Has the curse of Bedford struck yet again, we wonder?
It is becoming a regular occurrence that – once the so-called leader waxes lyrical about some aspect of Boston – the rot sets in.
A couple of years ago, he claimed the headlines to urge people unable to obtain flood insurance, or who were paying through the nose for it, to seek new quotes.
In one of his monthly “jam tomorrow” columns in a local “newspaper” be droned: “I want to urge all homeowners to shop around for their flood insurance now that the landscape has changed, due, in part, to representations made by Boston Borough Council.
“There are still some insurance companies out there who will not touch some properties they deem to be in an unacceptable flood-risk area. But there are others who have substantially reduced their premiums for properties in Boston borough.
“You have to do a little work and spend some time on this. But it’s worth it. For a few hours spent on the internet I have saved almost £500 on my insurance. My premium last year was £700 and is now just over £200, and I still have the same level of cover.”
With impeccable timing the item appeared in August 2013.
Three months later the worst tidal surge for 60 years topped the banks of the River Haven and sent water rushing through more than 50 streets in the town flooding around 600 properties and forcing hundreds of people to leave their homes.
Local people rallied around and responded to the incident with superb community cohesion, to coin the jargon and it wasn’t long before the event was just a memory for most.
But rather than let matters be, Boston Borough Council ceaselessly reminded us of that dark night, and were still doing well over a year later.
Last week we received a call from our insurance broker, to say that the company which had covered us for a number of years has re-evaluated cover of the town’s postcodes – and added areas previously omitted from those which attracted severely loaded premiums and excesses.
Thus we are able to tell Councillor Bedford that our premium – formerly £500 a year with no flood excess – was re-quoted at more than £1,200 ... with a £6,000 flood excess.
The insurance company behind this monument to avarice is AXA, which along with Aviva – which we abandoned some years ago when it, too, became overwhelmed by greed – probably covers most properties in our part of the world ... which means that many people in Boston may well receive a nasty shock when the time comes to renew their home insurance.
The colossal rise in premiums apparently is merely due to the company re-assessing the flood risk areas – based no doubt on the excessive assumptions drawn up by the Environment Agency.
Fortunately, our broker found another company willing to quote within pounds of our current premium subject to a couple of questions being answered satisfactorily.
These were – has your home ever been flooded, and do you live within 100 yards of a property that has been?
The answer to both those questions was no – and more affordable cover was retained.
The Environment Agency makes life easy for insurers with its flood risk maps showing Boston inundated, and the deluge flowing all along the Witham valley to Lincoln.
We know that has never and will never happen – but if you're an insurer looking to enhance the bottom line then the opportunity to squeeze your customers until their pips squeak is irresistible.
But it has taken 18 months for the price hike to appear – which makes us wonder whether the constant bleating from Worst Street played a role in the price hike, as with such huge profits to be made we would have expected a much earlier reaction from insurers.
When Councillor Bedford urged all homeowners to shop around for their flood insurance two years ago, it was because he claimed that “that the landscape has changed, due, in part, to representations made by Boston Borough Council.”
We wonder now whether the reverse is true.
We hope that the Bedford curse has now run its course if for no other reason than the future prosperity of a local butcher.
At the beginning of June, Boston's Goody Two Shoes News devoted an issue to Bedford’s over assessment of improving fortunes on the job front beneath the headline “Boston means business.”
The piece began: “Boston is booming with more businesses showing confidence in the area’s prosperity and prepared to invest their hard-earned cash.
“Boston Borough Council leader, Councillor Peter Bedford, highlights some of the most recent developments – in particular the expansion with a new shop by a local butcher.
“You know when a local businessman, who knows his market, the area and the potential for new customers, invests it shows real confidence in the town.”
“Councillor Bedford was referring to Carl Dunham, who has opened his second shop in Red Lion Street. ... “
The item mentioned a couple of other developments – presumably to make some low level business activity sound as if Apple was moving its headquarters from Cupertino to Fenside – and that, we thought, was the end of it.
Enter the July edition of the local free magazine Simply Boston.
The magazine regularly hosts a column from the purported leader – which we have often criticised in the past for dusting off an earlier piece which appeared in one of the “newspapers” and recycling it some weeks later.
Not so in July.
A version of the Boston GTSN was reintroduced to read: “One of my responsibilities as leader of Boston Borough Council is to encourage and assist in any way we can, economic regeneration
“That might sound a bit fancy. In essence it means that I do all I can to make Boston a better place to do business in.
“Simple? Anything but in these tough economic times! So I am greatly encouraged when I hear that a local businessman, who knows full well the area and the potential for new trade, invests his hard-earned cash ...”
There then follows the Carl Dunham saga which flowed seamlessly into the story as before.
Readers might be forgiven if they only saw the Simply Boston piece for assuming that Councillor Bedford is taking some credit by association with the recent developments.
We are sure that this is not the case – because if so, he would be bellowing it loudly through a megaphone whilst standing atop Boston Stump.
But by juxtaposing his regeneration role with recent developments the impression is clearly given.
Perhaps the leader would like to tell us precisely what his personal part in all this good news was.
Perhaps the leader would like to tell us precisely what his personal part in all this good news was.
Don’t forget that you read the news first on Boston Eye before it appeared anywhere else.
Monday's full meeting of the Boston Borough Council Rubber Stamp Factory will almost certainly endorse a recommendation to install Acting Chief Executive Phil Drury into the top job by merging his role as Strategic Director with that of head honcho and paying him £90,000 a year – rising to £95,000 after six months subject to “performance targets” being met.
According to the report before the council, such a move will provide “stable leadership and direction” for the council and deliver financial savings.
We’re not quite sure what is meant by stable leadership, as we would expect any incumbent in such a highly paid post to hang around for a few years before seeking a better deal in pastures new, which, over the years, has proved to be the case.
During our time without parole in Boston we have seen four chief executives in total. They were Mark James, who stayed for five years, Nicola Bulbeck, who spent four years in post, Mick Gallagher who did three, and Richard Harbord – who ironically stayed as long as Mark James despite being appointed initially on a six month contract.
Given the mobile trend in employment these days – coupled with the desire among the ambitious to move ever onward and upward – these post holders stayed for comfortably average periods, and certainly brought “stability” of a kind to the borough in varying degrees, as well a fresh approach with each new appointment.
We assume that what gives Mr Drury the “stability edge” over all his predecessors, is that aside from a brief departure, he has worked in Worst Street, boy and man for the last 27 years – having joined as a youth trainee in 1988.
Although his appointment is being welcomed enthusiastically by leader Bedford as having acted in the role “admirably” – and apparently greeted with enthusiasm on the borough’s website – memory recalls that this will be “third time lucky” for Mr Drury ... who was unsuccessful with previous applications when the top job fell vacant.
What we can say – without any implication at all – is that Mr Drury and Mr Bedford will at least be simpatico ... as Bedford has been a councillor for almost as long as Mr Drury has been in post.
Bedford – as might be expected – is one of the six members of the impressively named “Chief Officer Employment Panel” which recommended Mr Drury for the post of Top Mouse rather than Fat Cat.
Places are allocated proportionately, so there is another Tory – in this case deputy leader Mike Brookes, a councillor first elected in 1997, and therefore another who will know Mr Drury well.
There are two UKIP councillors – Brian Rush, a former BBI councillor who later went Independent, quit on health grounds and then made a comeback, and the recently elected Stephen Raven – plus the Labour group leader (one of just two members now) Councillor Paul Gleeson.
And there’s a soloist – Boston’s political dynasty member and Mayor Richard Austin – listed as an “Independent” whilst really being a “soft Tory” ... as in “S-Tory.” He has now completed two terms at Worst Street – the first as “leader” – when again he would have worked closely with Mr Drury.
The important question to be asked here is – what qualifies the members of this “panel” to take such an important decision?
As far as we know, none of them has the experience needed to approve such a crucial post.
So what have we got then?
Some old chums recommending someone they have worked with for years is about the closest conclusion to be drawn.
This is surely not the best way to do business.
According to the borough’s recruitment policy “Boston Borough Council is committed to adopting a fair and consistent approach in its recruitment and selection procedures.
“In accordance with the council’s equal opportunities policy the procedures will promote equal access to jobs, good HR practice and compliance with employment legislation.”
The same document later declares: “Boston Borough Council recognises that people are their greatest asset and considers a clear framework for recruiting staff vital to its success.
“In doing so, we endeavour to have a high quality workforce to support the council in achieving its present and future objectives.
“The recruitment process whilst being fair, efficient and cost effective also ensures that the most suitable candidates in terms of skills, knowledge and attitude are being employed to maintain a motivated workforce, delivering high quality services.”
This policy is quite unequivocal – yet is clearly being bypassed in view of Monday night’s recommendation.
The choice of a new chief executive for Boston Borough Council is a crucial one.
Given Mr Drury’s employment history to date, there is no reason to assume that he will ever consider moving on, and as someone probably in his mid-forties, could therefore be at the helm for 15 or more years.
This makes the decision to appoint him a multi-million pound one – 15 years at £95,000 a year totals around £1.5 million ... before annual increases.
We don’t know Mr Drury from Adam – and he might well be the best man for the job ... even though we feel that Boston is desperately in need of new blood and fresh thinking.
But the only way to determine this is for the post to properly be advertised internally and externally; a short-list drawn up, and interviews conducted by an impartial selection board before an appointment is made.
An e-mail from one of our contributors takes up the baton.
It says: “Given the seriously limited numbers of qualified candidates invited to apply for what might be thought a top job, we should not be too surprised by the outcome.
“But it seems that our council continues to ignore, underestimate, and offend, the intelligence of the people they represent – believing that Boston people are so dim that they might have difficulty guessing which candidate was first going to be put forward, and then become a shoo-in.
“I`m afraid they are the ones who are stupid!
“Although I like councillor Bedford, I have to say that I am sure even his supporters must secretly agree that it is well past time for him to step down.as leader
“Politically he has been a disaster .. and his relegation might just give the borough a fresh opportunity and a brighter future.
“In all honesty, I think both he and the Conservatives always knew that he was never up to the job and nor was he leadership material.
“But because he’s been at the heart of the situation described, do we also not need to ensure that his colleagues, new and old, shoulder much of the blame for allowing this situation to have gone on for so long?”
Certainly, a long term view appears to be predominating in Worst Street.
Mr Drury’s appointment echoes the American adage that any boy can become President.
Meanwhile, we note that Councillor Bedford has been appointed leader of the council until May 2019.
The phrase “President for Life” springs to mind – in company with names such as Julius Caesar, Napoleon, “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Kim Jong-un and Robert Mugabe.
We also wondered whether someone was trying to tell us something when the list of councillors appointed to external organisations was published.
Three of them were appointed to the Sir Thomas Meddlecott Charity Trust.
The correct spelling of the trust’s name is Middlecott.
Another item on the agenda for Monday’s full council meeting is to receive the confirmed minutes of the of the Audit and Governance Committee meeting on 23rd April and the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of 22nd June.
Unsurprisingly, they show that the council may well have money problems in the coming financial year.
In response to questions about mitigation for the high financial risk of the difficult economic times ahead, budget shortfalls and how savings would be made, it was reported that the council’s settlement from the Government would not be known until December, but the expected shortfall in the medium term financial plan was £500,000 for 2016/17 – with similar projections for the next 3-4 years.
Without a hint of irony, the meeting heard that the council had set up the Transformation Programme to achieve the necessary savings.
We mentioned the project last week – it’s the one that has spent at least £12,000 on “consultancy fees” and £20,000 on computer software in a very short space of time.
More worrying was that news that – given the council is supposed to plan ahead – “Cabinet was yet to put forward proposals for projects for the Transformation Programme for 2016/17.”
What’s going on in the cabinet, we wonder. The last one at least had some members who got themselves noticed – though not always for the best reasons.
This latest bunch is notable for its silence – which we take to indicate meekness and bowing of the knee to the leader.
Time for the cabinet to extract a digit, wethinks.
One set of minutes mentioned above details the financing of the PRSA “rescue” plan, which is largely contingent on spending £840,000 – much of it on biomass heating at the PRSA and Moulder Leisure Centre – to allegedly generate enough profit to carry out hundreds of thousands of pounds in repairs to the sports arena.
This is a long running saga, and this is claimed to be the final answer to the white elephant that has cost we taxpayers millions.
We are not so sanguine about this.
The council is negotiating a 25 year lease with a charitable leisure trust operating under the 1Life company banner called Community Sports, Arts and Leisure Trust.
In these days when twee acronyms dominate, this translates to “C-salt” – which sounds like “sea salt” which is defined as “salt produced by the evaporation of seawater” and therefore has no relevance whatever.
The lease has a value of £1 a year with C-salt (mmwah!) accepting repair and insuring responsibilities for the first five years, and the same for the following five capped at £100,000.
Interestingly, there is a “break clause” for both parties at year 10.
Somehow, we fear that this will be the point where the PRSA is once again dumped back in our laps – despite all the promises.
Perhaps an early way to protect our interests as taxpayers would be the formation of a counter group known as Respond – Save Our Local Expenses Significantly.
The acronym for that would be R-soles.
We're pleased to learn that former Councillor Carol Taylor resumes blogging again from Monday. She packed it in after losing her seat at the May elections – a decision which was a great loss as, unlike all other politicians at Worst Street, she was the only one to speak her mind and was unafraid to criticise the authority when it frequently got things wrong.
Now, of course, she is even freer to speak as she finds, and we look forward to her return to the internet.
You will be able to read the blog – Carol, Taylor, In my opinion by clicking here
Meanwhile followers of local politics may well be wondering what has happened to the Boston Labour Party blog, which has not been updated for a couple of months.
Labour group leader on Boston Borough Council, Paul Gleeson tells us: “We have not stopped blogging. We were all a bit ‘bruised’ after the result of our election campaign, especially after losing two experienced and hard-working comrades like Paul Goodale and Paul Kenny.
“Politically we are focusing on more internal party matters until after the summer and come September we will be back, hopefully with a wider range of contributors.
“Finally, Paul Kenny who was one of the main authors of our local articles is taking a well-deserved rest from political activity.”
The dead hand of Worst Street has come up with yet another tale that rubbishes the area by slathering it across the borough’s website – therefore telling the world at large.
The e-mail accompanying Thursday's council bulletin delighted in telling us "Drinks den hooligans spoiling family park," and the message was further underlined beneath the over-sensational headline “Drinks den menace found in family park,”
The story revels in reporting that an “illicit” drink den has been “uncovered” in a hidden corner of a children’s play area.
It played well in the local “newspapers” of course ... once again being issued to them first – something that we criticised in last week's blog.
But it was not so good that the Boston Target could resist the need to make it even better, by telling us that a drink “and drug” den had been uncovered – although no mention of the latter appeared anywhere.
The area is described as “hidden from view” in Dame Sarah Swift Park at Kirton,
It is “littered with empty cases of booze,” broken bottles and crushed cans, and the council tells us that wooden flooring has been laid and a quilt indicates "overnight activity."
It's said that every picture tells a story – but we felt that the photo that accompanied the Worst Street handout could equally be saying something far less dramatic.
The area scarcely seems hidden, but almost open to view.
There are three medium sized supermarket packs of hooch on the ground and a few empty tinnies – far fewer that the number that you can see some days in other more open public areas of the borough.
The “flooring” is a small broken pallet, whilst the quilt shows nothing more serious than a desire to keep one’s bum dry whilst sitting on the ground – the sort of thing that people do whilst picnicking.
This is yet another story – like the Council That Painted Dog Poo Pink – that is a small and distinct local problem which has been inflated beyond its importance for the publicity that the council can wring from it for itself, and which does the borough no service at all.
It’s the sort of thing that a few years ago the local bobby would have handled with little or no fuss.
And the word “illicit” is something of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, since it means “forbidden by law, rules, or custom.”
We hadn’t realised until now that youngsters have never previously found somewhere out of the way to snaffle a drink when they ought not to be.
It takes us back to February this year – when Boston Borough Council threatened local lads kicking a ball around on a couple of their football pitches with fines of £80.
We fear that if this sort of counter-productivity continues, Boston Mayor Richard Austin may as well abandon his “Great Past and a Bright Future” campaign which Worst Street seems determined to undermine.
Fortunately, the park in Kirton is not on the route to be taken today by the judges for Britain in Bloom.
As they perambulate the specially devised route which is calculated to impress and also to avoid the bleaker, more neglected areas of the town, the powers that be will be hoping for yet another badge for Boston – which is all that seems to matter to them these days.
Boston's Goody Two Shoes News seems to have been dominated in recent weeks by tales from the potting shed in anticipation of this date – and whilst we have no objection to brightening up the town we say again that this should be a year-round activity, and not just brown-nosing a bunch of total strangers in the hope of medals that are doled out to just about every competition entrant.
A similar story is shaping up regarding Boston new membership of the former Hanseatic League - Die Hanse.
Needless to say, we had to over-egg the pudding and stage a knees up for invited guests only at Boston Guildhall, who were told of business and tourism opportunities opening up involving 300 million people in 16 countries with a combined gross domestic product of $10,000 billion.
Boston Mayor, Richard Austin, was in his usual optimistic mode when he announced: “I am quite confident that we are gathered here to celebrate the opening of a new chapter in the history and development of Boston.
"We are about to reawaken the collaboration and cooperation that made Boston such a dominant player in the history of England all those centuries ago.”
How many times have we heard waffle like this spouted over the years?
King's Lynn is frequently cited as a major beneficiary of membership this organization ... and we are sure that this is true, as it has a wealth of historic buildings relating to the medieval league.
Boston does not. The best we have come up with so far is an artist’s impression of what the Hanseatic steelyard in Boston might have looked like 700 years ago – and no-one seems quite sure where it was when it was here.
Frankly it is a ridiculous stretch of the imagination to suggest that the gross domestic product of a largely industrialised chunk of Germany can in any way impact to Boston’s profit or benefit.
There is nothing to build.
We sympathise with the anger felt by Boston Sausage maker Mountains after a traffic warden ticketed one of their vehicles which was unloading meat for the shop apparently within seconds of it stopping.
The company took to both its Twitter and Facebook pages, declaring on the latter: “We have to say how upset and disgusted we are to receive a parking ticket whilst unloading fresh meat outside the shop today.
“The environmental health officer has instructed us to park as close as possible to the shop to make loading and unloading as easy and as quick as possible.
“So to get a ‘parking warden’ slap a ticket on our windscreen before we've even opened the shop door is both upsetting and unreasonable.
“Do they not see we're just trying to run a business as professionally and as smoothly as possible?
“The sky high car parking fees, highly inconsiderate road works, insufficient market place parking bays and idiotic power hungry traffic wardens will eventually kill this town off!
“The town is on its knees and I'm not sure how long all the decent businesses will put up with this crap before the ship sinks”
We understand that there was previously a loading and unloading area outside the shop, but that Lincolnshire County Council removed it – doubtless to make life easier for the Into Town bus intrusions.
Boston Sausage is a worldwide ambassador for the town and local Lincolnshire produce, and deserves encouragement rather than victimisation.
We have previously mentioned the number of times we have seen Clownty Hall traffic wardens touring quiet streets or deserted populated areas where they can meet their ticket quotas without the risk of an argument.
They are still not addressing the major parking problems which beset Boston, and have ignored them for so long that we somehow doubt that they ever will.
It’s just a pocket picking exercise, and one that may well lose Boston business and jobs.
The news that one in 20 people in Boston cannot speak English ought really not to come as much of a surprise. In fact we think that the figure may well be a lot higher – as it apparently does not include many of the indigenous population ... who, when not filling their faces with baps, often seem scarcely articulate unless their choice of words begins with the letter F!
Finally – as we enter the slough they call the silly season – we shall be taking a break for a couple of weeks. We’re still here, though for your e-mails, and will publish if a special need arises.
We are also online on Twitter, and will post comments as and when necessary there as well.
We’ll be back on Friday 7th August
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