However much the powers that be in Worst Street might wish, the issue of the Old Grey Mayor versus Value for Money, won’t go away.
A recent Freedom of Information request asking for a list of official Mayoral engagements since May last year made interesting reading.
Broadly speaking it totalled 200 engagements – of which around 60 involved scratching the backs of fellow mayors … often involving quite a bit of time and travel in the process.
As an authority, Boston is one of seven districts under the umbrella of Lincolnshire County Council.
But no end of smaller towns have mayors as well – and the year saw trips to such places as Stamford, Market Deeping, Market Rasen and Bourne.
Most of these were events laid on apparently for the benefit of other mayors – such things as dinners, ‘at homes’ or dare we utter the word … balls.
Or how about a trip to Lincoln for the mayor’s “Whisky Tour?” What a vital piece of inter county co-operation.
But events in Lincolnshire were still not enough.
The year saw civic visits to such far afield places as Kings Lynn, Peterborough, Wisbech, Fenland District Council in March, Cambs, plus Melton Mowbray, Downham Market and Newark.
Years ago, when we worked in the mainstream media, such gatherings were referred to by the collective name of Chain Gangs.
They were nothing more than junkets for people who had been honoured in their local communities wining and dining others of similar ilk as though they were someone special.
All these junkets are paid for from the local council tax – and don’t forget that all mayors have staff support, and an official car and driver … who must spend hours every year covering long distances and waiting below stairs which whichever Worshipsful they served wined and dined the night away.
Of course, the mayor does play a local role as well, and in Boston for the period under review a similar number of events of a local nature were attended – anything from the opening of new shops and other premises to events in schools.
Then there are a large number of events which the mayor attends largely to fill a seat or two – things where his absence would go unnoticed if he wasn’t there.
Recently, our current man in the Santa suit, Councillor Stephen Woodliffe, said that it was an “amazing privilege” to be mayor – and that the role represented and advertised Boston at home and away.
“The role of mayor raises the profile of Boston. Since being mayor, I have noticed how much respect the public have for Boston elsewhere and how appreciative they are for our support.” – including memorial services in London.
Mr Woodliffe added that when he attends events locally, people are “truly appreciative.”
Frankly, we think that many engagements could be done away with – especially those that do nothing more than allow the mayor to swagger around with his peer group.
In Boston, we think that this could save around £20,000 a year – whilst collectively, across the legions of other councils who are staging events for their own self-aggrandisement, the savings could run into hundreds of thousands.
Having said all that it seems that councillors never lack a point of view when it comes to their own sense of worth.
Along with the debate around the value of the mayoral office, we were reminded that councillors and staff at Worst Street enjoy free car parking – as come considerably expense to council taxpayers.
This prompted an e-mail from former Independent – a true Indy, unlike the lip serving contingent we have these days – Carol Taylor, who wrote: “In 2012 when I was a councillor for Witham ward, I brought up the subject of car parking charges at a full council meeting with former Councillor Raymond Singleton-McGuire in his role as finance portfolio holder.
“I had compiled my own research into the benefits of charging council staff to park in their car park. The amount charged would be in line with their earnings which is how the NHS charge their staff.
“I spoke to many of the staff informally, and they had no objections to paying – as long as it was in line with their earnings.
“The worse response was from elected councillors when I suggested we paid £3 a month – which was met with absolute horror from those who did little or nothing and just collected their monthly allowance.
“My calculations showed that there was a potential to raise over £100,000 – but as you would expect it didn't go any further.
“I have to say, though, that Councillor Singleton-McGuire welcomed my research and report and said it was something that could be considered in the future.
“The majority of working people have to pay car parking charges, and there are no reasons why council staff should not pay, either.
“Incidentally, staff who got their free space were only those who worked in the municipal buildings, and I think it did not apply to all council staff – which if true is totally unfair and unacceptable!”
It seems that ex-councillors are doing more these days than those in office.
Again we hear that former Labour group leader and ex-Mayor Paul Kenny has come down hard on Worst Street – this time when it indulged in some self-praise after an appearance by so-called leader ‘Nipper’ Bedford at an all-party parliamentary group session about integration.
Ironically, ‘Nipper’ said that one of the factors in the Boston Brexit vote was a lack of sensible debate about the issues, and too much of a shouting and point scoring match between the opposing political factions.
In return, Mr Kenny has asked the council a number of questions including ones about the lack of full implementation of all the recommendations from the task and finish group on social population impact, and the blocking and refusal to implement licensing of all houses in multiple occupation.
And he asks: “Why haven’t you run a major campaign to change the law on off-licences with all local authorities within the East Midlands and surrounding counties and called on the Conservative government to give the people of Boston the same powers to ban drinking as has been done in some parts of Scotland?
“Boston Borough Council should have been the most dynamic and leading council in the country for its size around immigration and migration but sadly they do not have the commitment or the willpower to do so, which only lets the people of Boston down.”
Mr Kenny says he is asking the surviving members of the Labour party on the council
scrutiny committees and BTAC, to look at some of these issues “and make sure that we get proper scrutiny within our town.”
He concludes: “Unfortunately the Cabinet stops any debate about improving our town, and is rude or dismissive if anybody questions the decisions and actions of Boston Borough Council’s Cabinet. They use officers in their media team to spin political messages which is totally inappropriate.
“If they wish to do political spin then the Tory councillors should pay for it, not the people of Boston, and it is in breach of the guidelines laid down for local government by using officers within their local media team.”
And as far as his efforts to date are concerned, he tells Boston Eye: “I am still waiting for any answers. I don't think I will hold my breath.”
As we remarked last week, clearly Mr Kenny has thrown his hat in the ring for next year’s county council elections.
But there is now another – former Tory Worst Street bigwig Yvonne Gunter, who was portfolio holder for leisure, has defected to the Lincolnshire Independents.
She recently took part in a survey in the town which came to the startling conclusion that market traders were worried about falling business.
“Many were concerned that footfall and spend has reduced over the years. Some stall holders had stopped coming, leaving gaps.
"Stall holders were very worried about shops closing, especially the larger properties as they become dirty and uncared for which is a bad image for the town.
"The lack of public toilets is a big concern to the traders, especially sole traders, who find it very difficult to leave their stall to go far. Some admitted allowing themselves to be dehydrated, rather than having to find a loo."
She also listed the state of the Market Place surface, and the use of Strait Bargate by buses – which is something that she may well once have voted for.
She added: “"It appears Boston Borough Council are addressing these issues after many meetings so we await their comments."
If by the latter, she means the council’s Preposterous Boston Task and Finish group, then comments may well be all that we end up with – whenever the group deigns to report and share its thoughts with the public.
Meanwhile, we hear that they are pressing ahead with the idea of paying private business to make their toilet facilities available – but while shiny baubles implying that thousands of pounds a year might change hands, we understand that the reality is that much smaller sums are likely … which in some cases would fail to cover the cost of providing the service.
There’s interesting news about our former UKIP candidate at last year’s general election – Robin Hunter-Clarke, who started his political “career” as a Conservative town councillor in Skegness before switching loyalties..
Some while ago he decanted to Wales to serve the UKIP assembly leader Neil (it’s in the bag) Hamilton as Chief of Staff.
Within the last few days he has announced his candidacy for UKIP in the local elections in Gibbonsdown, Vale of Glamorgan.
Asked if this means that he has relinquished his role at a Lincolnshire County Councillor, he said: “Yes, in May. I will finish my term and fulfil my commitment.”
Some have questioned the decision to stay at County Hall – which may well prove challenging if Hunter-Clarke is lucky at the Welsh ballot box.
Recently, Mr Hunter-Clarke’s “commitment” has fallen to attendances at two meetings out of the last five – but the allowances, at the thick end of £7,500 a year, remain unchanged, of course..
As we asked a while ago … despite his promises, can we really expect Mr Clarke to stand again at the next general election?
Interestingly, Mr H-C rates a mention in the current issue of Private Eye – which observes that his boss Hamilton continues to live in England and use UKIP money “to bolster UKIP in England.”
Mrs Hunter-Clarke is described as a “Civil Litigator” in RHC’s register of interests with Lincolnshire County Council.
Worst Street’s fondness for the iron fist in the iron glove approach to problems earned the town more unwanted publicity last weekend – when the Sunday Telegraph highlighted its plan to criminalise people for nothing more serious than refusing to produce a dog poo bag on demand.
Welcome to Boston – where if you’re not accosted by street drinkers – you’ll need waders to struggle through the doggy droppings!
Finally – and still with Worst Street – we were amused by the latest way that the council treats us all as though we were a ring-pull short of a four pack.
Beneath the headline “Can you be the canned art project winner?” (note the clever play on words) the council website promotes “a project to develop artwork for Boston made from recycled aluminium cans has been launched with a competition for 13 to 18-year-olds to design a logo.”
Witham Central and Carlton Road Neighbourhood Action Group, “a resident-led community group helping to tackle anti-social behaviour and undertaking environmental projects in the centre of Boston” has been awarded £15,000 by the Arts Council and another £1,500 from the Royal Voluntary Service's Local People's Project to undertake the project along Haven Bank..
The "From the Stump to the Sluice" project will involve the group and our old friends Transported, commissioning a professional artist to create a series of themed, cast metal “finials” made from melted down aluminium cans.
If there’s a better way to waste £16,500, we have yet to encounter it – but what made us really smile was Worst Street’s naïve illustration that accompanied the website piece.
Mention aluminium cans in the context of Boston’s reputation and anti-social behaviour, and drink tins come to mind.
But not to the Worst Street “mind.”
The tins in their picture are all soft drink containers!
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