Posts tagged ‘quango’

No sex please, we’re British

Political lobbying group and some time parenting site Mumsnet has been forced by its members to back track on its support for censoring pornography on the web. Needless to say this hasn’t pleased the new Conservative MP Claire Perry the “won’t someone think of the children” authoritarian nut job who is apparently the current cheerleader in parliament for such a scheme.

Why the change of heart?

It seems that pressure came from two directions. Firstly, the more technically savvy members threw their children’s toys out of the pram over the site’s bandwagon jumping, pointed out that as a result of the law of unintended consequences the site itself could well be filtered and downed tools – an action that resulted in no technical support for those in need. Secondly, a few members mentioned the obvious issue: that it is not the job of the state to raise children.

Strangely the second one didn’t appear to fly with one of the site’s founders:

“I think there have been some really valid points about workability raised here but the “this is the thin end of the wedge on censorship” one doesn’t make sense to me. We already censor loads of things in the name of child protection on the internet and elsewhere. Of course there are valid concerns about where you draw the line but you can’t deny that we do draw the line already all over the place – we censor illegal images, we rate dvds, we have a tv watershed.”

Who, unsurprisingly, completely misses the point. Don’t want young children to see pornography on the internet? Then don’t let them have a computer, x-box etc in their bedroom. Set up an account for them on the computer in the communal area that has proper filters in place to stop them seeing it. Don’t know how to do that? Then ask a friend, neighbour etc. Use some bloody initiative rather than expecting the state to act as backstop for your stupidity!

/takes blood pressure tablets and calms down.

Ahem.

Eventually however Mumsnet did decide that perhaps it had acted too hastily and the same person who posted the previously stupidity said:

“We are not going to back any solution… what we are interested in is protecting children online. However, everything we do on Mumsnet is a conversation and our opinions evolve with our users.”

Translation: We got our fingers burnt and next time we will talk to the membership before leaping on any passing bandwagons.

We aren’t of course out of the woods as yet. The government, in the shape of Culture Minister Ed Vaizey as well as the aforementioned Clarie Perry, is already talking to ISPs about getting them to filter the web. Perry, writing in the Telegraph, explains that she would like to see “a home network level ‘opt-in’ filter for internet porn”. Additionally the head of Ofcom (that government quango) said that, “given the technological convergence, if the ISP industry does not come up with a workable opt-in solution, regulation may be the only answer”.

Safermedia – a Christian charity (fake charity status unknown) also campaigning for internet filtering – said about the proposals:

I am surprised that parents would be critical of the campaign because the idea is to help parents. If internet users have to opt in to view pornography parents don’t have to worry about protecting their children from it… I think there has to be censorship to protect children. If you’re over 18 you won’t be censored [under the proposals]”

For crying out loud, when will you fools get it? You’ve recently been berating various countries like Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia for closing down the internet in order to try and stop anti-government protesters. You frequently complain about China locking down the internet and employing an army of thousands to police content as well as companies such as Google who have bowed to the regime there and acted as censors.

Even after all of that you want to employ similar tactics in this country? And all because of the emotive rallying cry of “Won’t someone think of the children”. In the name of the children we have the Criminal Records Bureau, the Independent Safeguarding Authority and others. Have they made children any safer from the paedophile that would otherwise be living under every bed and stalking the corridors of our schools, youth centres and any other place where children might go? No, of course they haven’t. All those bits of paper have done is ensure that innocent people are dismissed from their jobs and that children are being taught to fear all adults.

Can such a scheme even work? Well the Australian government under Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have been trying to do the same for some years now without success (as yet). It has been dogged by controversy with banned sites so far including such horrors as a dental practice and various education sites – quite amusing given that Stephen Conroy, the idiot charged with trying to implement the scheme, has said that it would be “100% accurate”. An opinion poll has suggested that over 90% of the Australian public don’t want the scheme and even children’s charities out there have dismissed it as a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere.

In the end though it is not about the children – that is just a convenient hook to use and one that can be hard to argue against without being smeared as someone who supports child pornography and other such nonsense – but about control. The internet, allowing the rapid dissemination of information, is a threat to governments around the world regardless of how democratic they appear to be and for that reason they want to place limits on it.

Such behaviour must be resisted at all costs.

What Laws?

My eye having been caught by the headline “Thousands could sue over ‘child protection’ sackings” in the Telegraph online this afternoon I decided to read the article.

It turned out to be about three nurses who, dismissed from their jobs because they failed checks run by the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), are now suing for loss of earnings in a ECHR test case that could result in others in similar situations doing the same thing. Although it is using up taxpayers money, I can’t say I blame the three of them because the ISA was a bloody stupid idea in the first place.

It was these two paragraphs however that caught my attention:

The three nurses bringing the case all lost their jobs following minor offences which were not deemed serious enough to go to court, but which resulted in them being handed police cautions.

One of the nurses broke the law by leaving her 11-year-old son at home alone while she went shopping. Another was cautioned because while he was at work, his wife left the couple’s children alone for a short period. The third kissed a colleague without permission.

These things are offences? Really? Since when? Should I be reporting my own parents as I and my brother were left home alone at times when we were both still under 11? Should I be reporting my colleagues from the Italian office who always greet myself and the other ladies in the team with a kiss when they visit? I think not.

According to the report other people effectively dismissed from their jobs by this government quango include:

…a mother was cautioned for child neglect after leaving her three-year old son in the care of her responsible 14-year-old son while she popped to the shops.

…another mother was cautioned for child neglect after leaving her three children in the care of a seemingly responsible neighbour, a grandmother, while she took a relative to the airport. The neighbour left the children on their own for a while and the mother was barred from taking up a place on a nursing course.

…Rachael Parry, from Caerphilly, south Wales, was cautioned for leaving her daughter alone in the bath for a minute and a half when she went downstairs to get towels. She returned to find her daughter face-down in the bath. She gave mouth-to-mouth to revive her daughter and took her to hospital, where she made a full recovery, but although police and social services recognised that she was a loving mother who had made a terrible mistake the CPS ordered that she be given a caution.

Strewth, if they are setting the bar this low I don’t know how anyone with children will be allowed to work with other children or vulnerable adults as so far as I can see these are all things that have been going on since time immemorial. Is there a child out there who has never been left at home alone even for one second, never been left in the bath alone, never been left with an older kid (e.g. a baby sitter)?

Evidentially the High Court agreed because they ruled the treatment of the three nurses in question to be unlawful.

How many people have been affected by the heavy handiness of the ISA? 13,150 last year alone – of whom 812 have had their bans overturned. That is a failure rate of over 6% and one that is likely to grow.

Any chance we can just shut down this useless waste of money and get back to some common sense?

Bookstart

Never heard of them until today? OK, maybe you have if you have small children. But why have they suddenly made headlines? Because they have had their government funding removed and they – and their supporters including the bandwagon jumping leader of the Labour party – are complaining.

What are they all about then?

For starters they refer to themselves as a ‘national independent charity’. This could be said to be slightly disingenuous as it is the parent organisation – Booktrust – that is the registered charity (since 1963-07-01). Bookstart didn’t come about until 1992 when research commissioned by Booktrust found that children whose family had started them reading before they went to school did better. Yes, this sounds like a case of the bleeding obvious to me as well.

As obvious as it may seem, they still managed to persuade Sainsbury’s to give them money and eventually this brought them fame and fortune. Or, at least, the attentions of our unlamented former PM but Chancellor at the time Gordon Brown. In 2004 he decided to throw taxpayers money at the scheme in order to give ‘free’ books to children under the age of four. It was at this point that we can safely say that Booktrust stopped being a charity and became what is known as a fake-charity – or government quango.

Indeed their 2009 accounts show that the three programs they fund were granted almost £15 million from the taxpayer. This equates to over 95% of their income for that year. So what did we (the taxpayer) get for that money?

An awful lot of marketing material and self-promotion it seems.

  • 23,000 Best BookGuide to Picture Books were distributed in the Children’s Book Week packs to all primary schools, public libraries, school library services and teacher training institutions, plus 1,000 copies to independent bookshops;
  • 20,000 copies of the Rough Guide to Picture Books were distributed to Waterstone’s, and 70,000 copies to families with young children across the country, via Bookstart local coordinators;
  • The Big Picture Campaign was promoted at festivals including Edinburgh, Bath and Cheltenham;
  • The campaign raised the profile of illustrators, while promoting the art istic qualities and appeal of picture books to less confident parents.
  • We were pleased to receive continued DCSF funding for Everybody Writes, a partnership with the National Literacy Trust, and this year developed printed resources for primary and secondary schools with 8,000 brochures distributed. The website attracts on average 8,000 web hits per month.
  • Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen has been an excellent champion for children’s literature and the pleasures of reading. A 10th Anniversary event at the Festival Hall, attended by Michael and former laureates Quentin Blake, Michael Morpurgo, Anne Fine and Jacqueline Wilson, attracted several hundred children with their families.
  • Children’s Book Week 2008, launched by Michael Rosen and 200 children on the London Eye, followed by a writing event producing a giant poem “I spy with my little eye” was mentioned on BBC Newsround.
  • The 2008 Children’s Book Week resource pack, themed this year Rhythm and Rhyme, was sent to 23,000 primary schools, public and school libraries, and teacher training institutions.
  • The Booktrust school libraries leaflet continues to attract interest with 500 requests for extra copies.

There is something else, surely?

The Bookstart website tells us that ‘central funding from the taxpayer is only 25% of the retail cost of delivering Bookstart’ and that sponsors pick up the rest of the tab. It doesn’t, so far as I have been able to find, tell us who those sponsors are or how much they give but a crude extrapolation the 2009 accounts figure would suggest external funding to the tune of almost £45million. Not a small sum and one would hope that the ‘charity’ could – with some adjustments to its ambitions – cope on this alone. Or is it that the publishers of the books doled out via this program agreed to accept only 25% of the retail price as a gesture of goodwill? If so I’m sure the buyers at Amazon would like to hire the person who made that deal as even they haven’t managed to screw the publishers quite that much.

So what books do we get for that money? Those chosen by the ‘Bookstart book panel’ which is made up of book experts, librarians, health professionals and early years professionals. It doesn’t however name these kind professionals who I have no doubt have gone to great lengths to ensure that the nations children receive only the best.

The question though – and one I’m would guess that Michael Gove asked – is what is the point of this scheme? Those who want the best for their children taught them to read before it came along and will continue to do so after it disappears by making full use of the library service when the children were young and then buying them books or passing on items kept from their own childhoods as the get older. Those who don’t will leave it to the nursery or the school teachers who have for many years been the fall back for those parents who forgo their responsibilities.

I’m sure that it is the latter category that this scheme would have been after but if they weren’t going to teach their kids to read before hand, they certainly weren’t going to do so just because the state handed them some ‘free’ books. These are people who don’t see the point of formal education and until their minds change then this scheme, however noble in intention, is doomed to fail. Being a bookworm myself I applaud the sentiment behind it but I have no wish to see the taxpayer pick up the tab for a cause that should be funded through voluntary donations from corporations and philanthropists alone.