It’s been an open secret for the past couple of weeks that Boston’s two independent parties – BiG and the Blue Revolution have been in talks on how best to approach the local elections on 2nd May.
There once was a time when both Boston Borough Council and Lincolnshire County Council had a good scattering of independents – with voters clearly believing that being represented by someone with a specific interest in their locality would be an improvement on being represented by councillors whose politics took priority over the people they claimed to serve.
Sadly over the years the independent mindedness of voters has been diluted by a tendency to vote for a mainstream party – for reasons that make little sense.
Take Boston, for example.
When the electors empowered the Conservative group to run the place, were they really voting for a diminution of services, rising tax bills and a council that has run steadily down like a cheap watch and is now at the point where it has all but stopped?
Similarly, when the people seeking our vote made promises about how the place would improve, were they consciously telling porkies – in some cases it would appear so.
Certainly, some councillors now seem to be feeling that the time has come for a change – hence the arrival of the Blue Revolution Party and the Bostonian Independents Group.
The former is the elder of the two groups – and its founder, former Tory Boston and Lincolnshire councillor Mike Gilbert – contested the 2017 general election.
He told Boston Eye: “The town and indeed the nation's politics are now adversely affected by our two-party system and we need to be promoting a more independent ‘brand’ of politics.
“Blue Revolution is essentially a brand for people who want to be part of a loosely affiliated group who share values of openness and respect for each other.
“Blue Revolution wants to get people into politics under any banner other than that of an established command and control, mainstream party which puts its ideology, membership and interests ahead of the interests of ordinary workers.
“In respect of Blue Revolution, there was no agreement with BiG other than to respect each other's independence, values of open debate and respect, and to try and avoid standing in the same wards.
“We will be standing candidates under the Blue Revolution banner. We have only three candidates so far and will stand in Station Ward and North West Ward, with one other yet to be confirmed.”
Councillor Brian Rush has had a bumpier ride down Independence Avenue – starting as a member of the Boston Bypass Independents, and then forming the Better Boston Group, before moving via UKIP to a stand-alone Independent role before BiG was established around this time last year.
He readily admits: “It is not the easiest of tasks, being a political Independent ... however as my political career, I think also proves, that neither am I a compliant apostle!
“It would be foolish of me to pretend that I have not been looking around, without much success, to find like-minded apostles who share at least some of my views.
“Of course humans are not only social animals, some are pack animals, and within any pack there will be those who are weak, and those who are strong. I think I sit somewhere about the middle.
“However what is more important is that our area is ready to react to our MP Matt Warman, and our Boston Conservative group, whose silence on the EU was a cowardly act of abandonment, for what was the biggest out vote, percentage wise, in Britain.
“We need to stop this blind political loyalty to our national party politics, and ask ourselves one long overdue and honest question, what have the Conservatives or Labour really done for our people and our borough – so maybe the time has really come!
“Now is the time to unroll the banner that says ‘Boston first and foremost!’
“So if you think that Boston really needs to change, then we all need to stand together and take it on.”
BiG currently has two councillors in Worst Street, with a third declared candidate who is very vocal on Facebook.
There are also Independents Alison and Richard Austin and former leader Peter Bedford – so if all these were to stand, almost a third of the council could face an independent challenge.
There are also six UKIP councillors who face the interesting dilemma of which way to jump at the forthcoming elections as it seems fair at least to say that the UKIP wave has crested since the last poll and the political tide is now well and truly out.
One thing is certain – there is a clear and definite need for councillors to do more than they are at present.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no formal requirements for a district councillor in terms of a job description or any legal requirements as to how much engagement they must make with their constituents.
The only legal requirement is that a councillor must attend at least one meeting every six months or be automatically disqualified.
Having said that, the Local Government Association says that a councillor’s main job is to represent their ward and the people who live in it.
“Councillors provide a bridge between the community and the council. As well as being an advocate for your local residents and signposting them to the right people at the council, you will need to keep them informed about the issues that affect them.
“In order to understand and represent local views and priorities, you need to build strong relationships and encourage local people to make their views known and engage with you and the council.
“As a local councillor, your residents will expect you to: respond to their queries and investigate their concerns, communicate council decisions that affect them, know your patch and be aware of any problems, know and work with representatives of local organisations, interest groups and businesses, represent their views at council meetings, and lead local campaigns on their behalf.
The LGA concludes: “Good communication and engagement is central to being an effective local representative.”
We wonder how many of our councillors can say – hand on heart – that they are doing their job according to these recommendations.
The council’s own figures for attendance at meetings show up those who do not.
The worst absentees include one councillor who has managed a meagre 14% attendance between the end of August last year and the end of January this year. Three others managed 25%, 40% and 50% respectively – and three of those four are members of BTAC … now a big spending and powerful committee, whose voters deserve a powerful voice.
It is to be hoped that where a member – or their party group – recognises serious shortcomings in representations, either the individual will stand down or the party will ensure that person is not allowed to seek re-election in May.
A slap on the wrist for council leader David Cooper from UKIP Councillor Sue Ransome.
In last week’s Boston Eye, Councillor Cooper told us that at the last Corporate and Community meeting, not a single member of the opposition turned up and many didn’t even give apologies – something he declared ‘amazing’ as the budget setting for next year was in the spotlight.
Councillor Ransome told us: “You have been given incorrect information, this time from Councillor Cooper regarding the last meeting of Corporate and Community which was held on 7th February.
“Of the opposition, myself, Councillors Paul Gleeson and Brian Rush were present. Apologies were given by Councillor Elizabeth Ransome.
“The only person of the committee not present at the start of the meeting was Councillor Richard Austin.
“I will take this up with Councillor Cooper and hope that you will amend next week’s issue of Boston Eye.”
On the same issue, a regular reader and One Who Knows writes: “Perhaps Councillor Cooper's comments on (non) attendance at various borough committees are understandable – but only from a person who does not recognise and appreciate the futility of such committee attendance where a local authority has a cabinet system of governance, such as Boston suffers from.
“Councillor Gleeson’s idea of a number of executive-powered working committees with a fall-back possibility of sending any committee decision to the full council – although not new – has much to recommend it as a system where councillors can be seen to be acting for their wards and the borough.
“And such a committee structure allows all councillors to bring their knowledge and talents into the decision making process.
“And as a footnote to the matter of attendance, perhaps councillors should only be paid the percentage of their allowances in direct ratio to the percentage of their committee duties performed.
“Maybe your numpty of the week (18/2/19) could look into this as the savings would, it appears, be quite significant.
“The study of this issue could well also keep his mind off other matters where, dangerously, he seems to consider himself to be the ‘bee’s knees.’”
It will be interesting to see how Worst Street intends to manage after its litter police – the environment enforcement company 3GS – pulled out of its deal with the council.
Pro tem a handful of staff will undertake the job while an alternative is sought.
3GS – which ironically styles itself ‘a reputable environmental enforcement company, providing support to the public and private sectors across the UK’ – pulled out of a similar arrangement with a council in Bradford where a councillor claimed that they found it unprofitable.
The big bonus for Worst Street was the service cost nothing as the company kept the fines.
So, weren’t they working had enough to keep their income rising?
We may never know – but one thing that can be said is that most of Boston is as dirty and litter-strewn as ever.
There’s always gold to be found in the foothills of Worst Street’s lists of monthly spending over £250 – even though it’s our gold and we seldom see an explanation of what it’s for.
Back at the beginning of February, we asked why a company called Bentley and Rowe was paid £16,500 for a ‘PRSA Valuation?’
The firm apparently works in the leisure industry on projects that closely resemble the recent £90,000 overhaul of the Moulder Leisure Centre gymnasium.
Now they’re on the list for “PRSA valuation 2 for works completed” with an eye-watering payment of £51,296.55.
It’s now three and a half years since Boston Borough Council signed a deal with a private company called 1life, and the borough website WorstWeb told us at the time “A new chapter in the life of Boston's Princess Royal Sports Arena has begun as 1Life takes on full responsibility for the centre.”
It went on: “Following a contract signing with Boston Borough Council, 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 website explained that “a huge array of solar panels on the roof of the building is already meeting almost all the energy needs during summer days and biomass boilers are on the way, replacing costlier LPG – the site is not on mains gas.”
Turning back to the deal WorstWeb continued: “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.”
And later, it declared once again: “The longer-term future of the PRSA will be without on-going revenue support from the council.”
So will someone please tell us why at the end of last year we forked out so much money on something that is not our responsibility.
Not only that – could someone also explain why we paid almost £6,000 for electricity in November, and nearly £900 for biomass fuel – charges that are incurred on a monthly basis?
Something else we mentioned in recent blogs was the amount of money being steered into the coffers of Boston Stump’s Inclusive Boston Project.
December’s accounts showed a further £14,309 towards ‘delivery’ of the project paid to something called ‘Bringing Learning Into Communities’ which operates from the Len Medlock Voluntary Centre in Boston.
BLIC offers courses such as: active listening, communication skills, managing difficult situations, and time management.
All these are skills that we would expect candidates to have when they signed up – rather than spending time training people to meet the requirements of what they are expected to do.
What an old fashioned idea.
Just one more from the list and then we’ll move on …
Our eye was caught by a charge of £900 for 12 ‘psychotherapeutic appointments’ with a local company called Total Therapeutics.
They help people with problems such as depression, panic attacks, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, bulimia and eating disorders, social anxiety, specific phobias, health anxiety and addictions.
Certainly, we’d have health anxiety if we had the rest of the stuff on the list.
But joking aside, why is Worst Street trying to tackle what we assume are individual staff problems such as these – or are we looking at the start of a series of courses for all 320 employees … which would come to a cool £24,000?
This is what we mean when we say that it is no good publishing spending figures without explaining what the money is being used for.
Lincolnshire Police continue to confound us with their attitude to money.
On one hand Chief Constable Bill Skelly says that up to 155 posts, including 40 police officers and 85 PCSOs, could go in 2019-20 because of a £3.2million budget gap.
On the other Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones is reported as saying the Chief Constable's statement is setting a “tone of pessimism which I don't share.”
He said that a “special grants application” asking the Home Office to top up its 2019/20 grant to Lincolnshire of nearly £60million will be sent in, possibly protecting the jobs Mr Skelly warned were at risk.
Whatever the outcome, we do know is that we will be paying an extra 11% council tax for what may become a diminished service – which many people have been critical of.
Unless, that is, you work for Lincolnshire Live – website of the Lincolnshire Echo and Boston off-Target.
Yet despite the force being so seriously stretched, Mr Jones’s most recent stunt was to call a ‘special summit’ involving all seven of the county’s district and city authorities, the county council, Lincolnshire Police, the Environment Agency, several drainage boards, the NFU and the County Land and Business Association to investigate what can be done to tackle problems caused by fly-tipping
Mr Jones will now assess the information given by the various agencies before drawing up a list of actions.
He has committed to creating a “hot spot” map – showing the locations across the county most used by fly tippers – as a first step in an intelligence gathering process.
Representatives from all agencies, including the Chief Constable, have also signed a pledge to seek ways to work together to tackle fly tipping.
“Today is very much the first step in gathering information, good practice and experiences,” said Mr Jones.
“But it is clear, already, that this is a huge problem for all our communities and it’s having a significant impact on resident’s (sic) quality of life.
“Clearly partnership working will be crucial so I am keen to analyse the information we have gathered, find examples of positive steps taken around the UK and then see what projects we can create and launch that will begin to make a difference.”
Fly tipping is and always has been a responsibility of local councils – and we are not sure how pleased our cash-strapped chief constable is at the idea that his force should now be dealing with it as well.
There’s a postscript to the 11% council rise for the police, which some might see as better news.
Whilst a report by Mr Jones to the meeting that set the tax said that £1 million of reserves and £3.2 million budget savings will still be required to start addressing a potential gap of £6.9 million by 2022/23 – he added that that he would currently be targeting a 2% rise next year.
Is this clairvoyance from someone who knows what next year’s financial needs will be, we wonder?
Or might it be that – unusually – the local Conservative group has re-selected Marc Jones to run again for the Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner role in 2020.
And a low tax promise could prove a useful election bargaining chip come Thursday 7th May next year.
We’re away next week, so our next blog will appear on Monday 11th March – just 52 days before the elections.
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