Justice, Jobsworth and the banning of Passion in Oxford

April 22, 2014

Months have passed since I last wrote anything here, mainly because I am usually either writing thousands of words a week elsewhere or am travelling. It has been a week of interest and oddities, in the press and in real life, and I thought I would capture some of it here. It is a kind of palate-cleanser for me, not an alternative to writing about eDiscovery / eDisclosure but a relief from the weekend spent largely doing just that.

The Ritz, the Tower and the Thames

RitzPhoneBox_250I gave a day-job talk on Tuesday for HP Autonomy at the Ritz. My subjects were twofold: the first was a reminder that the purpose of eDiscovery is to find evidence and improve one’s understanding of the case, not merely to find documents; the second was to suggest that whilst civil justice seemed to be going fast down the pan thanks to a combination of an ignorant Justice Secretary, a useless Ministry of Justice and some Court of Appeal judges whose idea of real-life bears no relation to real life, there were nevertheless opportunities for those ready and willing to take them.

My next meeting was close to the Tower of London, and I came out of it into the beginnings of a glorious evening with time on my hands before my train. It was an opportunity to merge two of my passions – walking city streets and photography – and I have some new camera kit to get used to. I entirely buy Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that you need hours of practice to be good at anything and I need to practice in the same way as soldiers learn to dismantle and reassemble their guns so that it became second nature. Equipment includes a tripod, the camera, a wi-fi trigger and an iPhone, all of which takes some assembly even before you get to the controls and settings. It is also slightly cumbersome to carry amidst the tourist throngs of Tower Hill

You don’t need all this kit to take decent photographs of the Tower and the Thames on a sunny evening. What I do find, and it is one of the reasons why I carry a camera, is that I become much more observant if I have a camera with me. I am not sure, for example, if I would have noticed this arrangement of two Wren churches and the Monument if I had not been equipped to photograph it. Read the rest of this entry »


Coalition seeks Olympics credit whilst selling off school playing fields and cutting sports funding

August 7, 2012

The draft of a recent article of mine talked about the Olympics and made reference to the sale of school playing fields and to cuts in funding for school sports.

When I read through the article, the references seemed out of touch with the general enthusiasm for the Olympics which I by then shared, and I removed the rather sour side-reference, although I brought up the same subject in a subsequent tweet. As a secondary factor, I had no statistics to back the references and no time to look them up.

The Guardian has now provided us with the figures in two articles:

The title of the first tells its own story. School playing fields: 21 sell-offs have been approved by coalition. This has happened despite the coalition’s express commitment to protecting playing fields and their criticism of Labour when it was in government for its parallel hypocrisy.

The second article, Michael Gove’s political own goal on school sports, tells of the axing of £162 million a year funding for the School Sports Partnerships which provides money to fund staff involvement in after-school sport and for arranging inter-school matches. Read the rest of this entry »

Discipline for Bristol Jobsworths – not likely

August 9, 2010

Times columnist Matthew Parris was amongst those who commented on the story of the council jobsworths who made a family take down their windbreak whilst eating their picnic on Clifton Downs in Bristol (see Putting petty officials back in their box). Like the rest of us, Parris fears the unchecked power of small people with authority unsupported by thought or brain. He wonders if the council officials have been disciplined.

I think this is unlikely for various reasons. Employment law is weighted heavily in favour of employees and is unlikely to appreciate the distinction between being an official and being officious. Very few public servants are actually dismissed, for incompetence or anything else. Besides, unless Bristol city council is very different from other local authorities, it is probable that the senior staff share the general bureaucrats’ view that theirs is the earth and everything in it. They may call us “customers” and describe themselves as “public servants”, but the reality is the rather paradoxical one that they have come to think of themselves as our masters. The contradictions inherent in this reach their apogee with signs erected by highways officers telling us to “think”. They don’t see themselves as others see them, which is probably as well for their self-esteem.

I suspect that Bristol’s apology was inspired by a quick-witted PR person. Bristol did not apologise because anyone thought that the officers’ heavy-handed conduct was wrong, but because someone rather brighter than the general run of council officers spotted a PR disaster looming. Another of Matthew Parris’s long-time battles is with people who cannot say “sorry”; it does not matter what inspired Bristol’s apology, they did at least make one.

Their apology was not accompanied by the usual empty assertions that “lessons have been learnt”. Perhaps the PR person was clever enough to realise that this phrase has been discredited with over-use by officials whose capacity to learn anything is pretty slim.


Speed cameras and statistical ignorance

September 15, 2008

A new study shows that government claims about lives saved by speed cameras are overstated. This is ammunition against the free-spending little people who run our local authority highways departments. As recession closes in, councillors and others who have been rubber-stamping big budgets are going to have to start questioning what the money is for and why it is necessary to spend it.

Researchers at Liverpool University have knocked Government claims that 100 lives a year are saved by speed cameras. Whilst speed cameras do reduce accidents, the numbers are exaggerated. The research shows a fall in accidents of 19% compared with the claimed 50%.

Does this matter very much, you might ask. After all, this Government belches out false statistics daily and has, indeed, devoted more energy to rigging the apparent outcomes of initiatives than it has on the initiatives themselves. It does matter, and for reasons which go beyond the actual facts behind this research and beyond motoring. Money is wasted in vast quantities on things which make little difference; things which really do matter are neglected in favour of those which yield apparently good outcomes; the police, who need all the friends they can get at the moment, are tarred with the fall-out of policies to which they do not necessarily subscribe; and any little surviving regard for government (as opposed merely to this Government) takes another pasting. Read the rest of this entry »

Lifeboats, lost cats and Wellington boots

September 13, 2008

The tail end of Summer has seen a spate of stories about minor officials with an acute grasp of the regulations and no brain. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency would rather see a girl drown in compliance with the rules than save her by breaching them. Chichester Council declined to pick up rubbish in a four inch deep stream because they had no-one qualified to wear Wellington boots. And a Canterbury council official threatened a 13 year old boy with an ASBO and an £80 fine for putting up notices about his lost cat.

When Gordon Brown looks back over New Labour’s failures he will find that much of the hatred which he and Labour have inspired will derive from the uncontrolled zeal of stupid officials like this. Labour has created the context – an avalanche of petty regulation and armies of petty pen-pushers to enforce them. There is an economic cost to add to all the other economic costs – compliance amounts to an additional tax and all these dim little people have to be paid for – but the cost in popular support is greater. Read the rest of this entry »

Welsh van man fag trap

July 30, 2008

A self-employed van driver in Wales has been fined for smoking in his own van. What is it about the local authority mindset, why is it even worse in Wales, and do the local police have nothing better to do?

In my post Smoking Snoopers of 25 February 2007, I commented on the fact that the government had handed £29.5 million to local authorities to help them enforce the smoking ban. It coincided with the news that the police no longer bothered – as a matter of policy – to attend at the scene of a burglary. I did not know it at the time, but the sum so allocated was exactly twice the amount which the Treasury (Gordon Brown Prop.) had shaved off the budget for flood relief.

My focus was on the sort of people who would become smoking snoopers, getting their thrills from lurking to catch people enjoying themselves. They would include, I said:

The sludge which collects at the bottom of every local authority pond who get moved from department to department because they are really unemployable even in that undemanding environment, but who cannot be dismissed through political correctness or union strength.

Imagine being all that and Welsh with it! Read the rest of this entry »

Labour lies about rats in rubbish

June 10, 2008

One of the least appealing aspects of the Blair-Brown administrations – in a very long list of unappealing things – is the institutional dishonesty which these two men and their advisers have brought to government. The dishonesty comes with added hypocrisy since both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, in their different ways, have expressly laid claim to a religious and moral basis to their lives.

This dishonesty is not just morally wrong. One is left gaping sometimes at the political stupidity of lying about subjects on which you are bound to be found out sooner or later, particularly things which, however important, are not matters on which governments fall. Governments are entitled to make some mistakes, to experiment, to assess the consequences, and to accept they got it wrong. What loses the votes is the persistent feeling that we are being lied to daily on every subject. Read the rest of this entry »