Even though the local council elections earlier this month did not involve us in Boston, they ought to have set alarm bells ringing in Worst Street.
That’s because they signalled just a year before the elections on 2nd May 2019 which will see all the seats on Boston Borough Council up for grabs.
You can track how long there is to go with the Boston Eye countdown calendar on the top right of yhe page – which we are sure will bring a frisson of fear to those councillors whose days are clearly numbered.
Unlike, for example, Lincoln City Council – where one third of the members are for re-elected each year – Boston suffers in that any major changes in political allegiance means a massive influx of councillors who often have no previous experience of the job that they have been parachuted into.
Examples from recent years include the Boston Bypass Independents’ landslide in 2007 and the 2015 UKIP surge where they tied with the Tories on 13 seats each before almost immediately falling out and fragmenting.
This year’s results showed gains for Labour and the Liberal Democrats at the expense of the Tories and UKIP – the latter being the biggest victim, losing 123 seats, and ending up with just three out of the 4,404 contested.
The current make-up of Boston Borough Council is: Conservative – 16, UKIP – 6, Independent – 4, Bostonian Independents – 4.
Given the way things appear to be going it seems reasonably certain that UKIP’s six councillors have the most to fear, followed by the Bostonian Independents (not to be confused with the private wing at the Pilgrim Hospital) – one of whose members, whilst said to be “part” of the group even though he works out of the area – has attended only one out of the eight most recent council and committee meetings … a meagre and measly 12%.
The “Independents” political potpourri – comprises two who have declared allegiance to the Conservatives, former Tory leader Peter Bedford who quit the party when he lost his role, and dyed in the wool Labour councillor Paul Gleeson who needs a group allegiance to retain his committee chairmanship.
This doesn’t make the Tories the good guys either. At least one has an attendance record of only three out of the most recent eleven meetings at which he was expected – a 73% absentee rate.
We would expect anyone who can’t be bothered to turn up on a regular basis not to seek re-election next year.
We would also expect a number of other councillors to call it a day – if nothing else due to the march of time.
All things being equal we think that there could be as many as 12 new faces at Worst Street in less than a year’s time.
So watch this space – and follow the countdown clock as the election rolls inexorably nearer.
Having talked about attendances, the issue becomes moot when applied to full council meetings for the rest of the year with just three … in July, September and November.
Whilst it could be argued that they are merely rubber-stamping exercises, and therefore not as important as they once were, there seems to be a growing tendency to ease rank and file councillors out of the decision-making process as far as possible.
An interesting example of this involves desire to offload the council’s leisure and cultural services on to a private, third party operator to meet the cuts it needs to make – such has been done with the PRSA.
But a recommendation to develop a proposal with a non-profit organisation with charitable status created by East Lindsey District Council four years ago got a rough ride and was subsequently withdrawn.
During the debate concerns were raised that the proposals should have been subject to scrutiny before being considered by the council and that the number of service areas involved was too wide-ranging.
Whilst the principle of the proposal was accepted, the majority of members who spoke said that alternative options and service providers should be considered, including an in-house company, and that scrutiny was the appropriate first step in such a process, as with all major decisions.
Now the report has again appeared on an agenda – and again, apparently without undergoing any preliminary scrutiny process.
This time it popped up for discussion at last week’s meeting of the cabinet of curiosities
Instead of the recommendation to develop a proposal with East Lindsey together with a timeline and a three stage process which would see two more reports come to the full council during 2018, the new report recommends inviting expressions of interest by publishing a formal notice in the Official Journal of the European Union, then a timeline, and again, a three stage process which would see two more reports – initially for consideration by and Overview and Scrutiny (at last!) ahead of cabinet and full council meetings during the year.
Whilst the original ambition was for “a go live date” of 1st January 2019 it has now been put back to sometime in the first quarter of next year.
As before, the report leaves mention of the impact on staff until the very end, acknowledging that “the council is aware a proposal will have implications for its staff.
“Staff and staff side representatives will be fully briefed and consulted on an on-going basis as the proposal develops and be key stakeholders in the shaping of a final proposal which is in the best interests of the borough council and its residents.”
Whatever Worst Street says, the bottom line is that this is all about savings – in this case around £250,000 – so really, service no longer matters … the council is merely divesting itself of assets to cut its budget.
As is often pointed out when economies are on the agenda, the services provided are largely discretionary – but Worst Street has hoist itself on its own petard after years of lame attempts to improve the health of the borough and stressing the importance of the facilities it is now trying to dispose of.
We had a rather frustrating dialogue with a senior member of the council as an aside to a Twitter debate the other day.
The bottom line was that we were told “… it's better to use your talents in a positive way … to be involved … rather than produce criticism from the side-lines.”
An example of the positive use of talent that we were given was attendance at five back-to-back meetings in a single day with the accompanying snipe … “Look forward to some positive actions promoting this fine and Historic (sic) town of ours.”
As we pointed out – and not for the first time – our criticism has nothing to do with Boston, but the many hapless councillors who run it.
In a previous life, we spent many years working for the BBC, whose lifeblood – as with local councils – takes the form of meetings up the ying-yang.
Looking back, it is hard to recall a meeting that did much more than waste the time of the attendees – and five back-to-back meetings in a single day most likely do nothing more than was five times as much “talent” as does a single meeting.
We mentioned last week the uselessness of Worst Street’s sharing of information with the taxpayers – pointing out the only content given out is an agenda a week before the meeting and a scrappy summary of what happened in the minutes accompanying the agenda for the next meeting some weeks later.
As if that isn’t bad enough, the Boston Town Area Committee – B-TAC-ky – is striving to go one further.
The committee which now commands one of the biggest budgets in Worst Street meets on Wednesday without the customary standing item on police issues and two other agenda items which take the form of “presentations” rather than reports which … means that there is no clue as to content.
Frankly, the meeting may as well be held in secret for all the contribution to democracy, openness and transparency that it makes.
Speaking of which …
The anonymous author of the Boston sub-Standard comment column Observer was recently taken to task in a pithy little whinge from Worst Street after he mistakenly suggested that the council – rather than an outside group – organised a recent public event.
However, he made a point with which we heartily agree – and which underlines the dog in the manger attitude adopted by Worst Street when it comes to passing on information.
Time and again, the only source of information is via the council website – WorstWeb – and as with this most recent example, other information in public areas is conspicuous by its absence.
In these days when the need to inform is integral to good public relations, this sort of attitude simply will not do.
Here’s another example of the attitude we just mentioned.
Not quite a timely reminder with less than 45 minutes to go, is it?
The Worst Street deadline for expressions of interest to manage this year’s Christmas lighting in Boston has passed with just one submission
Despite the fact that Worst Street did not want a town-wide solution from a single group, the bid is for … a town-wide solution from a single group – in this case the tradesmen who did the job last year and who now call themselves Christmas in Boston 2018.
The idea was for applications for six smaller areas to be decorated and lit – the Market Place and Christmas tree, Strait Bargate, Wide Bargate, Bargate End Car Parks, the War Memorial, West Street, the traffic roundabouts – at Boardsides, Tesco, Chain bridge, ATS and Spirit of Endeavour, and Wormgate/Pen Street.
It was hoped that this would encourage more groups or individuals to come forward, and better spread the workload.
However, given the infighting over the project in recent months, it would seem that volunteers would rather steer clear than risk a load of hassle, which is a pity.
Much of the reason for such a response can be guessed after the Christmas in Boston 2018 group published an “open letter” (read it in full here) http://newbostoneye.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/is-it-freeze-no-its-flood-of-hidden.html to Boston Borough Council calling for the cabinet’s recommendations to be discarded to let the group complete the project again this year.
The argument “… why should we have to apply again …” was at the core of this, with the vaguely menacing reminder that: “We hold over fifteen thousand pounds worth of lights to put up this year. Why are you intending to give this (the task) to someone else to light up the town and buy more lights when we have them already?”
The group demanded that the council pay £10,000 set aside for Christmas events from the migration funding grant for 2018/2019 and 2019 /2020, directly to them as soon as possible, to let them plan their “volunteer” work for Christmas 2018.
As an application to stage an event during the time of peace and goodwill to all, it more closely resembles an iron fist in an iron glove.
It seems that memories are short in Boston Borough Council's Markets Review Task Group – formerly known as the Prosperous Boston group … or as we preferred in the Preposterous Boston group.
Beneath the headline “Students to give teenager views of markets,” WorstWeb reports that students from Boston schools and academies are to give “insights” into the town's markets from the perspective of the younger generation.
Preposterous Boston spent almost two years long waffling – yet as long ago as September 2016 – it recommended introducing a young peoples’ market on the lines of a “Teenage Market,” that was first established in Stockport in 2012, when two teenage brothers put out a call out for young traders and performers and were overwhelmed when hundreds of young people applied to take part.
The markets are now a well-established feature nationally, and there have also been several staged in Lincolnshire.
In July last year, Worst street went so far as to appeal for support for a crowd funding bid to raise £1,000 to help run a market this year and next.
This was organised by the Boston Youth Council – another of Worst Street’s big ideas, in this case from six years ago – aimed at 13-19 year-olds who are “passionate” about young people's issues and who care about living in the borough and want to learn more about local government, democracy and how they can influence decisions.
As this was a project involving Worst Street, the result seemed inevitable – and it was.
So, Preposterous Boston takes two years to complete its task – which ended last October, then waits another six months to explore what young people want from the town’s market … having already proposed an answer which has been seen to lack support.
Words fail us.
We’ve lost count of the number of times that people talk about putting Boston “on the map” – which is where it has been for centuries, of course.
Perhaps, then someone might have a word with BBC Look North about their weather map – as we are sure than Boston merits a name check.
Last week we pictured an image of Boston in Bloom if you live in town but not on the lily-walk especially gilded for the competition judges to inspect.
Shortly afterwards – and most certainly unconnected with our comments, the grass was cut …
The picture on the left is of the first bin south of Vauxhall Bridge, with nettles left tall enough that they might sting anyone trying to put their litter in, and a bag of doggy-doo nestling against it..
The brown mess in both photos is the cut grass left to rot.
Perhaps it might have been better to have left it alone.
There no Boston Eye next week – because it’s another bank holiday. Join us again on Monday 4th June.
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