Martin Hesp: For making us all losers, the award winner is…
A London friend has been reading this column for years and he contacted me this week to suggest I ought to use it to stage my own annual Westcountry competition designed to find the best and worst the region has to offer.
He called it the Hesp Awards, and who am I to argue with the name plug? Vanity and ego-building, after all, make up the oxygen that we media types inhale to nourish our shallow souls.
Now I'm looking for a sponsor to pay for prizes and a posh luncheon ceremony – and I wondered if EDF might be interested, because the French company already backs the UK's regional journalism awards.
Yes, I'll admit this is a fact I find hard to stomach, given that EDF are about to build what is potentially the most hazardous single installation anywhere in Europe and it is obviously questionable that they should have so much clout over the media – but if they'll stump up for the Hesp Awards, who cares if their nuclear reactor could blow up and render England and Wales uninhabitable for the next 40,000 years?
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Politically incorrect? OK, then maybe we'll just have a picnic somewhere nice for the awards ceremony. Perhaps on top of Dunkery Beacon where the perpetual westerly wind will blow away any cynicism concerning my decision making.
You see, I can imagine that many folk might be surprised by the first award winner, which I'm announcing this week.
Local Authority of the Year 2013 goes to Somerset County Council for the innovative way in which it has tackled the Getting Things Done Without Too Much Fuss and Red Tape category. Had we been able to find a sponsor, the prize for this would have been in-car entertainment systems for the entire management, because when it comes to road-works – which, let's face it, have to be done whether we like them or not – the Somerset highways people do not mess about.
They simply close roads. They didn't used to – they'd create havoc with traffic lights or men with flags – but now they take the tarmac bull by the horns.
One day this week I came across three such no-go zones – but instead of getting all hot and bothered while lost in myriad lanes, I knew that total road-closures must be far better than the expensive and time-consuming rigmarole which occurs when engineers have to design some kind of system to allow people through. It reminded me of those wonderful communist years when some foreign governments – despite having no real policies or desire to problem-solve with innovative answers – managed to get things done by simply forgetting they were there to serve the people.
Look, I know it must be tough at the moment if you are catching a bus from Taunton to Minehead. I understand that the closure of the main A39 into West Somerset is causing a one-hour journey to become a three-hour torment and that you could fly from Bristol Airport to Rome more rapidly – but the small gully that needs fixing at Bilbrook is now only going to take three weeks to mend instead of months of disruption if the engineers tried using drain rods.
As you can already see, the Hesp Awards are keen on innovation – we like the idea that humankind has got to where it has by using superior intelligence and imagination. Which is why David Cameron's motley gang wins our first duffer category.
The Yokel Smock Award for Village Idiocy on a Grand Scale goes to the present government for its determination that greed will one day completely wreck our countryside. Their win of this shame-making category was backed by the additional fact that promotion of such individual avarice is now tearing Westcountry communities apart.
By preferring hideous solar farms to be built in open countryside rather than on industrial roof-tops (for which there was once an extra subsidy) the government has lured certain landowners – who don't care about the countryside, or the scenery, or what their neighbours think – into joining the free-money frenzy.
This "20-grand-a-year versus parish-popularity" phenomenon might work for the likes of Dave Cameron, but it doesn't do it for the man behind the Hesp Awards. Now he's looking for more categories and winners – if you have ideas send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.