ideas for their time, although we think that the former children’s’ TV favourite from the 1950s – Colonel Crock, pictured above – is a more appropriate image.
Meanwhile, local Tories have come up with another interesting way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
After seeing large numbers of their local election candidates confined to the political graveyard, it looks as though they are planning to cash in on their election rout.
Certainly their timing is impeccable – as being so recently bereaved at the ballot box, they are well placed to deliver just the right level of sympathy required for a wake!
Interestingly, deep in the vaults of the county archive lies proof that history repeats itself – in the form of the medieval Boston Book of Days, which includes illustrations reflecting the Tory resumption of power ...
... and the difficulties that follow such a hollow victory.
Interestingly for political historians, we suspect that the Tories of yore look more content because of the absence of a party called YEKIP!
A less than amusing sidebar to the recent elections was provided by a reader who fears that the system placed him at risk of being burgled due to lack of confidentiality.
He told Boston Eye: “Knowing that we were going to be away, my wife and I applied for postal votes for the first time in over 40 years.
“We thought our application would be confidential... but not so!
“The Borough Council and Electoral Commission confirmed that anyone can check to see who has been granted a postal vote – classed as an ‘Absent Voter.’
“A printed list is available for inspection by Burglar Bill and all political parties and candidates can have a paper or electronic copy for use during the election campaign.
“I was alerted to this by an additional election address from a candidate who informed me: 'You will shortly be receiving your postal vote'.
“There is no warning that the fact that I will be an absent voter is made public!
“I wrote to the Electoral Commission and made it clear that I would not apply for a postal vote in future! If away, I will simply not bother to vote.
“I have spoken to other people who were also unaware of this vulnerability in the system.”
No sooner had we mentioned our ex-MP's return to the world of work, than another job appeared on his post-Westminster CV. Former Africa minister Mark Simmonds has become a strategic adviser to the International Hospitals Group (IHG), a firm based in Buckinghamshire, which is involved in constructing hospitals in developing countries.
Government documents show that Simmonds was a minister when he met representatives of the firm in December 2012 and July 2013 to discuss projects in Ghana. IHG has been involved in developing hospitals in Angola, Libya, Mozambique and Botswana.
Simmonds’ job with IHG is his seventh private role to be approved by the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), which must be consulted before senior ministers and civil servants can take up new jobs.
Boston Eye listed the other six last week.
Sadly, now that he is no longer a public servant (chortle) his income from all these jobs is a matter between himself and HMRC.
However, these sinecures typically start at the lower end in the £30,000 region and increase according to the level of “responsibility” required.
So Mr Simmonds should already be comfortably ahead of the £89,000 parliamentary salary which he dismissed as insufficient to maintain a normal family life.
At long last – after more than two years – the Boston Big Local Plan for 2015 -2017 has been approved.
The really good news is for Boston Borough Council – as we have been predicting ever since the Big Local was announced and the great and the good were at pains to stress that the £1 million available was not to be allowed to pay for services provided by local councils and the like.
Now, we hear that among the “activities” approved we can expect:
Free lunchtime family activity sessions at the Geoff Moulder Training Pool – effectively a subsidy that will benefit the council.
Provision of better quality planters in Boston town centre – effectively a subsidy to the Boston in Bloom group in which the borough council is heavily involved.
Installation of new play equipment in Central Park. Responsibility for the park and its play areas is that of Boston Borough Council. Not only that but Worst Street has already announced that play equipment in Central Park is to be updated and refurbished as part of a £40,000 project of investment by WREN (Waste Recycling Environmental Limited), BTAC (Boston Town Area Committee) and the council.
Running a small grants program (sic) with funding up to £1,000 for community groups. Boston Borough Council’s Town Area Committee – B-Tacky – already does this, so there is a potential for savings to the authority.
Expanding the Fit 4 your Future programme to include the private sector giving accessible financial advice to residents. The organisation is a coalition of Boston Mayflower, Boston Citizen's Advice Bureau and TaylorITEX CIC.
In summary, Boston Big Local says that its “vision” for central Boston “is for a happy vibrant area where people feel a sense of belonging.
“We aim to enhance the local area for the benefit of residents and businesses. Our objectives are to build closer communications between all people, make the area more attractive, encourage new businesses and help make the facilities better, improve the environment for all and help ensure cleaner and safer streets.”
Very laudable – but almost word for word the remit of Boston Borough Council.
Doubtless the plan will be heartily endorsed in Worst Street, as the potential for thousands of pounds to be saved leaps off the page.
Be afraid, be very afraid, next time someone tells you: “There’s no government arm in Boston involved in any of this. It is totally community led … We’re all going to be working together to help the residents work very, very closely with the lottery so the residents are equipped to manage this funding. There will be extensive community consultation done right across Boston, so everybody will have a say.
“This money will not be dictated by Boston Borough Council … It will be totally dictated by the local community ... it is their say where this money is spent”
The Big Local would argue that its members took the decision – but what a happy co-incidence that the main beneficiary should be the council.
Our last item mentioned B-Tacky – which for years has been the personal banking arm of the Worst Street cabinet – due to a Tory majority on the committee.
It is supposed to act as a “parish council” for the town wards. But seldom, if ever, does spending of specific benefit to an individual ward take place.
Not only that, but the committee’s grant scheme has handed over large amounts of cash to organisations not truly covered by its rules.
Its most infamous decision in recent times was to underwrite the £4,000 cost of a memorial unveiled to mark the 96th anniversary of the end of the First World War in case the council’s “publicly funded” appeal failed to come up with the cash ... which at one time seemed very likely.
There was never any doubt that such funding was way outside the committee’s sphere, but B-Tacky didn't let that become a problem.
Now, however, things could be about to change.
Although the non-UKIP members of the council as a whole have ganged up to block the way forward for the new arrivals that so many voters wanted to see in charge, they have no say in the membership of B-Tacky.
If councillors are elected to a town centre ward, then they have a place on B-Tacky by right. – and after the recent election, the structure of the committee stands like this ...
Seven Ukippers dominate the committee, with the Tories on four – plus a Tory “independent” in the form of Councillor Alison Austin – and two Labour members.
This means that for the first time in four years, it ought to be possible for B-Tacky to serve the town ward voters as was intended when the committee was created ... and to spend in their interests rather than see their funds syphoned off into the cabinet purse.
Ukippers awake! Salute the happy morn, whereon the chance of democracy was born...
How best to present Boston’s image has always been tricky.
But in its efforts to make the place look rural and laid back the Boston Target may have overstepped the mark.
A recent issue portrayed the plan to develop the riverside wharf buildings beside the Haven Bridge thus...
An interesting illustration for an area of the town which is slap bang in the centre, packed with buildings, roads and pavements.
It looks more like a newly discovered part of the Amazon rainforest.
Or how about this, which accompanied a report of a major intervention to head off the threat of overfishing of whelks?
Certainly, catching them in the way illustrated will definitely slow down the rate at which they are taken from our seas – although it may be a while before you have enough for a serving.
There will be no blog next week while we take a lie down in a darkened room.
All things being equal, we’ll be back on Friday 6th June.
But don’t forget, we’re still there if you need to get in touch …
You can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org Your e-mails will be treated in confidence and published anonymously if requested.
Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com