Tom Richmond: On slippery ground over ‘elf and safety’ myths

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IN the knowledge that spending cuts have Scrooge-like connotations at this time of year, Employment Minister Chris Grayling went on the offensive by highlighting a number of “Christmas elf and safety myths”.

The Tory said that Christmas office decorations, playground snowball fights and coins in puddings had all been wrongly banned on safety grounds. Panto performers had also been stopped from throwing sweets to the audience because this might be a hazard.

Yet, while these are, largely, isolated incidents where the individuals concerned have had a sense of humour failure, Grayling also said it was a “myth” that you could be sued for clearing snow from outside your business or home.

Interesting. Perhaps he should try telling that to the manager of my local Morrisons supermarket in Guiseley, where conditions were, at best, treacherous during the mini-freeze.

As always, the same diligent staff member – a cheerful chap fairly mature in age – took great care to grit the car park. Well done sir.

However this exercise did not extend to pavements and walkways leading to the store. Why? “We don’t want to be sued,” said a manager before pointing out that the supermarket paid business rates and that gritting should be the remit of Leeds City Council.

Yet, presumably because of its own financial predicament, the local authority has apparently scaled back on its gritting – roads that were treated during last winter’s big freeze have not been salted this time.

And, even though the council prides itself on partnership working with various NHS agencies, there’s no chance of pavements being gritted, thereby sparing cash-strapped hospitals countless fracture victims.

My question to Grayling is thus: could he explain who, precisely, is responsible for gritting pavements leading to and from stations and busy shopping areas, and when is someone in the Government going to end the current confusion? Is it the local authority, or do major stores like Morrisons have a corporate and social responsibility?

To me, this is a serious health and safety consideration that should not be treated so glibly, even in this supposed season of goodwill.

As such, my wish for 2012 is an end to this sort of political opportunism.

WHILE taxpayers spend a foreboding festive period worrying about 2012 and their job prospects, you will not be surprised to learn of little urgency at the House of Commons.

Having packed up for Christmas last Tuesday, MPs won’t be returning to work on Tuesday, January 3 – the day Britain starts returning to a semblance of normality. No, January 10 is their scheduled return.

Somehow, I don’t think this three-week hiatus is doing their reputation, any favours at the time of the gravest financial crisis since World War Two.

Given this, it was even more regrettable that Commons leader Sir George Young could not find time between Christmas soirées for the debate proposed by Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman.

Sheerman pleaded: “We have a £30bn trade deficit with China. I have conducted an experiment that shows that it is possible to buy presents made only in the United Kingdom, or, at a push, Britain and Europe.

“May we have a campaign and debate to get people to buy things made here, because it provides employment for young people and creates jobs?”

Hear, hear.

IT’S not just MPs enjoying an extended break. So, too, is the BBC – it couldn’t even muster an edition of Newsnight on Monday night to discuss the death of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il.

And, while some politicians want British history included on the school curriculum, I can only assume Jeremy Paxman et al are having geography lessons.

Why? I’ve lost count of the times BBC broadcasters said disgraced Liverpool footballer Luis Suarez, banned for eight games for racial abuse, came from the South American “city” of Uruguay.

THANK you to the harassed Metro / Northern Rail official for explaining why some tickets purchased from machines are not compatible with the ticket barriers at Leeds Station.

“It keeps us in a job,” he said as people queued to show their ticket before he opened the barrier.

Yet it is this kind of mentality, and the fact that the automatic barriers are only automatic if you’ve paid for your rail fare at a booking office (when open), that makes me worry about what will happen if such organisations have a greater say in the running of rail services across the North.

ON the subject of the railways, when is anyone going to crack down on those selfish people who deny people seats by sprawling their bags everywhere?

Shouldn’t offenders be made to pay for two tickets? And what about those idiots who rest their feet on seats opposite them? If I had my way, they would be made to clean the trains as a penalty for their uncouthness.

A FINAL bugbear – and no criticism is intended of David Cameron. Why did Sky News persist in describing the Tory leader’s trip to Afghanistan as “a surprise”? Frankly it would only have been a surprising if the PM had not visited those troops prior to Christmas to recognise their efforts in safeguarding our liberty.