It seems that Lincolnshire's district councils may still find themselves evicted from their featherbedded nests despite their objections to the idea of a unitary authority for the county.
County Hall had planned to combine the county council elections in May with a referendum on the idea, which its claimed could save as much as £150m over five years – which works out at £82,000 a day.
It’s a move that makes sense – but would also mean the disappearance of the county’s seven district councils … among them Boston.
So as you might imagine, the reaction among the highly-paid chief executives and well-remunerated councillors was to gang up and blow a chunk of our cash on a QC – a legal sledgehammer to smash what at this stage was not more than a tiny nut, and one which could have cost between £1,000 and £5,000 an hour depending on the seniority of the legal eagle involved.
However, at their recent meeting, county councillors voted to seek taxpayers’ views on the principle of moving to a unitary system of local government through some form of consultation later this year.
Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, Councillor Martin Hill, said: “The local election would have been a good chance to engage with people in Lincolnshire, but rather than doing a U-turn, the county council is facing a chicane as the district councils have put so many obstacles in the way!
“We never had any intention of spending £1m to hold a separate poll in polling stations, as suggested by the district councils, but I am pleased that the council are supportive of asking our residents for their views.
“I stand by the premise that it is right that residents have their say on the future of local government in the county. We should listen to the people we represent, not dictate to them.
“I believe the current system is complicated, wasteful and no longer financially sustainable. Without change, important local services are already being reduced and even cut entirely. The savings could also be used to keep council tax down, helping local families as they struggle to make ends meet themselves.”
We only know about Boston – which is one of the smallest local councils in the land … ranked 305th out of 326 by population.
Yet more than half a dozen officers are paid – note that we do not say earn – more than £50,000 a year, among them the Chief Executive on the thick end of £100K.
The council has 280 staff and a wage bill of £8.5 million – and as we have said before, now that the bulk of what the council used to do has been cut the lion’s share of their work is the administration and collection of council tax for county hall, the police, and the parishes – plus its own share.
Last year – out of a total Band D council tax charge of £1,503.68 – a total of £1,128.83 was sent to Lincoln, £201.51 to the police, whilst Worst Street retained £173.34.
This means that Boston’s share of the total is just 11.5% which suggests that if Lincoln and the police were left to collect their own dues, collection costs would fall massively.
Obviously, this will have to happen in the event of Lincolnshire becoming a unitary authority and we suspect that removing the role from the districts will account for much of the £30 million annual saving being quoted.
It was interesting to note that after the full council rubber stamped its 2.86% increase last week that the usual smoke and mirrors act was wheeled onstage.
“The majority of households will have to pay less than 9p a week more towards the borough's share of their council tax.” burbled the Worst Street website.
Yes … but …
A rise of £4.68 sounds insignificant enough.
But of course people living in the Boston Town Area Committee – BTAC-ky for short – are due to pay an extra £1 a week … £50 a year … a 200% increase … after its megalomaniac members opted to take the job of running the town’s toilets and Central Park away from the central kitty, where it rightly belongs.
Added to that, the county council is increasing its share of the council tax by 3.95% and the police by 1.97% which means that the combined increase on last year’s Band D bill is 8.78%. That's £132 a year, or £2.53 a week – a total of £1,635.70.
The Worst Street attempt to make itself look good in all of this just shows how disinterested it is in levelling with its taxpayers and how feeble are its claims to support openness and transparency.
Worst Street is a council whose time has come. It is top heavy in terms of costs and staffing, ineffective in its work for the borough – and worst of all, it is complacent.
Whilst we have regularly criticised the treatment of Boston by Lincolnshire County Council, the borough is faring no better under its existing representation – and so long as we can be guaranteed quality representation in Lincoln under unitary status – rather than the half-heart ragbag that we have at present – we might at least hope for something better in the future.
The massive rise in council tax has been laughed off by BTAC-ky, which considers it a small price to pay for the committee’s self-aggrandisement.
This is despite the point that the wards that make up the committee’s area have been declared among the poorest and least privileged in the borough.
So it was with interest that we read recently the latest comparison of average earnings between districts.
Boston was bottom of the list on £21,961. Lincoln was next on £24,435, then East Lindsey on £25,020, South Kesteven with £25,159, North Kesteven at £27,183, West Lindsey on £25,463, and South Holland £25,488.
These figures are bad enough when your realise that the national average wage is £27,500 – but the fact that Boston is £5,539 below that and £3,527 below our nearest district neighbours just makes matters so much worse.
An excellent example of left hands not realising what right hands have been doing appeared in the report by the Preposterous Boston Task and Finish Group which we mentioned last week.
“Reference was also made to the lack of provision of benches within the town and officer’s (sic) advised that repairs were being undertaken on a number of the benches.”
Among other things, the group requested that: “an updated (sic) be provided on the future provision of benches within the town.”
Is it only four and a half years ago that B-TACky ripped out 30 or more benches all over town to stop them being used by street drinkers in their unsuccessful war on anti-social activity? It surely is …
And is it the case that once these benches are restored, drinkers will have taken the hint and not return in their droves to use them as beer gardens once again?
What do you think?
Boston MP Matt Warman’s latest column in the Conservative supporting Boston Standard mentioned a visit to the town’s recent jobs fair – and whilst he enjoyed the event, he also reported a sinister undertone.
t was the first time I was advised that personal security would be a helpful thing at a public event,” he said.
“A specific concern about one individual meant a regrettable cost to the tax payer, and while I didn't want it to get in the way of speaking to each stand it inevitably did have an impact.
“All politicians today know that hectoring and harassment, online in particular, is a part of the job, inexcusable though it is. I will continue to be as available as I possibly can, whether it's as I'm doing my shopping on a Saturday morning or at surgeries and on social media.
“But I would ask individuals to fully consider the consequences of their actions.
The PCSO who accompanied me at the jobs fair was a superb professional and I'm genuinely grateful to him – but I know too that his time should be better spent elsewhere”
We fully agree – and would add that unfortunately, but in rare and extreme cases – individuals have been known to go further, and hope that this disagreeable problem disappears as quickly as it emerged.
We saw precious little of Mr Warman’s predecessor, and would not like to see intimidatory unpleasantness such as this threaten his presence and availability in the constituency.
A Tweet by former Labour councillor and ex-Mayor Paul Kenny told anyone who wanted to know: “I write my own letters to the papers. Tory councillors in Boston get officers to write their letters for them, wasting taxpayers’ money. Disgraceful.”
Certainly if it is true, it is disgraceful – and we have to say that after seeing examples of some councillors’ written efforts and comparing them with their “public” writings – that we feel that Mr Kenny is bang on the money.
Mr Kenny’s Tweet drew a swift response from one of our regulars who has experience of life inside the Worst Street bubble.
t is a rare thing for me to find myself supporting any of our Labour councillors, present or past, such as Paul Kenny, but I never cease to be amazed at the remarkable number of times I have been visiting Worst Street and bumped into PB (the “leader” Pete Bedford) and always around late lunchtime.
I wonder why it always seems to take place at about the same time – midday-ish every month, on 'Fool' Council days!
“One cannot help but suspect, given the time frame for Leader’s responses to members’ questions that this might be a great time of day to get a little practice – under instruction of course, whilst the paid help e-mails answers back to enquirers!
Which brings me to the politics of Labour, and their mind-blowingly hypocritical standards.
I am not at a loss to understand the national party's condemnation of Conservatism, nor even the constant criticism regarding the lack of social integration amongst residents, abhorrence and perceived greed of business owners both men and women – that’s what Labour stands for!
But, here, amongst some of the most socially and economically disadvantaged members of our society, our only two local Labour councillors slavishly support everything the Tories say or do – upholding everything that is put forward, and swallowing their shallow working class principles in exchange for a 'minor' seat at the Tory banquet.
How can these two dyed-in-the-wool Labourites support such a completely jaundiced and politically opposite dictum as Conservatism.
Do they see no shame in having to tug a grateful forelock to what must be considered the most inadequate Conservative Leader ever, to say nothing of his minions...?
Worst Street tells us that the Big Boston Clean-up celebrates its tenth anniversary this year “and will be a part of the national Great British Spring Clean campaign” – a combination that we suggested should have been done some years ago.
However, there appears to be something wrong with the borough’s hourglass – and not for the first time.
Last year, the Big Boston Clean-up was described as being “by royal appointment” in support of the national tidy campaign, Clean for the Queen The campaign included a special clean-up weekend on March 4th–6th 2016 ahead of the Queen’s 90th on 21st April.
Despite the stupid claim to be “by appointment” when it was not, the borough also stuck to its usual time window and staged the clean up between April 4th–7th – therefore making it part of nothing at all.
And guess what? Despite claiming to be part of this year’s ninth annual Big Tidy Up, which was staged over the last weekend, Boston's clean-up will take place over four days, from Monday, April 10th to Thursday April 13th.
Perhaps they’re taking their time from the clock above Strait Bargate, which – although the real time was around 11am when our picture was taken, showed it to be 3.05 or 8.25 depending on your direction of travel.
And finally … when the Big Boston Clean-up does arrive, is there any chance that this eyesore can receive the bucket and mop treatment?
It’s parked prominently on The Green, and must be seen by hundreds of people each day – doing nothing for the town’s image.
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