Crackers! Christmas debate turns into a load of baubles!
Join us now for a ringside seat at last week’s special meeting of BTAC – called to discuss last year’s Christmas lights fiasco.
Ringside might be the best possible word in the context – as by all accounts the lengthy session had more of the circus about it that the council chamber. Certainly there appeared to be no shortage of clowns.
Your guide to the evening is local businessman Darron Abbott, who is keen that the town be seen in a better light this Christmas – although once you’ve read his report, you may feel as we do that this appears increasingly unlikely
ednesday 22nd February, 6.30pm, the council chamber – finally we get to find out what went wrong with the with the 2016 Boston Christmas event. The meeting was open to the public, and was billed as not being held to apportion blame, but to move on to the future.
There were actually some members of the public in attendance – five of us in total, three people from a volunteer organisation, Councillor Jonathan Noble and me. Not bad for a meeting that had not really been publicised – not even a mention in the great Boston Bulletin.
The chairman, Councillor Nigel Welton, announced that the meeting would be recorded … was this a glimpse of a future of openness and accountability form the council or just to stop the council's officers being able to rewrite history to fit their own needs (but that is a story on its own.)
One thing that was a surprise at this point was the fact that no one from the infamous Town Team were present; instead, the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce supremo Simon Beardsley.
Once the pleasantries were out of the way I was allowed to ask my question, which centred on the ownership and the cost of the projectors used for the lighting display, as there seemed real confusion regarding this, and even the agenda notes for the meeting added to the confusion.
The reply came back, but it did not really answer the question other than to confirm that they had not been purchased but did not answer the lease or hire part.
“I then proceed with my supplementary question, in which I asked for a breakdown of how the £35,000 grant (from BTAC) had been spent.
The reply came back from an officer that the figures had been audited by an independent accountant and all was OK.
There was no offer to make these amounts public. I pressed again for a breakdown; it was then referred to Mr Beardsley who would not confirm that the breakdown would be made available to the public.
Why would they be reluctant to let us know how they had spent our money?
The meeting then continued mainly with statements from the members of the committee – most of which expressed surprise about the ownership of the equipment. Many of the committee had been given the impression that the equipment had been purchased and would be available for use at other times.
The other point that kept coming up was the fact that the actual display was nothing like that presented to committee by the Town Team.
There were statements from two senior committee members. Councillor Brian Rush said he had not become involved in the sub-committee to overlook the spending as he knew it would all go wrong and did not want to be part of it. Perhaps if he had been involved it would have meant he would have had to shoulder some of the responsibility.
Councillor Alison Austin apologised for not getting involved when perhaps she should have done – seeming to suggest she had not had time. Perhaps this was to ease her conscience for not having the time to help for the event but being able turn up and ensure she was in most of the photographs!
The funniest statement of the evening was his worshipfulness Woodliffe, who had seen nothing wrong with the event. It was marvellous, wonderful. I think he thought the Santa Claus present at the event was the real one.
The gnashing and wailing went on for well over an hour,. During this time to his credit the chairman did state that they were all guilty of neglecting to ensure the money had been spent wisely.
What was becoming apparent was that no one present was confident in allowing the Town Team or Chamber to be allowed to take on the event in the future.
Towards the end of this session, Councillor Yvonne Stevens spoke, being very critical of the Chamber’s handing of the event.
When she finished she was approached by the council's monitoring officer and taken outside, which seemed very strange. She had not appeared to say anything controversial, so why would a council officer interfere, she was only there for guidance.
After a few minutes, Councillor Stevens returned to the chamber. The monitoring officer returned a few minutes later with an A4 sheet of paper and passed it to the chairman.
After reading what was on the paper, the chairman called a break in proceedings to allow refreshments.
The contents of the notes on this sheet of paper will never be known to us, the public, unless in the spirit of openness and accountability shown by Councillor Welton at the start of the meeting he would like to anonymously supply Boston Eye a copy! I am sure his identity would not be revealed.
Whilst most people’s attentions were being diverted, getting cups of coffee and having a chat, at the other end of the chamber there were obvious discussions going on centred on the contents of the notes produced by the monitoring officer.
Was it the fact that no one wanted the chamber involved; but this is not what had been agreed in some kind of shoddy deal between the officers and chamber prior to the meeting?
The meeting then recommenced, with Simon Beardsley stating the town team had appointed a new chairman who was one of the town’s largest retailers, but whom he declined to name.
They had already had meetings with Pescod Square about their lights and their lighting supplier, and that they had already started planning for the 2017 event.
This was not what a majority of those present wanted, so it was put to Beardsley as to whether the Town Team would like to be involved in community lead team. He did not like this. He “would have to go back to the Town Team and ask them as he could not speak on their behalf.”
Why in hell was he at the meeting if he wasn't representing the Town Team? It seems that if the chamber were not running the show. They were not interested.
In the end, it was resolved that a committee be set up by March under the guidance of BTAC of residents and business, with the chamber if they wished and possibly the Federation of Small Businesses to run the events for the town.
It was also suggested that matched funding of up to £10.000 would be made available by BTAC and that any interested members of the public should contact Janette Collier from the council.
Then on Friday the council issued a press release stating people who are interested should contact the Chamber of Commerce in Lincoln, which was not what was agreed at the meeting!
A ‘phone call to the Chamber of Commerce revealed that lady responsible does not work on Fridays, and would not be able to answer my questions as she was not going to be told she was responsible until Monday.
In its “account” of the meeting, the Worst Street website informed us that a new group had been formed to include something calling itself Boston More In Common Facebook Group.
On its Facebook page, the group itself asks “So...what is Boston More In Common? It is a group started by like-minded people to foster a sense of open friendliness between the rich tapestry of nationalities and cultures we are lucky to be home to in Boston, Lincolnshire. .. it is a place that we are trying to create to encourage interaction and integration ... to make us all realise that Boston is now 'Home' to many people, and we are all 'Bostonians' wherever we were born.”
We wait with bated breath so see how this will translate into a stonking display of lights this year.
We hear that Worst Street is planning yet another of its pointless “Task and Finish” groups – this time to take a look at on impact of STP on the Pilgrim Hospital.
Until now STP was better known as a go-faster fuel additive – but this particular set of initials stands for Sustainability and Transformation Plan – a five year plan to improve quality and develop new models of care; improve health and well-being and the efficiency of services at the Pilgrim Hospital.
Task and finish groups may be established by a scrutiny committee to conduct an in-depth review of any service, policy or issue that affects the borough, which falls under the remit of the committee.
Given that Boston Borough Council seems incapable of running its own affairs, we can only wonder why it has the impudence to believe it can tell others how to manage theirs.
Its track record to date has not been impressive.
In recent years we have seen a report on the social impact of population change in Boston – which has been a source of considerable criticism, a report on the lamentably awful Boston Business “Improvement” District which saw recommendations that were completely ignored, and more recently a rural isolation task and finish group. Whether that achieved anything we have no idea.
Then of course there is the almost forgotten Prosperous Boston task and finish group, which we have dubbed the Preposterous Boston. By an ironic coincidence, as we dictated this sentence, our voice recognition software decided to call it the task “unfinished” group.
When the committee was established in 2015, Worst Street called it "one of the most in-depth studies into what makes Boston tick" aimed at making the town better for residents, shoppers and for those who work and visit here.
The group meets in secret, and does not publish minutes – but we are promised a final report will appear on the borough’s website, which if they are running on schedule should be any time now.
Preposterous Boston’s next update will be discussed on Wednesday a meeting of the Environment and Performance Committee – and a look through the report suggests that most of the things proposed are mere relatively minor aside from a plan for a food festival in September and the introduction of some Big Brother heavy-footedness.
We have no idea where the food festival idea has come from … but Spalding has staged something similar in previous years over two days – and this year is reviewing whether to repeat the exercise due to poor attendance figures.
There was also mention of a squad of “environmental enforcement” officers starting work through a third party organisation this week and a bid by Worst Street to get permission for its first RIPA surveillance operation using a covert camera, in an area subjected to continual fly tipping.
For those who don’t know, RIPA is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 which controls the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation, and the interception of communications – and was created to fight terrorism and serious crime.
What we’ve read so far is not particularly earth-shattering but we were pleased to note that the group has at least rattled the cages of the Head of Town Centre, Leisure, Events and Culture, the Town Centre Services Manager, the Principal Museum, Arts and Heritage Officer and the Partnerships and Sustainability Manager.
With all these big names getting involved, success surely cannot be far behind.
Also in the report, mention is made of concern at a damaged road sign on the A52 approaching the town, which has gone unrepaired for many months.
Whilst members agreed that it reflected badly on the town and needed to be straightened “it was not within Boston’s remit to do so as it was County Highways responsibility.”
Things will never improve whilst attitudes such as this survive.
Incidentally another damaged is on the A16 coming into town from Wyberton, and that has also been in its present state for many months as well. This is one of the “special” Boston signs, which we would hope the council can do something about.
Local websites have been awash this week with the snap below of our Police and Crime Commissioner, his deputy and a couple of other macho characters posing alongside a car that once belonged to a hare courser, and which has been seized and crushed.
Whilst we have no problem with depriving these people of their transport, we wonder whether the vehicles could be put to better use.
We are sure that charities, for example could use a four-wheel drive or two to help them collect donations, or various groups that try to help others.
If nothing else, could the vehicles not be auctioned, and the proceeds used to support good causes?
Whilst it’s now unrecognisable, we wonder whether the vehicle in the photo was once a Vauxhall Courser?
Tonight’s full meeting of the council will be discussing and voting on the proposed council tax increase for the year ahead. But don’t expect any surprises, or last minute reprieves.
A reader who contacted Worst Street in the middle of last week with a query was told that it wasn’t possible to access council tax information that day “because we’re printing out the bills.”
Our recent piece on the quality of local “newspapers” stirred some fond memories for Boston Eye reader Tony Eves, who e-mailed us to say:
our comments regarding the Boston Standard over the past few blogs have been spot on, and the latest reference to twelve reporters and a senior reporter dedicated to local government shows just how devalued a once respected newspaper has become
“That senior reporter you refer to is probably (I hope!) my father, Allan Eves. As a child I remember he used to attend all the council meetings, often until late at night, then spend hours writing the report either in the office in Wide Bargate or at home. He never seemed to express a personal opinion (until 'Spectator' many years later after retirement) but always appeared to know personally most of the local councillors and what they thought.
“As you say, in those days the council and the members were more accountable because there were real people looking at them, listening to them, talking to them and asking questions to their face.
“Sometimes, privately, he wasn't very complimentary but, publicly, it wasn't his place to be so.
“Going back even before those times I remember he used to go out reporting - knowing something happened but going out to find out more. I once sat in the car just past the (as was) Sibsey railway bridge one weekend while he talked to someone who had escaped a car accident in a drain.
“Earlier still one of his memories was of visiting the relatives of recently deceased gentleman to record the details of his life then being asked to go into the front room and have a look at the late lamented as he lay in his coffin on the table.
“Sad as it is a newspaper these days seems to rely on items being sent in to them from various social media sources then arranged on a computer generated page with few checks on grammar and spelling.
“And as an afterthought, my mother worked as a reader with Meg Comer for a few years at the then Lincolnshire Standard so there were plenty of checks then.
“Apart from the inevitable computer 'spellchecker’ is there anything else these days?”
Finally, one of those delightful errors that slip unnoticed through the system. This comes from the Preposterous Boston report on the appointment of environmental enforcement officers and asks why their tasks cannot be combined with those of the traffic wardens.
Or perhaps it wasn’t a slip of the pen after all!
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