Challenges of global competition, Road pricing and others

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Trade, currencies and the challenges of global competition

Trade, currencies and the challenges of global competition

Sir: In his hugely significant article "The world needs a new currency accord" (3 June), Sir Anthony O'Reilly pinpoints urgent problems posed by over-valuation of European and US currencies vis-à-vis the Chinese yuan and other Asian currencies.

Would that the G8 leaders, spending a £150m-plus in Gleneagles (which might have been better directed straight to Africa) and risking the Seattle/Genoa-like ransacking of Edinburgh, go quietly and seriously to set in motion a working group to find a policy to address the problem that O'Reilly has so eloquently outlined. Anything approaching a solution is unlikely to be achieved, amid the self-indulgent razzmatazz of Gleneagles.



Sir: In a week that has seen much lobbying to help Africa, it is ironic that Sir Anthony O'Reilly is concerned about the leakage of jobs from the West to the Third World. Historically these countries have been a cheap source of raw materials, which has suited the West, which has had a free hand in producing high-value manufactured goods and services. Now that some of these countries are better able to compete, Anthony O'Reilly is looking for ways to close the door in their face.

Currency revaluation is proposed as a mechanism. However, it is wage differentials that are driving the move of capital overseas, as multinationals compete with each other to make super profits. These salary differences are massive, with Third World workers often earning 40 times less than their Western counterparts. Small-scale tinkering with currencies cannot hope to wipe this out.

We should instead be asking whether is it right that multinationals are allowed to shift capital where they like, with no responsibility for the human consequences such as job losses in the West. If so, the challenge for the West will be to find new areas of employment to replace the jobs moved elsewhere. Failure to do this will mean high unemployment. No wonder the Americans are talking about more protectionism in the affected industries. We only like the free market when we are the winners.



Role of road pricing in greening of traffic

Sir: Although one hopes Alistair Darling will give more detail on Thursday about how road pricing will work, we already know that many concerns expressed in your columns can be met. Congested roads generate about 50 per cent more CO 2 and air pollution than uncongested roads do. However, road pricing is directly aimed at managing travel demand and associated congestion to make journey times more predictable. Nevertheless, the potential for reducing pollution is a welcome by-product.

In the longer term, the greening of road traffic depends on advances in technology beyond those which have already made vehicles less polluting and more fuel-efficient. The non-polluting, non-carbon emitting road or rail vehicle is not an impossible dream, but almost a certainty if government and the vehicle manufacturing industry interact sensibly, as they have shown themselves capable.

Many roads are uncongested at most times of the day and traffic restraint will there not be needed to reduce congestion or to protect the environment. Where it is needed to avoid excessive congestion, road pricing is a better instrument than the current mix of vehicle excise and fuel duties.



Sir: A major difficulty with the mileage tax scheme is the collection of the money.

At present, motorists pay an annual fee to keep a vehicle on the road and have to display proof on the vehicle that it has been paid for, and whenever they buy fuel they pay a fee for their use of the roads over the distance that fuel will take them. It is very difficult to avoid paying either fee, since each is levied in advance.

If Mr Darling's scheme comes to pass, I foresee the criminalisation of vast numbers of people who, when the mileage-tax bill arrives, either cannot or will not pay it, to say nothing of the possibilities for disputing its accuracy either for genuine cause (anyone who thinks there will be no billing errors must be silly) or frivolously.

Furthermore, these bills will need to be of enormous size in order to give an itemised account to every motorist. After a while it may well become impossible for anyone to drive anywhere because the entire country is covered by drifts of mileage-tax bills, and the whole problem of increasing road-use would thus be solved. Unfortunately this would also make it impossible to bicycle anywhere.



Sir: The proposed satellite tracking of motorists is characteristically New Labour: crude, compulsory, lazy and sinister. Instead of constructing a fully integrated national transport system, motorists are being singled out for punishment for going about their lawful business.

But let's not take our eye off the ball. Can you think of a better way of tagging 24 million people? Couple this with ID cards and we are being hit by the biggest assault on civil freedom in modern times.



Elites must listen to the voters of Europe

Sir: As someone who offers lukewarm support for the EU's constitutional treaty I am dismayed by the apparent reasons for its rejection by the French and Dutch.

The French were not being asked whether Chirac should continue as President or whether particular economic and social models should be adopted. The Dutch were not being asked whether the euro is a good thing or tougher immigration rules should be imposed. Yet those issues seem more than others to have motivated rejection. What the two peoples had in common was non-engagement with the European venture and that view was strengthened by the inter-governmental nature of the text and the failure to push for greater democratic accountability.

Now the Government here appears to be saying that the British along with the Danes, Czechs and so on should not be permitted a voice at all. What a perfect example of the arrogance of a political establishment which elsewhere has led to the kind of vote we have just seen.

The results in France and the Netherlands are depressing and damaging but the blame can easily be placed on political elites out of touch with their electorates. The Prime Minister should learn from this and prepare for an EU presidency which can make a constructive start to rebuilding and remotivating an institution which is regarded by many in all parts of the world as a model for regional co-operation and peace.



Sir: For all of your readers who are getting excited about France and Holland rejecting the European constitution in their referendums, may I remind them that both Blair and Straw have already signed the treaty accepting the constitution as plenipotentiaries on behalf of the Queen and her subjects.

Your readers must also have seen the comments from Chancellor Schröder, who has said that the ratification process of the treaty should continue. Jan-Peter Balkenende, the Dutch prime minister, has spoken in a similar vein.

Those of your readers who, like me, wish to see the United Kingdom leave the European Union at the earliest possible time and return to being a proud, independent and self-governing nation, should be careful not to drop their guard. An animal is at its most dangerous when wounded!



Save water and protect our rivers

Sir: A belief that a major reservoir-building programme would deliver substantial environmental benefits is naïve and ignores very real impacts ("We should build more reservoirs to help ease water shortages", letter, 7 June 2005). The regulation of rivers to feed reservoirs can destroy headwaters and damage floodplain wetlands. These special habitats and the wildlife they support cannot be replaced by any amount of open water.

While rising household water demand may mean that new resources are developed, the high cost of reservoir construction must also be considered. Low-cost measures to ensure that all new homes planned in south-east England are water efficient could reduce consumption and save over £1bn compared with a "predict and provide" programme of reservoir construction. However, this requires real commitment to high building standards from developers and government. This is the only sensible way to protect our environment from the impacts of climate change and provide customers with a reliable and cost-effective water supply.



Sir: The letter from Mr Rydz urging more reservoirs (8 June) misses one important factor - it's called rain. We have a drought in this neck of the woods. We already have reservoirs - lots of them - half empty ones, and getting emptier by the day.



Travelling by train the Continental way

Sir: Marian Podlubny (letter, 6 June), who found it impossible to book a rail ticket to Poznan by telephone, should have purchased a copy of the European Rail Timetable, published by Thomas Cook. My May 2005 edition shows daily direct trains from Brussels Midi/Zuid to Poznan, leaving in the late afternoon (16.20 or 18.16, depending on the day) and arriving the following morning. Eurostar provides a direct, though expensive, train from Waterloo to the Midi station.

At Midi there is a very helpful English-speaking ticket office which would have been delighted to sell cheap intercity tickets to Poznan. I recommend the Inter-rail pass, though if, like me, one is over a certain age a Carte Senior may prove cheaper.

Most of this information used to be available from the British Rail office in Oxford in the heady days before the Tories sold our railways to their friends. Luckily, though, our Continental cousins are cleverer than us in this respect. Their trains are better, too.



Sir: I looked up the train journey from Hamburg to Poznan on the German railways website ( and was able to download a timetable in seconds. I also found that Poznan has a regular steam train service.

I was on holiday in the Czech Republic last month and was able to plan a train and a walking tour in less than five minutes by searching on the web.



Inquiry needed into union elections

Sir: Barrie Clement's report (23 May) on alleged irregularities in the 2003 elections for the GMB general secretary is disturbing. It follows a series of reports in your paper similarly based on wholly non-attributable sources without any evidence to back them up.

When Kevin Curran, my brother, was general secretary, he was the first to call for an independent inquiry into all allegations surfacing in the press. If anyone had or has any evidence of wrong-doing, it should have been reported immediately to the general secretary and the Central Executive Council.

Kevin defeated the unelected acting general secretary Paul Kenny by a clear 2:1 majority in an election overseen by the Electoral Reform Society. No evidence has been produced to date that Kevin has been party to any alleged ballot rigging. Indeed a joint public statement agreed that he left the post of general secretary "with his honesty and integrity intact".

Only an independent inquiry can now establish the facts. GMB members are entitled to nothing less.



Aid for Africa

Sir: The British Government's failure to reach the UN's 0.7 per cent target for aid to poorer countries is a disgrace. However, after a recent financial check I was dismayed to discover that I too have failed to reach this pathetic 0.7 per cent target in terms of donations from my own income. The Independent should urge its readers to do their own finance check before they cast stones at Blair.



Behind closed doors

Sir: It was good to see Simon Carr (the Sketch, 8 June) highlighting the value of the Chatham House Rule, as used by the Conservative Party during deliberations over their looming leadership battle. But he was wrong to say that the Rule prevents people repeating anything said in a meeting. It is simply the identity of the participants that cannot be revealed.



Pollution peril

Sir: Thank you for your front page (8 June) on the rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. It is worth noting that CO2 levels are not simply rising, they are doing so at an accelerating rate. In the 1960s, the average annual increase was less than 1 part per million (ppm); the average annual increase in the 2000s is now just below 2 ppm. We face a very difficult task in cutting back this increase. The attitude of President Bush, as head of the world's biggest polluter, in refusing to acknowledge the problem is thoroughly irresponsible.



Sixties scribblings

Sir: Your assessment of the Chez Victor guest book (7 June) shows defective appreciation of Sixties humour. The first person to sign the page was Peter Cook, who complained that he was not famous enough and no one could read his signature? Then Dudley Moore wrote, opposite: "Who's the bloke on the other page? I can't read his signature." The other way around has Moore making his comments about an empty page. And as for Diana Rigg, whom you quote as saying "I've always wanted to be Mrs Dudley Moore" the writing actually reads "near Dudley Moore".



Reasons for reform

Sir: It may well be true, as Anne Campbell claims (report, 8 June) that Labour will be defeated without PR, but this in itself does not constitute justification for its introduction. The overriding justification for introducing some form of PR is because it is the right and just way to proceed with democratic elections, not because it suits one party's chances over another. Was Anne Campbell as keen on PR before she lost her seat, or is it more of a recent conversion?