Tens of thousands of market traders across Britain break the law by serving customers using imperial measures. Enforcement of the law is a matter for local councils who nearly always choose to pursue other priorities. But occasionally they take action. Most notoriously Sunderland but more recently Hackney, both Labour Councils. The Government has issued guidelines not to prosecute but Hackney Council is still pursuing Janet Rivers who has a stall in Ridley Road market over some charges while dropping others.
That’s bad enough but there’s another story about Hackney Council that has made me even more angry. The January edition of Standpoint magazine has a piece by Alasdair Palmer about a friend of his called Rosie Jones who has been doing some voluntary work for the elderly and disabled in Hackney. The response of Hackney Council has been instructive. Palmer writes:
"Aware that there were many elderly and disabled people living in our neighbourhood who needed help, Rosie decided that she would volunteer to visit some of them. Because the local authority is responsible for organising social services and welfare, that required applying to Hackney‘s Community Resources Team.
"As a result of contacting that organisation, Rosie began visiting a woman whom I shall call Gemma. She is severely disabled – she cannot walk, leave her home or even wash or feed herself without help. On paper, the CRT provides Gemma with a carer who comes in twice a day for a total of six-and-a-half hours a week. In reality, a carer – Hackney contracts out Gemma’s care to a private company – appears at Gemma’s home for a maximum of five minutes in the evenings and often not at all. The official papers, however, say that Gemma receives care twice a day for six-and-a-half hours and CRT officials believe it.
"Rosie naturally wanted to provide some of the services that the carer was failing to bestow, such as making her tea and cooking for her. Gemma was understandably delighted. Rosie then made the mistake of telling the CRT that she was helping to feed Gemma. Its reaction was horror: how could Rosie do such a thing? She was expressly forbidden from doing so. Why not, Rosie inquired. ‘To preserve health and safety,’ the officials replied. Whose health and safety would that be?
It couldn’t be Gemma’s Rose told them, because she was in danger of starving due to the fact that the person supposed to prepare food for didn’t turn up. The CRT remained unmoved. If Rosie cooked Gemma some food to which she was allergic, it said, the Council would be legally liable for the damage to Gemma’s health. So was the CRT saying it would be better of Gemma starved? ‘We will address the care plan,’ was the only reply.
"They did not; nothing changed. Rosie said she would take Gemma out to the shops so she could buy food for herself. ‘On no account should you do that,’ the CRT told her you have not been trained in pushing wheelchairs.’ At that point Rosie simply gave up and began visiting Gemma not as a volunteer from the Council but as a friend, which she had by then become. But the CRT disapproves of that as well and wants to stop it. It is ‘going beyond the boundaries which are set’ the resources team said….."
Haringey would surely have to be judged the worst Council of 2008. But Hackney has put up a formidable late entry.