A CUT THAT’S NOT A CUT

February 27, 2010

 

Bureaucrats have a wonderful way with words.

For example, a recent document from West Lothian Council was entitled “Partnership and Resources Policy Development Scrutiny Panel”. At 90 pages and 24,000 words, it’s not something you’d take along for holiday reading. It’s filled with phrases such as: “… sphere of governance … combat the persistence and the reproduction of inequalities, and to promote a truly egalitarian society.”

Yeah, right.

However, a third of the way into the document you might just happen across a section that outlines the horrendous state of financial affairs and the vicious cuts being introduced to balance the books. And do you know the amazing thing? Not once – not once, mark you – is the word “cut” actually used!

Well, except where it lays out one of the proposals as “reducing the frequency of grass cutting.” And that doesn’t count.

Instead, the writers have managed to use phrases such as “reductions”, “rationalisation”, “termination”, “phasing”, “changes” and “discontinuing”.

Part of the plan to reduce expenditure by £45million includes things like stopping the provision of hanging baskets, allied with reducing the frequency of street sweeping and gully cleaning. Well, there’s a couple of hundred quid saved.

More seriously, there will be a reduction in the provision of older people care homes, and an increase in class sizes. Also buried in the document is the mention of staffing reductions of up to 1,000 employees. Oh, yes, and a reduction of council offices from 43 to 17.

It all sounds like cuts to me, despite what the Council Scribes call it.

I have little doubt that the council could easily afford to get rid of 1,000 professional pen pushers and paper shufflers with their “in”, “out” and “shake it all about” trays. Whether they can find a real job in the real world remains to be seen, though.

But there is no humour in the loss of jobs – and so many jobs. The seriousness would suggest it should be dealt with more openly than being included in a massive document that prattles on about “egalitarian society” or “gender assessments” or “challenge stereotypical views of women and men”.

And it’s serious enough to be called what it is. It’s not a “phasing”. Neither is it a “rationalisation”. What we are talking about here – and no mistake, despite the flowery language – is whacking great cuts.


SIGN OF THE TIMES

February 21, 2010

 

ON a recent trip up North I was delighted to see that the local authorities have started erecting signs in both Gaelic and English.

I have now discovered that following a sign pointing to “Meadhan a’ Bhailr” will take you to the Town Centre. Other signs include “Steisean”, which is the station. You could probably work out that “Raon Goilf” is the golf course.

It’s all rather quaint. I don’t speak Gaelic, but it’s nice to see.

And it got me thinking… We could have signs here, in our own county, in both English and in West Lothianese directing tourists to our visitor attractions.

Public toilets would be: “Ra Cludgie”. And the police station would have a sign which says “Polis Shoap”

There could also be signs directing travellers to places where they could partake of liquid refreshment. Those signs would read “Boozer”.

Road signs pointing the way to the Dogs Trust Rescue Centre would read “Dugshame”. Sounds good, that.

West Lothian Recycling Centre would have signage which reads “Ra Dump”, while you would find Addiewell Prison by following signs that say “Pokey”.

And of course, Almondavale Stadium could be pointed out by sings which read “Fitba’ Grund”.

Meanwhile, for those who are reading this and understand the lingo; do you not agree that “Livvytoonsenta” sounds rather exotic?

Drew McAdam


TAKE A TIP FROM ME

February 13, 2010

HAVE you been to one of those trendy themed restaurants that are springing up all over the place? You know the ones.

You’re hardly in the door when an overenthusiastic staff member wearing a ridiculous communications headset asks if you have ever visited the restaurant before. If you haven’t, you are treated to a five minute explanation of how the restaurant works – and what is expected of you.

First, there is the menu combination: you can order one from this list, and two from column “B” or one from this list and three from column “C”.

Further instructions include how you should make your way to the counter – where you pay for the meal, give them the table number and place your order. Then, on the way back, you pick up the cutlery and any condiments or sauces you might require. Oh, and pour yourself a soft drink from the machine.

Phew!

In some places you even have to go and collect the food for yourself once it’s ready.

Anyway, I had just such a “culinary experience” recently with a friend of mine. When the meal was all but over, I started rooting around in my pockets looking for change.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m looking for change to leave as a tip.”

My chum stared at me for a moment, and then solemnly asked. “Why? It was YOU who did all the work.”

You know, he had a point. Short of washing up my own plates, I’d done everything myself. Everything, from preparing the table, to taking the order, to placing the order, to collecting the food, to supplying the sauces, to clearing up behind myself.

Without realising it, I was both the customer and a hard working member of staff. …So I gave the tip to myself.

Drew McAdam


POVERTY – MORE THAN JUST A WORD

February 7, 2010

 

According to a recent press release, a community in West Lothian received almost £50,000 to raise awareness of climate change. This includes the appointment of a climate change officer “to tackle fuel poverty”.

And “considering your carbon footprint” hype combats poverty, how exactly?

Well, according to the report, there will be surveys, events, workshops and a local environmental group.

Meanwhile, according to another story, almost half of West Lothian children and young people are living in poverty in households dependent on benefits.

I’m in no way belittling the plight of those who suffer financial hardship and worry – I’ve been there myself. But “poverty”?

To help combat this, the council says it is providing an additional 1,620 free school meals, free swimming on Friday afternoons and nursery places for children three and over.

The report also identifies Livingston North and South wards as the most deprived areas.

Well, let me tell you about another town that shares the same name. Livingstone, in Zambia.

A few months ago I visited the place. There, appalling social conditions means that four out of five people live below the World Bank’s definition of poverty: living on less than $1 a day. (And just so you know, shop food prices are about the same there as they are here.)

Extended families live in squalid shacks or mud huts – no bigger than the average garden shed – without water, sanitation or electricity.

If they can get one meal a day, they are lucky.

There is neither light nor heat during the bitterly cold winter evenings, nor cooling systems during the sweltering summers.

The hospitals have no equipment for even basic surgery. Patients must take in their own surgical gloves, syringes and anything else the doctor might need. Even so, the under-fives wards are packed – with children suffering from starvation and malnutrition.

I walked with some of the tiny kids – many in bare feet, over stones and thorns – who will cover around eight miles to get to school each day because education is seen as their only way out.

And they are the lucky ones.

The number of children orphaned by AIDS in Zambia is expected to rise to one million this year. That’s almost a half of all children. As a result, many children are abandoned and simply live on the streets.

That’s a whole different Livingstone, is it not? And it’s a whole different “poverty”, too.

I wonder what these orphan street-survivors would think of our definition of poverty. What, I wonder, would they pray for in their disturbed and frightened dreams.

I doubt very much that it would be an awareness of their carbon footprint, a climate change officer, surveys or workshops. I also doubt if it would be nursery places and free swimming.

I’m sure they would use any £50,000 grant in a very different way.

Lying awake in bed worrying about how to pay a bill is one thing. Lying in an open gutter scared to go to sleep because you might not waken in the morning is another.

There is a difference between the two towns that share the same name. Just as there is a difference between “hardship”, and genuine die-in-the-street-from-starvation poverty.

A world of difference.

Drew McAdam


SIGN HERE…

February 1, 2010

 

Do you know what a VMS is? No? Well, I’ll tell you.

It’s a Variable Message Sign. In other words, those electronic message signs on motorway gantries that give motorists up-to-date traffic information.

I was approaching one in almost white-out blizzard conditions recently and could hardly make out what it said through the swirling snowstorm. Only when almost underneath it was I able to read: “Caution. Heavy Snow”

Sheeesh. Really?

And it got me thinking. Would it be possible to hack into the system and leave your own messages?

I asked some of my friends what message they would put up there, and I have to tell you there were some belters. Suggestions included “Remember To Buy Milk And Bread” and “He’s Behind You! :o”.

I thought that “Look Up!” was pretty good, too.

Other contributors offered such gems as: “There’s Someone In Your Boot”, “You’re Going The Wrong Way” and “Zombie Area”.

Another favourite was “Sign Out Of Order”.

 Wouldn’t it be great if instead of the usual patronising, pointless messages – about checking your fuel, tiredness and not to take drugs – the person who types the messages at Motorway Command Centre decided to get creative. Or drunk.

The operator could flash up things like: “Ignore This Message” or “Aircraft On Hard Shoulder Ahead”.

If his keyboard has punctuation marks he could even flash ” (.)(.) “. Think about it.

Motorway driving would become so much more fun! Me? If I could hijack one of these VMS thingys on the M8 I’d type in “Whitburn Closed. Plague”.

However, my absolute favourite, suggested by one particularly warped mind, was the message “”REMEMBER: UK SWITCHES TO DRIVING ON RIGHT AT NOON TOMORROW. £400 NON-COMPLIANCE PENALTY – HIGHWAYS AGENCY.”

Come to think of it, maybe the Highways Agency should employ this contributor to come up with some new slogans.

Give control of the motorway gantry messages to those who have a sense of humour and imagination, I say.

Drew McAdam