Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Jane Austen's ghost

The first time I saw this giant, commercial paper-shredder at work outside the council offices here in Bath, it was about 5 days before the 'Freedom of Information Act' made it possible to walk into those offices and demand to see certain files which had hitherto been kept from the public eye for reasons only known to the people that created them. It was parked there - all day, every day - for about 3 days, shredding tons of paper. What was written on that paper we will now never know. It is a lot easier to hide something away in the depths of a computor than it is to stamp 'CONFIDENTIAL' on the front and hope for the best.

Having said that and in the light of recent world events, I could envisage an enraged mob of computor-literate peasants storming the Guildhall with fire-brands and pitch-forks, shouting: "SHOW US YER HARD-DRIVE!" and torturing council officials until they divulge their personal pass-words, so best thing is to shred it.

Maybe I am being conspiratorially theoretic, but it always seems as though these shredders are at work around dates which hold a particular significance in the calendar. I believe April the 5th is the end of the tax year.

When the Northamptonshire bailiff knocks on your door in this town and demands £1000 for an unpaid £30 parking ticket, he is careful to point out that the traffic scheme in Bath is completely non profit-making and all the money collected on behalf of the council goes straight back into self-funding - i.e. paying for the wardens who scoot about slapping tickets on tourist's cars, and the handful of staff who process the thousands of pounds worth of revenue produced by confused visitors to the city who inadvertently cross the invisible line that is known as a 'bus gate', and have their number-plates photographed by a concealed camera for administrative purposes. Click - £30... click - £30... click - £30... all day, every day.

Their office must be unbelievably inefficient if the £8,000,000 a year or so that the local parking and traffic office collects in Bath is spent entirely on it's own administration.

The other day, I was speaking (in a pub) to an official from the Keynsham office (Keynsham is a suburb of Bristol which handles a lot (but not all) the revenue from Bath and North East Somerset Council). Actually, it was outside a pub, because we were both smoking cigarettes in the street outside, and he was keeping an eye out for traffic-wardens, having parked his £50,000 BMW illegally to nip in for a quick drink.

He was moaning about how officious the wardens were here in Bath, and how he always seemed to get a ticket whenever he came here to meet friends. Judging from his expensive suit, overcoat and car, he looked like he could afford it, but it must be irritating nevertheless, especially when you go to work on a monday morning and are forced to handle your own parking fine along with all the thousands of others accumulated over the weekend.

He told me how much revenue went through his office alone during the course of one month. Care to make a guess? Alright, I'll tell you. £82 million.

Her Indoors's and my favourite restaurant went bankrupt and closed down a couple of weeks ago. I could not understand why, because it was constantly busy, and had been so for about 20 years. I was speaking to a restauranteur friend of mine last sunday, and he told me why the place had gone under. It was due to the inability of the management to pay the rent and rates which had been rising steadily since the recession, and had reached a level so high that - even if the restaurant was packed out for 7 days a week, which it often was - they could never afford to keep it open. Care to make a guess? Alright, I'll tell you.

£18,000 a MONTH. This is how the city fathers think we will spend our way out of the recession. Only multi-national chains of shops can afford to set up in Bath these days - you know the ones, they are to be found in every town and city across Europe and the USA. Jane Austen's ghost still stalks the streets here every day - at a price.


  1. I was recently asked by an off-shoot of the tourist office if I would care to be an official ambassador in the blogging world for the fair city of Bath, and I cannot remember how I answered. I think I said 'yes', but I'm not sure I am putting Bath in the light that they would want me to portray it to potential tourists with posts like this.

    (Cue rant from Groucho)

  2. Unfortunately it's those same officials who eventually complain that out-of-town supermarkets are ruining in-town trade. If you charge a restaurant 18 grand per month rent & rates; what else can you expect!

    The white van reminds me of those found at the back of law courts in China.

  3. As long as they are not paying you, you can tell the truth.

  4. I understand that the same is true of the small towns round here - the rent and rates is so high that nobody can afford to stay in business. Something is wrong somewhere.

  5. i have been caught out loads of times with my commercial paper shredder truck, but as i work for the council in lincoln the tickets dissapeared, ha ha! this is the cost of security. unfortunately my job has been the cost of the quango's being shredded too.