Are your councillors
best for you?
We have gained an interesting insight into the requirements expected of councillors in order that they can be seen to be doing their jobs properly – a list of do’s and don’ts that by and large favours the don’t lobby.
They emerged in a written response from Worst Street after a reader’s complaint about a local councillor which – needless to say – was rejected.
Listing the “requirements of a councillor” the reply said: “There are no formal requirements for a district councillor in terms of a job description or any legal requirements as to how much engagement they must make with their constituents. “Indeed, the only legal requirement for a councillor to attend meetings is that they must attend at least one meeting in a six month period or this will lead to automatic disqualification.”
The Local Government Association is a little more specific.
“A councillor's primary role is to represent their ward or division and the people who live in it.
“Councillors provide a bridge between the community and the council.
“As well as being an advocate for your local residents and signposting them to the right people at the council, you will need to keep them informed about the issues that affect them.
“As a local councillor, your residents will expect you to respond to their queries and investigate their concerns, communicate council decisions that affect them, know your patch and be aware of any problems, know and work with representatives of local organisations, interest groups and businesses, represent their views at council meetings, and lead local campaigns on their behalf.”
Whilst that sounds about right, we wonder just how much – or more likely just how little – of the duties suggested are being delivered by our local councillors.
Whilst we taxpayers may have Great Expectations we think it more likely that councillors see themselves in the role of Mr and Mrs Bumble in Oliver Twist and deliver less rather than more.
In the Boston Eye ward, several important local issues have emerged recently which have not been communicated in any way, shape or form – other than to appear as agenda items … which very few people take the trouble to seek out.
In one case, we e-mailed the entire BTAC committee membership and relevant officers with comments that certainly merited a reply.
The e-mails went out to a total of 19 recipients.
Just two acknowledged – and one of those was not a reply in the real sense of the word.
After the meeting in question, nothing was received. Nothing was investigated or communicated.
Whatever we were expecting, nothing was delivered.
The only conclusion we can draw from all of this is that our councillors have a “we know best” approach – not only that, but adopt a superior position and do not feel obliged to talk to the little people who elected them to office … unless the talk is in a downward direction.
As a result, over time we have acquired a council that feels no obligation to tell the voters what it is doing – other than to list a few big decisions.
So-called “consultations” have been a joke for a long while – it’s an easy job to read between the lines of the questions to see that they are designed to generate the answers that Worst Street wants, and nothing more.
So, the councillors don’t communicate; the officers don’t communicate – and sadly, the local “newspapers” publish little about what goes on in the council chamber – mostly preferring to be spoon-fed with the Worst Street account of events.
The whole business of councillor communication is a can of worms that is long overdue to be opened.
Over the years councillors have held local “surgeries” – but most now don’t bother. The same is true of newsletters to keep voters in touch. A few councillors still issue them, but most don’t bother.
In this age of electronic communication councillors ignore the ease with which they can communicate by e-mail, blogging, Facebook or Twitter.
There was a time when the local Labour group blogged virtually daily – but a look at their webpages at the end of last week showed that their last entry was a shadow ministerial speech delivered on 24th September last year – apparently in its entirety.
Something else that Labour made into a big issue was to demand that all councillors publish an annual report detailing what they had done in their wards.
To start the ball rolling, they issued their own – but since the 2015 elections saw the party reduced to just two members, a set of a previous member’s reports has vanished.
Of the remainder, Councillor Nigel Welton has not issued a report in the 20 months since his election, whilst the group leader Paul Gleeson produced reports for 2011-12 and another for 2012-13… but nothing since.
A little earlier, we mentioned the demise of local government coverage in our local press.
When we worked at the Boston Standard – half a century ago – it boasted a reporting staff of twelve … and included a full time senior journalist who specialised in nothing but coverage of local government news.
It made the councillors and the council accountable – whereas now they are not.
Ironically, grave errors such as these are now being recognised – but as you might expect only in a half-hearted way.
Earlier this month, news publishers and the BBC divulged how £8m a year will be diverted from the licence fee to help plug the ‘democratic deficit’ in local journalism.
The money will fund 150 “local democracy reporters” whose job will be to cover the goings-on at local councils and courts.
Sadly by the sound of it, not much by way of coverage will trickle down to district council level – which we are sure will bring a sigh of relief from the Worst Street mafia.
In another piece of irony, we have read comments by the chairman of the News Media Association and chief executive of Johnston Press, Ashley Highfield, who said: “This ground-breaking partnership will enhance democracy at a local level by increasing and strengthening coverage of local authorities and public services, while maintaining the healthy competition between different news sources.”
The irony there?
Mr Highfield’s company owns the Boston sub-Standard among other Lincolnshire papers – and over the years, its relentless policy of cuts have seen our local rags reduced to little more than receptacles for official press releases and free puffs.
Gone are the days when reporters went out and about and immersed themselves in the local community.
In recent months, in our strolls around town, we have noted the closure of shops, the departure of at least one long-established local market stall, along with a number of other things which in the old days would have counted as local news.
But somehow, they have not made it into our local “newspapers.”
Enter irony number three … from Mr Highfield yet again.
“Local newspapers in print and digital have a unique and highly trusted relationship with the communities they serve.
“This agreement will enable the BBC to benefit from our first-class local journalism …”
Wethinks Mr Highfalutin’ needs to get out more.
Our regular correspondent Quadranteer has written to remind us of an extra public meeting of the borough's BTAC-ky committee on 22nd February.
“The purpose of the meeting is to gauge reaction to, and take note of, the level of disappointment voiced by ratepayers about what they consider an amateur and disappointing Christmas display.
“It is also a response to questions from members of the public to those councillors who were involved in the Christmas lights project.
“A great deal of criticism was expressed by members of the public and in the media regarding the lack of quality and value for money, as well as the disconnect in organisational arrangements that were undertaken alongside the low level of effect, against the high level of costs.
“Attendees are expecting the usual fob-off and whitewash that is usually employed by Boston cabinet members when such failures occur.
“Why did Councillor Bedford select two country-based councillors and present them with portfolios best suited to town representatives?
“One hails from Butterwick, and one from Kirton Holme – so both live about three or four miles out of the Boston town area … yet both hold cabinet posts which would clearly be better suited to councillors who reside in the town?
A local-ish newspaper report says that Lincolnshire’s new Chief Constable Bill Skelly described his new job as like “standing on the shoulders of giants in taking on this proud heritage” before going on to thank his predecessor Neil Rhodes for doing “an absolutely fantastic job in getting the police service to where it is today”.
Quite where that was he didn’t say.
After saying that he was “aware” of the issues with migrant workers in areas like Boston, he continued “I’m not aware of anything specific in relation to anti-social behaviour and street drinking.
“But I am aware of the general issues and I don’t see anti-social behaviour as low-level crime because it can have a disproportionate effect on people who feel they are prisoners in their own home.
“Hopefully, we can improve the quality of life for people who otherwise might feel they are being victimised.”
This is known as “talking the talk.”
Walking the walk” is something completely different.
We were disappointed, but not surprised to read a letter in a local “newspaper” commenting on the poor state of the nearly new £750,000 St Botolph’s footbridge.
The writer says: “It looked good when new, but is now covered with green algae which rather spoils the look.
“I got in touch with the county council, whose responsibility it is and was told they were aware of the problem but budgeting meant it was a low priority so would probably be another year before they would even think about getting round to it … what a pity nobody in their extremely well paid jobs thought to cost in the occasional scrub.
“I suggest they repaint it the same colour as the algae so then we shan’t notice!
“There are many things in Boston that public bodies are simply not maintaining, for example the railings along the Maud Foster Drain near the Maud Foster mill haven’t been painted for years and this is in a conservation area, where rates are higher.
“Interestingly, neither of these are in the remit of Boston Borough Council, who recently fined a private individual for not looking after a listed building; but I feel they should follow their good example set and give these big organisations a reminder of their responsibilities.”
Can you be serious? Boston Borough Council getting tough with Lincolnshire County Council?
Hell will freeze over first, wethinks.
Our last blog reported our unsuccessful attempts to get a ban on Boston Eye accessing Boston Borough Council’s endlessly entertaining Twitter pages lifted – and promised that we would continue to pursue this staggering piece of ineptitude.
But there was no need to worry.
The day after our blog appeared, we received an e-mail that read: “Dear Boston Eye,
You are once again free to access the Boston Borough Council Twitter feed.
Regards, Customer Services Boston Borough Council.”
Well, it was only two weeks since we wrote ...
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