I came across this little party yesterday afternoon, standing amongst the 15 pillars, posts and other clutter which Oxfordshire County Council has dumped at the end of Aristotle Lane.
Small groups hanging around in Aristotle Lane are usually waiting for their dealer to arrive, but not generally at school-out time, not at the primary school anyway. They look like local authority employees, I decided – that look of tired-biscuits-left-on-a-dusty-shelf which identifies those who trudge the corridors of councils everywhere.
Perhaps they are stuck, unclear what to do next. Many drivers find all this metalwork and white lining confusing – indeed, there is a long essay stuck on one of the many posts to explain where to stop, how to trigger the lights, how not to get hit by a rising bollard and so on. Aristotle Lane is a highways officer’s wet dream, the place they come to when they have some budget to blow or itchy thumbs which need to do some fiddling. There are no notices to help pedestrians and this lot look as if they need some help.
Perhaps these people have just discovered that they are all white, Anglo-Saxon, native English speakers with no disabilities between them. Nothing in their training has prepared them for this coincidence, and they have called for someone from the Oxfordshire Discrimination, Equalities, Disabilities and Diversity Directorate (OxDEDDD) to come and tell them who has priority to move first in such circumstances.
Note to the politically correct and other non-thinkers: I do not suggest that there is anything particularly important about having, or not having, any of the characteristics referred to here; it is just that anyone in local government seems to go into complete paralysis if there is no jumped-up jerk from Equalities on hand to tell them what they ought to do.
I would guess that the men are in fact visitors from another council – a highways officer, an education officer and a councillor (the one with his back to us, I decided) – and that the two women are from Oxfordshire County Council. One of them was wearing a little badge-on-a-string – I couldn’t read it, but it is what council employees wear so that they can remind themselves who they are if it slips their mind, or so that their colleagues can identify them amongst hundreds of others who look and sound more or less the same and have nearly similar job descriptions.
I think the visitors had come to see how to create a problem, exaggerate it, and then throw lots of money and equipment at it to try and solve it, presumably (though you can never tell with local government) in order to avoid the same mistakes themselves. The involvement of Oxfordshire County Council’s highways officers at Aristotle Lane is an expensive disaster story which I will tell elsewhere. A quick summary will give you the flavour of it.
They made a strong recommendation against installing traffic lights and promptly did just that. The about-turn was premised on a logical fallacy which appeared in version 1 of a recommendation and disappeared in version 2, leaving the dependent conclusion – to install traffic lights – unchanged. We have a pedestrian button to control the lights which can only be operated by stepping into the traffic. The signboard which describes how to drive through the bollards was necessitated partly by the confused profusion of white lines and partly by the fact that the bollards kept coming up underneath cars. The main result of all this work, in health terms, is exhaust fumes as cars sit waiting at red lights when no-one is coming against them, or have to do three point turns in the small space left beyond the street clutter.
The whole thing is an expensive, incompetent, fume-generating shambles, which is why I conclude that the visitors, if that is what they are, came to see how not to do it. Given its reputation, I cannot imagine that anyone comes visiting Oxfordshire County Council or Oxfordshire Highways save for object lessons in what to avoid.