Letters: Budget boosts financial prospects

These letters appear in the Wednesday 26th March edition of the Independent

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Defenders of the old system of obligatory annuities seem to be arguing that people are so little able to take good financial decisions that they should be forced to take bad ones – which is what buying an annuity has been for a long time (Letters, 21 March).

Now that they no longer have a captive market maybe annuity providers will be forced to make their products more attractive, the sort of thing sensible investors might buy of their own free will.

Duncan Howarth, Maidstone, Kent

In George Osborne’s decision to allow pensioners to do what they will with their pension pots, am I the only one to sniff the next massive financial-services mis-selling scandal?

Stanley Tyrer, Bury, Lancashire

The Government is attempting to target the grey vote, offering a series of goodies to pensioners, thinking they won’t be concerned about the “have-nots” of society: children in poverty, the young unemployed, the disabled/long-term sick, the homeless. They forget that pensioners have children and grandchildren, too, whose future is just as important to them, certainly more so than the marginal benefit offered by such blatant bribes. 

John Andress, Lyn Hazel, Jean Heaven, Derys Maddox, Breda Thomas  & Colin Thomas, Dorstone, Herefordshire

No flag of St George for me, thank you

You report Jon Cruddas, one of Ed Miliband’s closest advisers, saying “the Liberal Left should stop feeling guilty about flying the flag of St George and have no qualms about celebrating Englishness” (17 March). As someone on the left, I loathe flags, national anthems and all patriotic things, so to hear talk of people like me claiming the Cross of St George flag makes me sick. 

Leave this piece of cloth with a red cross on it for the right where it belongs, and leave thinking progressives to be the internationalists that we are.

Ray Love, Bath

Ofsted offers reasons to be cheerful

Many of us longstanding critics of Ofsted welcome what appears to be a major cultural shift developing within Ofsted itself and its relationship with the teaching profession (report, 21 March). For many years it has ignored criticism from teachers, academics and others, and resisted fundamental changes through a never-ending series of minor, piecemeal adjustments. But Ofsted finally appears to be moving from what has too often been a negative approach, focusing on what is wrong and requires improvement, to a more supportive developmental one focusing more on celebrating success and working with schools to make them even better.

That’s a profound mind-shift – which some inspectors will find difficult to make and which some school leaders will find hard to acknowledge after years of suspicion, anxiety and even hostility to Ofsted inspection teams. But it is welcome nonetheless.

Professor Colin Richards, Former HM Inspector, Spark Bridge, Cumbria

GM crops are not the answer to hunger

In your report on GM crops (14 March) it is stated that the push for GM is important because of the “scale of potential food shortages facing humanity in the coming decades”.

Huge amounts of evidence show that there is more than enough food to feed everyone in the world, yet people still starve. This is because of lack of access to food; lack of money to buy it, or means to produce it. The system is broken and GM crops will do nothing to fix it. In places where they are being grown, they are not feeding people, but animals or cars. GM crops are now causing huge problems to farmers, for example causing pesticide- resistant insects and “superweeds”.

We hear constant claims from the GM industry about what these crops might be able to do in the future, but no tangible results. In the meantime countless tried, tested and successful ways of tackling hunger and food insecurity are underused for lack of investment. It is madness to throw good money after bad on GM, and to open the floodgates to a torrent of risky and unneeded  GM crops.

Emma Hockridge, Head of Policy, The Soil Association, Bristol

Sporting triumph

Well done for the short report and picture of Laura Massaro’s brilliant victory in the World Squash Championships (24 March). Squash is a demanding game that requires supreme fitness and mental strength – Roger Federer stopped playing (for kicks), reportedly saying it was “too brutal”.

While it seems to be being ignored everywhere else, we need more coverage of this great game – which, unfathomably,  is still not included in  the Olympics.

Lalit Bhadresha, London SW4

Perplexed by pronuciation

Who at the BBC has decided that “homage” should be pronounced so that it rhymes with French cheese? It has Latin origins.

Ian Turnbull, Carlisle

No special favours for Scotland

Alex Salmond should factor in an additional hurdle for an independent Scotland to clear before being able to join the EU (report, 18 March). Eastern European MEPs are telling me that they will insist on transitional measures being applied to any new EU accession state, including Scotland. This is because they had to suffer harsh transitional measures when they joined and they are adamant that new member states can expect no  special favours.

When 10 Eastern European and other countries acceded to the EU in 2004, subsidies for farmers were phased in over 10 years. This was also the case for the Bulgarians and Romanians who joined in 2007.

The EU also allows for restrictions on the freedom of movement of workers, giving these Eastern European MEPs additional tools with which to make life difficult for Scotland.

An independent Scotland would require the approval of an absolute majority of MEPs before acceding. The cost of achieving this majority support would be the application of these severe restrictions and transitional measures.

This isn’t “Tory scaremongering”; it’s reality.

Struan Stevenson MEP, (Con, Scotland), The European Parliament, Brussels

Have you ever wondered why so many Scots are in favour of independence? Allow me – a voteless SNP member, happily resident among decent English people – to enlighten you.

First we shall shut the biggest nuclear-arms dump in Europe and invite its American owners to collect their property.

Second, we shall restore the welfare state to full principled public ownership. It will be an offence to call the unemployed who cannot find work “scroungers”. We shall stop the selling off of parts of the NHS to the likes of United Health.

Third, we shall immunise our education from creeping “Goveism”. Unlike England, Scotland does not see education as a consumer item like cars and holidays, as a well-known senior English academic recently defined it, but as an investment for the country’s future. Well, we do have four medieval universities. Two, is it, in England?

Fourth, after a Yes vote it will be how, not whether, our fiscal affairs are organised; and Osborne, Barroso etc will then be singing from a very different song-sheet.

W B McBride, Bristol

Alex Salmond claims that if the UK would not allow an independent Scotland to share sterling this would mean that Scotland would not be liable for its share of the national debt. No it would not. A “yes” vote in the referendum would authorise the Scottish government to negotiate terms for independence, but the terms would have to be agreed by both sides.

It may well be that no matter what currency Scotland might use the creditors of the UK would not be willing to have Scotland take on its share of the debt on the current terms enjoyed by the UK, because independent Scotland, as a new nation without an established credit rating, could not expect such good terms. Scotland might then be beholden to the UK to accept Scotland’s share of the debt, and Scotland would then be in debt to the UK for that amount.

If a newly independent Scotland cannot persuade international markets to give it the same credit rating as the UK, there is no reason why the UK should ignore the risk factor and grant favourable terms to Scotland. Scotland would then be servicing its debt on less favourable terms, at a greater cost to the Scottish taxpayer.

I find it interesting that Alex Salmond thinks it reasonable to suggest that Scotland can leave with the lion’s share of North Sea oil and leave the national debt behind. It is a bit like a party to a divorce keeping the house but leaving the mortgage.

The North Sea oilfields were developed by the UK and became assets belonging to all UK taxpayers, including English, Welsh and Northern Irish. If independence happens it would be reasonable to agree that assets and liabilities should be apportioned by population.

Donald MacCallum, Bletchley, Milton Keynes