Regular readers will recall that at the beginning of August, we criticised ‘open and transparent’ Worst Street for its failure to include a long list of questions from councillors for answer by the appropriate cabinet portfolio holder.
We pointed out that because of the secretive nature of the powers that ba’int it would take 77 days from the date of the meeting on 9th July to the next scheduled meeting due to have been held this evening.
But all that’s now changed – because the tonight's meeting has been removed from the calendar.
There is no meeting in October – so we will now have to wait 140 days until the last meeting of the year on 26th November to read the minutes, see the questions and learn the answers.
There is no other word to describe this than pathetic – what on earth were our so-called leaders thinking when they decided to act in this insulting way to the council tax payers?
What is more interesting is that the decision to cancel the meeting – not by any formal announcement, but simply by removing it from the calendar – was taken at least a week before the meeting was due to take place.
The reason given was that there was no business to discuss, nor were there any questions from councillors or the public.
It was also said that one item due to appear on the agenda would not be ready in time.
What has been overlooked in all of this is at there is an entitlement to ask questions which has been undemocratically withdrawn without any publicity.
According to the Worst Street constitution …
A question may only be asked if notice has been given by delivering it in writing or by electronic mail to the Chief Executive no later than 5 pm two clear working days before the day of the meeting.
“Each question must give the name and address of the questioner and must identify the office holder to whom it is to be put.”
By erasing details of the meeting without notice the council has not only robbed the public and other councillors of the chance to speak and perhaps raise an issue or issues of importance.
It has also broken the rules of its own constitution.
Will anyone apologise for this do you think?
Not a chance.
And how about a word in the ear of whoever declared more than a week ahead of the meeting that it wouldn’t be possible to get an agenda item written in time?
Last week we briefly mentioned the excitement generated by a council loan that made a profit – bringing with it talk about how best to invest in the £20 million loan that Worst Street has agreed to take out for the next half a century.
But we have been left wondering by a report in one of our local ‘newspapers’ which doesn’t appear to make financial sense.
The section in question from the Boston sub-Standard says: “Councillor Aaron Spencer has been buoyed by the success of a £1 million property fund investment made three years ago, which on March 31st had returned £1.111 million – giving the council an additional £111,000 capital.
“It comes as the authority and East Lindsey District Council look at how to spend a further £20 million loan.
“After revealing the news to cabinet leaders Councillor Spencer said: “When you consider we put in to our capital budget £100,000 every year in order to make capital available to replace our refuse fleet or whatever we need, another £111,000 from an investment, from £1 million, you can scale that up to the £20 million over five years.
“This £20 million loan is a 5-year-project, so it’s worth bearing in mind any minor changes to the property market might not affect the overall position and it gives us the ability to be dynamic and flexible.”
As the initial reports that we saw discussed a loan of £20 million over 50 years, and solely to Boston Borough Council, you can imagine that we were rather bewildered.
The figures also raised an eyebrow with one of our readers who Knows His Numbers, and wrote: “Councillor Spencer seems to have been a little confused by rates of returns when making a presentation to his fellow cabinet members.
“He stated he was ‘quite confident that we'll be ok.’ But should we share his confidence?
“On a £1m investment made three years ago a return of £111,000 was gained and the portfolio holder was very proud to acclaim a return of 11%.
“Let’s look a little more closely at the figures; yes this was an 11% return on capital but when calculated this would only give an annual interest rate of 3.571%,
“OK I suppose this is not a bad interest rate if you’re the average investor.
“But Councillor Spencer seems to suggest an interest rate of 11% – and if this was the case we would be looking at a return of £367,631 which would actually be a return on capital of 36.76%.
“Councillor Spencer then went on to make a statement about scaling this return up on a £20m investment financed by a £20m loan from the government. It appears that Councillor Spencer would be over the moon at another return on capital of 11% … this return being (dependent on how much the management company would charge to carry out the investment) a maximum of £2.2m.
“Unfortunately for Councillor Spencer we are investing the amount over a longer period of time and on a 5 year investment 11% return on capital would mean the interest rate decrease to 2.1092%.
“So an additional amount of £2.2m should not be sniffed at and may alleviate our worries about having our bins collected.
“But perhaps this is where he should have another look at his figures.
“In a previous article it was suggested that the interest rate on the £20m loan from the Government would be 5%.
“Now hold on, the portfolio holder is happy to pay the Government an interest rate of 5% (which over a 5 year period would give an charge of £5,525,631.25 for interest) the figures now do not look so good getting a return on capital of 11% (£2.2m) as it appears he would be paying £3.5 more interest than he is receiving.
“I am sure Councillor Spencer is confident in his maths considering he declaration of the overall budget position since he has been doing the job, but for the rest of us he may like to clarify things a little.”
Councillor Spencer’s excitement drew the following from one of our regular readers – one who enjoys the privilege of being In The Know.
“How pleased we must all be to read in our local press that Councillor Spencer is in sole charge of the Borough's finances.
“This means that we ratepayers will no longer have to pay for expensive finance officers, back up staff, costly meetings to consider our budgets, investments and spending.
“We can leave it all to Aaron; he's got complete control.
“Well; that's what it says in my paper, so it must be true.
“I suppose one could look at the declaration as part of the openness and transparency programme at Boston, however worrying it is.
“I wonder if the Chief Executive has been told of the new order of things.”
And while Boston ponders, other councils are acting.
This year, Lincoln City Council has bought an hotel in the city centre for £13 million which will be leased back to Travelodge; two car parks for £6.6 million which are again being leased back, and 172 new homes from developers for use as social housing to try to free up some of its existing properties.
West Lindsey District Council has allocated £30 million for property investments, and £13 million has already been spent.
Interestingly, three investments were outside the county … an hotel in Keighley costing £2.35 million and a gym and a lingerie factory in Sheffield for £5 million. West Lindsey also spent £6.1 million on an industrial unit in Gainsborough.
Meanwhile, Lord Gary Porter – leader of South Holland District Council – has been quoted as saying that his authority could become a ‘free council’ and throw off the shackles of government control.
And while Boston continues to mutter darkly about jam tomorrow, South Kesteven District Council has been outlining plans for a joint venture called DeliverSK that would be responsible for ‘creating a pipeline of development and regeneration projects and taking them from the concept stage through to completion.’
Potential projects include medium to large-scale housing developments, including social and affordable homes; office and employment space; leisure facilities and mixed-use regeneration schemes.
Andon top of that, South Kesteven has launched its own lottery to support local charities and good causes, with £1 tickets giving the chance to win £25k.
Whilst many people think of local authorities as boring and pedestrian, all around us, we see new and imaginative ideas springing up.
But not here.
Do you want the good news, or the bad news?
Being Boston Eye, we’ll bring you the bad news first.
Repairs to the county’s lowest-priority roads could take up to 90 days after Lincolnshire County Council changed its policy.
The authority’s current five levels of classification will become nine with repair response times ranging from 24-hours, seven days, 28 days and 90.
The Highways and Transport Scrutiny Committee were told that the changes would make the council more efficient.
It doesn’t take a mastermind to guess what this will mean for Boston where many minor roads are already a complete disgrace – and we imagine the future is riddled with potholes as far as the Boston eye can see.
Now for the good news – if you live near Lincoln.
The same committee supported a £148m relief road to help ease congestion at North Hykeham near Lincoln which will complete a ring road around the city by joining the A46 Pennell’s roundabout to the Lincoln Eastern bypass.
There are now bypasses galore in Lincolnshire including Crowland, Wainfleet and Burgh le Marsh.
But what about Boston?
Still the same deafening silence – despite what’s claimed to be a personal interest shown by the Transport Secretary.
But if that turns out to be as personal as the interest that Boston Borough Council is showing in the taxpayers then we may all as well take to our bicycles.
And what happened to our bi for cash from the government’s National Roads Fund which is giving up to £100 million per bid to projects which it likes the look of.
A consultation period bid for money started on 23rd December last year and ended on 16th March, and an announcement from Worst Street said that local MP Matt Warman handed it over to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling during the first week in August.
And still we wait.
We had to look twice at the photos of the new look to Boston Crematorium when they appeared on WorstWeb …
Its previously dull look has been replaced – and given a definite stairway to heaven makeover.
If organising things such as £20 million loans are complicated, we would have thought it was within the limited wit of Worst Street to organise a food festival.
But not so.
The festival – which should have taken place in the Market Place yesterday – was cancelled after organisers failed to receive a single stall application. This was despite a small event last year which ought to have provided a foundation for the future.
A Worst Street spokesman said: “Despite publicity and letters and personal visits to restaurant and cafe owners no stands have been booked.
“The event planned for Boston Market Place was being organised by Boston Borough Council and Lincolnshire Police but there appears to be no ‘appetite” for it.’”
Ho ho … ‘no appetite’ … smiling in the face of adversity.
Well if Worst Street can’t organise a food festival in a county which is a major food producer, then how about a flower festival? Even the lowliest church can manage one of those.
But back in May, beneath the headline ‘Flower show plan wilts’ WorstWeb reported:
“Sorry to say that ideas for a Boston flower show have not bloomed.” Ho ho again, another great pun on failure
“Not enough exhibitors have come forward to make the show, planned for Sunday, June 3rd, viable, so organisers at Boston Borough Council have had to cancel the event.”
Worst Street is said to have an Events Department – so when is it going to start to earn its keep?
Undeterred by such things to date, Boston Borough Council has painted a nightmare scenario for the coming months which includes storms, tidal surges, surface water flooding from heavy prolonged downpours, freezing temperatures, snow and high winds.
But if that’s not bad enough, says Worst Street … “if something else were to happen, maybe a major fire or an industrial accident or something more sinister … What could we do to safeguard ourselves, communities and communities and businesses in situations such as these?” (sic)
The answer, it seems is to go along to a session with the borough’s emergency planning team which has developed an easy to use business continuity planning template and guide to identifying and understanding the risks to the everyday running of a business and planning how business will be maintained if an accident happens.
Our recollection of the last emergency – the flooding of 2013 – was that Boston Borough Council offices were about the only premises in town protected by sandbags, whilst Worst Street flatly refused to provide to anyone else.
And now, after a series of failures of easy-peasy bits and bobs, the council has the gall to believe it can lecture others on how to do a job properly.
We’ve mentioned before the ability of Boston Borough Council to piggy-back on the success of others by association.
Last time it was a fulsome quote about Boston College’s A level and GCSE results, from the council's economic development manager who 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.”
As we noted at the time: “Indeed it does – but what does this have to do with Boston Borough Council and its economic development manager, may we ask?”
Now Worst Street is at it again.
This time it concerns the return of the HMV shop to its old premises in Pescod Square which it left five years ago after administrators were called in. The Boston store employed nine members of staff. Since then the business has enjoyed a renaissance, and we wish it every success.
The news prompted WorstWeb the reprint the store’s application for staff, and also carried yet another quote from the borough’s economic development manager, which said: “This reflects the growing confidence in Boston as a place to do business.”
Why is it that we feel that Boston Borough Council had little if anything to do with the return of HMV?
Because if it did we would expect it to take the credit.
It appears that Worst Street’s love affair with a local farm shop is back on.
Beneath the headline ‘Top marks so you can buy with confidence’ WorstWeb informs us: “The latest businesses to achieve the highest marks for food hygiene include the award-winning Pinchin's Farm Shop in Church Lane, Algarkirk.”
It was singled out for special mention from “a number of food premises inspected in August by Boston Borough Council's environmental health officers.
Eventually it goes on to name the other ten outlets on the list.
Readers with long memories will recall that some years ago we remarked on the fact that apparently irrelevant free plugs for Pinchin’s used to pepper the pages of the Boston Weakly Bulletin and appeared no fewer than five times in 12 months in one period.
Clearly, someone still carries a torch and we wonder whether the free plugs are destined to make a return!
Cheers! Make ours a pork pie!
That’s it for this week – don’t forget that we’re in normal mode now and back to publishing weekly. Our next edition will appear on Monday 1st October
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