Figures of this sort, a mate in England told me, would be available to all and sundry over the Internet if they wanted to see what town and county councils spend on what, but they do not appear to be so freely available here, which presumably is why this newspaper had to go to the time, trouble and, as a consequence, expense of making an application under the Code of Practice on Public Access to Official Information.
That, in itself, is absolutely outrageous. I can remember when all this Freedom of Information nonsense first started and those who pay the wages (that means us lot) were told that there was a presumption of openness about all the dealing carried out by that lot, ostensibly on our behalf.
I can’t help recalling that it must be around the same time that an Island Plan of the time – it could indeed be the one still in force, for all I know, although some firm of consultants might well put me straight on that, at a fee, no doubt – said in almost its first line that there would be a presumption against building in the countryside, but I digress.
I can remember talking not that many weeks ago to a neighbour – well, he lives in the same vingtaine – who also happens to be a civil servant. Among other things – we were in The Shed at the time and I have to say that (not by any devious design on my part, I stress, although I welcomed the results) his tongue was lubricated and loosened considerably after just one relatively small slug of calvados – we were discussing the very subject of the employment of consultants.
Quite naturally, given the amount of space this column has devoted to the subject over very many years, I asked why they were employed with such monotonous (and expensive) regularity.
A combination of factors, I was told, and as I heard that I groaned inwardly and poured myself another tot, in preparation, I thought, for 20 minutes of the usual civil service speak which makes me think that all of them spend half their day plugged in to a programmer which gives them no control over their responses to questions such as the one I asked and the other half staring out of the window.
But then, to my surprise, he said that these factors included a lack of trust about the views of senior civil servants employed locally and an almost Messianic desire to worship at the feet of these (largely) imported firms and individuals.
‘In short,’ he said, ‘some politicians think Oxera wrote most of Gospels contained in the Bible and probably gave Moses a hand with eight of the Ten Commandments.’
Oxera, I should add, is apparently a firm of consultants much used by that lot in the Big House, although it might well need another formal request under the Code of Practice on Public Access to Official Information to establish precisely how much they are used and, to put it in language everyone understands, what it’s worth to them.
That said, finding out what it’s worth to them might just be a good deal easier than establishing what the millions paid in the last three years to all these consultants has actually been worth to the taxpayers of this small rock.
But, as I indicated earlier, the fact that all this money has been spent is probably about as outrageous as the fact that such information is not freely available to us all and its release into the public domain can only be obtained upon application.
I read all that on Monday evening of last week and recall that in the same day’s newspaper there was an account of a gun attack on children who were walking through St Andrew’s Park on their way to the community centre adjacent to the church.
I have deliberately not referred to the fact that the weapons used were apparently BB guns for two reasons. The first is that I have no idea what a BB gun is and the second is that in my view it’s irrelevant anyway.
As far as most people are concerned, guns are guns and most of those which fire things are capable, if not of killing – although I wouldn’t put money on that – certainly of maiming someone, and there are many of us (of a certain age) who will recall the harm that pellets from air pistols and rifles used to do to people before their use was more rigidly controlled.
But there again, perhaps the more vociferous in the gun lobby didn’t even live here in the days to which I refer.
According to the account I read, the younger children were walking towards the community centre when they were set upon by older children – apparently wearing an identifiable school uniform – who fired pellets at them, hitting several of the youngsters.
As I read it I thought I was being transported back to the days of Kit Carson cowboy comics because, without putting a humorous slant on this, as there can’t be subjects much more serious, it really read like a scene from the Wild West.
What on earth is this place coming to when we read of gun attacks – please don’t tell me they were only BB guns – on children? I hope the perpetrators are caught and I hope – although with a number of pinkoes in positions of influence I am not holding my breath – that no one seeks to persuade the court which deals with these thugs not to lift the protection of anonymity which, in my view and that of an increasing number of others, has contributed to the contempt for decent behaviour these morons display.
And finally . . . Aren’t the massive profits announced by oil companies obscene?