Council forces Santa to take ‘elf and safety course

By Alex Stevenson

Santa Claus's Christmas preparations have been disrupted after he was compelled to take a health and safety course by a concerned local council.

Cheltenham borough council said it had decided to take the unusual step after carrying out a thorough risk assessment of the jolly fat man's Christmas schedule.

It revealed its Santa stance in response to a freedom of information request made by a local journalist asking what preparations the council had made for an emergency landing of Santa's sleigh this Christmas.

"Santa has been on a compulsory health and safety course to ensure he is capable of landing the sleigh. The council has carried out a thorough risk assessment of the event," it said in its response.

"Santa has been reminded not to drink sherry on the night of the event. He has also been on a sponsored diet to support the mayor of Cheltenham's charities so a crash landing is minimised."

The questioner displayed a concern for the nitty-gritty of the council's preparations, covering who would be responsible for rescuing Santa, rounding up the reindeer and tidying up the crash site.

"Santa's elves will be on call in case of emergencies and Cheltenham borough council will support them in any incident," the council added.

Mr Claus' potential plight was not the only slightly offbeat topic covered this year.

Enquiries about the extent of preparations for other unusual events were also made by concerned citizens up and down the country.

Bristol city council and Leicester city council were asked about their readiness for a zombie attack. A citizen from West Devon wanted to know whether the local authority could cope with an invasion by "Napoleon and his marauding hordes".

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service was asked: "What plans are in place to deal with an alien invasion?"

The Local Government Association released the details of what it judged to be the more bizarre topics English local authorities had been asked about to warn that frivolous requests wasted their resources.

"Councils work very hard to keep local communities running as efficiently as possible and anything which distracts from that can affect the value for money that taxpayers receive," Peter Fleming, chairman of the LGA's improvement board, said.

The number of freedom of information requests sent to councils has more than doubled since 2007, according to the UCL's Constitution Unit.

Councils are becoming more efficient at dealing with them, however. The average request took 6.3 hours to deal with in 2010, compared to 8.9 hours the year before.