Monday, August 11, 2008

British "safety" nonsense never stops

Organ grinder and his toy monkey 'banned'

An organ grinder and his monkey were banned from the streets on health and safety grounds. Paddy Cooke, 64, from Matlock in Derbyshire, and his stuffed toy Simon cannot perform until they complete a risk assessment. Ripley Town Council in Derbyshire decided to cancel the act who were due to perform in the town centre during the summer holidays. The decision was made by licensing bosses at Amber Valley Borough Council. It comes after a Punch and Judy show and a dance act were also shelved in the past three weeks.

Paddy, of Crich, near Matlock, Derbys, wears Victorian costume as he walks around playing his organ, a copy of an instrument used more than 150 years ago. The former fireman has been grinding organs for 15 years. He said: 'It's not as if I have a live monkey which might jump at people. Mine is a battery-operated interactive toy and the best I have ever had. He says things like "I want a banana" and even once offered to tell me the sum of pi squared. 'Simon is sometimes quiet and sometimes chatty. He's very realistic but is no danger to anyone. 'I suppose someone might trip over a paving slab when listening to the music and blame me but I have been doing this for years without a problem.'

Paddy, whose two sons are also organ grinders, was hired as part of the summer entertainment provided by the town council and has $20m public liability insurance cover. He is also a member of the actors' union, Equity. But before his act hit the streets the authority received orders from Amber Valley Borough Council which demanded to see a general risk assessment before letting street acts go ahead. It wanted to study a list of hazards and know how they could be made safe, and even how many people might watch the shows.

Ripley Mayor Lynn Joyes said: 'The risks are very low and how do performers know how big an audience they'll get? 'That depends on the weather. If it's raining you might get five, but if the weather is nice, there'll be 105.' Labour group leader Geoff Carlile said: 'This is typical of bureaucracy gone mad. This was sprung on us at the last minute and left us in a difficult situation.' The council was told the ruling also applies to dance groups, clowns and brass bands, including the Salvation Army. Steve Freeborn, who represents Butterley ward, said: 'What is the risk - it's absolutely potty.'

But last night the borough council defended its decision. Simon Gladwin, head of landscape services, said: 'We always require that anyone organising a public event or entertainment on land managed by the borough council completes a risk assessment. 'In cases such as this, where performers are unable to supply a personal risk assessment of their activities, it is the responsibility of the organiser to provide the risk assessment. 'These are not required for every performer. We simply require an assessment that takes into account the different activities taking place in each location,' he said.

The town council's summer entertainments programme has now been suspended until further notice. It is hoped that a risk assessment can be completed within the next seven days then sent to the borough council for approval.


Feminism fading?

Cambridge University study suggests growing numbers of people are concerned about working mums' impact on family life

Support for gender equality in Britain and the US appears to have peaked and could now be going into decline, research at Cambridge University has revealed. The study, by Professor Jacqueline Scott from the University's Department of Sociology, found evidence of "mounting concern" that women who play a full and equal role in the workforce do so at the expense of family life. Although there are no signs of a full-scale gender-role backlash, there does appear to be growing sympathy for the old-fashioned view that a woman's place is in the home, rather than in the office.

The study appears in a new book, Women And Employment; Changing Lives And New Challenges, which Professor Scott also edited. "The notion that there has been a steady increase in favour of women taking an equal role in the workplace and away from their traditional role in the home is clearly a myth," she said. "Instead, there is clear evidence that women's changing role is viewed as having costs both for the woman and the family. "It is conceivable that opinions are shifting as the shine of the 'super-mum' syndrome wears off, and the idea of women juggling high-powered careers while also baking cookies and reading bedtime stories is increasingly seen to be unrealisable by ordinary mortals."

The survey compared the results of social attitude surveys from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s - using recent data from the International Social Survey Programme as well as older polls. Professor Scott focused on the results from Britain, the United States and - because the earlier surveys pre-dated the fall of the Berlin Wall - the former Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).

In each survey, samples of between 1,000 and 5,000 people were asked to say whether they agreed or disagreed with a number of statements. Statements such as "A husband's job is to earn income; a wife's to take care of the children," were designed to test their overall views on gender equality. Others, such as "Family life suffers if a woman works full time," examined whether they considered maternal employment as harmful to children or families.

The study shows that while British attitudes are more egalitarian than in the 1980s, there are signs that support for gender equality may have hit a high point some time during the 1990s. When it comes to the clash between work and family life, doubts about whether a woman should be doing both are starting to creep in. In the 1990s, for example, more than 50% of women and 51% of men said they believed that family life would not suffer if a woman went to work. Since then, the figure has fallen - to 46% of women and 42% of men. Fewer people (54.9% of women and 54.1% of men) now take the view that a job is the best way for a woman to be independent than in 1991.

The results are even more extreme in the United States, where the percentage of people arguing that family life does not suffer if a woman works has plummeted, from 51% in 1994 to 38% in 2002. About the same number of West Germans (37%) agree; but the number there has risen, having been just 24% in the mid-1990s.

Professor Scott argues that each country is at a different stage in a cycle of sympathy for gender equality. In West Germany, where up until the 1990s a large majority of people still believed that men should be the family breadwinners while women stayed at home, acceptance for the notion of working mums is now increasing.

In Britain and the US, however, where support for equal opportunities for both sexes is much longer-standing, some people are now starting to have second thoughts. In most cases, this appears to revolve around concerns that the welfare of children and of the family are being compromised the more women spend their time at work and find themselves lumbered with the double burden of employment and family care.

The report adds that there should now be further investigation into whether the attitude shift is occurring because caring for the family is seen as predominantly women's work, or because people feel there is no practical alternative to a woman fulfilling the role. "A change in attitude is not the same thing as a change in behaviour, but attitudes do matter," Professor Scott added. "Women - particularly mothers - can experience considerable strain when attitudes reinforce the notion that employment and family interests conflict. "If we are to make progress in devising policies that encourage equal working opportunities for women, we need to know more about what gender roles people view as practical, as possible and as fair."


British universities discriminating against private school students

Under big pressure from the government -- in the name of "equality"

Top universities are at the centre of a new social engineering row over plans to reject the new A* grade at A-level, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal. An investigation by this newspaper has uncovered plans by several leading universities to ignore the new award because it will mean offering more places to independent school pupils.

The A* grade was introduced by ministers because universities were finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between top candidates in an era when 25 per cent of sixth formers gain an A grade at A-level. That proportion is expected to rise when exam results are released next week. Internal documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that admission committees at a number of Britain's universities are reluctant to sanction the new A* because they fear that state school pupils will not achieve the grade in sufficient numbers. Oxford University said it is "highly unlikely" that it will utilise the A* in offers until "there is a sense of the probable grade distribution".

Exeter and Bath Universities cite concerns that if the top grade is used in offers, it is likely to "disadvantage state schools" and "have a detrimental effect on widening participation efforts". Bristol has also expressed reservations about the A* because "some schools will be able to provide intensive preparation for their pupils and others will not" which could "exacerbate existing inequalities in education provision".

Critics last night accused the universities of trying to "fix" their admissions. "It is quite disgraceful if universities are saying 'we are not going to use this measure because we are afraid of what it is going to show'," said Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University. "It is a terrible situation to get in to that higher education is avoiding the best qualified candidates because of where they were educated in a bid to comply with state school benchmarks set by its paymasters. "We will have good institutions, that should be recruiting the brightest talent, trying to fix admissions by ignoring a new grade."

Independent schools accused universities of being "lilly-livered" in their approach to the A*. "If there are reservations, they should be about potential differences between subjects and exam boards in the awarding of A*, not how different schools will perform," said Geoff Lucas, the secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. "This is woolly, lilly-livered thinking and not very honest. It shows the extent to which universities are cowered by Government pressure to widen participation. They should be giving credit to pupils who are best equipped to do well in the subject they are applying for."

Pupils starting out on their courses in September will have the chance of gaining the grade when they complete their exams in 2010. It was assumed that universities would use the grade when making offers in that year. However, internal documents reveal many institutions have yet to decide and could delay using it in case it increases the dominance of independent school pupils. Admission tutors' concerns are based on research which suggests that private school pupils will do better in A* than comprehensive pupils. Almost a quarter of those at fee-paying schools are expected to gain at least one A*, compared to just nine per cent at comprehensives, according to an analysis by exam board AQA.

Bath University admissions committee, which will consult with tutors on the issue in the autumn, fears that independent schools will gain too many of the top grades. "It was noted that the A* grade was intended to be awarded only to the highest scoring percentage of students, who would largely be in attendance at independent schools," said minutes of a meeting earlier this year. "There are some concerns that selection on the basis of A* might have adverse effects on widening participation."

Extracts from the minutes of Exeter's admissions working group said: "Other institutions are not including the A* in their offers as they feel that this is likely to disadvantage state schools." It added: "The admissions group felt they required a more informed debate on the issue and have asked for an indicator from the 1994 Group of universities (of which it is a member)."

Bristol University said despite reservations, it would accept the A* but take in to account the school context in which candidates have studied. Only one university said it had made the decision to include the A* in some offers. At University College London, departments such as history, English and economics, which currently demand three grade As, will be permitted to ask for a maximum of one A* from 2010.


Another desperate attempt to get NHS computers working

A confectionery and soft drinks executive and the man in charge of programming the nation's pensions have been appointed to take charge of the largest civilian IT project in the world, the Government has announced (David Rose writes).

The Department of Health has named Christine Connelly, formerly of Cadbury-Schweppes, and Martin Bellamy, of the Department for Work and Pensions, jointly to head the mammoth $24.9 BILLION overhaul of NHS computer systems, formerly the highest-paid job in Whitehall. As The Times reported in April, the previous head of the project, Richard Granger, earned $540,000 to $570,000 a year.

Mr Granger, the former director-general of NHS IT, resigned last year after five years. The Government has split his job into two - each advertised for around $400,000 - costing the taxpayer potentially 40 per cent more in managerial wage bills for the project.

The NHS National Programme for IT, designed to link 300 hospitals with thousands of GP surgeries, is running up to two years late in parts and has been repeatedly criticised by auditors, doctors and patients.


No comments: