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Elf ‘n’ Safety men close Britain

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snow manCountry declared “unsafe” in current cold snap!

Imagine you are back in 1963 transported there by the “Tardis” that stood in Frederick Street, South Shields, it was a bad winter one of the worst in living memory, major routes were blocked with snow temporarily, streets were piled high with snow, what looked like huge impassable drifts formed on every terraced street by the riverside (this was the snow that had fallen from the roof, it hardly happens these days because we all have three feet of insulation in the loft), school playgrounds were just another blanket of white like any other place except, of course, they were full of children!

Shops seemed to have most things that you needed, logistics didn’t appear to be a problem, the cardboard carpets weren’t too nice mind, trains ran almost on time to and from Newcastle but they did have ice on the insides of the windows, people went to work one way or another as we somehow adapted and got used to winter. Even at the weekends you got to St. James’ Park or Roker Park to watch a game of football, the field may well have been white and the lines were marked by digging along with a shovel  and the players were given an orange ball, sometimes spectators turned up in the morning to help clear snow from the pitch, but hey the show had to go on!

Now let’s jump back in that “Tardis” and ask the good Doctor (William Hartnell) to transport us to the United Kingdom in 2009/10.

“Sorry, we cannot go there old chum, it’s closed!

The Health and Safety nitwits have declared a virtual state of emergency and it isn’t safe for you to travel or walk the streets”

What? Closed?

The Doctor may well have been right.

Roads are closed, we are warned not to travel, thousands of schools are closed, businesses have almost crawled to a halt as employees fail to get to work, shops begin to run out of supplies, and virtually the whole sporting weekend has been cancelled. It is winter after all!

The BBC/ITV/Sky and every newspaper is pre-occupied with the weather, this morning BBC Radio 5 Live has debated ad infinitum on the wisdom or otherwise of closing schools and cancelling football games during the current chilly spell, and the overwhelming opinion has been that the weather, the snow, and the ice have not been good enough excuses for closure or cancellation. Yet the biggest factor in head teachers, boards of governors, and directors at sporting arenas, reaching a decision to close has been “health and safety” or more precisely the fear of facing a civil litigious claim for damages following a personal injury or accident!

It seems that it is no longer a safe or healthy option to slide around in the playground or throw snowballs, even under supervision, all free time has to be spent indoors, and schools are no longer concerned solely with the prevailing conditions within their own perimeters, if the surrounding streets and pavements are covered with snow and ice then it is plainly not safe for the schools to cater for children. We should all remind some educationalists that it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure that the children get to school safely, not the headmaster’s!

In some cases schools cannot operate because a certain percentage of staff fail to get to work quoting “the weather” as a valid reason, in days gone by classes would double up and teacher to pupil ratios would be thrown out of the window for a few days, it seems this is no longer an option, but the worst reason that I’ve heard so far for a closure decision must be the one that relieves the school of the difficulty of reporting a higher than normal absentee level. Schools are measured on their levels of attendance, including those days when “the weather” apparently prevents the most local of pupils from getting there, but if the school is closed then those absences are masked completely!

The next big argument I’ve heard today is whether or not an employer should continue to pay someone who fails to get to work because of “the weather”, many are prepared to be flexible and will pay if the hours are made up later, some suggest using days of annual leave during this period of inconvenience, but should we really imagine that we have some sort of strong case in thinking that our employer must pay us come what may? After all, it’s hardly our fault that Britain is in the middle of a Siberian winter, so therefore we cannot be held responsible for not providing a few days labour!

Finally, football, rugby, horse racing, and indeed curling have all seen numerous events cancelled this weekend and generally not because the venue wasn’t fit for purpose. Most football pitches have under soil heating and covers to ensure that games can go ahead, most major stadiums these days are all seaters so spectators don’t have to stand on snow covered terraces, most rugby players wouldn’t blink an eye at turning out in sub zero temperatures on rock hard ground, they are rough tough men after all, but yet again the prevailing conditions at these venues are not the reason why the fixtures have been called off. Oh no, the reasons are all wrapped up in “Elf ‘n’ Safety” with local committees charged with issuing safety certificates to stadiums on a game by game basis, these groups consist of police, fire brigades, local councils, private ambulance services, and health care professionals and it is they who have decided that car parks, side streets, and footpaths around stadia are “not safe” for spectators to use, or that conditions are too dangerous for professional drivers of police cars, ambulances, or fire tenders! Hence safety certificates are refused and the sporting weekend is off, yes even the curling championship in Stirlingshire (which relies entirely on solid ice for it’s playing surface) is off following “health and safety” concerns:

“Following extensive discussions with a wide variety of interested parties including Central Scotland Police, The Fire and Rescue Service, the Scottish Ambulance Service, and Stirling Council it has not proved possible to address all health and safety concerns and receive the full backing of the Emergency Services within the time scales involved.

“Without achieving this it would be impossible to gain the necessary insurance to hold the event. Every possible effort has been made to facilitate this unique event but it has been acknowledged that public safety must remain the primary concern.”

God help us, if a game traditionally played on frozen lochs cannot take place in conditions that have endured three weeks of temperatures lower than those in my freezer, there is little hope for us.

Of course now that Great Britain has closed down in the face of fear (i.e. our insurers won’t cover us and if something happens we are sure to be sued by someone) we have to ask just how did we get into this ridiculous mess? When accidents no longer happen in snow or on ice, but that someone must be made accountable and be available to give a pound of flesh and a mighty slice from the bank account is hardly enough, the fat cat professionals in the legal services also have a huge vested interest, the barristers and solicitors need their almighty slice of the cash too. We began this treacherous route down the American sue everyone in sight modus operandi when some bunch of lawyers and barristers decided that the “no win, no fee” option involving insurance premiums was the way to go, and that natural justice would be available to all regardless of merit or finance, and so they legislated and it all went downhill towards the closure sign from then. One of NuLabour’s gifts to us.

So the UK has now closed down for winter, the Stadium of Light in Sunderland with it’s excellent facilities and pitch will not host a game against Bolton tomorrow in case anyone slips on the ice on Newcastle Road – good grief. Meanwhile we have taken to stealing sand from the beaches to make it “safe” for us to walk the streets, presumably to defend against possible litigants (I had a feeling that South Tyneside was running out of rock salt/grit yesterday).

Can someone please tell me why we appear to be the only state in Europe that cannot cope with winter any longer, have we just forgotten what winter is all about? Has the nanny state grown so mighty that we are afraid to try and get through our daily lives with just some adjustments to protect us against the “Elf ‘n’ Safety” police and Big Brother doing everything in his power to look after our interests? God forbid that we should ever have to deal with a real emergency, we’d never cope!

Oh well, to compensate, the good Doctor offered me this video of Sunderland playing Everton in the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1963, the year of the big freeze. You will notice the mounds of snow piled up around the edges of the pitch as players such as “the King” Charlie Hurley revel in the conditions. As far as we are aware none of the sixty-three thousand people were badly hurt, or killed in the making of this film or by their attendance at a football match! That was back in the days when the “open for business” sign was hung on the UK’s shop door.


Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger blasts Britain’s Elf ‘n’ Safety xulture, The Sun reports him as saying this about match cancellations:

“It is the price we pay for living in a society where everybody wants 100 per cent security.”

“Nobody accepts risk any more – everybody is always guided by fear.

“If one of 60,000 people has an accident, you feel very guilty and nobody accepts any more that the slightest insecurity could exist in society. “That’s why games are postponed when there is no real need. We have gone from individual initiative to collective responsibility.

“Any single accident that happens to any individual, we are collectively responsible for it. When you organise a football game, you have to stand up for that.”

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8 Responses

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  1. Is that the winter of 63 when over eighty-nine-thousand excess winter deaths occurred?


    January 9, 2010 at 11:13 am

    • It would be, and like the majority of harsh winters the old, frail, sick, and the young will always be vulnerable. It changes nothing about the way we have lurched into a nanny state pandering to compensation culture.


      January 9, 2010 at 6:00 pm

  2. Think we tend to look at the past through rose tinted glasses.
    I am old enough to have very clear memories of ’63 including the Everton game. It was a different world and it does not bear comparison. Most people worked close to home, there were not many private cars on the road and coal fires were the main form of heating. You chucked the ashes and cinders on to paths To make walking easier. We did not have the media devoting hours of time to telling us how bad things were. Sport particularly racing was affected badly. I think the footballseason went on till June.
    And of course it was grim and miserable in our old houses with no double glazing, central heating and in some cases outside plumbing. Remember having parrafin stoves in the kitchen to keep the pipes from freezing. The number of deaths have already been mentioned People were off work with bronchitis and worse and of course the old people suffered. I managed to get to work every day just like most people in Shields are doing now.
    Take my word for it….’63 was every bit as horrible as the current cold snap but I’m warmer and the telly is better.

    I spy

    January 9, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    • I agree, the print and broadcast media back then were far more interested in events that were of a more serious nature. Today they seem more interested in the trivial and chasing so called celebrities! However, I share your memories and recall that we stoically got on with life, despite the winter weather.


      January 9, 2010 at 6:04 pm

  3. And another point on elf and safety. The Government and the Local authority are not responsible we are. By we I mean the compensation culture that a lot of people have grabbed with both hands. Faced with where there’s a claim there’s blame ambulance chasing lawyers there is no option but to be careful forlocal authorities.
    If you broke your arm sliding across the playground your parents would be resigned to such a thing happening. Today it would be how much and our Darren’s traumatised. During the summer there was an accident where a metal gate fell over narrowly missing some children. The first words of the parents were ‘trauma’ and ‘compensation.’

    I spy

    January 9, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    • Yes I agree, and that was the whole point of this post, without the introduction and facilitation of this “culture” during Tony Blair’s first term in office we would not be seeing half as many event cancellations on health and safety grounds.


      January 9, 2010 at 6:06 pm

  4. I doubt the “culture” you talk of Curly started during Tony Blairs first term?

    I think it started with a certain Tory prime Minister telling people that there was no such thing as society and that peoples first (and only real priority) was to look after number 1.

    iain malcolm

    January 9, 2010 at 7:44 pm

  5. Iain,

    the legislation which introduced the current system of Conditional Fee Arrangements was passed by Labour on 1 April 2000 in section 27 of the Access to Justice Act 1999, which amended the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 to allow recovery of success fees from the losing party.However Jack Straw accepted that some mess had been created and The regulations that accompanied this change in the law (the Conditional Fee Agreements Regulations 2000) were far from clear, and the result was that a great deal of satellite litigation took place. On 1 November 2005 these regulations were revoked, and now it is much easier to enter into conditional fee agreements than was previously the case.

    These arrangements have since been used by Cherie Blair to pursue a case against the News of the World, and we thought they were there to help the less well off access justice!


    January 10, 2010 at 1:02 am

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