Monday, 9 October 2017

Despite incessant claims that Worst Street is strapped for cash, it looks as though councillors may soon be getting a pay rise.
A seemingly innocuous report to last month’s full council meeting headed Appointments to the Independent Remuneration Panel is slightly more than that in that not only does it make three appointments to the panel – the previous members’ tenure has expired – but it sets the wheels in motion for them to start work on a pay review.
The panel makes recommendations about basic allowances, special responsibility allowances, dependant carers’ allowances, travel and subsistence allowances and co-optees’ allowances – and one thing that can be said with some certainty is that it won’t be suggesting a pay freeze or reduction.
The review involves analysing local and national comparative information, considering the time commitment required for a ward councillor role, and evaluating roles which are eligible for special responsibility allowances.
Given the pathetic attendance record of some councillors, one might think that the review provided a good opportunity to introduce a no play, no pay policy so that failure to turn up for a meeting would mean a reduction in allowances.
Ho, ho, ho.
Ho.
Whoever drew up the rules thought of that one – and made sure that  any deal was wholesale rather than retail ... so that councillors who fail properly to deliver on their election promises are in no
way penalised.
The wording makes it clear that “the panel has no legislative provision to make any recommendations based on an attendance allowance scheme, whereby members only receive an allowance for the meetings they attend, or any form of performance related payment, or for allowances to be linked to the Member Code of Conduct as a form of sanction.”
In a nutshell – those councillors who decided to thumb their noses at their colleagues and their electorate pocket exactly the same wages and get off scot free.
The last pay review was in 2012 and covered a two–year period.
Not being one to do things by halves where self–service is involved, the Boston panel awarded its chums the biggest rise of all the councils – an increase of 28% to £3,052 on the basic wedge ... which has crept up since then to £4,400 a year.

***

There was major criticism of all this – especially from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which said: “With local authorities up and down the country having to rein in spending and many public sector staff facing a pay freeze, those councillors who have awarded themselves an increase in their allowances in defiance of government advice should hang their heads in shame.
At the time, Worst Street – adopting its usual policy of treating taxpayers as if they were idiots – managed to spin the pay rise down to a meagre 2.5% a year using the argument that eight years had gone by since the last increase.
Leader at the time, Peter Bedford said: "There will never be a best time for increases, and there have not been any in Boston for six years. We have slipped further and further behind our colleagues in the other Lincolnshire authorities, and still remain substantially below them.
"It does demonstrate that we represent value for money here in Boston.
"Allowances are there so that no one is denied, for financial reasons, from becoming a councillor. They are recompense for the time that people spend on council business."

***

For longer than we care to remember, the Worst Street argument whenever the councillor slush funds are concerned is that they are the worst paid in the land.
Certainly the allowances are down with the lowest of the low – but the most likely reason for this is that Worst Street is one of the smallest district councils by population ... placed 305th   out of 326, the last two of which are the City of London with 9,400 residents and the Scilly Isles with 2,600.
Small council, duties not onerous – for some members virtually non–existent – so why should they be paid even more?
Rest assured that his argument will not be one to feature when the panel begins its considerations.

***

Certainly, the members sound as though they might be sympathetic.
They are:
Tim Booth – a former policeman who now runs his own caravan and leisure security business and has been involved with community groups for many years.
John Price – a former officer of the council who has a good understanding of the workings of local government and the roles and responsibilities of members in those processes.
Simon Sperring – a former bank manager and teacher in business studies who was a member of the remuneration panel  between 2003 to 2008 and a one–time chairman.

***

It’s always good to find an explanation that sums things up succinctly and in a way that everyone can understand.
When we read the third and final phase of the long overdue Prosperous Boston Task and Finish Group, we had to admire an update on economic development by the Head of Town Centre, Leisure, Events and Culture on behalf of the Economic Development Manager.
Wisely – and perhaps with  the subtext of a nothing to do with us, guv  the report  made a point of telling readers that it was quoting verbatim.
The opening line set the trend for the rest of the report ...
“It was reported that by way of context, the main raison d’ĂȘtre over the last 11 months for economic development had been to develop constructive relationships with the business community whilst leveraging greater support and focus from county–wide partners and key economic stakeholders to deliver on our economic plan...”
You got that alright?
Good.

***

Apparently, the Preposterous Boston review is now at an end.
Its final recommendations from phase three were about the need to support the on-going sustainability of the Visit Boston website in future financial years and review all its  recommendations in the Spring.
In particular the report called for a corporate policy on advertising to enable income strands through the Visit Boston website for private advertising, and wants another policy covering private sponsorship to support the sustainability of the site.

***

Despite our jaundiced view of Preposterous Boston, there is no doubt that it produced some achievements – principally in the area of improving signage.
But to us the work fell far short of its proclaimed intention to produce “one of the most in-depth studies into what makes Boston tick”  ...  “with far-reaching recommendations aimed at making the town better for residents, shoppers and for those who work and visit here”

***

A major area of concern that remains unaddressed is that of street drinking and problems in Central Park.
One of the most telling responses concerned the issue of dispersal of groups who made people feel intimidated and threatened – particularly in the town and around the bus station.
The police response was to take no action as it was thought that the “threat” felt was probably the  “perception of threat” rather than being the real thing.
The outcome was advice from the police to call 999 – if a threat was made.
There were also complaints of no police patrols/no PCSO support and that CCTV did not seem to be working, neither did calling 101.

***

Ironically in the same week that the report was published we noted a complaint on Twitter about problems in the park.
In part it read: “We went in the park walked about 30 yards looked to the side of me and saw a woman pulling her knickers up after having a wee  ... I jest you not. We started looking for staff in the park ... nobody anywhere. There were three sat on the bench one bloke and two women. He got his todger out and he had a pee in front of families in the park.  We noticed how many people were drinking booze.
“We went into town to see if we could find a policeman ... not one to be found. What a sad town we live in now.
“This needs addressing now. Every time something happens in Boston our local MP says we don't have a problem. Oh yes we do – a major one .
“You can drop litter in town and get fined yet you can go in the park drink and inject drugs in your body and s**t and p**s all over.
“A sad day in the sleepy old town Boston.”

***

Speaking of Central Park – we note the cancellation of the planned Oktoberfest at the end of this month ... apparently because of low ticket sales.
We also noted the eagerness with which Worst Street washed its hand of any connection with the event.
There must have been relief all round after the council painted itself into a corner by declaring that drinking was not allowed in the park and then permitting a seriously drink related event there.
However, a number of comments posted on one of our local “newspaper” websites challenged the council account of things.
Comments took the form of  ... “This was announced as a sell-out not long ago ... You haven't been able to buy tickets since about July because it's sold out! ... It was sold out!!! I couldn’t get tickets for couple of months!  ... Load of rubbish. Something strange I’d say something isn't quite right here ... It's been sold out for some time now, friends of mine couldn't even get hold of tickets due to being sold out ... So you cannot get tickets for it as it said it was sold out and we tried on their website which stated it was sold out ... So someone is telling porkies about what's going on ... We tried to book tickets and it came across as fully booked! ...We couldn't get tickets as it was sold out so something strange has gone on”
Whilst one person may have been mistaken about whether the event was on or off – nine people getting the same message does indeed sound as though something strange has been going on...

***

A message from Lincolnshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones arrived after our recent piece  concerning the force’s advertising of three admin roles costing £130,000 a year...
“Your recent comments about three new roles being funded are simply inaccurate.
“Two of the three are being funded by five forces, not just Lincolnshire, and they will help provide governance to the £22m a year collaboration work across the East Midlands.
“They will also help all PCCs and Chiefs look for new ways to collaborate and spend taxpayers’ money wisely and improve local services.
“The third role is new and will oversee the multi-million pound commissioning that we have to do around victim services as well as working to reduce demand on policing services appropriately by making sure other agencies pull their weight.
“Building partnerships to ensure everyone’s aims pull in the same direction is also part of the role.
“Mental health issues take up about 30% of police time, working with health to get people the care they need without using police cells inappropriately will make a huge difference.
“The final strand is beefing up crime prevention by working with Trading Standards, RAF, councils etc etc. This is a specialist role that will hopefully save a huge number of officer hours.
“I can’t afford to employ 10 extra cops, but I expect this role to save me at least that in time.”
Whilst we’re happy to clarify matters – we did point out to Mr Jones that we spoke as we saw, and that the job adverts did not spell out that the salary costs were shared.

***

The question that sparked a confrontation between Worst Street Leader Michael Cooper and council critic Darron Abbott turned out to be one concerning the cost of dealing with what the council refers to as people who make persistent and vexatious complaints – one of our local “newspapers” reports.
Mr Abbott is one of a handful of taxpayers who has been awarded this dubious distinction.
And according to Boston’s Chancellor of the Exchequer – Finance portfolio holder Aaron Spencer – it has cost almost £16,000 to deal with “contacts” made since the policy was introduced in April 2016, which he calculated equated to £10,640 a year.
Mr Spencer said there had been 399  'contacts' dealt with under the policy ... which he claimed was more than one every working day – although we calculate the total number of days between April last year and 1st  October this year at more than 500.
This figure applied only to people listed under the policy, and not day-to-day contacts – nor did they come from 399 separate people.
He said the council didn’t have a time recording system, so officers could only estimate how long each contact took – but a reasonable estimate was that “two hours per contact was appropriate'” at an average cost of £20 per hour.
The report said that Councillor Spencer equated the annual £10,640 figure to the council tax of 60 households at Band D, but because almost 50% of council taxpayers are in Band A it would also equate to 90 of those households.
We know that one such “contact” was to ask why a garden waste bin had not been collected – a question asked again when the situation remained unchanged and no reply had been received.
How on earth this can be inflated to £40 quids’ worth of officer time is anyone’s guess.
As the whizz kid in charge of millions of our council tax cash, perhaps Councillor Spencer can explain.
And while he’s about it, could he also detail  some of his calculations.
Boston Eye’s office is a band A property – and we pay £1,080 a year.
Multiply that by 90 and the total is £97,200 which is far in excess of the £10,640 a year that Councillor Spencer has calculated.
Still he is the expert.
Isn’t he?
Although ninety houses sound far worse that a mere nine.

***

Still no more progress on that spat mentioned above between Mr Abbott and Councillor Cooper – although the debate goes on behind the scenes and includes what some councillors appear to regard as clever political manoeuvring.
Watch this space ...

***

Some mysterious goings-on in Worst Street generated a Twitter debate regarding the use of football pitches at Garfit’s Lane playing fields.
Eventually, the developers, Chestnut Homes – who are behind the Quadrant project which includes a new stadium for Boston United – confirmed a new lease to use the football pitches at Garfit’s Lane for their community football teams, but said this had “nothing to do with the Quadrant and the new stadium,” adding that other teams and the public who use the site will still be able to do so.
The event was reported in one of our local “newspapers” after a call from a reader – and a council spokesman confirmed the lease had been discussed outside of official proceedings, but would not go into further details.
For some peculiar reason, local MP Matt Warman wrote on Twitter that the lease was for a year and was for £15,000.
He said that he found out about it because he asked the council, adding: “This sort of use is absolutely standard arrangement for public sports facilities” – but he failed to respond to a tweet asking whether he had gone to the council on behalf of Boston United, and claimed that “if council meetings discuss every football pitch hire they’ll be there a long time – this isn’t controversial or unusual.”
Unfortunately, it appears that this is both controversial and unusual because – whilst the Boston Town Area Committee (BTAC-ky) owns and is responsible for the recreation area – the committee was apparently unaware that a deal had been cooked up to let a third party use it.
We have said for long enough that Worst Street Central (aka the Cabinet of Curiosities) regards BTAC-ky as nothing more than an extension of its bank account to help it evade its core responsibilities.
Now it seems that purloining BTAC-ky land for its own profit has been added to the list.

***

A recent letter to one of our local “newspapers” from Boston’s Mayor Councillor Brian Rush failed to gain publication – which is odd since it concerned the vexed issue of Brylaine buses’ infamous IntoTown service which uses Strait Bargate as a rat run.
Through the auspices of BTAC-ky, of which he is a member, Councillor Rush arranged  for a Brylaine representative  to attend a meeting to explain why the company routed the Into Town service through the Market Place, and specifically through Strait Bargate.
Councillor Rush took part in protests when the service began in 2008 “to condemn the routing of buses through what we considered should have been a sacred pedestrian space, which was then, and still is, a thoroughly unsuitable route for so many 'hourly buses' noisily crawling through this very narrow stretch of paved area in the heart of our town.”
His letter was to tell the newspaper that “after almost nine years, every single one of our BTAC members ... promised to seek the assistance, and co-operation of our cabinet members, by asking them to agree to finally exorcise these smoke breathing monsters from what is thought should be a pedestrian precinct.”
Councillor Rush added: “I must also say how mightily impressed I was by recently elected County Councillor Paula Cooper and her offer of support, and her promise to bring this up for discussion at Lincoln.”
He said that before the meeting he  had begun to lose faith in the councillors of Boston Borough –  “yet here we are with even County Councillor Alison Austin, an original Bypasser, throwing in her support for the ban!”

***

Quite why this went unreported in the first place, and with a subsequent letter doing the newspaper’s job for it being put aside as well, we will never know.
But the issue of buses in Bargate seriously needs addressing and an alternative route found – although we fear that Councillor Rush will not get his wish (even though town centre members of the only wards affected are unanimous) , as the Tory-dominated council bowed to Clownty Hall from the outset, and whilst once appearing to promise to end the rat run, failed to deliver when elected.


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