Last week among other things, we touched on staff appointments at Worst Street. Given that we are on the brink of another round of cuts for the next financial year – the budget setting meeting is on Monday 25th February next year – services can be predicted to be pared still further and now that Worst Street it looking at ‘privatising’ large chunks of its operation – you might think that staffing would have taken a hit.
Not so apparently.
A comparison between the numbers over a couple of years shows a sharp contrast between the borough’s estimated staff levels and reality.
Back in April as Worst Street looked ahead to the financial year looming up, it published what it called assumptions for the coming five years.
These conjectures reckoned that full time staffing equivalents for the year 2018-2019 at 271 – and estimated that they would remain little changed in the medium term which ran until 2022-2023.
The budget setting report also declared: “It is recognised that some projects within the Transformation Programme could potentially further affect future staffing numbers. Until business cases are worked-up it is not possible to make further assumptions on any changes.”
This we took to mean a heads-up about a possible decline in staff numbers if a deal is done to hand over services such as the Moulder Leisure Centre and the Guildhall to an outside operator – who would take on responsibility for the staff.
Every year, Worst Street publishes an up-to-date tiered management structure, and the one below portrayed 2015 – a when Chief Executive Phil Drury was in the interim post created by the departure of Richard Harbord.
As we reported last week, it was said that he would combine his Chief Executive role with that of his old job as Strategic Director which it was claimed would save the council around £105,000 a year.
This chart disclosed that there were around 290 staff in all – but specified no officer salaries.
It also included a ‘Sport, Play and Leisure Manager post shared with South Holland District Council.
A year on, and we still have a strategic director and a corporate director on a level tier below the Chief Executive, with a line of five senior roles below them, including the former shared post now entitled ‘Town Centre, Leisure, Events and Culture.’
By the following year we have some salaries to go with the three tier list headed by a Chief Executive at the top – then a Strategic Director (now in its second year of not existing as a separate task) and a Corporate Director … both in a £70-£80 thousand band.
The remainder are in a tier below – finance, housing health and communities, environmental operations, human resources and transformation, plus town centre, events and leisure all commanding salaries of £55-£60 thousand.
The number of staff has increased dramatically – up from 290 to 331 … which is a rise of more than 12%.
And so we come up to date – and there are now six tiers below the top line for 2018-2019, and staffing is still listed at 331.
The Corporate Director is now also the Deputy Chief Executive on a salary between £75 and £85 thousand a year.
The former housing health and communities director on £55-£60 thousand is now Head of Regulatory Services on £60-£65 thousand, as are three other officers whose tenure goes back to the 2015 chart.
The people stay the same – only the job titles and salaries have changed … adding thousands to the salary bill even as Worst Street slashes services year upon year.
In the circumstances, we might have expected both hands-on staff and their masters to have diminished in numbers – and we wonder why the reverse is the case.
We suspect that for some, a day at the office is probably a welcome respite from work!
The whole issue of appointments is wrapped in mystery.
The council has a Chief Officer Employment Panel, which last met on 28th March and for which no other meetings appear to be listed. Pressumably the last time it met was to appoint Phil Drury three years ago.
According to the Worst Street constitution, the panel is responsible for recruitment and appointment of ‘Chief Officers’(note that this is plural) – which are defined as the Chief Executive, Chief Finance Officer and Monitoring Officer.
The March meeting contained just one agenda item – a report by the Chief Executive on the senior management structure which was discussed after the public and the press were ordered to leave the meeting.
Whether this included new appointments and a promotion is not known – and because of the secrecy order is unlikely to be.
Whether this included new appointments and a promotion is not known – and because of the secrecy order is unlikely to be.
So – summing up, we appear to have a top-heavy management structure compared with a few years ago in which many of the names remain the same whilst their titles change (along with their skills, we assume) and their salaries are bumped up – possibly by as much as £10,000 a year.
Meanwhile, overall staff estimates are hopelessly wide of the mark with 41 full time equivalent posts more than the assumption made for the books to balance.
Forty-one jobs at an average of £15,000 a year is a grand total of £615,000 – and we are sure that some posts pay more than that.
Even though we appear to have more staff that you can shake a stick at, shortages in some areas are proving difficult to fill.
The borough has been advertising for a refuse lorry driver at £20,700 a year, and loaders/drivers at £16,399.
The shortage has been lgoing on for some time – as the figures below show ,,,
The total for this lot is almost £22,000 covering only a six-week period.
Credit where credit is due and this year’s Christmas lights in Boston are the best we have seen for years – perhaps because for a second year running, they have had little to do with Worst Street.
The only thing that we think is a shame is the timing of the event with the American Thanksgiving as part of our tenuous link with the Pilgrim Fathers.
Having said that, this year’s event got the date wrong – so perhaps we can look forward to the continuing separation of these one-time Siamese twins.
Regular housekeeping is essential to run a neat, and tidy and responsible website – but sadly it’s something that Worst Street fails to do.
A couple of pieces that caught our eye recently are well beyond their sell-by dates – with the example below being the more glaring.
According to WorstWeb – the council’s website – “One of the ways the council engages with residents is through consultation which gives you the chance to 'Have Your Say' on the local issues that affect you.
“You can participate in decision making, and tell us how you think we are performing.
“When we carry out consultations we want to encourage as many of you as possible to take part and give us your views on services that may affect you. Consultations can include surveys, questionnaires and focus groups.”
Not any more – not since 25th May in fact – when the council told participants that it was doing away with its Viewpoint Panel.
“We have been reviewing all the personal information we hold as a council in light of the data protection legislation coming into force on 25th May 2018.
“We have weighed the benefits of having a dedicated consultation panel against the privacy impact of holding personal details and we have looked at the alternative methods of informing you about consultation.
“We have concluded that it is not necessary for us to hold your personal information so we will be removing all of your details from our records in relation to consultation.”
On the one hand, Worst Street nibbled away at voters’ rights with the flimsiest of excuses – as most websites managed the arrival of the new rules without emptying their databases.
On the other hand, readers of the site will assume that the council is still actively encouraging consultation – when the opposite is the case,
Another little nibble in recent weeks is the apparent removal of yet another platform for public opinion.
For many years Worst Street has provided space on its website for taxpayers to launch an e-petition.
A few weeks ago – according to WorstWeb – two petitions were still on the go.
But as all petitions have an expiry date, and whilst none was mentioned, the page was last updated on 10th August 2015 – more than four years ago.
That was then. This is now.
Search for a link to the Worst Street e-petitions page on Google and up comes this link …
But when you follow the link, you get this message ...
Having said that it may be that petitions are falling out of favour.
Recently, political wannabe Neill Hastie, who plans to stand as a Boston Borough councillor for the Bostonian Independent Group in May’s elections, posted a petition on the government’s parliamentary petition website.
It says that “It should be illegal to drink alcohol or have an open alcoholic beverage within any public spaced (sic) protection order so that the police can arrest anyone breaking the PSPO as a deterrent.
“Street drinking is increasing month on month along with the by-product of it such as litter, people going to the toilet in the streets, threatening behaviour and ASB.”
Bear in mind that this petition is a national one which between the lines is aimed at solving a local problem.
But what chance has it of success?
The petition runs until 12th May next year – and the government promises that once it reaches 10,000 signatures, it will respond.
And at 100,000 signatures, a petition will be considered for debate in Parliament.
Sadly, after a number of weeks ... just 55 people have signed it.
Of course, the petition that really matters if you live in Boston is our bid 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 started on 23rd December last year and ended on 16th March.
Worst Street’s cabinet of curiosities posed for a photo showing them signing a petition in April, 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.
Sadly it contained a meagre 1,700 signatures – we say meagre given all the hoo-ha about Boston’s traffic problems and the need for a bypass.
Despite his previous supportiveness we wonder how much ice this may have cut with Mr Grayling – which perhaps explains why we’ve heard nothing more since.
We heard some rumblings from the great and the good of Spalding after the airing of a Radio 4 programme called The Patch, which headlines the content as ‘One radio producer, one randomly generated postcode, and an unheard story unfolding in a corner of Britain we would not otherwise know about.’
We dipped in and out of the programme and as we supposed, it’s getting the curly-lipped treatment because of a tendency to depict Spalding in the way that Boston has been portrayed in the past.
A request from the Department of Give and Take …
A recent tweet from Worst Street declared: “We cannot collect bins if the road is blocked by inconsiderate parking.
“Please bear in mind when parking, especially on narrow roads, that our refuse vehicles and emergency vehicles are wider than your average vehicle”
Point taken – but it’s worthwhile bearing in mind that many residents of these narrow streets are using the only parking available to them … and there may not be anywhere else for them to go. To call them 'inconsiderate' on that basis is unfair as they have no other choice.
Back in 2015, when Worst Street was boasting about its ‘new and shiny-white fleet of seven vehicles’ costing £137,000 each it claimed that ‘being slimmer, they are able to access narrow roads that the wider-bodied old fleet could not.’
Perhaps the parked cars are getting bigger?
It was interesting to note a recent poll which listed three roundabouts in the Boston area among the seven worst in the county.
They were the Sutterton/Algakirk roundabout, the roundabout to nowhere at The Quadrant, and Bicker Bar.
The fact that three out of seven in a county the size of Lincolnshire is disproportionate says much for the interest shown by Lincolnshire County Council’s Highways Department.
Times may be tough on the Worst Street wallet – but one tradition always beats the cut – the annual mayoral bash.
The last such dog-hanging cost the taxpayers the thick end of £700, and although the mayoral budget has been slimmed down recently it still seems to be a piece of over-indulgency that we could manage without.in answer to a question at a full council meeting.
“The Mayor’s Christmas Party has been a tradition of not just Boston but mayoralties throughout the UK. It is a small gesture of thanks to those in the voluntary sector, charities and partner organisations who support the work of the council during the year. As such it should continue as one of our old traditions as long as mayors’ positions exist.”
This year we supported the work of the council to the tune of more than £1,000 by way of council tax – though given a choice it would not have been voluntary.
But our invitation appears to have been lost in the post!
Finally, Christmas turns us all into children once again – and we all know how fond kids are of gadgets.
Our boys and girls in blue have been particularly fortunate this year – with a £6 million toy from Motorola that's claimed to be first cloud-based system of its kind used by a UK police force.
Notebooks and pens are to be replaced with a mobile phone and access to the police database which it’s claimed will save front line officers an hour every shift as they will no longer have to head back to base to file a written report.
The ten year contract has been awarded by G4S – the controversial security company formed by a merger between Securicor and Group 4 – which now runs the police control room.
It’s claimed that the new system will save around £1.8 million a year in officer time.
Lincolnshire Police must be the most top-heavy force for gadgets in the country – and we hope that this one will prove its worth as predicted.
We fear that in the three years it will take to recoup the £6 million investment many things could happen to the equipment concerned.
Mobile ‘phone users know well enough that their pride and joy can get lost, stolen, become redundant or superseded, and unless the deal calls for the unspecified number of handsets to be updated on a regular basis we can see any financial benefit gradually disappearing.
Next week will be our last blog before Christmas – and we’ll be doing something a little different.
Instead of our Christmas card we’ll be bringing you our TV film guide – our take on some famous titles adapted for Worst Street.
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