Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Lost property

Its a damning statistic but nearly 10,000 umbrellas are left on London Transport every year. Many find their way to the lost property office on Baker St and some are happily reunited with their owners. But the fact that they have been so carelessly neglected in the first place highlights a number of issues.

Firstly, it is indicative of the throwaway society we have become. People buy cheap umbrellas, don't value them, leave them behind, replace them. This results in low-quality rain coverage, and poor quality of life for a lot of my members who haven't been manufactured properly. It also results in a surplus of crap, often imported, brollies leaving the honest British umbrella bemoaning the fact that all these foreign gamps are coming over here and knicking our protection. It's a line you'll see pedalled in the Daily Gale, and not one I subscribe to but the perception is dangerous and we don't to return to the dark days of the British Nationalist umbrella movement. You only need to look at the photos from the 1930s of marches in the East End with the so called Whiteshirts marching in favour of keeping umbrellas a traditional black to see where all this might lead.

This leads onto a particular bug bear of mine - governance. Quite simply the governance of umbrellas in the UK is shocking. The Umbrella Commission, the regulator of umbrellas in England and Wales, tries its best to promote governance standards to ensure the effective management of umbrellas but it is no easy task. How often have we seen the frankly disturbing images of cheap umbrellas, crippled by the wind and tossed aside by the pathway, spokes akimbo, on emergency appeals from esteemed charities such as Umbrella Relief and WaterProtectionAid?

These governance issues extend to bodies set up to try and help umbrellas as well as highlighted by this week's hard hitting report by the Umbrella Commission into mismanagement at Brokespokes, an organisation set up to support mature brollies. The report is there for all to read, which I haven't had time to do yet, but when I do I expect I will find it says that basically a lot of time and money was wasted and older umbrellas are no better off.

I think the real issue is the so called voluntary principle whereby people only take up umbrella ownership voluntarily It has it's merits but surely some sort of remuneration especially for people carrying bigger and more expensive umbrellas would promote a more responsible attitude to umbrella governance.

I am a big fan of the reforms that Dame Luci Vinyl and Patrick Pond have made at the Umbrella Commission. It is no easy task keeping the register of umbrellas up to date, especially as people themselves sometimes have no idea what they actually own, but the Commission's online register is tip-top as far as it goes. And I shouted this at the minister Gavin Lennon whilst stalking him at a conference the other week. But I do think the next task for Dame Luci and Patrick is to reexamine the governance failings at the heart of the umbrella sector. Only then will we see umbrellas get the respect they deserve from their owners.

No comments:

Post a Comment