Not for the first time, the list of how Boston Borough Council spends our money each month contains some interesting entries.
Their publication is purportedly an exercise in ‘transparency’ – but quite often raises questions to which the answers are not found easily … if at all.
The list – of expenditure more than £250 – also shows a steady stream of costs which we have been led to believe were being curbed or even done away with altogether.
A good example here is the borough’s sporting facilities.
Just over three years ago there was great fanfare when ‘full responsibility’ for the Princess Royal Sports Arena was taken on by an organisation called 1Life.
WorstWeb – the borough’s website – reported at the time: “1Life now has the go-ahead to arrange repairs and improvements to bring the centre up to an improved handover condition – the final bill to be paid by the borough council.
“But these costs will be covered by savings made by energy efficiency improvements, some of which are already complete and providing a return.
“The sport, leisure and recreation experts will have a full repair and renew lease for the site, relieving borough council tax payers of any future financial responsibility.”
Ahead of this announcement, in 2015 WorstWeb tootled ‘Here comes the sun... and FREE energy.’
We were told that the roof of the Princess Royal Sports Arena had been covered by 364 state-of-the-art high-tech solar panels as the first part of a project to save and make cash to help pay for the building’s refurbishment.
“The solar array is set to begin delivering free energy to the PRSA later this week and will generate electricity even on dull days.
“The green energy measures for the PRSA, which will also include installation of a wood-fired biomass boiler, were part of agreed council proposals which include agreeing lease arrangements with an operator so that the PRSA has a long-term future without on-going revenue support from the council.
In May last year, there was more good news …
“… the PRSA … was costing the taxpayer £300,000 pa in subsidy to keep it going.
“In 2016 the new arrangements with 1life have seen the facility operate for the first time at a zero cost to the taxpayer which has the potential to save the taxpayer £6m over the lifetime of the lease.
“This has in part been made possible by the investment in biomass heating boilers …”
Despite these repeated claims that the PRSA costs us nothing, we appear still to be paying for biomass woodchip at well over £1,000 a month, alongside a bill of gas and electricity around £3,500 a month … in March this year it was over £5,000.
Add that little lot together and it makes quite a serious subsidy – rather than costing us nothing at all.
A point that makes this particularly worth highlighting is because Worst Street is currently talking with companies which have expressed an interest in running the Geoff Moulder Leisure Complex – along with the Guildhall and sport and ‘play development’ services.
The story going out at present is that the council will retain ownership of the facilities, but engage with organisations to help it save money whilst retaining or even improving services.
As with the PRSA, the Moulder benefits from solar panels and the biomass boiler – although the gas and electricity bills remain about the same as ever.
Not only that – but a couple of items in May show a capital spend of £23,000 plus a further £15,000 from revenue on ‘GMLC alterations, new floor finishes’ – and not even spent with a local business.
So, instead of achieving transparency in its doings, Worst Street is raising shedloads of questions concerning its spending on fuel. As well as that its use of phrases such as ‘no cost to the taxpayer’ appear alongside the spending of large sums on improvements at a time when it is thinking of handing over control of the centre.
And let’s not lose sight of the recent announcement that £95,000 is coming from the Government’s Controlling Migration Fund on a major refurbishment and expansion of the Moulder gym
It just seems that prudence with spending our money is of no concern to Worst Street.
Further examination of the figures continues to throw up interesting anomalies.
What the council called an on-going ‘revolution’ in West Street has seen ‘better and more economic use’ of the council offices’ space, leading to the probation service, the registrar's office and a range of other Lincolnshire County Council services being accommodated within the Municipal Buildings.
And a year ago we heard that the current ‘remodelling’ work would allow the Department for Work and Pensions to move in.
“This generates much-needed revenue for the council, achieves significant accommodation savings for the DWP and will provide a more efficient service for the public” trumpeted the Worst Street spinster.
Back to the spending figures.
We assume that someone somewhere is saving money, but it will certainly take Boston Borough Council a while to show a profit after apparently spending around £300,000 on the DWP relocation exercise.
A while ago there was understandable concern over news that households could be charged directly for the amount of rubbish they put in their general waste bin under proposals to increase recycling.
Fears were voiced that the system – inevitably dubbed pay as you throw – could mean that large families who produce lots of rubbish paying more than households of only one or two people.
The proposal was made by the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), which represents waste collection officers at about 70 per cent of UK local authorities.
The story appeared back in April – a month after Worst Street reported spending £600 on each of five of its bin collection lorries to supply and fit standalone weighing scales.
Is the council planning a stealth tax rise or ruse, we wonder?
Perhaps someone could tell us.
Boston’s ‘parish council’ – BTAC-ky – has moved into the silly area of paying other departments at Worst Street grants to provide the services they can’t find the money for.
One example appeared in the shape of the recent combined emergency services’ Blue Light Day in Central Park, organised by Boston Borough Council in association with Lincolnshire Police.
As with money, Boston Borough Council maintained its inability to count by claiming that ‘hundreds’ attended the event – even though the WorstWeb photos showed otherwise.
Ahead of the occasion, the Boston Borough Council Community Safety Team asked for money from BTAC-ky’s small grants scheme totalling £970.07 for two projects.
The first of these was the Blue Light Day and totalled just under £400 – and when a member asked why funding had not been sourced from the Controlling Migration Fund, back came the reply that the Controlling Migration Fund had delivered the funds requested for the new Anti-Social Behaviour Officer post, but no money to take the role forward: it was the officer’s job to find the funding.
So the Controlling Migration Fund – which in this case is Boston Borough Council wearing another hat – funds a job but no money to make it workable.
Another member of the committee asked if the emergency services taking part had been approached for funds to support the event.
Unsurprisingly, an officer couldn’t answer that, but felt that the invitation to attend had been ‘in-kind’ and it was the support of the services at the event which was the priority.
A sort of ‘I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours’ arrangement.
Nonetheless, this event was part organised by Worst Street – which means that money had to be found from somewhere to pay for it – so why is everyone being so silly about costs?
We make no apology for a second mention in today’s issue of the generosity of the Controlling Migration Fund in funding a £90k facelift for the Moulder gym – which will more greatly benefit a future operator rather than the users – whilst appointing a new Anti-Social Behaviour Officer and leaving him/her with both hands tied behind his/her back.
At long last, though, it seems that BTAC-ky is addressing some well overdue issues.
Perhaps the most important of these is the regular report sought by the committee on behalf of the local police inspector.
Given the difference of opinion between the Boston public and the Boston police over things such as the maintenance of public order and what many still see as the high level of drinking in public places, you might think that a regular report to councillors would help build confidence and calm fears.
But a look at the minutes of the last few months’ BTAC-ky meetings shows that the police representative showed up just once in four meetings – and the regular agenda item on this week’s BTAC-ky meeting has vanished from the agenda.
However, all may not be lost.
At its meeting last month the minutes tell us that the committee agreed: “That a letter be … sent to the area supervisor or Assistant Chief Constable stating that if Inspector Morrice was unable to attend a meeting, a representative on his behalf, attend instead.
“It was a standing item on the agenda and questions arose at each meeting in respect of policing matters.
“Due to grave concerns in respect of serious issues of safety within the town centre in the evening, coupled with the potential future cuts to policing within the county, Lincolnshire Crime Commissioner Mr Marc Jones be requested to attend a meeting of the committee to identify how such potential future cuts to policing would further impact on Boston.
“In the event that Mr Jones be unable to attend, then a Chief Officer from Lincolnshire Headquarters be requested to attend on his behalf.”
We do find it odd that whilst our publicly-appointed representatives share ‘grave concerns in respect of serious issues of safety within the town centre’ the police apparently do not.
Only last week a story appeared on a local news website beneath the headline: “‘Street drinking is a blight on our town’ – Boston people dismiss police claims that problem is being successfully tackled….’”
The report begins: “People in Boston feel street drinking is still a huge problem plaguing the town – despite police insisting enforcement of areas of the town is at an all-time high …”
It is claimed that some people say fewer reports are only being made because people have lost faith that their complaints will be tackled.”
The debate on this is endless and repetitive – and some sort of result will only be reached when the local police and Worst Street truly get together to find common ground to get to the facts.
And – titter ye not – the following photo was taken in a car park a mere tinny’s throw from the Municipal Buildings.
Another item that cropped up at last month’s meeting was a call for an update on bus operator Brylaine’s intentions for a future routing of services away from the Market Place – being ‘mindful’ of the committee’s overwhelming support and request for the re-routing.
Despite no shortage of political debate, the buses continue to grind their polluting path through Strait Bargate – often in mini convoys … something that we were promised from the outset would never happen.
The damage to the surface of what was designed to be a pedestrian precinct is clearly visible – as is the trail of oil dribbles along the route.
But pollution in this case is not simply defined by fumes and oil – the noise created by the alarms from these buses as they haul their cargo of a handful of passengers past people who thought that they were out for a pleasant shopping experience is an insult to residents and visitors alike … as is being herded aside to make way for traffic whether there should be none.
In the past, Brylaine justified the Strait Bargate route because the buses could not turn round at either the Post Office or the Market Place ends.
Even so, as long ago as 2013 it was being claimed that Lincolnshire County Council and Brylaine were looking at alternative routes.
As we all know things move glacier-like in the World of Worst Street, and it was only a year ago that Boston Borough Council's Cabinet agreed to organise a meeting with Brylaine Travel and Lincolnshire County Council to discuss rerouting the Into Town bus service to avoid Strait Bargate.
Brylaine's Operations Director helpfully suggested that a bus stop at Fish Hill would allow buses to enter and leave the Market Place without going through Strait Bargate – and on the other side of town could make a U-turn in Wide Bargate.
That sounds very sensible and obvious – so why is it taking so long?
That sounds very sensible and obvious – so why is it taking so long?
Once upon a time most of the main political groups in Worst Street pledged to reroute the service.
The Conservatives even went so far as to claim that there were six options for a service put forward which were all agreed – but the option for the buses to go through the town centre itself was not put out to open debate, or even to other councillors.
It was described as a decision made in private behind closed doors by the long defunct and little mourned Boston Bypass Independents party during their disappointing flirtation with power.
With an election in sight, perhaps it might be a shrewd political move to resurrect the idea of rerouting of the Into Town service away from the shoppers into a manifesto for May next year.
It could be a winner.
Finally – you can take a horse to water …
Last Wednesday’s cabinet of curiosities' meeting allocated 15 places for students as part of Local Democracy Week.
In the event, none turned up – but as the meeting was done and dusted in just 21 minutes, the guests might have been delayed by the traffic and got there too late!
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