When the powers that be who claim to lead Boston Borough Council are scraping the bottom of the barrel, their knee jerk response is to create what is known as a Task and Finish Committee.
As the name implies, councillors set themselves a task – but then for some reason never seem to finish it.
In recent years we have seen two such comedy acts performed on the Worst Street playbill.
One was supposed to be recommending major improvements to the way that the former Boston Business “Improvement” District was run and – although the recommendations were vital and often tough – a total absence of any follow-up meant that the BID continued to get away with its glittering incompetence without any further action or comments being made.
Then there was the report on the Social Impact of Population Change, which won praise in some quarters – but again was subsequently criticised because of the absence of any sort of follow-up.
Both of these committees took up a lot of time – the population change group met regularly for seven months. And presumably a lot of cost was incurred as well, because large numbers of “witnesses” were called to give “evidence” to guide it towards its conclusions.
Now, we’re probably going to do it all over again – this time with a Task and Finish Group “to carry out a review of Boston and its offer”
The idea popped up on the agenda of the borough’s Environment and Performance Committee – and in full aims “to review and consider the functioning and promotion of Boston and its ability in providing and presenting an offer for residents, visitors, tourists and investors that is welcoming and encouraging and so ensures the long term health, wellbeing and enhancement of the town.
“To seek to understand the opportunities available to the council to improve the town as a way of increasing footfall, commercial activity and to boost the visitor economy and identity of Boston.”
A starter-for-ten list of questions has been drawn up ... and we can assist at this early stage with some answers.
Q: How are we seeking to support and develop the visitor economy?
A: You are not.
Q: Is the way in which car parking is provided and charged for appropriate?
Q: What is the extent of comparator information we have or can obtain for other towns?
A: There is a lot of information available out there. You have accessed it up on numerous previous occasions and apparently learned nothing from it.
Q: Is the way in which we provide Tourist Information Services appropriate and working?
Q: Is signposting of the town centre for residents, business and visitors sufficient and appropriate?
Q: Does the town make the most of markets and events opportunities and maximise the use of spaces? Can more be done?
A: No and Yes.
Q: How well do we advertise and promote Boston?
A: Very badly.
We are astonished that these questions are being asked yet again, as they have arisen so many times in the past.
On those occasions nothing was done – although a lot of time was spent around committee room tables waffling on and on.
We note that organisations and individuals mentioned as likely candidates to be called to give evidence are: the Chamber of Commerce, the Boston Town Team, the Boston Area Partnership and the Boston Visitor Economy Partnership, along with the Borough Council’s Town Centre Services Manager, Arts, Heritage and Tourism Manager and Events Officer.
These last three posts are something of a mystery to us – and we are hard-pressed to recall any reports of their activities.
So what of the Chamber of Commerce?
According to the website of the Lincoln-based Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, “The Boston Area Chamber is the independent voice and representative body for the business community within Boston and surrounding areas and provides a range of high quality services in response to the needs of the members and the wider business community.
“The Boston Area Chamber, with support from the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, also proactively arranges networking events which encourage inter-trading amongst members and the wider business community.
“The Boston Area Chamber also has close working relationships with Boston Borough Council’s Economic Development Team, and by working together it aims to increase the economic viability of the area.”
It lists so much – yet we have heard so little of what it has done. Perhaps that is because it has done so little.
And what exactly do Boston Borough Council’s Economic Development Team do to earn their crust?
So what of the Boston Town Team?
This is an offshoot of the Boston Area Chamber of Commerce, and it met for the first – and as far as we can tell, the only time – in January.
Ahead of the meeting, we were told that the team would only be as successful as the local business people supporting it.
Afterwards, we were told that despite a low turnout, the meeting put a stake in the ground to start a dialogue with businesses about what they want to see in their Town Team business plan.
Scarcely a dozen businesses turned up for the meeting – when Boston Business Improvement District existed, its town centre domain comprised around 600 forced levy payers.
The first and only Town Team newsletter appeared in April when it was promised that one would be circulated “every four to six weeks.”
So what of the Boston Area Partnership?
Its most recent mention was two years ago, when Boston Borough Council bleated: “delivering our ambitious goals is going to be a major challenge in the current economic climate. We believe that partnership working is the key to making this happen.”
“One of the key mechanisms which we use to support partnership working is Boston Area Partnership (BAP) which includes key partners such as Boston College and Boston Mayflower, our main social housing provider. The partnership is administered by the borough council and meets quarterly to share information, coordinate activity and to identify gaps where partnership working could 'add value'.
“BAP is underpinned by other key local partnerships, particularly the Boston Strategic Health Group and the East Lincolnshire Community Safety Partnership.
“Recent partnership projects include the £2.5 (sic) Boston Market Place, Grow2Eat, Haven Barrier and Boston in Bloom.”
Perhaps the word historic should replace recent after all this time.
Although there should by now have been around ten meetings of this partnership, there is no trace of any meetings, agendas or minutes, and the last positive document in the name of BAP was a “Community Strategy” document covering the period 2004-2009.
So what of the Boston Visitor Economy Partnership?
It’s back to the Lincoln-centred Chamber of Commerce for news of this one, which is described thus “ … a mix of public and private sector organisations with a common vision – to grow Boston's visitor economy. One of the finest market towns in Lincolnshire, with history and heritage of national and international significance, development and management of the visitor offer has been recognised as an area that can support real growth.
“BVEP meets around four times a year. The key driver for activity delivered by BVEP is the Boston Area Destination Management Plan (DMP). The DMP sets out the context of the area's visitor economy and identifies actions to support development.
“Key projects BVEP are currently supporting include: The development of a sustainable business membership base to generate resource to deliver activity for the benefit of the area, creation and distribution of an annual visitor guide, an enhanced pedestrian way finding and historical interpretation signage scheme for Boston.”
Pretty well all of these organisations are tied to the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce – one of whose employees is directly responsible for at least two of them.
Any “evidence” from these organisations to the Task and Finish Group will certainly be interesting to hear – as we feel certain that some of them no longer exist.
There is also an issue of money. According to the Town Team, it “does not have any direct funding; however there is over £6,000 of funding available to the team through the Porta’s (sic) Scheme.”
This was a runner’s up award to Boston BID – along with all the other groups which entered – totalling £10,000 for its dismal attempt to win one of ten £100,000 jackpots to really improve Boston for the better.
Market Rasen won a share of the big money, incidentally.
So what happened to the money when Boston BID was voted to death by the disillusioned businesses that it had so demonstrably failed to help?
The money was initially held by Boston Borough Council, which paid £3,400 into the BID account on the 27th August 2013 for a town centre project snappily named Boston NFC Retail Voucher Hub Solution.
The remaining £6,600 was paid over to the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce acting on behalf of the new Boston Town Team, on 2nd March 2015 – which makes its claim to have no direct funding an interesting one, to say the least ... although we are sure that the money is somewhere safe and sound in Lincoln.
So back to the proposed Task and Finish committee.
According to the big idea ... it will “assist in maximising on the potential of Boston and the identity of Boston, to ensure that the council and other partners, agencies and private sector facilitates the sustaining and where possible improving the town's vitality and to grow the visitor economy – with a view to achieving: increased footfall, increased spend, greater variety of events, more visitors, more inward investment, improved satisfaction, lower shop vacancy rate and a higher profile
Does anyone seriously believe that months of meetings of the great and the good will achieve anything?
So many of the things listed above have been promised before – we particularly recall the pledge to stage regular events and a variety of special markets in the newly “improved” Market Place.
Did they happen?
Did they hell!
Worst Street is good at talking the talk – but when it comes to walking the walk; it is as lame as Long John Silver.
Worryingly, we have heard talk that the Munchkins like the idea of appointing what would doubtless be a highly paid Town Manager.
The problem here would be to find the right person for the job.
Too many mistakes have been made in Boston in the past, and given the way the civic mind-set works here we are very concerned at any possible outcome.
The Norprint disaster is gradually unravelling as the receivers go about their duties.
The most recent report at the end of last month contained a list of around 150 creditors.
It’s estimated that unsecured creditors are owed more than £5 million, whilst preferential creditors – such as former staff owed unpaid wages and holiday arrears – are owed around £105,000,
When the administrators were called in the company’s book debts were £2,750,000, of which about £1,600,000 is likely to be recovered.
Around Lincolnshire, dozens of local business are owed money – ironically including Norprint’s parent company Magnadata’s Norfolk Street operation, which is due £60,000.
A number of other Boston companies are also owed what for them are most likely big sums – £10,000 for just two local businesses alone.
And Boston Borough Council – which means us taxpayers – is owed more than £13,500 ... presumably in business rates.
But whilst you may think that a situation like this produces nothing but losers, there are winners in the form of the people tasked with sorting out the mess.
How about these rates for administering the problem?
Despite promises that this would not happen, Boston Borough Council has been out with the begging bowl again to tap up the Boston Big Local kitty – this time for a £1,200 machine to vacuum up discarded cigarette ends.
A shameless Councillor Michael Brookes, portfolio holder for waste services, said: “We are grateful to Big Boston Local for funding the new street vac, which has already had a big impact on cigarette litter and other small items of street litter which can be very difficult and time consuming to remove.”
The evidence of our own eyes contradicts the view that the new machine has already has a big impact on the dog ends but let us hope that it has the time to before it is consigned to the motorised graveyard where all such Worst Street purchases end up.
Back in the days when the council paid for its own equipment, the Boston Town Area Committee – B-Tacky – blew £1,000 on a litter vacuum for the Main Ridge East Placecheck group, which pledged to use the machine as part of annual Boston in Bloom activities, clean all 23 streets in the Placecheck area at least once a year and make it available to other groups wishing to put it to good use in the town.
Needless to say, after the initial roll-out for the newspaper pictures, neither hide nor hair of the machine was seen again.
And as long ago as 2008 our environmentally friendly councillors spent £7,000 on a machine to remove chewing gum from the town’s streets.
It was trooped out once for the paparazzi, and seen once more about a year later, and the last we heard is was languishing at the former Fen Road depot, where we expect it shortly to be joined by the planters from the Market Place when it proves too much effort to locate them around the town and maintain them.
As with the proposed task and finish group mentioned earlier, it’s the case that the council talks a lot but never turns words into actions.
More beggars are to be out in force next week in the shape of Councillors Paul Skinner and Claire Rylott – portfolio holders for the town centre and leisure services respectively.
They’re asking Wednesday’s meeting of B-Tacky for money to defray what is estimated as the £15,000 cost of funding a separate Christmas Market on Sunday 29th November to follow the switching-on of the lights the previous Thursday.
Insolently, Worst Street has already tapped up that band of luvvies known as Transported for the bulk of the cost, leaving “the borough” – i.e. B-Tacky, the committee which can’t even elect a chairman – to pitch in the difference.
As members of the cabinet, neither Messrs Skinner nor Rylott should need reminding that it is not the role of the committee to fund events other than those which benefit the specific nine town centre wards which its members represent.
Any funding which benefits the borough as a hole – which this certainly does – must be paid for from the main council budget.
We hope that given their newness to the cabinet, Councillors Skinner and Rylott are perhaps naïve enough not to know this – though we have to say that the pair of them have disappointed us greatly since their elevation to the Worst Street peerage.
And perhaps Councillor Rylott could tell us how her cabinet remit of leisure extends to switching on Christmas lights and staging a market.
We also note that the report lists the Assembly Rooms among the places that it lights during the Christmas period.
Perhaps instead of forever whining on about how little money is has for the nicer things in life it might pull the plug on these and let the owner foot the bill instead, as it is a private nightclub.
Don’t you think it is strange that this council can conjure up a spare £250,000 at the snap of the fingers after cocking up the estimates for its infamous biomass rescue plan for the PRSA but that money for anything else is never available?
It seems that it’s no longer a case of “get your trousers on, you’re nicked” but more one of “excuse me sir, would you kindly robe yourself below the waist so that we can escort you to our Black Maria without frightening the horses.”
Boston Police have switched into namby-pamby mode in recent days with their messages to the public at large on their Twitter account.
We’ve read some saccharine drivel in our time, but this new attempt to cosy up to the punters plumbs new depths.
We also wondered – perhaps uncharitably – whether there was an ulterior motive behind all this when we read this final tweet...
Another big idea being pushed forward – along with the begging bowl once again – by Worst Street takes the form of a “special” scale map of Boston in Boston Stump for people to mark their memories of the town on.
The borough burbles ... “This is part of the Heritage Lottery funded Explore and Discover Boston project which is a partnership initiative with Boston Borough Council, Lincolnshire County Council and Heritage Lincolnshire. The project hopes to find out what places are special to people in Boston and to learn more stories about Boston’s past.
“All the information uncovered will be used alongside new signage which is currently being created to map out the town’s heritage sites.”
Signposting is, of course, already in the Task and Finish group agenda mentioned earlier.
Still – doing the same thing twice keeps everyone nice and busy, doesn’t it?
We’ve mentioned begging bowls a couple of times now, and one of the saddest examples of the week came in the form of a paid-for advertisement in one of our local “newspapers” pleading with people to sign up for Worst Street’s Goody Two Shoes News – the daily so-called council “bulletin” (circulation, 784 in a borough where the population is more than 60,000.)
It’s described as a “warts and all” publication – which we presume means that it claims to report the bad news along with the good although – to use the word for the second time in a week – the flavour is almost always saccharine.
It uses the excuse of working with partner organisations to mask the fact that good solid news about the council and what it is – or rather is not doing – is scant, and that the bulletin is often filled with news from the partners rather than the principal.
The claim is that is costs nothing to produce ... “zilch, gratis, nada ...” (pass the sick bag) – except for the salaries of the two person communications department and is merely a spin off from their unspecified normal duties – (whatever they are.)
Questions have been asked about this publication and its relevance both inside and outside Worst Street, and the advertisement – which cost around £300 – is surely a pathetic last ditch attempt to give it some sort of credibility and buy readers.
If Boston Borough Council is serious about informing the public about what it does, it can surely come up with something better than this – a publication that even some council members have told us doesn’t count because it is such a load of tosh that scarcely anyone reads it.
The advert did, however, strike a mischievous chord with us.
Repeated use of the expression “warts and all” reminded us that warts are associated with witches, and that one of the most famous witches of the all is the Wicked Witch of the West ... Street.
Small world, isn't it?
One thing that we can agree on, though, is that at a cost of zilch, gratis, nada the publication is an overpriced insult to its audience
Will Boston Marina soon be renamed the Waterside Housing Estate?
After our mention last week about a plan to convert the Witham Tavern Pub into “apartments” comes another application – to demolish the existing chandlery and build one detached house and a terraced block of four houses.
Now, if only there was a way to concrete over that damn river, things would be perfect.
Finally, another anecdote which shows how concerned our councillors are about the people that they purportedly represent.
A recent parish council meeting heard a complaint from a resident that wheelie bins were going unemptied, and promised to raise the matter at Worst Street.
The problem continued so the person involved rang directly to complain.
By way of response, a black bin bag and a blue plastic bin bag arrived through the post.
Did the councillors at the meeting offer to raise the issue on their ratepayer’s behalf?
Don’t be silly.
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Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com