Last week we commented light-heartedly about the poor response to the Mayoral initiative urging us to write in and say what makes Boston a special place.
The idea is that all the comments will be published on the borough’s website, so that anyone browsing for information about Boston will be greeted by an irresistible paean of praise which will make them want to uproot from wherever they live, and come here instead.
Unfortunately, the story promoting this appeared in the same week as one promoting the news that Boston Borough Council was spraying dog dung luminous pink to shame those who let their curs foul the streets and fail to clean up after them.
We believe that type of publicity this is called counterproductive.
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Our blog appeared last Friday, and it came as no surprise that by close of business that day, there were no fewer than 17 comments extolling Boston beneath the banner “You said WHAT I LIKE ABOUT BOSTON.”
Not one of the comments exceeds the limits that might be defined as damning with faint praise, and two of them said the same thing – but from different contributors.
Three of the signatories are members of staff at Boston Borough Council; two are members of Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service; two are members of Boston College – including the principal; one owns the Assembly Rooms; another is a senior officer at the RSPB Freiston Shore site, who recently went on record as saying that he thought water voles were charismatic.
In that case, we can understand why he thinks that Boston is such a fine place.
Both Peter Hunn, Boston Borough Council's principal community safety officer and Communications Officer Andrew Malkin were so entranced by the camaraderie of Bostonians during the 2013 floods that they praised them identically.
Already, this exercise is discredited – and ranks alongside the hopeless Boston Borough Roll of Achievement.
This, you may recall was a list of people largely drawn up by relatives – but so few responded that it was padded out with figures from history ... several of whom have no connection with Boston whatever.
We suspect that someone noted our poking about on the website, as by Tuesday morning, there was one comment fewer – Mr Malkin had removed his word-for-word piece which had also been attributed to Mr Hunn.
Later it was replaced by a different write-up – mostly praising Central Park and plugging his own book about Boston Guildhall.
Whether there is a whiff of manipulation in all of the above is not for us to say – but it does typify what is so wrong with Boston.
A half-cocked idea, inefficiently launched, attracts mostly the usual suspects – the great and the good, whose contributions were not really those being sought.
The list was so shoddily assembled as to allow identical quotes to be attributed to two different people, plus the remarkable coincidence that almost half of those who have responded have appeared in the Boston Target’s series Boston People ... itself a directory of the great and the good of the town.
It is a considerable stretch of the imagination to believe that these contributions were unsolicited, and just came out of the blue.
It seems that Worst Street believes that you can fool all of the people, all of the time – which was the only thing that Abraham Lincoln said was impossible in the world of legerdemain.
Mind you, he also said – when referring the Battle of Fredericksburg – “If there is a worse place than hell, I am in it."
But Worst Street did not exist at the time..
Once in a while it’s worth taking a look at the way Boston Borough Council spends its money. Information is offered by way of “transparency” in the form of a list of spending exceeding £250 which includes just about everything except the office copy of the Sporting Life.
Whilst the list is exhaustive, the items which appear on it sometimes have little meaning to casual readers, other than to pique their interest – and could use a little more by way of explanation.
For instance, bills for agency staff running into thousands of pounds a month are exactly what it says on the packet – although it would be interesting to know why Worst Street spends so much on hiring people in.
When we get our post in the morning we attack it with a paper knife – and although we appreciate that the borough’s mail room is far busier, it seems to us that a “mail opener” costing £3,000 must be in the Rolls Royce category.
Something called “The Yaboo Company” which specialises in sound recording and music publishing charged an “annual music service fee” for 2015/2016 of £6,520.
A couple of Civic Dinners set taxpayers back almost £2,000; “Easter activities” cost £1,700, plus a further £2,500 for a guide to what was going on.
Consultancy fees for the “Transformation Project” in April were £8,000 and our old favourite – interest on the £1 million pound loan that no one can find in the records was £111,250.
This loan – of which no apparent record exists – was taken out in January, 1991, over 60-years at an interest rate of 11.125 per cent ... which means that by the time it is paid back it will have cost we taxpayers £6 million.
The Transformation Project incidentally, is described by Worst Street as “one of the key strands of our Medium Term Financial Strategy ... made up of a number of individual projects to save money, improve efficiency and improve services.
It’s off to a cracking start, then, with £8,000 in “consultancy” fees, following more than £4,000 in fees the previous month.
There’s also been a hefty bill for specialist computer software – totalling more than £20,000 so far this year.
In the odds and sods department, “Haven Art Workshop Expenses” included £385 for an “LED frosted candle.”
Then there was a bill for £315 for crowd barriers – even though the cost of hosting the Olympic torch as it passed between Wrangle and Boston for 15 minutes and through Boston itself for half-an-hour in 2012 included almost £5,000 for crowd barriers and traffic cones,
Perhaps a few more people should go on the “Mindfulness” training course. The most recent cost £200 each for a three hour session for six staff.
We never cease to wonder at the ingenuity of Boston Borough Council when it comes to getting things wrong.
Last week Worst Street was out painting dog turds and now is in partnership with our favourite arts organisation – Transported – to seek out and recognise our “local heroes.”
These, we are told are “community-spirited people in Boston Borough who quietly go about their duties, paid or otherwise, so we can all enjoy a more pleasant place to live.”
Their reward for their selflessness is to be immortalised in artworks to be displayed on the sides of Boston Borough Council’s “refuse and recycling vehicles” – dust carts to the likes of us.
What a fine piece of gratitude.
The only way to humiliate these splendid people further would be to herd them into a tumbrel and haul them around the town.
Or perhaps we could bring the stocks on The Green back into use.
We mentioned last week a freedom of information request about the distribution of the borough council daily bulletin which turned out to be a puny 784.
As we said then, this raises an issue of value for money, as given the staff time involved it cannot be a cheap item.
In the run-up to the general and local elections, the frequency was reduced because regulations prohibited mention of anything deemed politically controversial, as well as references to individual councillors or political groups, and events involving candidates – nor could it issue photographs which included candidates.
Oddly – although the elections are long since passed – the policy seems little changed. Organisations which have nothing to do with Boston Borough Council are readily given free puffs in the bulletin – and we recently saw a “special” devoted to the RAF Coningsby annual freedom parade through the town centre ... which took the form of a load of almost identical photographs. The bulletin is regularly an outlet ranking alongside Practical Gardening or an adjunct to the Lincolnshire Community Voluntary Service – even though it has its own newsletter and mailing list.
It’s almost as if so little is worth reporting from Boston Borough Council that their own little effort has to be padded with news from elsewhere until one of those rare occasions when there is something to report from Worst Street
It’s called pot boiling.
Often, the stories in the bulletin appear in our local “newspapers” before they reach the borough website which is paid for by our council tax – but is it acceptable for Boston Borough Council effectively to provide a reporter and photographer at our expense to save our lazy local hacks from covering events.
Strangely, whilst the local papers are quite content to publish whatever is handed to them on a plate, they appear less keen to attend council meetings and cover the debates and decisions taken.
Sometimes, these meetings are farcical – last week’s B-Tacky springs to mind – which was not reported. Neither was the decision to reject the £10m riverside development so highly praised by Council Leader Pete Bedford.
Boston Borough Council seldom chooses to communicate what goes on in the council chamber.
It apparently expects us to attend – even though the newspapers that ought to be our eyes and ears cannot be bothered.
The result is an easy ride for Worst Street which is getting easier all the time, thanks to the indolence of local journalists, and which further steams up the windows through which we are supposed to view the council's “transparency.”
A long standing critic of the Boston bulletin is the Labour group leader Councillor Paul Gleeson, who has questioned whether it breaches guidelines set out by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
He told Boston Eye: “I do think the borough needs to have a fresh look at the bulletin,
“I am not too sure they know what they want to achieve, and with such a small circulation there must be a question as to what is being achieved anyhow.
“Interestingly, one of the arguments used to counter my assertions over the frequency of publication of the bulletin vis a vis ministerial guidance was the low numbers of people it was sent to!”
In other words – it doesn’t matter that it's a load of tosh, because no-one reads it!
We mentioned last week’s B-Tacky meeting which saw political alliances conspire to block each other so effectively that the meeting failed even to elect a chairman.
Among those voting with the Conservatives was the erstwhile “Independent” Councillor Alison Austin who is now a member of the so-called but aptly-named “soft” coalition that allows Leader Bedford to keep his sticky paws on the Worst Street gear levers – although what he does all day is anyone’s guess.
Confused members of St Thomas Ward – the renamed patch which Mrs Austin now commands – have now received an explanation in her “Newsletter” ... which in keeping with the council ethos contained no news at all.
“I remain an Independent councillor,” she writes. “I’m working with the Conservative administration to ensure a stable council and one which can make some positive progress during its term. I do not accept a party whip and would not support anything that I did not consider in the long-term interest of the people of Boston.”
Thanks for the clarification.
Strangely, the councillor’s independence and sense of fair play was called into question as the recent B-Tacky meeting that we mentioned when a presentation being made by a member of the public – who also happened to be a candidate in the election which saw Mrs Austin elected – complained ... and broke off his presentation ... because of Mrs Austin “sniggering with what can only be described as a smirk on her face.”
In a formal letter to the council, he said: “I felt this was rude and very disrespectful behaviour towards a member of the public. This kind of behaviour is unbecoming of such a senior member of the council and could put off members of the public interacting with the council.”
After our report concerning plans to shoo the present acting Chief Executive into the full time job after a token exercise of jumping a couple of low level hurdles – rather than run the risk of advertising externally and encountering an outside candidate filled with exciting ideas that are too good to ignore – an insider has written to comment.
Our correspondent says: “Let us not forget that to all intents and purposes, our former part time Chief Executive (Richard Harbord) was brought in mainly to negotiate a settlement for the then outgoing Chief Executive*.
“Despite this, it seems he then seriously – and expensively – overstayed his usefulness.
“I understand that he had also been charged with laying the foundations for the appointment of a new chief executive.
"Whether that might have been a full time post, or – as with many other administrations – a shared position is neither here nor there.
“The fact is, this council has over the past few years failed to develop as other districts have. It began by outsourcing many of its customer services and as a consequence weakened itself so much that it must now seriously re-evaluate not only the present, but also its future municipal position.
“As with most things to do with Boston, we once again have shilly-shallied around for so long, foolishly wasting so much time that we are yet again forced into pushing the panic button.
“It seriously beggars belief that a particular senior officer having been around for so many years, is now suddenly being spoken of in glowing terms as the right man to fulfil the Chief Executive role.
“So why has the leader, Councillor Bedford, allowed this council to waste hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money buying the services of Mr Harbord, and why did he continue to do so for many many months whilst this brilliant candidate was sitting under his very nose?
“Sadly, maybe the only conclusion we can draw from this is that our council is no longer fit for purpose, and indeed the selection process, especially in this particular case, is not just seriously flawed but completely ineffective.”
*The outgoing Chief Executive mentioned above was Mick Gallagher, who resigned six years ago after three years in post and cleared his desk in record time on the eve of the publication of an Audit Commission report that heavily criticised the authority's management and financial arrangements.
Earlier mention of B-Tacky reminds us that the committee is soon – if it hasn’t already – to be tapped up by Boston Borough Council for money to help run a Christmas market this year.
We would have thought it was a little late in the day to be doing this – but perhaps it is better late than never as the word on the street was that the town wouldn’t be celebrating Tinselmas this year.
What we do need to point out though is that it is not the job of B-Tacky to fund borough wide events.
It would be one for the council to do so from the general taxation, and it would be wrong for the committee to agree – even though it has spent outside its guidelines in the past.
We mention this as the rudderless B-Tacky appears clueless when it comes to just about everything, and a quick look at the committee's constitution might well be in order.
The Great British High Street Awards for 2015 competition is back and reportedly bigger and better.
Last year saw High Streets, towns, villages and cities up and down the country enter and once again there will be seven categories, whilst for the first time, local people will be asked to join the vote for winners.
The deadline for applications is 1st September, and more information is available on the link here
Why do we mention this?
Because despite all the drum banging about what a wonderful place Boston is, no-one seems bothered about taking things any further where an event like this is concerned..
Last year’s event – which was won by Belper ... a right dump a few years ago as we recall – was conspicuous by the fact that Boston almost alone played little if any part in the competition.
At least the Boston Target is unstinting in believing that Boston deserves more than it gets – at least if this website snippet is anything to go by.
Somehow we missed the news that Boston Stump has been awarded cathedral status.
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