Letters: Big Society

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Big Society has little chance

I can only feel sceptical about David Cameron's Big Society. Where will all these "community-spirited" people come from to implement his scheme?

Neighbourhood Renewal attempted to empower my local community with the promise that the Community Forum would be able to "bend mainstream funding" to reflect local needs.

A few dedicated residents worked hard at this for six years but the results were disappointing. A huge amount of money was spent on delivering the project. We drew up pages of "local action plans", which were mainly ignored, and the community members who gave up countless hours of their time gradually became disillusioned. We failed to reach or make a difference to those with the greatest needs.

Those in the ward struggling to survive had no inclination to get involved and many of the more privileged had no time or were not interested in community involvement.

Mr Cameron has no real knowledge of what it is like to live in the most deprived areas where he is wanting us all to play at being a big, happy family running local services and where most people will not have the resources, time, inclination or skill to do this.

What most people want is dedicated councillors and council officers with the resources, vision, determination and capability to tackle deprivation, poor housing, bad landlords, crumbling infrastructure, poorly maintained public spaces, anti-social behaviour, litter and dog-fouling.

Judy Russell

Hastings, East Sussex

Our museums are filled with the priceless treasures of the nation. Treasures have been stolen and damaged while in the care of paid employees. Why put our national hermitage at risk? Volunteers prior to employment must be trained and vetted. Who will pay for this?

I have been to the British Museum on several occasions when rooms I had come to visit were closed due to the unavailability of staff. The public will not be pleased to come to a museum after normal hours to find not only rooms closed but the museum not open at all because not enough volunteers have turned up for their shift.

The question must be asked: did the individual who is promoting these grand ideas actually work as an manager in either the private or public sector?

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northamptonshire

Mr Cameron himself should plunge into his Big Society wholeheartedly and take no money for the next five years for doing his job; he can manage it easily on what we know of his fortune. If he really wants buses, libraries, post offices and housing projects run by volunteers then he should show willing, and show us you mean it.

Of course, what's happened is that we don't have a real politician in charge; he's a PR man and this is a project. The idea is shallow, and stupid, and destined to go the way of the cones hotline. Thatcher was bad enough but at least she had a plan.

Vaughan Thomas

Usk, Gwent

The Big Society that David Cameron trumpets so loudly does, despite appearances, offer very real opportunities for public-spirited individuals and groups to help to save the country billions of pounds.

I am a member of the Bridport Peace and Justice Group, and while I have not discussed it with my fellow committee members, I am fairly sure I can persuade them to take over the running of the Ministry of Defence.

I look forward to hearing from someone in the Ministry or the government.

David Partridge

Bridport, Dorset

Cable's tax must be progressive

I am disgusted at the proposal to tax graduates outlined by Vince Cable (report, 16 July). The rationale behind such a decision is ludicrous; if youngsters who try to better themselves through their own efforts should be taxed because they are likely to earn more, then why shouldn't everyone who is successful make the same contribution?

There are many people who become successful largely through inheritance, the influence of their parents or even by just good luck without necessarily gaining a degree in the process.

If we are going to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and continue to aim for the fair society which Vince Cable and Nick Clegg were espousing before they sold their souls to the Conservatives, then we must progressively tax everyone but in a manner which favours the poor.

It still amazes me how so many of our wealthy and successful businessmen and women, showbiz stars and celebrities and, of course, some political donors are able to avoid tax with impunity by taking up supposed domicile in tax havens.

They love to bask in the adoration of the British public and some rise to the highest civil honours but choose to forget that they have only been able to succeed in life because of the opportunities they have enjoyed in the UK, be they educational, cultural or familial. Enjoying everything this country has and avoiding paying for it is blatant hypocrisy.

Deliberately avoiding paying one's dues by using convoluted tax avoidance methods is no better than stealing from the land of one's birth. If people want to enjoy the tax status of foreign places, then they should live abroad permanently in those places. The problem is that the rich have been taking care of the rich for so long that the process has become endemic.

C M D Joslin

Dorchester, Dorset

I welcome Vince Cable's proposals, particularly his recognition of the artificial dividing line between further education and higher education, and suggesting part-time rather than full-time study of degrees.

Instead of focusing on pre-career degree courses, there should be a move to in-career or in-work education delivered by part-time supported distance learning. This model has been successfully used by many of the professions, from accountants to surveyors, to deliver degree-level education.

Rather than hit graduates with more bills, either through loan payments or by taxation, in a learn-now-and-pay-later system, we must give greater encouragement to those aiming for a professional future to enhance their life skills during their career.

Students, employers and the country will benefit. This is a critical national debate.

Dr Ann Heywood

Principal, College of Estate Management, Reading, Berkshire

Burka debate is stuck in a loop

As an active, public campaigner against the war in Afghanistan, I find that it is clear in discussion that those who support the war generally do so because they object to examples of the conspicuous Muslim presence in this society. Their knowledge of Islam is by no means profound, so that in strict terms their attitude cannot factually be described as Islamophobia.

The response you reported by some Muslims to Phillip Hollobone's motion on the wearing of the burka and the niqab (letters, 20 July), indicate that for them the habit is a public statement of their faith in the light of anti-Muslim attitudes. That is understandable, but I wish that they would recognise that it is disingenuous of them then to object to the fact that covering the face evokes an anti-Muslim response. They cannot claim not to be already aware that it does indeed have that effect.

I fear that we have here a continuous loop of behavioural cause and effect, beyond the reach of rational debate, let alone of law.

Maurice Vassie

Deighton, York

How can a country which calls itself a democracy ban anyone from wearing what they want? If it is not offensive or obscene I fail to see a problem, so for once I find myself agreeing with Damian Green that it would not be British to ban the burka. But I do find it strange and slightly amusing when I encounter these women. What have they got to hide? And if husbands or partners demand they hide themselves away how much trust can there be in their relationships?

But the strangest anomaly is that our brave troops are fighting and dying in Afghanistan to supposedly prevent terrorism on the streets of Britain and to stop the Taliban from persecuting the women of that country so they will not have to live in a medieval society and will be free to walk the streets of that country without hiding their faces from men.

Philip Moran

London N11

What I do is rubbish

Terence Blacker's article (16 July) is another in a long list by journalists and others trying to understand the phenomenon that is a British countryside blighted by litter. I achieved some notoriety a while ago by responding to a radio report about Ben Nevis being strewn with litter, going there from my home in Wales and cleaning it up. I worked on the basis that, if litter offends you, pick it up. It can then no longer offend you and the beauty behind it can be seen. It's simple.

Most people see litter all around them every day, but, because we are all so focused on just getting through the day, we don't actually notice it.

Once you really notice litter you are never quite the same again. I regularly clean up my small town and my activities have taken me to Britain's highest mountains and the Everest trail. It's a never-ending job but I'm sustained by the fact that everywhere I roam, things look a lot better behind me.

Instead of getting angry about the huge global litter problem, we could all try to deal with litter on the street outside our own front doors. Clear it up every day. Britain could then be seen for the lovely country it is.

Robin Kevan

(aka Rob the Rubbish)

Powys, Wales

Where children go to die

Re: "It's Official: Britain is best place to die in the world" (15 July). Having worked in both adult and children's hospices for almost 20 years I was not surprised to read that Britain is deemed to be the best place in the world to die.

Helen & Douglas House, the Oxford-based charity that in 1982 pioneered children's hospice work and in 2004 pioneered palliative care specifically for young adults, continues to be a world leader. Helen House, the world's first children's hospice, has been the place to which people from around the globe have looked for guidance when considering the development of children's hospice work in their own countries.

In the past year alone, the charity has been host to representatives from Sweden and Japan, who have made several investigative visits to its two hospices. In the coming weeks, the charity will host a visit from a group that is proposing to introduce children's hospice care to Zimbabwe.

Thanks to the generosity of the British people, the UK has led and continues to lead the way in palliative and specialist palliative care.

Tom Hill

Chief Executive, Helen & Douglas House, Oxford

Breaking the cultural taboo that surrounds death and dying is crucial to improving palliative care. The Economist Intelligence Unit's report puts the UK at the top of the international league table rating End of Life Care provision, which is to be celebrated, but this must not make us complacent, or overshadow the UK public's startling lack of preparedness for death that frustrates end of life care provision.

The Dying Matters Coalition, supported by the National Council for Palliative Care, is leading the way in transforming public attitudes to death and dying to promote the value of thinking, talking and preparing for death.

Research by Dying Matters revealed that more than 81 per cent of UK adults have not written down any preferences about their own death. We are now encouraging more people to discuss and write down their preferences in a more informed way, to improve the quality of end of life in the UK.

Professor Mayur Lakhani

GP & Chairman, National Council for Palliative Care & Dying Matters, London N7

Tokyo embassy 'invaluable'

I totally disagree with Lord Snape's view that no British exporter or business traveller has a good word to say for our Diplomatic Service when it comes to providing assistance and information (letters, 14 July). I had invaluable help from our embassy in Tokyo when trying to sort out conflicting contract requirements between a Japanese government-research agency and a UK university. Without their help the research would not have gone ahead. The embassy continues to provide a useful monthly science update and detailed science and technology reviews.

Our embassy building, overlooking the Imperial Palace grounds, is a huge asset. Robin Healey (letters, 12 July) may sneer at his invitations to the British embassy in Prague but no Tokyoite turns down an invitation to our embassy.

David Hutchinson

Visiting Professor, Meiji University, Tokyo

Lews, East Sussex

Dating game

I am baffled by Charles Nevin (Notes, 16 July). He says that, "This Sunday ... has been an official Day of Bad Omen since ... 390BC." Well, the Sunday was 18 July, but July was named after Julius Caesar and, since he was born about 100BC, the date 18 July did not exist in 390 BC. Which calendar does Mr Nevin use?

Ron Malings

Rhyl, Denbighshire

So that's it

Why did the sun never set on the British Empire? Perhaps not only, as claimed by W A Hayday (letters, 15 July), because there was always a part of the Empire where it was daylight but also (as explained by an examination candidate) because most of the Empire lay in the East and the sun sets in the West.

Dr Alan R H Baker


Perspectives on Cameron's US visit

Megrahi affair is about revenge

I am appalled to find that this wretched Megrahi affair has raised its ugly head once more (reports, 19 July). It is best forgotten because medical opinion on this man's remaining length of life seems to have been divided (with the balance being that he would probably live more than three months). Survival of cancer patients is notoriously hard to predict.

It seems pointless raising this issue again now. Rightly or wrongly, the man has been released, see above. The Libyans are hardly going to return him to prison and there seem to be genuine concerns about the evidence on which he was convicted; a review was under consideration.

Even if guilty, he was a senior Libyan intelligence officer and unlikely to have been acting alone. There is considerable evidence that he (or whoever did commit the attack) was acting on behalf of Iranian intelligence (with or without Libyan complicity).

The attack on Pan Am Flight 103 was in December 1988. In July 1988, the US warship Vincennes had shot down Iranian Airlines Flight 655 in the Persian Gulf. This event was greeted with jubilation by the crew. The captain showed no remorse, claiming that he thought he was about to be attacked by an "enemy" aircraft.

But the captain of a neighbouring US warship said it should have been obvious that this was not so, and criticised the aggressive, gung-ho attitude of the Vincennes captain. In spite of this, the crew was "feted" on their return to the USA, no one was punished and the captain was decorated. No expression of regret was uttered by any US government representative.

The Iranians believed it was deliberate and vowed to extract revenge, to which they believed they were entitled, in the same way that the American relatives of the Lockerbie victims believe they are entitled to "revenge".

The desire of mankind for revenge, punishment and retribution are among our most unpleasant attributes. For some reason, this seems to be strong among US citizens. Even worse, the USA seems to be unable to admit the possibility of moral equivalence between its own action and those of other nations, in particular those who oppose it.

Peter Giles

Whitchurch, Shropshire

America's guns kill many more

I am wondering if Hillary Clinton and the four US senators, whose minds are so engaged with the possibility of BP having lobbied on behalf of Abdelbasset Al Megrahi, are as concerned about the arms manufacturers in America who lobby for gun ownership, and whose weapons have killed as many people every couple of days as the Lockerbie bombers did on that one tragic occasion in 1988.

Chris Sexton

Crowthorne, Berkshire

No apology for protecting IRA

Mr Cameron is telling President Obama that he "deeply regrets" the release of Megrahi, although this has been done correctly under UK laws. Will the President in turn express deep regret at the failure of the US to extradite escaped convicted IRA terrorists back to the UK in the 1980s and 1990s?

T Saul

Mansell Gamage, Hereford