The Balloon Debate

Will Coronavirus change the public’s attitude to traditionally low paid occupations which have turnout to be “key  workers”? And will MP’s and government ministers now view local authority managers as more than just administrators?

Did you ever have a balloon debate at school? One day my younger brother came home from primary school and as we sat round the tea table told us that he had won the ballon debate. This was a new one on us older kids so he explained that it involved being the last one to get thrown out of an air ballon. This turned out to be not as dangerous as it sounded but just as violent. A group of volunteers were placed in the basket of an air balloon which quickly ascended providing a great view of the surrounding area, then tragedy structure the ballon started to rapidly lose hight  it was going to crash into the ground killing all those on board unless the load could be lightened. Someone had to be sacrificed to save the rest. Each individual had to make the argument as to why they as a representative of their occupation should not be thrown overboard. The class would then vote and the one with least votes would go over board. The process was repeated until there were just two professions left in the ballon. The teacher stressed that this was not a popularity contest but about which occupation most benefited society. In this it was probably a failure because  my brothers arguments were not that persuasive his main tactic being humour and the fact that the remaining person in the basket with him was representing the teaching profession. 

If that exercise was repeated today during the Coronavirus pandemic doctors and nurses would remain in the basket a long time but who else might get to keep their place? Who are the essential workers? The schools are closed, so are restaurants, theatres and football grounds. The bins are still being emptied, utility workers are keeping the lights on, the water clean and our homes warm. Shops may be closed but supermarkets need to stay open which means lorry drivers must get deliveries through and shelf stackers must restock the shelves. The planes are not flying but buses and trains are helping get doctors, nurses and auxiliary  staff to hospitals and care staff to nursing homes. 

Local Authority managers would not have been on most people’s list of essential workers but the Government have recognised the crucial role of LA’s in taking the pressure off hospital beds and providing shelter and support for vulnerable groups. It’s local authority managers who take the lead in coordinating, negotiating and facilitating the voluntary, faith and not for profit groups into Community Hubs. 

So maybe the next generation of school children playing the balloon game will include bin collectors, care staff, lorry drivers and utility workers along side doctors and nurses in those to keep in the ballon. And maybe the politicians will remember who it was they put their faith in locally to keep the show on the road.

Blair Mcpherson former director of community services, author and blogger

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