Three recent stories show us not only where the world is going but where our money is going.
An art student writes to the Times to say that he had gone into college to find that he was booked in for a two hour session on how to use a ladder.
An art teacher interviewed in the Times said that he cannot take children on a spontaneous visit to the art gallery across the road from the school because of the complex risk assessment forms he would have to fill out.
The School Food Trust suggests that children under 16 should not be allowed tea or coffee because it has minimal nutritional value and because of the health and safety implications.
The people responsible for this sort of nonsense have far greater power over our everyday life than Gordon Brown does. Who gave it to them? Why do we put up with it? What does it all cost, in pure cash terms, never mind the cultural and other losses?
Ladders are a particular obsession with the heath and safety pygmies. They are banned almost everywhere, so that scaffolding or expensive towers must be hired to change light bulbs or to perform similar simple tasks. The people who ordain this are themselves immune from considerations of expense or practicality – it is not their money and every new restriction (which generally need no consideration by Parliament) helps create more work for the expanding public service. In other words, it keeps the civil servants in jobs.
I have come across these school risk assessments or, rather, the parental forms which underlie them. One of my children was due to attend a lecture on philosophy at the Town Hall. The form we had to complete included a question as to his ability to swim, which I was invited to rate on a scale. I said that I thought his swimming ability was adequate for attendance at a philosophy lecture in the Town Hall, and I pictured some dim little “officer” at Oxfordshire County Council diligently typing it all into a computer. I consoled myself with the thought that at least they had the information now and could just look it up when the need next arose. Not a bit of it. Not long afterwards, my son had to do something similarly dangerous, and another blank copy of the same form appeared. The whole thing is a meaningless formality, an unnecessary burden on teachers and no more than a job creation exercise for council officials.
As to the tea, what is the School Food Trust? I think it was set up as a sop to Jamie Oliver after his campaign for proper food in schools (remember that? – the government rushed to announce that it had set money side for a new “initiative”, which proved to be money already budgeted for). Its nutrition director, one Dr Michael Nelson, said that children needed to be encouraged to choose water or more nutritious options such as fruit juice or milk. “If you want children to eat more healthily, then the range of choice in schools needs to be restricted to healthier options only”.
There was no suggestion that tea or coffee was unhealthy – indeed there is evidence to the contrary – nor any supporting evidence to support the alleged health and safety risk, but here you get some jumped-up little pen-pusher seeking to deny children a harmless drink on the grounds that they must be “encouraged” to have things which “they” thought better for them. It is all very New Labour, so very Caroline Flint-ish.
Why do we stand for it? There is more to all this than denial of choice – that choice which New Labour claims so loudly to promote. All these things create unnecessary jobs for people who would otherwise be unemployed, involve expense both to the state and to the end-user, and (as with the abandoned visits to the art gallery), deprive people of useful, educative, or just plain enjoyable things.