I wrote last week of the incredible decision on the part of Newcastle City Council to announce Â£500,000 worth of expenditure on a load of bollards â on the very day that the BBCs Experian report appeared, showing that the North of England would be hardest hit by the spending cuts.
Councillor Nick Forbes of Newcastle City Council said: âWe live in uncertain times and unfortunately these measures have to be taken in order to protect the public.â
âI am sure we would all much rather we could rely on people to behave in the way we would expect but we have seen the devastation that can be caused by determined terrorists and it is important we take whatever steps are necessary to ensure this never happens in Newcastle.â
I was bothered by that quote. It implied that there was a terrorist threat to Newcastle of all places. It niggled away in my brain until I was forced to do some more digging.
Will you be surprised to learn that there are more holes in that quote than a whoreâs fishnet tights?
Many commentators popped up to point out that a suicide bomber could still walk through the bollards, as could a mobility vehicle. So why was Newcastle so worried about cars â had they received some specific threat alert?
My first point of call was Newcastle Town Council itself. What were these bollards made of that they cost Â£5,000 each?
The Town Council were keen to point out that they didnât cost Â£5,000 each. What had happened was that they had received a âgovernment directiveâ to take anti-terrorist precautions back in April, which applied to all major towns, and that the government was contributing Â£150,000 towards the coast. The remaining Â£350,000 was the cost of their employees digging up the street and installing the bollards.
They did give me the name of the company making the bollards. ATG Access Ltd.
âDirectiveâ could mean something originating from European Law; it could mean any order or instruction issued by central government. Which was it; did the council have the reference of this directive to hand? No, they didnât. All they could tell me was that it has arrived in April, and that M15 had advised them as to what they had to do. Whoa, serious stuff.
I turned to the Home Office. They couldnât lay their hands on such a âdirectiveâ either.
Unsure whether I had stumbled over a serious terrorist alert that we knew nothing about, or an example of New Labour directing work towards companies that possibly contributed to their coffers, I started a two pronged attack.
First of all, ATG Access Ltd, âThe Bollard Peopleâ as they style themselves. Their CEO, Glen Cooper, is certainly an enterprising businessman. He freely admits that he knew ânothing about bollards at allâ when he took over the business in 2006. However, he foresaw a future full of bollards, and now says âWeâre growing above trend. Weâre probably globally number two across our market. High-security bollards are the fastest-growing product, with ATG doubling turnover in this segment every year.â
More determined diggers than me will discover whether Mr Cooper has any particular links with New Labour; suffice it so say that I stumbled across none.
However, he has done spectacularly well out of New Labourâs obsession with âcitizen controlâ, invariably combined with the fear factor of âthe terrorists are coming to get youâ. Since they exhibited at the âCounter-Terrorâ 2001 Expo, they have supplied bollards across London, in the City of London, outside Parliament, and naturally, their bollards will be springing up in the most surprising places anywhere under the auspices of the Olympic committee.
I still hadnât tracked down that âdirectiveâ though. Back to Newcastle Town Council.
They were back peddling over the word Directive. Along with the now ubiquitous âit wasnât just us, Guvâ.
“This is a response to guidance from the Home Office which every major city in the UK received last spring and is acting on with government funding to improve safety in âcrowded places.”
Approximately 95-110 bollards will be installed in the following streets:
Northumberland Street (4 Locations)
John Dobson Street
Newbridge Street West
They even gave me a quote:
Wendy Taylor, Newcastle City Councilâs executive member for Environment, Sustainability and Transport, said: âThese measures will improve public safety as the city centre becomes busier with extended shopping hours at Eldon Square and ensure that only vehicles on legitimate business are allowed access to Northumberland St.â
Right on cue, the Home Office finally replied.
Iâve looked into this for you. Just to be clear, there is no Home Office directive â the department provides advice to local authorities but does not direct them to undertake work.
During 2009 the Home Office invited bids for grant funds from Local Authorities and the Third Sector to enable them to undertake works to reduce the vulnerability of crowded places. Successful applicants received a ring-fenced grant towards the work.
âIn working to protect crowded places, site owners should consider measures to reduce the vulnerability to an attack. Local Authorities are offered advice on how to increase resilience but it is their decision whether to introduce protective security measures.â
So let us reword the âTerror threatâ to Newcastle.
In the dying days of the New Labour Government, New Labour was offering âring fencedâ money to Town Councils to be used for the purpose of crowd control. Part of the ring fencing was that they should also consider how best to protect themselves from attack. To this end they were advised to ask M15 for advice.
This had the happy spin-off of enabling Town Councils to equally âring-fenceâ a tump of money to pay their favoured contractors for doing the work.
By now it had crossed my mind that whilst the average ambulatory suicide bomber might be a few sandwiches short of a picnic, their handlers surely had the brains â if they wanted to bomb Newcastle â to get one of their imbeciles a job with âChav Suppliesâ delivery company, and arrange to stop the van for the few short minutes it would take to remove the boxes of night dresses for nine year old girls printed with âF**k me, but shush donât tell Mummyâ and replace them with boxes of Semtex or whatever they use these days. They could then proceed with impunity into Newcastle City Centre. Come to that, they could load up a mobility car with sufficient supplies to make Christmas shopping go with a bang.
In fact the only people who are likely to be inconvenienced by the bollards (apart from the odd ambulance speeding to the aid of a shopper collapsed from the strain of walking so far) (and the odd fire engine, whoops) are the humble ratepayers and taxpayers who are paying for it all. They wonât be able to get anywhere near the shops.
Indeed, if they do happen to be bumbling along behind the bus, with their forward view obscured, unaware that the bollards have sunk to allow the bus to pass – and they hit the bollard, the councils are proposing to charge them for the damage to the pesky bollard. Anyone finding themselves so fined, might like to produce this piece of film in evidence.