The New Stasi

In the former Soviet Bloc, everyone had to be very careful, because no one ever knew if their neighbour was spying on them to report them to the government. Miss those good ol’ days? Welcome to Gordon Brown’s Britain.

As reported today in the Daily Telegraph, if you live in the UK, your neighbours may have been recruited by the local council to report on you. They may be your very young neighbours.

Children as young as eight have been recruited by councils to “snoop” on their neighbours and report petty offences such as littering, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.

The youngsters are among almost 5,000 residents who in some cases are being offered £500 rewards if they provide evidence of minor infractions.

One in six councils contacted by the Telegraph said they had signed up teams of “environment volunteers” who are being encouraged to photograph or video neighbours guilty of dog fouling, littering or “bin crimes”.

The “covert human intelligence sources”, as some local authorities describe them, are also being asked to pass on the names of neighbours they believe to be responsible, or take down their number-plates.

Ealing Council in West London said: “There are hundreds of Junior Streetwatchers, aged 8-10 years old, who are trained to identify and report enviro-crime issues such as graffiti and fly-tipping.”

Hundreds of Junior Streetwatchers. That’s just the ones working for one council.

Don’t confuse this with a neighborhood crime watch program. This is paying people to look into your garden to see if you have put your rubbish bins in the right place.

This comes at the same time that many councils are only collecting rubbish on a fortnightly basis, because they can not longer afford a weekly service, even though they are still collecting the same amount in council tax. Of course if rubbish has to be stored for twice as long, it is twice as likely that it will result in an infraction of local regulations – more money for the eight-year-old spies climbing over the fence for a peek.

This escalation in Britain’s growing surveillance state follows an outcry about the way councils are using powers originally designed to combat terrorism and organised crime to spy on residents. In one case, a family was followed by council staff for almost three weeks after being wrongly accused of breaking rules on school catchment areas.

It also emerged last month that around 1,400 security guards, car park attendants and town hall staff have been given police-style powers including the right to issue on-the-spot fines for littering, cycling on the pavement and other offences.

Big Brother really is watching.

Travel Costs

The Government are working hard to get everyone out of their cars and onto public transportation. They have raised the road tax on most family cars, based on carbon emissions. When it was announced in the Budget, it was made to sound like it was prospective – applying to cars manufactured from now on and encouraging new car buyers to choose more enviro-friendly models. Instead it has been made retrospective – it applies to all cars from 2001. That means anyone who bought the “wrong” car in the last seven years will now be penalised by about £245 ($500) a year.

But if you want to save money by getting out of your car, you will have to pay for the train. Of course unless your train starts at your station, you may very well have to stand for the entire journey. After all, a train ticket does not guarantee a seat, but only agrees to carriage – that the train will be going to the destination.

You also have to be careful where you stand on the train. Nichola Myhill found out that even if every breathable standing space is taken in the second class carriages, and next to the toilets between the carriages, do not stand in the luggage area just inside first class. There is no excuse for first class passengers to be soiled by the relative proximity of the cattle class. They shouldn’t have to bear with the commoners standing next to their first class luggage.

Nicola may pay £4,000 per year for a season ticket, but that doesn’t give her the right or priviledge of standing inside first class, next to rows of empty seats. She was duly fined £69 ($140) on the spot for such outrageous behaviour. (The fine is calculated as twice the cost of the first class ticket.) If she can’t squeeze into the toilet area, she just has to miss work.

This story was carried in several national newspapers. In the comments section to one, a reader proposed a logical solution: “Perhaps we should open up the roof like they do in other third-world countries?”

Taking Lazy to a Whole New Level

I was just over at Asda (a wholly owned subsidary of Wal-Mart) to buy a lightbulb for the bedside table of an unnamed woman. I wandered over the electronics, as I am sometimes wont to do.

It was there that I discovered the Standby Buster. The proud owner of a Standby Buster is clearly making a statement. No, not, “See how much I care about the environment!” Rather he is saying, “I am so lazy that I can’t bother to push the button on the telly on the way up to bed.” I mean, how much effort does this really take?

The company that developed the Standby Buster encourages users to plug all of their entertainment appliances into one four-way plug and plug that into their product so all the devices can be shut off at once. That includes the Sky or digital box. These are devices that are designed to be left on, as they re-set when the power goes off and lose programming information.

The Wall

There are so many things in the news it is hard to decide what deserves comment, or more accurately what comments might draw readership. When I moved from my previous blog location for privacy reasons, it appears to have worked too well. Even people who are supposed to remember where I’ve gone seemed to have forgotten.

If I were to write about local events, it would be the flooding. It hasn’t affected us too much directly, but once again Britain seems to be under water. We are only affected because the local Asda store was granted permission to build on a flood plain. To do so, they had to pay about £10 million toward local flood defenses. The only thing that seems to be defended is the Asda store. Otherwise, there are houses that have never flooded before that are now in danger.

Don’t tell this to the Evironment Agency, of course. They have actual gone around to people’s homes and told them where the flooding reaches in their gardens. The people who live there tell the civil servants that they are wrong, but the residents are rebuffed because the computer projections show otherwise. There’s no arguing with a bureaucrat.
The only direct effect on us is that our view has been ruined temporarily by heavy machinery, mounds of earth, and blocked drains, and permanently by mounds of earth and a six-foot concrete wall where there was once a hedge. Oh, and they had to chop down a significant number of trees that were several hundred years old. All of this was to build a wall no one wanted, to stop flooding that has only become a problem since they built the wall.

Now with the recession in the housing market, it’s not like we need something ugly like this to bring down property values.

Paper Everywhere

The Year 11 reports are printed. I was late home tonight because after I dislodged some paper from my printer, it refused to work. This happened just after the computer tech went home and I couldn’t figure out how to network to a different printer. So I fiddled and fiddled with it, until for no apparent reason, it decided to start printing again.

I have doubts as to how many parents are actually going to read my reports. After all, if parents took my subject more seriously, some of the kids probably would, too. But no matter, reports are what we write.

We were told on our INSET day that PSE (Personal and Social Education) is moving toward an assessed model. Since we all teach PSE to our forms, there was a general outcry about more marking, especially marking that is very dubious in value. But everybody seemed to agree that if there was paperwork to be done, the Government would find more of it for us to do. We are an “eco school”, but even the students openly wonder how this can be when we go through so much paper. And every piece of it goes across a teacher’s desk.

Then there’s the post. Every day I get anything from a few to a stack of offers for every possible resource or course. Sometimes I get the same thing twice on the same day. It all goes in the bin.

I try to re-use worksheets and handouts. Nonetheless, my copies are slowly destroyed as they get used by three or four sets of pupils, and they supply has to be continually replenished.

My recycling bin is in constant overflow. But not with reports. Those end up in someone else’s bin.