It makes a pleasant change to find ourselves in agreement with a Boston Borough councillor – but ironically only, as it happens, because he is being critical of the system.
In an e-mail addressed to Planning Committee Chairman David Brown, and copied to all other councillors, the Chief Executive and his deputy, planning officers and Worst Street’s development manager, Councillor Barrie Pierpoint – a founder of the Bostonian Independents Group – says: “Following the Planning Committee meeting on Tuesday 21st August I am writing to complain of the long-winded process now adopted for running such a meeting.
“Firstly, the day is far too long. We had two hours for lunch, which is a waste of time – lunch was provided and some people did not bother with it as they went home. I thought we were trying to save money, not waste it! I noticed that at 2pm, just before we went back into the meeting there was still food left over – which no doubt would be eaten by the staff or thrown away.
“The planning officer who gave a presentation in respect to the Middlegate Road, Frampton development on behalf of Larkfleet Homes – both in my opinion and of others on the Committee – spent far too much time selling the developer site, explaining the types of properties, showing us 24 photographs of different designs of properties, went into far too much detail and spent nearly 45 minutes speaking when he could have presented it within 20 minutes. I find that totally unacceptable and if committee members have read their papers, they would have known all that anyway.
“Did we pay the officer by the hour to present this report?
“Did we pay the officer by the hour to present this report?
“Speaking with other committee members, they were also complaining about the length of the planning committee meetings – a full day could quite easily be turned into half a day, starting at 9.30am and finishing by at least 1.30pm with a small 15 minute break in the middle.
“Is it necessary for planning committee members to be constantly reading the planning acts out and quoting them verbatim? That's the officers' job – not ours.
“Since returning to the planning committee, my personal opinion is that the meeting needs to be tighter, more concentrated, with more focus and less unnecessary waffle and wastes of valuable time.
“I certainly will not spend a whole day on a planning committee that can be run, operated and managed in my view within a matter of five hours, which I have proved can be done if all the timewasting is removed.
“I am against feeding councillors – we need to be saving money and not wasting it.
Site visits can be arranged at least a day or two before – again we had an hour and a half for that purpose, we all arrived back at the Council meeting for 10am and the meeting did not start until 10.30am. We wasted two and a half hours of valuable time.
“In my line of business time is money, and we are also tying up too many officers' time to be wasted – whose time is also money.
“We also need to think about the poor public sitting there for hours on end, wondering what they have let themselves in for.”
Councillor Pierpoint’s case is a difficult one to dismiss.
By an interesting co-incidence, the meeting he condemned was the subject of a blow-by-blow account tweeted by a local democracy reporter on the Lincolnshire Reporter website.
If anyone remains sceptic about councillor Pierpoint’s take on the meeting, they only need to read the reporter’s account to have their minds changed.
We were quite amazed at the way the meeting progressed and the attitudes of some of the councillors taking part – which clearly showed them to be out of touch with the modern day and sufficiently arrogant to believe that their opinions were the right ones and that no other arguments should be brooked.
As far as the issue of feeding councillors is concerned, we are in full agreement with Councillor Pierpoint.
There are 13 members of the planning committee, and the last time we looked Worst Street was spending about £6.50 on the cost of a ‘finger buffet.’
Something with the grander title of ‘lunch’ might well work out nearer a tenner – and we are sure that the largessewas not extended to councillors alone.
Not only that, but the taxman may be interested in taking his cut if this is deemed a benefit in kind – especially if it is a monthly occurrence.
So what would be our guess at the cost? Say £150?
And why a two-hour break when everyone is already assembled?
To make matters worse, the recent recommendations of the Independent Remuneration Panel – which doled out allowances left, right and centre – approved an award of £4,400 for the Chairman of the Planning Committee … a rise of £2,384 a year ... and a doubling of the Vice-Chairman’s allowance from £1,100 to £2,200.
The panel also felt there should be recognition for other planning committee members as they had to undertake specific regular training to be able to sit on the committee and were expected to attend monthly meetings that had recently been extended to all day sessions due to the number of applications coming through the system.
The panel considered it essential to ensure that these members were not financially penalised by the time commitment and that responsibility attached to the role should be recognised.
It recommended a brand new allowance of £600 a year per member – that’s £50 per meeting … and brings the total cost of the mere existence of the committee to almost £14,000 a year.
And now we’re feeding them as well
However, the cost of a soggy flan crumbles into insignificance when compared with Worst Street’s slapdash attitude towards collecting its debts.
A recent Freedom of Information request disclosed that councils in Greater Lincolnshire have waved goodbye to almost £30 million of uncollected debt over the past five years.
The debts include rent arrears; housing benefit overpayments, business rates and council tax – and they can be written off for reasons such as insolvency, death and the authority being unable to trace the debtor.
Between them, the seven district councils in Lincolnshire and the unitary authorities of North and North East Lincolnshire wrote off £29,778,849 between 2013 and 2018.
The figures – compiled by the Lincolnshire Reporter – showed that the top three authorities to write off debt were South Kesteven District Council with £3,704,785, Boston Borough Council on £3,513,602 and the City of Lincoln Council with £3,351,924.
What’s especially worrying about this is that Boston is the smallest district in financial terms, yet managed to write off almost the greatest debt figure.
Each year it has written off an average of £702,720 – more than the entire town centre budget of £655,000, or more than twice the £342,630 amount allocated for spending on tourism, arts, culture and heritage.
It represents the full council tax, which includes the charges made by Clownty Hall and Lincolnshire Police, on more than 600 properties every year … almost 2½% of the total.
Whilst most of the nine authorities questioned offered something by way of explanation – and even the occasional apology – Worst Street was less willing to accept any responsibility, saying that any comparisons between debt write-offs with other authorities needed to bear in mind the number of properties within an area.
It took the Taxpayers’ Alliance to point out that taxes were likely to increase as councils dropped debts from their books.
The organisation’s James Price, was quoted as saying: “The reality of writing off debt means that those taxpayers who do play by the rules will be forced to pay more, even more than they otherwise would, because their council isn’t collecting what they should be.
“If people or businesses can’t afford to pay their tax bills, that suggests that their taxes are far too high and the council should adjust their spending accordingly.
“Those residents who have paid their taxes will be forgiven for being upset that these councils are also likely increasing council tax again next year.”
Are we alone in thinking that using the side of a dustcart as an easel for a piece of artwork to commemorate the end of the First World War is neither the best nor the most respectful of ideas?
The £360 graphic – pictured here on the council’s website WorstWeb – was funded by the Boston Town Area Committee – which on this occasion fully lived up to the nickname we have bestowed by it … BTAC-ky.
Apparently, some members of the committee had concerns about the idea, feeling that putting the murals on a dustcart – sorry, a refuse freighter – was not an appropriate or sensitive way to commemorate the end of the war and pay tribute to those who had sacrificed their lives.
According to the minutes: “There was a suggestion that another council vehicle would be preferable and another that a much bigger commemoration should be planned, for example at the war memorial, and involve the migrant communities.
“Other members considered that using a refuse freighter was a very good idea as these vehicles went to every street so the murals would be highly visible and seen by more people.”
It was also claimed during the debate, that the scheme had the full backing of the
Royal British Legion and Poppy Appeal both nationally and locally.
Four years ago, BTAC underwrote the £5,000 cost of a granite obelisk to mark the start of the war after a tackily organised public appeal attracted just a few hundred quid.
But in a single bound we have gone from a permanent and timeless memorial to a piece of Blue Peter-style sticky-backed plastic, which will last a few months if we’re lucky.
Not for the first time, it seems almost as if Worst Street’s short attention span has found it wanting.
And surely, the end of that terrible conflict merits a more significant memorial than the start?
If nothing else, could Worst Street not have stumped up £750 for one of the 6ft aluminium and Perspex Tommy silhouettes that have been purchased by cities around the world, to be displayed at war memorial sites?
Yet surprisingly, when the former head of the Army Lord Dannatt personally wrote to 433 local authority leaders asking them to support the There But Not There campaign, a mere160 councils agreed to buy one of the silhouettes to display with many making “pitiful excuses” as to why there didn't want to.
Clearly Worst Street must have been among them – always assuming the council bothered to reply.
The wasting of money was at the heart of one of two national newspaper stories to feature Boston in the past few days.
An investigation by the Mail on Sunday discovered that 3.6 million patients who do not exist are registered with GPs’surgeries and that despite a crackdown launched three years ago on so-called ‘ghost patients’ numbers have risen at a rate of almost 6,000 a week.
The report said that doctors in England receive an average of £151 a year for each patient on their books, whether they see them or not.
The report claimed that the notional cost of phantom patients was almost £550 million – enough to hire 28,000 new nurses, 10,000 new doctors, or provide free parking at every NHS hospital in England for three years.
According to the report, Boston has 10% more people registered than there are people – which based on our 2014 population estimate means an extra 6,645 people.
At an average of £151 per ‘patient,’ this is slightly more than £1,000,000.
Think how much good use that money could be put to on local health services – it might mean make or break for the Pilgrim for example.
In another national report, a Sunday Times investigation found more than 7,000 traditional neighbourhood police officers, have been reassigned to other duties or left jobs altogether since March 2015.
The number of police community support officers (PCSOs) also fell by 18% over the same period to just over 10,000.
Meanwhile, officers assigned to back-office and administrative roles have multiplied by a quarter in three years, despite ministers’ pledges to protect “frontline” policing.
The study placed Lincoln shire Police fifth from bottom in the league table of forces with the fewest ‘front line’ officers.
This showed that there was one neighbourhood police officer to every 10,887 people – taking the number of police officers per 100,000 people to a meagre 9.2%
We reckon that it won’t be long before the Leporidae family are better served than Homo Sapiens given the number of officers and equipment such as drones and four-wheel drive vehicles dedicated to trapping hare coursers.
Not for the first time Worst Street has been riding piggyback on other peoples’ success to try to make it look better.
Beneath the headline GCSE results continue the celebrations at Boston College we were told: “Following last week's 100% A-level pass rate, the celebrations continue at Boston College with this year's GCSE results exceeding the national average.
“These results showcase the hard work and dedication displayed by the students to gain those all-important grades they did not achieve within secondary education, which now enables them to take the next step within their education.”
It rambled on with a couple of success stories and a quote from the vice-principal before this mysterious addition …
“Clive Gibbon, Boston Borough Council's economic development manager said: “It's fantastic, once again within a week to celebrate great results from students at Boston College. It certainly reflects the hard work the students and lecturers are putting in rising to the challenge of a more rigorous and demanding GCSE standard.”
Indeed it does – but what does this have to do with Boston Borough Council and its economic development manager, may we ask?
Our recent piece about the promotion of visitbostonuk.com drew an interesting response from Councillor Claire Rylott, Boston’s portfolio holder for tourism, arts, culture and heritage.
She e-mailed to say: “After sitting on many volunteering groups I was hearing the same problem, we had many groups in the town holding events but they were struggling to advertise them free.
“As we know, to advertise in local publications is rather expensive.
“So last year I championed the Visit Boston website, hopefully to encourage more tourists to the town and enable people to be more aware of what is happening in the town.
“What I aim to do in the coming months is hopefully to sit this on a Visit Lincolnshire platform together with others in our county so our hits to the site continue to increase, and people become more aware of this site.
“It is there to be used – hence the advertising of it near the park.
“We have many fantastic volunteering groups in the town who definitely needed more support regarding advertising the great events that are organised.
“Being a farmer and a councillor it intrigued me that a comment was made about my favourite car park! I think everyone needs a hobby in life; you’re correct, mine is golf. In the last 17 days my car has been parked in my favourite car park once. Work both as a farmer and a councillor takes priority over any hobby I choose to have.
“ I’m not quite sure what I do in my private life has to do with being a councillor, unless of course if it takes priority over meetings. Not sure anyone works 24/7 but I may be wrong.
“I enjoy your weekly blog, sometimes your information is correct but not always, but it is interesting reading.
“Keep up the good work.”
Sooner than we expected comes the news that St Botolph’s footbridge it to be given a much-needed clean up. The bridge will be closed on Monday 17th September, with pedestrians redirected via Emery Lane, Town Bridge and Church Street.
County Councillor Richard Davies, Executive Member for Highways, said: “Over the last few years, we’ve seen green algae start to spread across the bridge, so we’re going in to clean it off.
“This is something we have been planning for some time … “
Contrast that with a comment from Clownty Hall just a new weeks ago, which said: “Our structures team have already discussed this with Boston Borough Council and are planning to clean it this summer, but it is a low priority.
“Additionally, and in addition to planned works, they are having a run of things falling down/getting knocked down which are taking priority.”
There’s also the matter of how time is perceived.
The bridge opened in February 2014 – yet Councillor Davies says that the mould has been spreading over “the last few years” … which would make it almost as soon as it opened.
It seems to us that the work should have been done a lot earlier than this, and that now would be a good time to paint the bridge green to obscure the regrowth in another “few years.”
Local MP Matt Warman was at the centre of a mini political mystery last week after the political blog Left Foot Forward identified him as “controversial” member of the Leave Means Leave group, saying: “Matt Warman originally campaigned for remain during the 2016 referendum. His constituency, however, had the highest Leave vote from all of Britain, with nearly 75% of people supporting Brexit.”
An accompanying list of Leave Means Leave supporters pictured Mr Warman alongside another politician with one-time county connections – Andrea Jenkyns … once a Boston county councillor, who won a Westminster seat for the Tories from Ed Balls, and who is now a leading poster girl for Brexit.
However, a look at the Leave Means Leave page finds Mr Warman conspicuous by his absence, and the slot next to Ms Jenkyns occupied by Simon Clark MP.
Mr Warman told Boston Eye: “While I fully support a Brexit that respects the result of the referendum, I do not believe Leave Means Leave’s current approach offers the best chance of securing that, and therefore asked for my name to be removed from their list of supporters.”
When we mentioned the planning committee earlier, something else interesting caught our eye.
Councillors were given updates about appeals – and heard that four have been made recently.
One was withdrawn, two allowed and one dismissed.
Worst Street has previous for refusing plans that succeed on appeal. And let’s not forget that every lost appeal costs the taxpayers money.
A fifty per-cent unsuccessful appeal rate suggests that a little more time should be spent on the pros and cons of an application.
Avoiding a rush to judgement could say us taxpayers thousands.
For a monent, we thought about publishing this story beneath the headline ‘Boston Borough Council loses appeal’ – but of course you knew that already.
Finally, we noticed this interesting sounding display recently …
But what a shame that we need to travel to Woodhall Spa to see an exhibition by a Boston group.
What’s the matter with Central Park?
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