Worst Street – or
Last week’s Boston Eye reported concerns raised by Councillor Brian Rush about the decision by the ruling officer clique at Worst Street no longer to record what is said at meetings.
The Bostonian Independent Group member called the decision “a very large slap down for democracy which seems to have been done, without reason, explanation nor warning.”
A reason did subsequently emerge when the story found its way into our local ‘newspapers.’
A Worst Street spokesman reportedly said: the decision was due to operational and resource issues and would be reviewed in a year’s time to see if there had been any negative outcomes as a result.
The spokesman added that whilst the council does not have a legal duty to record public and elected members may do so if they wish and so “are not prejudiced in any way.”
Operational and resource issues … Presumably this means the cost of someone simultaneously to depress the ‘play’ and ‘record’ button at the start of a meeting, and the ‘stop’ button at the end of it.
Boston’s retreat to the dark ages runs counter to the efforts by other councils to be as open and transparent as possible – something that Worst Street claims to be but isn’t.
Councils across the county record meetings and some such as East Lindsey make the audio available afterwards – whilst even more enlightened South Holland and West Lindsey webcast selected meetings so that residents can watch them without the need to attend.
Lincolnshire County Council streams of its full council meetings live and leaves a copy on its website for future viewing.
To make matters worse this decision to wind the clock back has resulted in a quite considerable waste of money.
It was only in February last year that more than £26,000 was taken from the council's capital reserves to invest in a shed-load of top of the range equipment to record meetings.
Ironically, these extensive… and expensive … purchases were made under the headline IT Investment Programme – even though it seems that they are now destined for the store cupboard whilst barely out of guarantee.
Someone needs to tell us why, early last year it was thought necessary to invest in more IT equipment, when a twelvemonth later someone else has decided that it wasn’t worth the candle.
In common with most public authorities, Worst Street subscribes to the Seven Principles of Public Life – drawn up 25 years ago by government committee on Standards in Public Life chaired by Lord Nolan, and tasked with making recommendations to improve standards of behaviour in public life.
They are summarised thus:
Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
Integrity – Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
Objectivity – In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Openness – Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Honesty – Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Leadership – Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
There guidelines apply to all in the public service – officers and councillors alike – and regular readers will quickly realise how badly this sensible advice has been ignored of late.
In fact, we wonder whether it is by accident or design that if one searches the internet for information on Nolan, the link below …
Results in the following information …
But it hasn’t always been like drawing teeth to get information from Boston Borough Council.
Interestingly, during the war years, the authority created an information committee (pictured above in the British Council documentary Country Town filmed in Boston in 1943) which held regular public forums so that all manner of questions could be asked and answered.
More recently, Worst Street ran a series of ‘regular’ Ask the Cabinet sessions – again for taxpayers to try to seek information.
But like much of the hot air that billows out of Worst Street, it quickly ran out of steam.
Whilst time is made available for public questions at committee meetings – the meetings themselves are not publicised … even though there are ample outlets for this.
No – it seems that Boston Borough prefers operating in the shadows as much as possible – and keeping voters in the dark as well.
Moving on … and we were e-mailed by council Jefe Michael Cooper after our comments that monies from the £1million-plus Controlling Migration Fund saw huge sums spent to tart up the Moulder Leisure Centre and contribute to an already well-heeled project at Boston Stump.
He told us: “This fund was set up by the Government and all of the projects had to be fully costed and evidenced. The bid was then put to the government department dealing with it. Many organisations were eligible and did bid in to the fund from community groups to the stump and many more.
“Those that were successful have been and are still drawing down the monies from the fund. We as Boston Borough Council were lucky enough to receive the cash to be able to improve the GMLC and some other smaller projects.
“There have been a lot of miss conception (sic) around this fund but as you can see the money can only be spent on what is was bid and allocated for nothing else.
“The parameters for eligibility were quite rigid and as such only projects deemed to be within the remit of the original concept went forward and were funded.
“Boston Borough Council as the local government body was used as the local payment conduit only and not as a funding administrator.”
Why this wasn’t made clearer at the time is anyone’s guess – but we would be most interested to know how many members of our European incomers have seized the opportunity to sign up with the Moulder gym as a result of its £95,000 refit.
A snapshot of the historic moment when Boston and South Holland district councils officially adopted the South East Lincolnshire Local Plan has been appearing here there and everywhere.
Committee members on one side of the screened area and voters graciously allowed to peer in.
No sense of ‘them and us’ there, eh?
Last week we brought you the first half of an account of the most recent Boston Town Area Committee-hee – BTAC-ky – meeting.
Gird your loins for more – some of which we doubt will appear in the minutes – hence the need for a proper record of events.
When the committee discussed application under the BTAC grant Scheme, we are told: “Boston Stump had applied for rather a large sum of money – £20,000 to be precise, with the largest item being £15,000 for a schools’ festival.
“This item caused concern with a majority of those present as the report contained very little detail.
“The matter was discussed at length and it was proposed that the two smaller amounts be approved, and further information requested for the Schools Festival.
“At this point one councillor, a well-known churchgoer, spoke out in favour of giving the grant, speaking of how The Stump is a vital part of the community and generally how wonderful it is.
“And speaking as if they were part of the application, made the following statement ‘perhaps we would accept a lower amount, say £5,000.’
“Having spoken to others present they are also under the impression the statement was made as if they were part of the application.
“Then another regular in the Stump congregation spoke out in favour, quite passionately saying the full amount should be granted – at one point even saying ‘we have plenty of money, let’s just give it to them.’
“Remarkably neither of the two that spoke out mentioned their regular attendance at the stump or declared an interest.
“Much to the annoyance of the two supporters it was passed that the Stump would receive £5,000 and further information would be requested.”
BTAC-hee-hee gives away small grants as well as considering these eye-watering attacks on our council tax.
Sensibly, the committee has cancelled the 4th round of the 2018/19 small grant applications and the applicants must now reapply after the May elections.
Surely, the same thing should be done with this £20,000 bid?
Further misconceptions about BTAC-ky and its money appear in a website piece published by Lincolnshire Live – the online version of the Lincolnshire Echo and Boston off-Target.
In a piece headlined ‘Why do so many people use Boston's streets as a TOILET?’ and subtitled ‘this article contains some images that people may find disgusting’ the report tells us: “Boston does have a significant issue with people going to the toilet in public places.”
The account – liberally illustrated with photos of people pissing against walls and of turds dumped in the street (if you’ll forgive the pun) will doubtless do little for Boston’s flagging image … and we are sure that the website feels justifiably proud that the bold decision to include vile photographs will make matters even worse.
Naïvely, the report suggests that public toilet opening hours may be at the root of the problem.
It says that the public conveniences in the Cattle Market, Central Park and Lincoln Lane all shut at 6pm on Monday to Saturday and 4pm on a Sunday – and that those in Oldrids, and Boston Stump also close fairly early whilst ASDA “some distance from the town centre” shuts at 7-30pm.
“So if anyone is caught short after the loos close, this perhaps increases the possibility of people going to the loo in the street,” the report suggests.
Believe that and you’ll believe anything.
The report goes on to quote Boston BiG leader Councillor Barrie Pierpoint as saying that the authorities could do more to tackle the issue.
“The County Council has let us down and so has the Boston Borough Council, most of all the police.
“I’m sick and tired of hearing about budget cuts - we need to tackle this issue.
“It’s a disgrace. How can we advertise our town as a desirable location when we have people drinking and doing this in the street?”
Despite this, the report says that Councillor Pierpoint believes having more representatives of official organisations on the streets is one method that might help to reduce the problem - and that the funding is there.
“The Boston Town Area Committee has a pot of £600,000 and you’re telling me that we can't invest that into our town centre to get it back to a good standard?" he said.
“We need someone monitoring these areas where people are defecating or street drinking, we know full well where they are, and we need to react instead of brushing it under the carpet.” Ooh er missus.
“I think the Boston Rangers would be a valuable addition to our streets, surely we can use some of the BTAC pot to actually make a difference to our town.”
Boston has of course played the Rangers game before – during the lamentable days of the town’s Business ‘Improvement’ District between 2008 and 2013.
Three Rangers cost £300,000 over the five years of the BID – £20,000 apiece.
Whilst some small success was claimed from their presence, they were also well-known for mooching around places such as Pescod Square for a natter with their security staff.
The other thing is that is worth mentioning is that BTAC-ky’s ‘pot’ refers to its annual budget – which has already been spoken for.
To reshuffle the figures allocate £60,000 a year – that’s 10% of the budget – to an anti-poo squad would achieve nothing other than to pursue BTAC-ky’s policy of throwing taxpayers’ money around without anything much by way of thought.
Finally, we’re often critical about the slapdash way that out so-called local ‘newspapers’ are produced these days – and if you think that we exaggerate, here’s a recent example.
When the Boston sub-Standard reported on the £1.8 million grant scheme to improve part of the historic town centre, the WorstWeb account was simply copied on to the newspaper page – but under a staff reporter by-line.
The only difference?
Just one of the four photos provided was reproduced – and captioned … probably by a sub editor located in the Shetland Islands – Dolphin STREET.
So much for centuries of history.
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