I’ve occasionally had to defend Oz against charges that it’s turned into a nightmare bureaucracy cum fascist society where everything is either banned, compulsory or requires prior application in triplicate for the relevant licence. One day, maybe, but not yet. And mostly it’s just duplicate. Nor is it noticably worse than the UK (and lacking both the pernicious influence of the unelected EU as well as the UK’s various mini-enabling Acts that allow the British government to do suspend virtually any law it wants I’d say it’s still quite a lot better) when it turns out that you need to ask permission to ask for donations for a good cause. And if you don’t, then you’re banned from tin rattling.* This isn’t a problem for the various fake charities which have found that they don’t need to ask permission when they get your money direct from the government, but it is a problem for some that do that rather old fashioned thing of soliciting voluntary donations. Like the Royal British Legion, for instance.
Birmingham City Council has changed its application system to allow only one charity to collect in the street at once, meaning the day before Remembrance Sunday there shall be no poppy sellers in the second city.
Homeless charity Shelter had submitted an earlier application which meant the legion would have to forgo collections in New Street and High Street on 11 November.
Still, the 11th this year is on a Friday, right? So they’ll still be able to sell some poppies on Saturday before Remembrance Sunday passes and there’s no point. Er, no.
And the legion is not permitted to collect anywhere in the city on 12 November.
So no collecting in the main shopping areas on the Friday because someone else has first dibs and no collecting anywhere in the whole city on Saturday. What the fuck, Birmingham? Seriously, and on more than one level, what? The? Fuck?
Look, first off if are you seriously saying that in Britain’s second biggest city there’s only room for one lot of charity collectors to work at a time? I can’t see any reason why Shelter and the Legion couldn’t get on the phone and arrange where their respective collectors would set up so as not to tread on each other’s toes, and to avoid saturating the area with collectors at the risk of having shoppers pissed off with charities generally and not donating to either of them. I’m sure the local management of both charities could thrash something out in less time than it took me to type this blog post.
Secondly, if there is to be a system where only one lot can be allowed to operate on a given day and it’s to be the one who booked first then I have to ask if Birmingham City Council is unaware of the significance of the 11th of November (11/11/11 this year, which might play with minds and generate an extra few quid if they’re actually out there selling poppies) and of what the Royal British Legion do. And most importantly when during the year their traditional fund raising drive takes place. They may not have actually booked but please don’t say that nobody there thought that there’d be a poppy appeal in early November. My contempt is already high and that would send it off the scale.
And thirdly, who the fuck are the council to decide these things anyway? Charity collectors can be a pain in the arse, though nothing like as annoying as the fake charities who get money even from people who are completely opposed to what they do, but we’re all adults. We can say no to collectors. We can, if push comes to shove, tell them to naff off. Charities in the main – and again we’re not talking so much about the fake ones here – understand this and realise that it’s not in their interests to annoy potential donors my harassing them, so if they overdo things it’s the charities themselves who lose out. It does not need a system of permission slips from the local council, who seem unable to state exactly what the restrictions are anyway.
A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said: “Between 29th October and 13th November, The Royal British Legion has permission to make charitable collections across the whole, or the major part of Birmingham every day. This includes the city centre on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.”
Chairman of the licensing committee Bruce Lines, who raised the issue at a council meeting on Tuesday, said: “Unfortunately they are unable to overturn that decision as it would be unlawful.”
He said the legion had to take responsibility for not making an earlier application. The legion said there had been no formal deadline.
“They have got 10 consecutive days to work in the city centre, and it’s only on a few days when they are excluded from a couple of streets,” Mr Lines added.
So which is it, fellas? Carte blanche between 29th October and 13th November, which is a sixteen day period, or the ten consecutive days mentioned by Mr Lines? Have any of you even looked at a calendar to work out what you’re talking about? Incidentally, Birmingham City Council is almost a miniature of Westminster, being a Con/LibDem coalition with a Tory leader and a LibDem deputy, and it speaks volumes about them when I find myself agreeing with the Labour oppo.
Opposition Labour leader Sir Albert Bore said: “I am calling on the officers, the Tory and Lib Dem leaders and everyone else involved to join with me in making sure this problem is sorted, that common sense prevails and that the British Legion get a satisfactory outcome.”
Indeed, and common sense would suggest that charities and the public be left to get on and sort it out themselves, in the knowledge that real charities must maintain good relations with the public if they want donations to continue. They know that they’ll kill a town if they flood it so it’s in their interests not to, and those that do annoy people will be punished by getting more polite and not so polite refusals. I repeat, it does not need the council writing permission slips and creating stupid rules just because they can.
A spokesperson for the Birmingham Royal British Legion said: “We are disappointed to be not to be able to collect in parts of the city on some of the days because it is 11/11/11 this year.”
The Poppy Appeal is officially started in London one week prior to Remembrance Sunday, which falls this year on 13 November, giving fundraisers one week to make street collections, although tins can be left in stores earlier.
Oxfam said it has waived its right to collect in Birmingham city centre on 5 November to allow the legion to collect on that day instead.
However city council licensing restrictions remain in place for Armistice Day on 11 November and Remembrance Sunday on 12 November.
Unfortunately they are unable to overturn that decision as it would be unlawful.”
Well, here’s a thought: what if the Legion’s poppy sellers just rocked up anyway? I suspect the answer is absolutely nothing. I’m not advocating breaking the law as such, or by law or whatever it is, but just making an observation. If the Legion called their bluff what are Birmingham City Council going to do? Have ageing war veterans arrested for selling poppies? Confiscate their tins and trays? Form a line of PCSOs to block the public from approaching? Make the Legion pay fines from out of the donations people have made to help soldiers and their families?
You know what? I’d pay money to see them try.
* Though actually rattling collecting tins is illegal anyway. A ‘public menace’ apparently, as the British Legion again found out a couple of years back. Clipboard wielding chuggers don’t count for some reason, and are at liberty to ambush you in an attempt to get you to commit to a tenner every month by direct debit, but the old boys selling poppies for whatever people feel obliged to pay, which may be 10p until the same time next year, are supposed to stand mutely by and hope to catch the eyes of passersby. What a country!