Thursday, 23 December 2010

Local Government Prize Turkeys

After a few days stranded in deepest, darkest Devon I have returned, full of confidence that the world will now be a better place for all the snow. The community spirit you will have no doubt seen as strangers help push cars out of snowdrifts or help the elderly across a particularly icy street will have soaked into even the most mean-spirited. No more will the petty men and women of this world feel it necessary to compensate for their own personal failings by inflicting utter garbage rules and regulations upon us, the unwashed masses.

Predictably, not a bit of it. I read over the weekend about one of the most ridiculous, illogical, and sadly typical decisions to be passed down from a local authority. In this case, the culprits are East Sussex county council. They have decreed that one of their lollipop men, who helps children cross the road by Forest Row Primary School near East Grinstead, must stop wearing his festive-themed hats because they are a risk to ... anyones guess ... yup .. . health and safety. Brilliant. He is not even the first. Another lollipop man was banned 2 years ago in Hampshire from tying tinsel to his stop sign again for "health and safety reasons". On this most recent occasion, the hats in question were the pictured turkey hat, and a jingle bell jester hat.

So what is the reasoning behind this decision, assuming indeed they even bothered with making any up? The argument is that the hats might distract motorists. The man is wearing a 5 foot long luminous yellow coat with reflective stripes. His very job is to attract the attention of motorists. They see him, they see his sign, they stop, the children cross. It's pretty simple. We have already gone to extensive lengths to make him visible; he would be a pretty rubbish lollipop man if no-one saw him and so mowed through the grey and non-reflective mass of drearily dressed school children.

On a wider scale, where are East Sussex planning on stopping? Are billboards to be banned? They distract drivers; it's their job. How about road signs? Or Police Incident signs - they have loads of writing on them that could distract a driver. Are there to be pavement wardens, patrolling night and day to ensure nobody is wearing anything distracting? I have a good mind to go and stand outside Forest Row Primary School in my own turkey hat. What about particularly attractive or particularly ugly lollipop people? What if you can't take your eyes off their distinctive looks and run over half of Mrs Smith's Reception class? Surely we should discard all but the average looking applicants lest someone get distracted. Oh, but that would be discrimination, wouldn't it? Oh, we are in a pickle...

The point is, this is clearly a totally ridiculous ruling. It must have passed through at least one and probably many more people who are in receipt of public pay. If someone came up with such a logic-defying, futile, irritating, stupid decision in any normal job in the private sector, you'd think they might lose their job. Instead, the council defend their decision: "we don't want to spoil anybody's fun, but the safety of the children, particularly on the roads, is a top priority."

In case I haven't made my position clear enough, every single person who was involved in this decision should be fired on the spot with no severance pay, no pension, no nothing (I understand that grammatically the last part would mean 'some something' but I liked the flow; go with it). This decision obviously won't make anyone safer (there goes the ludicrous justification) and it cost a lot of public money. We should be able to fire these people on the grounds of not having the ability to do their job, as displayed by their brainless actions. They shouldn't be moved to another department, they shouldn't be shielded by the council, they should just be out. I even feel sorry for Messrs Health and Safety, bane of my life as they are, because I can guarantee you East Sussex county council couldn't point to the legislation which actually backs their crap decision up.

The problem is, they are all bullet-proof. They are the faceless masses employed by local authorities the country over. They make people drag their rubbish 1/2 a mile because the road might be too slippery for their garbage men, they make the elderly lift their gas bottles out of the house because the delivery men might injure their backs lifting it down one 3" step. You know these people, you've seen these stories. They are all around you. And you paid for every single one of them, a hundred times over.

So, next time you hear a local council whining about having its budget cut and complaining that this would mean they would have to reduce services and how this is an attack on the weak and poor, remember where they are choosing to waste their money in the first instance. There is fat in system everywhere; as with your Christmas turkey, just because you're cutting, it doesn't meant you're cutting out anything useful.

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