‘POPPYCOCK’ declared the front page of the Oldham Evening Chronicle on Monday.
The story – about Royal British Legion members being asked to fill out risk forms for Remembrance Sunday parades – drew many comments from readers, so I’m sure nobody would deny the chance to do the same.
The article talks about red tape and I actually agree: because compensation culture is out of control.
Long gone are the days when people took responsibility for their own actions. Nowadays ‘where there’s blame, there’s a claim’.
I’m in a minority, it seems, who think that if you trip over a curb you probably should have been looking where you were going. Unfortunately for me solicitors have made a great deal of money proving me wrong…
For several years I was the organiser for the Failsworth Remembrance Sunday service and parade, so I write here not as someone defending the indefensible, but as someone who has seen ‘on the ground’ what can go wrong when hundreds and thousands of people go to the same place at the same time.
And that is the point. When you take away the emotive headlines here and look at the facts – nothing unreasonable was being asked for at all.
During my years as an organiser we never put in writing what we did to prevent accidents, nor the stewarding arrangements etc – we just got on with what we had to do.
In fact, I remember one year playing hell with the then Police Inspector who asked for a formal road closure order to be made to allow the parade to go ahead.
Guess what? It turned out he was right and I had got it wrong.
Many motorists believed that getting to the supermarket was more important than waiting for the parade to pass and then put at risk all those who attended.
Had an accident occurred – and it came within inches of doing so – a solicitor wouldn’t have refused to take the case because it was a Remembrance Parade. They would have asked for all the paperwork and procedures to find any error or oversight.
During my time as organiser I also once had to deal the angry relatives of an elderly lady who collapsed during the service.
We provided around ten chairs for those with mobility problems which would have usually been enough, but on this particular day she arrived late and couldn’t get through the 2,000 strong crowd. Standing took its toll and her legs gave way.
The following week the first thing asked from us was our insurance details.
During my time arranging the Failsworth service we raised more than £136,000 to renovate the cenotaph and worked hard to increase attendances from around 800 to now over 2,500 each year.
The work we did to raise the profile and meaning of the cenotaph paid off and we now have one of the largest services in the borough as a result.
When I became Council Leader I wanted to achieve the same for every cenotaph in the Borough, so two years ago we set about refurbishing each and every memorial.
By the time we reach 2014 and the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War we will have spent approaching £350,000 on this work – and we will also have a full calendar of educational events in place to tell the story of Britain’s fight for freedom.
When I was organising those Remembrance Sunday services I always had the support of the Mayor’s Office, which is known as the single point of contact in the Council for all organisers.
It would’ve made sense for the organisers who did have concerns this week just to pick up the phone and ask them for help. Instead it made a front page story.
I personally find that sad and I don’t doubt it was more than a little wound up by others who might have better used their time to simply help fill out the form on behalf of the ex-servicemen instead. It is simple to do and takes five to ten minutes.
When I used to do this I actually found it helpful in considering all that needed to be thought about in organising the event.
A Co-operative Council is not one which has no rules, nor is it exempt from legislation, nor does it turn a blind eye – and nor can it fail in protecting the public.
I also felt it unhelpful for this week’s article to claim that the request to complete the event form ‘threatens to cast a shadow’ over the Remembrance Service. It should do that no more than any other arrangements that any organiser would have to complete.
Great play was also made about 70 to 80-year-old people being asked to go online to fill out a form.
I know many people of that age group who would actually be offended at any suggestion they weren’t able to do that. And in any case my own experience is that organising an event is never all down to one person – it is a community event.
In Failsworth I found that just as many young people played their part in the service: from cadets to uniform groups such as Scouts and Guides, plus volunteers from the local youth centre who assist in stewarding.
I’m more than happy to defend Oldham Council’s record here on supporting our ex-servicemen and in remembering those who gave their life fighting for our freedom.
My ‘common sense’ view is that everyone knows what time of year these parades take place and such a large number of people is impossible not to notice, so what’s the problem? Not everyone has common sense clearly.
But if you don’t like the ‘Elf and Safety’ approach in this tale, don’t blame the Council: blame a culture of blame.
Oh, the irony! The world might be going mad but perhaps we all play our part in that…
Thanks for listening,