Bill Carmichael: Clipboard man still flying high

HOW long have children been flying kites on the beach? And when was the last time anyone came to serious harm as a result?

And since when did gardening in a pair of shorts become a dangerous activity?

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Anyone reading the Yorkshire Post in the past week would be forgiven for thinking they had picked up a spoof edition by mistake, because the two stories mentioned above featured prominently.

First came news that East Riding Council had introduced new health and safety bylaws imposing a £500 fine on anyone found flying a kite on the beaches at Bridlington, Hornsea and Withernsea.

Locals were astonished. Withernsea town councillor Terry Render pointed out that he couldn’t recall a single kite-related accident on the beach in 60 years. Faced with universal ridicule, the council backed down a little – the ban, it sheepishly explained, was mainly aimed at kite buggies and sail kites, although technically a little lad flying a home-made kite could still get his collar felt if the officer concerned felt that way inclined. Incidentally, just so you know how your taxes are being spent, the ban is to be enforced by council foreshores officers “in conjunction with Humberside Police” – because as we all know there is no actual crime to keep the police busy in the whole of the East Riding.

No sooner had we stopped laughing at that one when up popped Calderdale council to institute a ban on its gardeners wearing shorts because they have to deal with “sharp shrubbery”.

Any gardener wanting to wear shorts on a hot day has to submit a special request to a council manager – at which point, no doubt, half a dozen health and safety officers will conduct a risk assessment in triplicate, before forming a special sub-committee to consider the request, which will then commission a report at great expense from London-based consultants.

That’s the way it works. Coun Pauline Nash, who is something called the “cabinet spokeswoman for safer communities”, defended the ban by saying: “My view of health and safety is that it is better to be safe than sorry.”

Honestly, where on earth do they find these people?

You know what’s coming next don’t you? Keep an eye on the jobs pages of the Guardian because the betting is we’ll soon be seeing adverts for “shorts safety enforcement officers” and “kite risk engagement facilitators” at 40k a year, six weeks holiday and an index linked pension.

Here in a nutshell you have everything that is wrong with the public sector.

These are exactly the same councils which are complaining about the government’s “draconian cuts” that are damaging front-line services. And indeed, wherever you look, jobs at the sharp end such as lollipop ladies, carers for the elderly and disabled, and school dinner ladies are being ruthlessly pruned back. But the sort of people who spend their day dreaming up kite bylaws and shorts bans, and the layers of management to support them, are entirely untouched. It isn’t a matter of money, but of priorities, and the bureaucracy will always act to protect its own.

A few years back, I invented a character I called Clipboard Man to lampoon the sort of petty official who delights in slapping a fine on a child for flying a kite. After the coalition Government promised to cut back on bureaucracy and non-jobs in the public sector, I thought I’d have to retire him – but no such luck.

Judging by events in Yorkshire this month, Clipboard Man is alive and kicking.

And it isn’t just councils wasting public money. This week it also emerged that the BBC is employing a “chair champion” at its MediaCity development at Salford Quays. Officials offer employees a choice of swivel chairs before training them how to sit down according to health and safety guidelines.

How did our forefathers ever manage to sit down in a chair without some special training from Clipboard Man?