Fingerprinting and a city centre smoking ban: Birmingham City Council spends your money

Today The Stirrer followed up on a story reported there yesterday about children at Birmingham schools having their fingerprints taken in order to eat a school meal. The website became aware of the procedure after being contacted by a parent who felt concerned that this contravened civil liberties.

As is turns out this system is in place at Bournville School, a state-run comprehensive, and is being introduced this coming October at Camp Hill School for Girls, a selective grammar school in the city, and though the term 'fingerprinting' has been replaced with "finger-based ID scheme", presumably to avoid any undertones of criminality, one of the stated reasons for introducing this clandestine system is to avoid the theft of the swipe cards used to purchase food at lunch.

So the school has a problem with theft, and the way they choose to address it is by fingerprinting everyone else? Hmmm, familiar. And in the meantime the thieves are still at large, and have themselves only been inconvenienced by having to diversify in what they steal.

Those defending the scheme have said that it will also give schools and parents the opportunity to monitor what youngsters are eating...

Birmingham City Council clearly want to keep the scheme at arms-length, saying that the decision to adopt it is for individual schools and their governing bodies to make, but they've hardly shyed away from freedom-eroding measures this week with the Birmingham Mail revealing council plans for the city centre to become 'smoke free'.

Though there are no official plans for the social pariahs that are smokers to wear cow-bells yet, it has been proposed by the city's "public protection committee" (in place to save us from ourselves) that the ban on smoking inside public buildings should be extended on to the street in certain 'zones' in much the same way as alcohol has been. Councillors now want Government approval in order to trial the zones, with a view to becoming the UK's first 'smoke free' city.

Obviously local bar, pub and restaurant owners are hardly jumping for joy at the prospect of another pronounced slump in their trade, and smokers will be wondering what the next stage of coercion will be.

In truth, the comparisons with alcohol restricted zones are not at all valid. You may not be allowed to knock back alcohol on the public streets, but you are encouraged to do so inside a pub, and obviously the reverse is true with the current smoking ban. If these further proposals were introduced without any sort of ban on the sale of tobacco, residents are looking at an absurd situation where they may buy a packet of cigarettes in a city centre shop but have to smuggle them home to smoke.

Regardless of the endless to-ing and fro-ing over the efficacy of the smoking ban, there are two important issues here. Firstly, that the streets of Birmingham city centre are not under the outright ownership of Birmingham City Council, they were built over generations by and for the people of Birmingham who bought and paid for them with tax pounds, and the city council is in place as a custodian. In this capacity, and bearing in mind the passive effects of smoking are all but dissipated by the outdoor air,  their jurisdiction to shoo away law-abiding citizens for choosing to indulge in something they aren't very keen on should certainly be questioned.

Secondly, taxpayers' money should spent on those things that make a real difference to local residents' lives - well-run frontline services and tax cuts. Surely the fingerprinting of innocent children is beyond the mandate of the local authority? Birmingham City Council doesn't seem to care, and has clearly spent council time and ploughed public money into researching, debating and introducing these intrusive and restrictive measures. Its blind ambition to forge a unique identity for itself as a city means that this won't be the last we hear of it becoming the UK's first 'smoke free city' either, even if many of the shoo-ees will be paying for the shoo-ers to make the case against them.

Birmingham might endlessly boast of it's fairly unimpressive oxymoronic "low rise" of 1.9% on council tax, but taxpayers have every right to despair when they learn about such needless, controlling and expensive schemes being mooted at their (considerable) expense. 

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