Monday, March 28, 2005


The Gypsy problem -- "Travellers" in PC-speak

There was a time when the only outsiders that Village of the Year candidates had to worry about were the judges, armed with clipboards and a discerning eye, who would pass judgment on the community's endeavours. Trimmed hedges, lovingly tended blooms and spruced-up village halls were all key criteria for the arbiters of achievement.

But in 2005 outsiders of a different kind are influencing the decision-making process. The latest Village of the Year competition - the first in which the Government has been involved - asks communities to outline the welcome they extend to travellers and "single and isolated mothers".

As entry forms drop through letter boxes, parishes around Britain have reacted with anger and indignation after discovering that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has added its own set of questions. In the opening category entitled Building Community Life, sponsored by Defra, parish councils are questioned on a range of issues including their provision for single mothers, ethnic minorities and overseas workers, and the provision of hearing loops at parish meetings. But councils said they would boycott the competition because the questions bore no relation to the realities of village life.

Many said the questions showed just how out of touch central government was with countryside issues at a time when there is widespread concern over how village life is disrupted by travellers' lawlessness. They branded the competition as "smacking of political correctness", and one chairman said the questions were "agenda-ridden rubbish from the liberal Left in north London".

"This shows that the Government has not the faintest idea how the countryside works," said Peter Singleton, the chairman of Witley parish council in rural west Surrey. Other councils said they could never hope to win the competition if they gave a welcome to travellers because they created mess and flouted planning laws.

The competition has been sponsored by Calor since 1997. Andrew Ford, Calor's corporate affairs manager, said the Government had wanted to run its own competition about rural community life, and after consultation, Calor agreed that Defra could add its questions to the entry form.

After inquiries by The Daily Telegraph, he admitted that the question relating to travellers should not have been included and promised that villages would not be marked down if they stated they would not be made welcome. He said: "We are well aware of the problems some communities face from the unwelcome intrusion of travellers and it was never our intention to alienate villages from taking part."

A letter would be sent out to county organisers instructing them to tell participants to "disregard" the question. Defra, which is offering a prize of 250 pounds to the overall winner, said the question making a specific reference to travellers had been a "clerical error". A spokesman said: "We agree that 'political correctness gone mad' should have no place in judging the success of a rural community in a competition like this. The questions are intended to allow flexibility for applicants to give examples of their own experience in their own circumstances. One or two questions have been framed in a way that does not give that flexibility and we have asked that this be addressed."

John Berry, the chairman of Ashington parish council in Sussex, the 2003 winner, said the competition should be about "what we do for the community, for young people, older people, how we look after the environment, how community helps business, how we use information technology. It should not be about gathering statistics on minority and ethnic groups".

Members of Hambledon parish council in Surrey considered the entry form at its meeting last week and decided not to enter. John Anderson, its chairman, said: "It is a shame, because as a village we have reopened our shop and post office as a community venture, reopened the village school as a nursery, supported the cricket club in providing a new pavilion, all on very limited funding but with a great deal of hard work. We would be happy to be judged on that, but not on what our attitude would be to travellers. Whoever was responsible for these questions had little idea about village life."

Sally Arnold, the chairman of Ashurst and Colbury parish council, New Forest, Hants, said travellers had recently arrived in the village and left mess in their wake. "It is very hard to be nice and welcoming to these people when they are causing such a nuisance to village life." Julia Hebden, chairman of Barton Stacey parish council, Hants, said: "If villagers were to welcome travellers into their community then they would probably not win Village of the Year. "They often have a detrimental impact on village life - and your chances of winning this competition."


Arrogant teachers confiscate what they regard as junk food

What's said to be bad for you today will be found to be good for you tomorrow (and vice versa) but these fools just KNOW! How do they know? If people like it it must be bad!

Pre-school teachers are acting as lunchbox police to help prevent childhood obesity. The contents of some Queensland children's lunchboxes are confiscated as pre-schools introduce tough new "no junk food" policies, an investigation by The Sunday Mail found. Early childhood teachers believed the inspections were the only way to stop children eating junk food, regularly packed for them by their parents.

But a leading nutritionist has slammed the idea, saying it would have no effect on children's dietary habits. "That is one of the dumbest things I have ever heard," Griffith University senior lecturer of public health, Shawn Somerset, said. Ormiston College, on Brisbane's bayside, has strict rules on junk food. Banned foods included lollies, fruit juice, chocolate, chips and any highly processed foods. "The children will not eat anything that has been packed for them that is inappropriate," pre-school teacher Debbie Stange said. "When they have morning tea, I'll walk around and check what's in their lunchboxes. "If someone has something that is not appropriate they actually dob each other in."

Ms Stange said "offending parents" were spoken to at mid-term interviews. "We really have to do it (confiscate food) only a few times and they all step in line," she said. The school's head teacher Glenda Seawright said since the regime was introduced, the children's concentration had improved. "This year we are trialing a fruit-only morning tea," she said. "It is an education for the parents because they see packaged food as convenient. We would never humiliate or embarrass the child."

Melissa Mathews, whose son Layton, 5, attends Ormiston College Pre-school, supports the strict approach to junk food. "We were told ahead of time that if it's in there they have it taken away and then at the end of the day they'll have it given back," she said. "They're just trying to promote good eating habits . . . you see too many kids who are overweight."

But Mr Somerset dismissed the no junk food ban as a band-aid solution. "It sounds well meaning at the surface, but it's not instituting any change at home or on weekends," he said. "The first assumption is that the child-care centre actually knows what is an appropriate lunchbox and what isn't and that's not always the case."

An Education Queensland spokesman said state pre-schools encouraged healthy food choices, but food should not be taken from students. "Teachers supervise pre-school children while they eat the food they have brought from home," he said. "Food provided by parents should not be confiscated." The State Government this month commissioned the first of three Safe and Healthy vans to travel around schools to promote the benefit of good nutrition and physical activity.


No comments: