Although we said that we wouldn’t resume publishing until the 14th, there is so much to report that we are back a week earlier than declared with a bumper blog.
As always, a couple of stories whilst we were offline rose head and shoulders above the rest.
Most interesting was the breakdown of Boston’s bid to the Controlling Migration Fund, which secured £1,387,503 from the government to fritter away over a two year period. Whilst we wouldn’t have expected a Donald Trump-style wall around the borough, we were surprised by the ideas that Worst Street came up for disposing of the money… and so were many of our readers.
One of the most controversial – and expensive – parts of the project was a capital spend of £95,000 on improvements to the fitness suite at the Geoff Moulder Leisure Centre. But dwarfing that was an unexplained payment for ‘multi-use game and court facilities’ costing £269,000.
A further capital spend of £100,000 was listed to cover community investment and asset provision – including Christmas lighting.
As is so often the case with Worst Street there is nothing offered by way of explanation or detail.
A good example is the allocation of £60,000 to deliver “an iterative evaluation, ROI (return on investment) modelling and final report for all elements of the funding application.”
For those of us not in the know, iterative design is ”a methodology in which a product is tested and changed repeatedly at different stages of design/development to eliminate usability issues before the product is launched.”
So now we know – it sounds like a damn good way to control immigration to us.
Another big spend was on Boston Stump’s A Passion for People project – which was allocated almost £80,000 for two members of staff at £18,000 a year over the two year span of the government award.
St Botolph’s Church had already been given lottery development funding of £160k, which enabled it so secure a £1.17million lottery grant with the balance of the £2.2 million to be raised in ‘partnership funding.’
The plan “is an ambitious project to transform one of this country’s most architecturally iconic churches into a centre of cultural learning, heritage interpretation, all-age people development, musical excellence and community integration. The project will increase the number of visitors, engage tourists, and promote Boston’s heritage to an overseas market.”
It includes the repair of the west face of the tower and tower roof, urgent repair and development of the pews, installation of underfloor heating and the construction, educational interpretation and an activity scheme will also be created, telling the stories of the people of town and church.
Again, it should do lots to control immigration!
One thing Worst Street loves above all others is buying in staff – hence this massive shopping list for Community Leadership, Advice and Integration. (Multi organisation bid reflected by different on costs)
0.1 FTE (full time equivalent) project lead, 0.4 FTE project manager, 2 FTE community development officers, communications Officer (2 hrs/wk @ £20/hr ) 0.4 admin officer, 1 FTE research and campaign coordinator, 2FTE generalist advisers and 0.5 FTE volunteer manager
The bill for this lot comes to a few quid under £385,000 – the two community development officers alone are on £35,000 each.
Sorry if we sound a bit thick, here – but how can this spending tsunami be expected to control anything at all when it has been allocated in the way that it has?
An interesting sidebar to this came when we looked more closely at the Moulder spend.
Regular readers will recall that Worst Street had plans to save money by ‘privatising’ the Moulder, Guildhall and sports services.
But by a happy coincidence, we learn from a pre-Christmas cabinet meeting that ‘securing investment for the gym from the successful Controlling Migration Fund had enabled officers to identify proposed budget savings from a combination of income generation from growth, restructuring of staffing and changes to operational practices and programmes.’
As a result, it was agreed to monitor improvements within the in-house business case based on the financial projections set out in the report, subject to quarterly monitoring in the next financial year.
But ... as a belt and braces exercise ... the idea of making the Moulder an external operation will go on.
Whilst the Controlling Migration Fund has come to the timely rescue of the Moulder, the numbers involved in celebrating the success of spending all that money are not exactly persuasive.
Figures given to the meeting said that after the opening of the refurbished gym membership increased by 153 – or 15%.
Scaled up, that numbers the full membership at 1,020 – which to us seems scarcely spectacular.
And again, it would not have that much impact on migrant-related issues – but how fortunate that it allowed Worst Street to cling on the centre pro tem.
Several views were expressed in a series of Twitter debates in which Councillor Paul Skinner decided to take part – although confusingly he included the word ‘bubble’ no fewer than five times.
We can only think that as he is the current mayoress – his fellow-councillor wife is the mayor – that there have been some entertaining civic dog-hangings which perhaps influenced his choice of words.
Another issue that flared up during our absence was the resignation of Councillor Anton Dani as leader of the Bostonian Independents Group to join the Conservative group on Boston Borough Council.
This prompted a press release from the new leader of BiG – Councillor Barrie Pierpoint – saying that the group looked forward to Councillor Dani submitting his resignation and stand for re-election at a by-election.
Boston Eye asked Councillor Dani for a comment – and his response took us aback.
He told us …
“I left the group because I started to feel marginalised, ignored, and made a leader just to make numbers in committees.
“Councillor Rush and Councillor Pierpoint started to make nasty comments towards me which made me feel uncomfortable – during a conversation regarding street drinking, Councillor Rush told me ‘why don't you go and talk to your friends the eastern Europeans?
“I am a British citizen and proud to be. I am not an Eastern European and I do not like to be associated with the street drinkers.
“On another occasion Councillor Pierpoint suddenly stated that he could not understand my e-mails.
“If I took the lead to speak or express my opinion, Councillor Pierpoint would just cut through my speech without even apologising.
“We could not recruit anyone if he didn’t fit Mr Pierpoint’s criteria (they look poor, cannot be trusted, talk too much, etc.)
“I do respect all kinds of people and hate negativity.
“Lately I found out that if we were able to gain a majority in the next elections, Councillor Pierpoint’s aim was to be the council leader.
“I am very passionate about what I do.
“I love to help and serve people in need: I would love to make Boston great again, I thrive for success, I'm still the same and I will never change my personality, I was elected to serve the Bostonians and I will always do so.
“I sincerely believe that all councillors should put their differences aside and deliver what our beautiful Boston needs.
“For your information Councillor Pierpoint tried to join the Conservative party himself but he was not accepted.”
Later, Councillor Dani added: “During the pressure from the Cabinet for Councillor Rush to resign as Mayor because of the so-called racist comments he posted on his website, I was the only one who stood by him. I defended his corner; I invited BBC Lincolnshire to have an interview so I could clear the air from all the allegations of racism connected to Councillor Rush.
Councillor Pierpoint preferred at that time to sit and watch, didn’t even bother to make his voice heard as he was at that time the Deputy Mayor.
It is painful to think about it, I stood by Councillor Rush when he needed me, he insulted me when I was just a number.”
As always the great and the good felt compelled to share their Christmas thoughts with us.
Council leader Michael Cooper’s missive listed some of the ‘main events’ of 2018 – including such earth shattering items as the request to residents not to put batteries or electrical items in their wheelie bins, and their support for the campaign to try to get a share a government kitty for new roads to speed up the distributor road scheme for Boston … a campaign about which nothing more has been heard.
Some while ago now we joked that Councillor Cooper’s predecessor, Peter Bedford, appeared to put some sort of curse on good news mentions which appeared to founder not long after he spoke of them.
Has Councillor Cooper inherited this dubious gift?
Not long after he reported that “An announcement from music store giant HMV that it was returning to Boston was greeted with enthusiasm,” came news that the company called in the administrators for the second time in five years – and just weeks after re-opening in Pescod Square.
It is sadly typical of Boston’s politicians that they see only good news – when acknowledging the bad would at least demonstrate a sense of reality and not treat the taxpayers as fools.
Headlined as A year of vast achievements for Boston, the piece neglected to mention such trivia as the collapse of Fogarty’s with the loss of 200 jobs, the closure of the Officer’s Club store in Pescod Square; a warning that Peacock’s in the same centre might close unless a rental deal could be worked out with the shop’s landlords – an issue affecting the company nationally.
We also noticed that the former Clarks shoe shop in Strait Bargate is back on the rental market ... although it appears to have found a temporary use as a cardboard city ...
Of course, Worst Street would tell us that we must always look on the bright side – but with so many highly paid managers tasked with getting Boston back on its feet, it would be good to hear that they’re actually doing something to earn their keep.
MP Matt Warman, meanwhile, stuck with the big picture rather than local minutiae – but given the job losses mentioned above and the dire state of Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital might have chosen a better intro for his thoughts than to say: “In 2018 unemployment has hit record lows, employment record highs, and it was announced that the NHS would receive the largest single injection of funds in the service’s history.”
In an end of the year interview, Lincolnshire County Council Leader Martin Hill spread the gloom with a putty knife – talking of financial crisis, the need for NHS improvements, Brexit limbo and a host of other dismal stuff.
But there was a ray of light in the gloom.
A single item list headed “What to look forward to…” quoted “Waiting for funding as well as continuing work on the Lincoln Eastern Bypass and the Grantham Bypass.”
Bostonians will throw their flat caps in the air at that one, we suspect.
Soon afterwards, a Twitter exchange highlighted the attitude of Clownty Hall towards the idea of a Boston by-pass/distributor road when we had the temerity to tweet the hope that Boston might be next on the road improvement list.
The county’s highways panjandrum Councillor Richard (Bob the Builder) Davies who represents Grantham West, posted a line bragging about the good news that everyone had rolled over and played dead as far as objections at the enquiry into the proposed Grantham relief road were concerned (it seems no-one calls them by-passes any more.)
His boorish response to our tweet – “Sadly the government doesn’t fund roads like I distribute sweets between my children. It’s up to central government as to whether they will support Boston Distributor Road as they have our other projects across the county” was ‘liked’ by the roseate County Councillor Colin Davie – executive member for Economy and ‘Place.’
It was only last June that Councillor Davies claimed Lincolnshire County Council was still committed to a distributor road for Boston. Interviewed at the Lincolnshire Show, he said that the authority still wanted to build the project in order to relieve traffic in the town but needed funding from the Department for Transport.
He said that the county council wanted to deliver the project properly for Boston and was discussing funding with government for the scheme.
“We’re talking to national government about looking towards funding for the next knock on stages.
“In particular there is going to be a bridge near the A52 downtown which is going to be a real challenge to get and that’s the next big hurdle that we are working hard to get over.”
He added that the county council was committed to delivering a “solution that works” to mitigate traffic in Boston.
But shortly before that, Councillor Davie had waxed long and lyrical about the importance of a bypass for Horncastle as part of Clownty Hall’s planned ‘coastal highway’ from the A1 at Newark along the A46 to Lincoln, before carrying on east along the A158 to Skegness.
It would also include the A57 from Dunham Bridge to where it joins the A46 in Lincoln.
He was quoted as saying: “We have so many visitors coming to our part of the world and I don’t want them to be stuck in traffic jams anywhere. I want them to move fluidly through the county. If they want to visit Skegness and then visit Mablethorpe and then visit Louth and come back to Lincoln, then I want them to be able to do it at their speed. He also vaguely hunted at some sort of by-pass for Wragby and suggested new or better roads to Ingoldmells and Chapel St Leonards – both of which coincidentally are in his Ingoldmells Rural ward.
Does anyone else think it strange that not wanting drivers to be stuck in traffic jams ‘anywhere’ seems to mean anywhere but Boston?
Back to the great and the good – rather than the grate and the goofy – and Chief Constable Bill Skelly’s message included a lament that despite promises of some extra funding, he was still facing having to reduce some of the police services across the county.
By an unfortunate coincidence his announcement came just days after a feature in the Daily Mail about Chief Constables’ pay and expenses.
It reported that “As council tax is raised to fund the forces, police chiefs enjoy a pay bonanza. Nearly two thirds of chief constables from 39 forces earned more than the Prime Minister’s annual salary of £150,402 last year, and tens of thousands of pounds were spent on private healthcare for senior officers.”
Among the country’s 45 forces, just 12 police chiefs had total annual packages worth over £200,000 last year, including pension contributions, expenses and allowances;
The Mail said Mr Skelly’s pay package totalled £230,000 – including £42,170 for relocating from Devon and Cornwall after he took over the force in February 2017 –£153,101 in salary and a £36,234 pension contribution.
This placed him neck and neck in the pay stakes with Merseyside’s Andy Cooke, who received a pension contribution worth almost £40,000, and a £171,621 salary plus £16,980 expenses for cars.
The only major difference between the two was that Mr Cooke was in charge of 3,484 officers compared with Lincolnshire’s 1,099 – which places it fourth from the bottom in numbers out of the 39 forces in England and Wales.
Councillor Barrie Pierpoint, whom we mentioned earlier, had some harsh words to say about the cabinet structure – something with which we entirely agree.
He wrote to the Boston Sub-Standard after a columnist asked “Is the cabinet working for us?”
“The answer is simply – NO,” he proclaimed.
“The Cabinet doesn't work for the electorate – they work for their political party and themselves.
“The Cabinet is a closed shop, with a select few councillors made up of Conservatives and deserters of UKIP and Labour who betrayed their electorate and joined the Conservatives to be promised chairmanships and committee roles. That is unethical and disgraceful.
“The Cabinet is almost officer-led; it doesn't have a strong leadership, has no strategy, no vision, no entrepreneurial style or commercial acumen, and is in disarray, allowing senior officers a free reign (sic – note to Boston Sub-Standard … bring back sub-editors.).
“When we were first elected back in 2015, all the full council meetings were held, and there were plenty of important items on the agenda to discuss.
“This year, full council meetings have been cancelled, and the November full council meeting looked at two committee recommendations and reports, with no real (sic) important matters for discussion.”
Later, he charged: “Today, the full council is about Conservative councillors asking questions of their colleagues who then give them a chance to stand up and say how good they are in their portfolio-holder roles.
“What about the poor public?
“Very few toilet facilities, Central Park being left open all night to be used by undesirables, and other important matters that go against the public interest?
“The cabinet doesn't work for the electorate.”
As we are now in an election year, the letter lurches into campaign territory – but you can read it in its entirety below …
|click on image to enlarge|
But it echoes much of what we said at the time the Boston Bypass Independents opted for the cabinet system for the most obvious reason that it locked everyone else out of the debate ... a decision that the Conservative group felt was well worth continuing.
Around the same time, Paul Kenny – a former mayor and a former leader of the Labour group in Worst Street as well as being a spectacularly unsuccessful parliamentary candidate for his party over several previous general elections, told the Sub-Standard: “I have always been critical of the Cabinet system and believe that the council has a duty to understand the needs of its community.
“The cabinet running Boston Borough Council at the present time only listen to their own views and are not an engaging cabinet.
“Over the last four years we have seen a council which is out of touch, with some of its members switching parties with no regard to the electorate who voted them in.
“If they had a moral backbone they should have stood for re-election.
“We now have a new independent group and every member has been a member of other political groups.
“Ironically their political literature (but we are not political) states that anyone elected to their group, should re-stand for election if they leave to join another group. It is political sound-bites in the same way that the Boston By-pass Independence (sic) party stormed into power on a promise of getting us a bypass who then forgot to argue for a bypass.
“When I was elected as a councillor I was very clear about where I stood.
“I was there to represent the ward and make sure that the views of the residents and electorate got heard.
“Yes, I was and remain a member of a political party because I believe if you want things done you have to join like-minded people.
“In May 2019 the electorate will have the opportunity to vote for councillors who will listen and respond to the interests of their communities. If the committee structure is going to work, I don't think it matters whether you are independent or a member of a political party. I think the most important thing is for you to be honest to the electorate. That is how real democracy should work.”
We’re back next week with some more catching up and news of who wants how much in council tax. Make it a date to join us.
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