All around us, Lincolnshire’s other district councils seem to be in good heart – delivering services to their taxpayers and not forever moaning about how hard up and run down they are, whilst espousing the formations of “partnerships” which are really nothing of the kind ... simply a thinly disguised way of getting others to do the work for them, and often foot the bill to boot.
This week saw the meeting of the Boston Town Area committee – B-Tacky to its friends ... who number few, if any.
High on the agenda – as regular readers will already know – was a begging request for funds to bale out the cost of this year’s Christmas lights switching-on ceremony and a so-called market.
Switch on some lights?
Put up a few stalls?
A snip at £15,000.
Astoundingly, the luvvies at Transported are stumping up the lion’s share, leaving B-Tacky to make up any shortfall.
The seeds were also sown for B-Tacky to think about how it might pay up in future years as well – as the current Christmas lighting contract expires this year and the council doesn’t have the money to pay for it any more.
As expected, the committee bent the knee, and agreed to pay up £2,500 – the thin end of what may prove to be a very expensive wedge.
Yet for the Munchkins at Worst Street this is just another exercise in financial cannibalism.
Only a couple of issues ago we reported on the – otherwise unreported – syphoning of more than £300,000 from the reserves to the PRSA – which this week has allegedly been “saved” yet again by another so-called “partnership” deal which sees a private company take control, but Worst Street continuing to foot the repair bills.
Why are we so exercised about the looting of B-Tacky, we hear you cry?
Because – put simply – paying for the borough's Christmas lighting is not on the committee’s to-do list.
Read this if you don’t believe us.
Or this ...
B-Tacky claws in more than £100,000 a year from the nine town centre wards that it purportedly represents.
The 18 parishes outside the central areas make charges of around £200,000 to cover spending in their respective patches.
B-Tacky is expected to have a £60,000 surplus at the end of March next year, largely because it rarely spends any money on the wards within its care.
And that is why the cabinet thinks that the committee's funds are fair game and is prepared to ignore its own rules and regulations and nick the money for a borough-wide project that will also draw in visitors from outside the area.
The two chief beggars to B-Tacky were the portfolio holders for the Town Centre and Leisure – Councillors Paul Skinner and Claire Rylott.
As they are new to the cabinet, their assault on another committee’s funds might be due to naivety.
But another cabinet member – Councillor Michael Brookes – is not a newcomer. He is in his second term as a cabinet member and is also the council’s deputy leader.
Despite this, he has apparently set out to muddy the waters to help his henchpeople get their paws on BTAC’s cash.
Last week’s edition of the council’s Goody Two Shoes News (circulation 783 – see later in the blog) tells us: “Councillor Michael Brookes said Kirton and Swineshead provided their own lights.
“Cabinet members agreed that as BTAC (Boston Town Area Committee) mirrors the responsibilities of a parish or town council for Boston it should be approached about helping fund future Christmas lights.”
The cabinet is being wilfully ignorant over this issue.
If lights are to be provided for the borough as a hole – and also for the visitors that it is hoped to attract – then the cost must come from central funds as the rules stand at present.
B-Tacky could have refused politely, with a motion to the effect that the request from the cabinet was outside its remit, and politely referring the appeal back to the beggars to place before the full council.
Now, we suspect that the B-Tacky budget will forever be prey to demands for money to spend on non-central ward items for whatever wasteful whim seizes the cabinet “minds.”
Several other interesting items emerged at this week’s meeting. More on them in our next blog.
Earlier, we mentioned naivety in the same sentence as the portfolio holder for the town centre, Councillor Paul Skinner – and he certainly seems to be working hard to show it.
In a letter to the Boston Sub-Standard, he takes the paper’s columnist Observer to task over the debate on the Market Place and the replacement of planters with fake cast iron lookalike bollards.
He tells him “I will refresh his memory ...” and whilst accusing the writer of missing key issues, in turn demonstrates not exactly the greatest knowledge on a subject that is supposed to be his cabinet specialism.
Councillor Skinner also has the impudence to ask Observer “What are you doing to help promote the use of this community space?”
We have to assume that this means that Councillor Skinner is after an idea or two to help him perform his duties – as any initiatives from him thus far have been conspicuous by their absence.
Let us refresh your memory, Mr Skinner.
Your council promised that once the Market Place work was completed it would become home to regular events and attractions and a variety of alternative markets.
Councillor Skinner cites the only new market to have emerged since then – the craft market.
Two weeks ago this comprised just three stalls, and we would be surprised if the stallholders consider it worth their while attending for much longer.
Does the council promote it?
No it doesn’t – so no one knows it's there, so no-one bothers to visit it.
But perhaps that's someone else’s job as well, eh, Councillor Skinner?
You say that the Market Place is not needed as a “massive” car park, as there are almost 3,000 parking spaces in the town centre.
Perhaps a sign or two indicating where they might be found, and how far away they are would assist people to park elsewhere – but no such signs are in evidence.
What does worry us is his statement that: “I don't think enough has yet been done on consultation to produce the best solution on parking and loading" – which has the awful sound of yet another Task and Finish Group about it.
Talking of which...
A regular reader and occasional contributor who is In the Know asks: “Could I put my 'pennyworth' in on the Task and Finish issues
“1: Various issues regarding communication with its members formed the main T and F findings on Boston Business Improvement District.
“Although the Cabinet and officers were aware that there was no sign of improvement in such matters they – the administration – were apparently quite happy with this state of affairs, as evidenced by the 17 Boston Borough Council referendum votes being cast in favour of the continuation of BID in spite of its faults.
“2: At the end of the presentation of the Social Change Task and Finish report to the Scrutiny Committee, a final recommendation was added; that enough funding should be put in the council's relevant budget heading to implement such recommendations as were the council’s responsibility.
“This was, as I recollect, agreed by the Scrutiny Committee but did not appear in the final report agreed by the Cabinet for some reason.
“Isn't Cabinet government wonderful!?
“3: Since you started listing the readership of GTSN at 784 I have cancelled my subscription. Please adjust your figure accordingly.”
Looking back, there were no prizes for guessing why the council threw its votes in favour of Boston BID continuing.
BID imposed a levy on its involuntary members – backed up by legal action from the council if they did not pay – which raised £100,000 a year.
Despite the fact that the BID rules barred it from carrying out jobs that were the responsibility of the local council, Worst Street was soon mining this rich vein of income as a supplement to their own coffers.
Still with Tasking and Finishing ... another reader wrote to say: “I get the impression that yet more money is to be spent on 'reports' etc., filling non-jobs at very high cost and having yet another massive talk-in which produces nothing!
“Seeing as all the services are being cut – the PRSA excepted of course – is the council actually spending anything on services ... apart from the fortnightly bin collections?
“If all these cuts continue we'll soon be paying only for salaries etc.
“I always thought if we 'cut' something we didn't spend money – so shouldn't we really be paying less in council tax.
“Or doesn't it work like that?”
The answer is a) this is Boston Borough Council so b) it doesn’t work.
A bleat after last week's blog from the company which owns the Assembly Rooms nightclub after our report which quoted Worst Street as saying that it provided Christmas lights on the building.
“Disappointed in criticism again regarding one of our venues,” it twittered." Never asked for Xmas lighting. Pay for the electric for the entire street’s Xmas lights. No praise for £2k of hanging baskets and similar cost to upkeep …"
As we noted in our reply, we made no criticism – we merely quoted a council report which claimed that it provided the lights, and remarked that we felt that the owners should take responsibility.
As far as the hanging baskets are concerned, they are an attraction that benefits the Assembly Rooms as much as anyone else, and a number of other premises use such items to enhance the look of their premises.
What the Activ tweet did do was to remind us that when the Assembly Rooms deal was still being discussed, a report to the council said; “The applicant considers that the for the majority of the time, the building will continue to be used for a wide variety of private and public social functions including community based activities such as clubs and meetings, blood donor sessions, coffee mornings and Weight Watchers.”
Has any of that happened? We don’t think so.
We mentioned Boston Business “Improvement” District last week and the not-so-small matter of the £6,600 that was paid over by Boston Borough Council to the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce acting on behalf of the new Boston Town Team, on 2nd March this year.
This is, of course, the same town team that claims not to have any direct funding.
Most probably, it doesn’t need any, as it appears to have done nothing much since its first meeting in January when it declared that its “vision” was “to make Boston a better place to work, live and play; increase footfall along with tourist numbers and reduce the number of empty units in the town centre, enhancing the vitality and viability of the town.”
It identified as its three key objectives to increase footfall by 10%, reduce empty shops by 20% and create an annual increase in the number of tourists visiting the town centre.
We have lost count of the number of times aims such as these have been written down – and never come to anything.
But what has this to do with Boston BID – which everyone thought was voted out of existence in October 2013 and ceased operations at the end of that year?
Well, depending on your viewpoint, the good – or bad – news is that Boston BID appears to be alive and well.
According to companies house, Boston BID’s last annual accounts were made up to March 31st last year, and the last annual return was made up to February this year.
This return lists the 447 “shareholders” and nine company directors – including the names of two former councillors.
According to these accounts, the BID was owed more than £11,000 and has more than £4,000 cash in hand – giving it total assets of more than £15,000.
But within a year of those accounts more than £14,000 falls due to creditors which will leave a balance of slightly more than £800.
Boston BID’s next annual return is expected at Companies House by 19th March next year.
Between now and then, perhaps someone would like to tell us what is going on.
Earlier we commented how – whilst many of our fellow district councils are in good heart, and being positive – our own so-called leaders bury their heads in the sand and whine on endlessly about how hard up they are and how nothing can be done any more.
Tell that to South Kesteven District Council – which this week saw work begin on the £3.6 million first section of the Grantham Southern Relief Road.
After completion of phase one, a further two phases of the relief road will follow, with the entire road expected to be operational by 2019.
Local County Councillor Richard (Bob the Builder) Davies who is also Lincolnshire’s portfolio holder for transport, says that the southern relief road project will not only improve Grantham’s infrastructure, it will also provide an opportunity to aid the economic growth of the area and provide access to a proposed housing development and commercial development land nearby.
The project is being led by Lincolnshire County Council supported by South Kesteven District Council, the Greater Lincolnshire LEP, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and local businesses.
Now that is what we call a partnership – unlike the shonky deals that Worst Street cobbles together under the same name ... mostly with Transported for a load of unwanted and necessary artwork.
But of course, it’s free – which is why Worst Street always orders a double helping.
So they’re happy bunnies in Grantham – and things are going well in South Holland as well.
Earlier this year, work began on a 51-acre business park off the A16 in Spalding known as the Lincolnshire Gateway project.
It’s due to be completed by the end of the year and will include a 52-bedroom Premier Inn hotel, a Brewers Fayre pub/restaurant, petrol filling station, shops and a conference centre.
It’s believed that up to 1,000 new jobs could be created over the next ten years.
Spalding already boasts a Travelodge Hotel at the Springfields shopping outlet, which is home to more than 50 big name stores.
And if that’s not enough, plans for improving transport connections to Spalding will be discussed at the first Lincolnshire Transport Conference to be staged next month at Springfields Event Centre.
The conference will be about “Connecting South Lincolnshire” with guest speakers from Virgin Trains, East Midlands Trains, Brylaine and Freshlinc.
Government representatives will also talk about the challenges facing Spalding’s infrastructure and their plans to better connect the area.
The event is organised by the Spalding and Peterborough Transport Forum and the Spalding and District Chamber of Commerce.
But don't forget .,. Boston’s got a Town Team, and a Task and Finish group will be spending months debating what needs to be done for the borough.
When the poet John Milton wrote “They also serve who only stand and wait” he might have had Boston Borough Council in mind – apart from the “serve” bit, that is.
Instead of anything approaching action Worst Street has followed the lead set by David Cameron in the war on terror – by employing drone warfare.
It drones on and on and on about how hard up and powerless it is until we taxpayers surrender or drop dead from boredom!
A couple of weeks ago we mentioned the successful calendar produced for the first time by Boston Borough Council, and lamented the fact that no one appeared to have deemed the idea worth doing again.
It must have sounded a wake-up call in someone’s mind at Worst Street as – lo and behold – letters went out dated 7th September to last year’s sponsors asking them if they wanted to help again, by funding a page at a cost of £138.
Apparently the calendar will feature “Boston through the seasons” and given the lateness of the decision to produce it, must be relying on old, stock photos – rather than specially commissioned ones.
Apparently, Worst Street is not asking for cash down – on the grounds that “we might not get enough sponsors in time” ... which scarcely seems surprising at this stage.
About this time last year, it had been printed.
Oh, did we say that last year's sponsors were being invited to take a page again this year?
Well, not quite all of them.
Last year, Boston Eye was pleased to take a page after a last minute appeal went out for help, and Boston Borough Council was happy to take our money.
This year, however, no letter has been received at Number 1 Eye Street.
We must remember to send a bowl of sour grapes to the “communications” department!
Of course, a similar example of bad timing has occurred with the Christmas lights/Christmas market debacle – with the cabinet beggars telling B-Tacky that if it slips them some money it can nominate a committee member to attend and contribute to the event planning meetings leading up to the 26th November.
Given that last year’s council committee on Christmas began meeting around Easter, we don't hold out much hope for whatever might emerge this late in the day with a window of just two months.
Mind you, everything is done as quickly as possible in Worst Street these days.
We’re told that the last cabinet meeting, whose agenda included the quarterly performance, finance and risk figures, policy for keeping people safe and the future of Christmas in Boston was done and dusted in slightly more than half an hour.
Clearly a group that takes things seriously ... and doesn’t just rubber stamp reports.
And how about this final example?
The Vintage A Fayre, which is “organised” by Boston Borough Council, but scarcely ever publicised is the subject of the Tweet on the left ...
Just twelve days before the event, Worst Street makes a “last call” for applicants for the last few stalls available.
Despite the lack of pre-publicity, we stumbled across the most recent of these “fayres” which mostly sells old clothes, and all but constituted the “crowds.”
The latest Tweet invites anyone interested in hiring a stall to contact Boston Borough Council’s “events” department.
Better not to ... you don't want to wake them.
Forgive the photographer’s shadow – but you need the sun at your back for this particular snap.
Knowing the Worst Street fondness for gadgetry, how about buying another cleaning machine to join the fag vac and gum remover to wash away this new piece of unsightliness.
And perhaps have a word with Mr Brylaine as well – suggesting that they check their sump nuts for tightness.
In common with just about everyone with a nominal title, Boston’s Mayor, Councillor Richard Austin, sent a letter of congratulation to the Queen as she became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.
He began well enough – writing “On behalf of the people of the Borough of Boston ... “but soon after developed a spot of I-trouble, lapsing from the collective to the personal.
“I could not allow the moment to pass without recognising your great contribution to this country and the Commonwealth. It is a magnificent milestone in British history.
“I would like to express my very best wishes to you, Your Majesty, and the Royal Family.”
We’re sure that there wasn’t a dry I in Buck House when the letter arrived – hopefully by second class post, given the state of the borough's finances.
It struck us as notably patronising, which was really surprising, considering who the author was.
Doubtless the GTSN will soon be splashing the headlines when a royal flunky responds with a stock reply that will be sent to everyone who has sent the Queen a goodwill message.
And talking of the GTSN, we reported last week on its claim in a £300 newspaper advert begging for readers, to be a “warts and all publication” – an expression apparently liked so much that it was used more than once, and which we took to mean that it reported the rough with the smooth.
Tuesday’s edition of GTSN reported the findings of the annual “Customer Survey.”
GTSN crooned: “The annual customer survey revealed that 69% of respondents were happy with where they live, 46% were satisfied with how the council runs things with 30% dissatisfied. Highest levels of satisfaction were for garden waste collections (82%), refuse and recycling (80%), Boston Market 65%) and Boston in Bloom (64 %.)
Missing from the story was the part of the report which said: “The highest levels of dissatisfaction were for Public Toilets (76%), Car Parking (57%) and the Town Centre (41%.)
A wart or two appears to be missing, wethinks – which says far more than we ever could about the claim to report the bad as well as the good.
If nothing else, someone ought to tell the portfolio holder for the Town Centre about all the disappointment he presides over so he can find someone to appeal to for advice!
Finally, we can feel the gleeful hysteria building after the news that Boston in Bloom has won a gold award in the East Midlands in Bloom competition.
Given that the cost of staging this dog hanging is put at £19,000, we just hope that the medal is made of the real stuff.
Then we could flog it and do something for Boston for Christmas.
Boston Eye is taking next week off. Join us again on Friday 2nd October
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