Town Hall banned from flying Union flag on Armed Forces Day

Bourne Town Hall

A Town Hall is unable to fly flags any more because the council will not let anyone climb 8ft to reach the pole. ‘,’

The concerns

The flag pole sticks out at an angle from the front of the building. To attach the flag someone has to climb an 8ft ladder which rests on a plinth overlooking a spiked gate. The council thinks this is too risky.

Reporting the story

The first report of this story seems to have been in The Local on 1 May 2009. Someone noticed that there was no flag flying for St George’s day and it then emerged that the pole would remain bare for Armed Forces Day on June 27 and the Queen’s birthday. Former soldiers have said this is “an insult to the bravery of members of the services” whilst a councillor suggested this shows “What a sad and sick society we’re becoming. This despotic government’s health and safety laws have prevented the council flying a flag from the building that’s the hub of our town.”

It was picked up by the national papers around 18 and 19 May. The Telegraph quoted people saying the decision was described as “ridiculous”, “annoying” and “upsetting.

The Daily Star ran an article under the headline of “Union Jackasses” saying that “burea-prats have banned the Union flag from flying in honour of our troops because the 8ft pole is too dangerous to climb.”; A painter and decorator said “If climbing ladders is so dangerous I’d have been out of business or dead years ago” whilst an engineering manager said health and safety “shouldn’t be about someone sitting in an office and saying no.” The Daily Express covered similar issues.

The Daily Mail usefully included a picture of the town hall, including the flag pole. Also it was suggested that “furious” councillors had put forward an alternative idea of installing a new flagpole that could be lowered to allow the flag to be attached and then raised manually – without any need for supposedly dangerous ladders.

Interestingly, after making it into the national papers a councillor felt it necessary to defend the decision to not fly flags in another article in The Local . He referred to the Robens Report, and Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He said the flag had been flown in the past in contravention of Health and Safety laws and that if an accident were to occur, there could be unlimited fines for the local government. Also, that regulations were in place to stop unsafe and dangerous practices, and had been enacted by a democratically elected government.

Is this Seriously Silly?

Not flying flags outside town halls is seriously silly, but the current arrangement of the flag pole is equally seriously silly and downright dangerous. Health and safety should not be used to stop things happening, and in this case should have been used as a driver of improvement.

Should the flag have been flown?

Yes and no. Yes a flag should be flying outside of the town hall, but not on the current pole. There are so many safe solutions to this that the council seems to have overlooked.

Interestingly, after the story made the national papers it was reported in Peterborough Today that an unspecified, temporary solution had been found that would allow flags to be flown. Why could this have not been done before?