Wednesday, July 26, 2006


What would be insanity elsewhere is fine in a bureaucracy

Caught in an 11-mile traffic jam during the hottest July day on record sweltering motorists could only assume there had been an accident. It was only, several hours later, as they finally approached the trouble spot, that they discovered there was no crash. Instead, council officers had chosen the day that temperatures touched a record-breaking 97.7f (36.5c) to hold a traffic census. And even when asked by police to call it off, they refused.

Yesterday furious drivers slammed Essex County Council, who carried out the roadside interviews on a busy main road during morning and evening rush hour.... Council workers began the census, which was being carried out on behalf of the Thames Gateway Project, at 7am on Wednesday - a day forecasters had predicted would see record-breaking temperatures - and carried it on till 6pm. They based themselves at a roundabout in Laindon, Essex, on the busy A127 to ask drivers questions about their journey to work. As rush hour got underway, queues soon began to build up, eventually stretching back 11 miles to Leigh on Sea. Some drivers were stuck in tailbacks in the blistering heat for over two hours.....

Essex police received over one hundreds complaints about the exercise and asked council bosses to call it off but they refused. Police spokeswoman Heather Turner said: "All traffic surveys should be proportionate and reasonable and any long tailbacks in these conditions would not be acceptable to us".

Yesterday Rodney Bass, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation said: "The information being gathered will help us develop transportation plans for the future aimed at making journeys across south Essex easier". But he added: "We fully acknowledge that the roadside interviews resulted in major delays to drivers. "A number of incidents did exacerbate the situation, including accidents on the M11 and M25. "In such circumstances we accept that common sense should have prevailed and we should have acted accordingly. "We are now in discussion with Essex Police on what lessons can be leant from this and how to manage such circumstances more effectively in the future. We unreservedly apologise to motorists for any inconvenience caused."



What would be insanity elsewhere is fine in a bureaucracy

The Home Office briefly believed it owned all the money in the UK, World, and presumably the rest of the galaxy, a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee has shown. The report on the department's accounts for 2004 to 2005 details a financial shambles at the department. The summary of the report unsurprisingly adds that one factor behind the fiasco were problems with its new accounting system.

It details one exchange at a Public Accounts Committee hearing where Richard Bacon MP dissed the department for submitting a paper which suggested its gross transactions were 26,527,108,436,994 pounds. OK, lets just round it up to 27 trillion. Bacon helpfully pointed out that this was not just 2,000 times the department's 2004-2005 expenditure, but one and a half times the GDP of the entire planet.

Of course, this was just a slip of the key, former Home Office mandarin Sir John Gieve explained to the incredulous Bacon. It was changed, Gieve continued, but it was "given as an illustration of the problems that we had" managing its accounts. Whitehall's version of "spot the deliberate mistake" then.

The report notes that the Comptroller and Auditor General's examination [of Home Office accounts] was severely limited because the Home Office had not maintained proper books and records which would have enabled it to disclose with reasonable accuracy at any time the financial position of the Department.

Well, that's what the report says. We think it's entirely likely the department spent the lot on tea, paper clips, training away days, and that old favourite "sweeteners" to induce IT services companies to bid for a chunk of the public purse. Gieve is now deputy governor of the Bank of England


Yet another stupid photo ban

Prime Minister John Howard has described a move to ban cameras from a popular Melbourne tourist precinct amid terrorism fears as "over the top". Southgate management has erected "no camera" signs around the Yarra River retail and dining centre after security guards tried to force tourists to delete photos taken of "obscure" parts of buildings. The police were called when they refused.

Mr Howard said he did not think the terrorist threat in Australia warranted such a move. "I think that is over the top," Mr Howard told ABC Radio. "Everybody's got a camera now. Does that mean a mobile phone camera? "I don't think the terrorist threat in this country warrants that. I really don't. "I don't know who did this and I don't wish to offend them, and I'm sure they mean well, but I do think that is going too far."

Southgate property manager Kathy Barrance said there had been a couple of incidents of tourists taking photos of obscure things. "It was just the facades of buildings, things that would be of no interest to put in a photo album," Ms Barrance said. The new signs banning cameras state that "Southgate thanks you for not taking photos within the complex unless approved by management". Ms Barrance said anyone found taking unauthorised photographs would be told to stop by roaming security guards. "It's policy around Southgate for security to ask people not to photograph," she said. Exceptions will be made for photos of such things as the Ophelia sculpture at the main entrance. "On the (Yarra) promenade, it's fine, or if it's of Ophelia," Ms Barrance said.

Asked if the restrictions were designed to deter terrorists from conducting reconnaissance, Ms Barrance said, "Yes, that type of thing." Victoria Police told the Herald Sun it was unlikely any police officers would order the removal of images from a camera under such circumstances. "I've checked with our privacy people and they said there's no law against taking photos," a spokeswoman said.

Southgate workers were stunned at the restrictions. "I think it's stupid," Oras Charcoal Souvlaki Bar employee John Tsarpalas said. "There's got to be better ways than that." One shop owner who did not wish to be named, questioned whether there were any vital targets in the complex. ''It's a bit much. I know they are trying to protect us, but it's just a food court," she said.


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