The Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service has spent an incredible £17,500 on plastic hands on sticks. The 'pointers' are meant to enable people to check that their smoke alarm is working, and are being handed out during fire safety checks.
So is this how taxpayers' money ought to be spent?
Hands on sticksThe spending was uncovered by a Freedom of Information request by the Evening Post. It revealed that the service bought 10,000 pointers at a cost of £1.75 each. The pointers are plastic hands on the end of 2 foot long poles. They are supposed to be used for pressing the button that tests the batteries on smoke alarms - without the need for ladders.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer Chris Davies defended the move on the fire service website, saying that smoke alarms needed to be tested weekly, adding: "The testing sticks have been purchased as part of our prevention and protection strategy to provide elderly and immobile members of our communities with the help they need to test and maintain their smoke alarms safely."
The service called them: "simple and functional hand held pointers to help people test their smoke alarms without having to stand on a stool or stepladder."
Waste?However, there are those who argue that using a mop or broom handle is not beyond the resourcefulness of anyone. Fire Authority member Gordon Walker told the Post: "It is an absolutely ridiculous waste of money, particularly when budgets are so tight for public services."
However, when it comes to wasting money, £17,500 on hands on sticks is small potatoes. The Taxpayers' Alliance estimates that altogether councils, politicians and officials waste £120 billion of taxpayers' money every year. That works out at around £4,500 per household.
They found that in the last five years £440 million had been spent on council credit cards - including golf lessons, trips abroad and pedicures. Meanwhile £3.7 million had been spent on foreign travel. and £30 million on chauffeur-driven cars.
This in itself is shocking enough, but when you consider that the same councils have slashed social care for the elderly and disabled by £2.7 billion in just three years - claiming they cannot afford it - it turns this level of waste into a scandal.
Ask any elderly person whether they'd be happy testing their smoke alarm with a broom handle, if it meant they could get help getting dressed when they are older, and you'd struggle to find much support for plastic hands on sticks.