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- Arts + Ents
Monday 27 February 2012
Letters: Business and the community
Sir Victor Blank ("Business must start a giving revolution", 24 February) raises a timely issue but does not go far enough.
If in conversation I say I have made £20 profit, we each understand what I mean, but if I say my company made a difference in the community, we have no agreed standards by which we measure this. It is vital that business accepts the principles of the UN's Global Compact, while at the same time moving to "triple bottom line" accounting, whereby it is not merely the cash profit on which one reports, but one's effect on the social, environmental and economic health of the community in which one operates.
That Nirvana will be some time coming. In the meantime, to take Sir Victor Blank's plea one step further, payroll giving should be automatic in every company (supported if need be by Government incentive, as it once was), each company should commit to a minimum of 1 per cent of its profits going to charitable activity, and the fiscal infrastructure should be adapted to make it easier to give, whether by company or person.
In that way, we might just drag ourselves out of the disgraceful situation where, in modern Britain, older people die as a result of winter cold, and both child poverty and homeless numbers are rising. We might give some truth to the mantra "we are all in this together".
Chief Executive, SD Consultancy,
Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire
David Cameron now talks of businesses as if they were charities or social enterprises ("PM accused of hypocrisy after attacking critics of big business", 24 February). But let's be honest: the fundamental aim of a private business is not to "create jobs", grow the economy or contribute wealth to society, but to generate profits for its shareholders. Indeed, this very principle of private greed is precisely what makes capitalism work.
As our more responsible corporate citizens are keen to point out, this does not necessarily prevent them from behaving honestly and decently, treating employees and customers fairly, producing useful products and services or looking after the environment; but nor does it necessarily discourage businesses from behaving abominably.
Only strong democratic oversight can provide the balance of restraint and encouragement that is needed. Alas, successive governments have conspicuously failed in their duty of regulating businesses, fairly and sensibly, in the public interest. Until he does that, Mr Cameron can surely expect criticism of corporate delinquency to continue.
With reference to Emma Harrison, RBS bonuses, and all the rest that we know and don't yet know about, do we really have to listen any more to people telling us that a small minority are "worth" the huge sums of money they give to themselves.
Is a banker or the boss of a failing agency really "worth more" than, say, a doctor or teacher or care worker. Say's who? If worth is measured in contribution to society than bankers are worth about minus £100trn and counting.
Why don't we pack all these greedy individuals and their worthless apologists off to a rock in the sea where they can spend all day telling each other how valuable and essential they are? Surely this gross parade of greed and the claptrap that accompanies it has got to stop.
The Government could give us all a feel-good factor by bouncing the bonus cheques "due to insufficient funds".
Great Harwood, Lancashire
Toothless care watchdog
The Government has claimed the public's voice is at the centre of its reformed health and social care system, and Healthwatch is the vehicle that will make this possible. Healthwatch will seek the public's views on health and social care, in order to influence providers, commissioners and regulators. Evolving from the current Local Involvement Networks, its volunteers will have powers to inspect services with or without notice.
To be credible, it is essential that Healthwatch be independent from those it will scrutinise, yet the Government's proposals mean this now looks unlikely. The Government wishes Healthwatch England, the national body, to be made a committee of the Care Quality Commission, and its chair to be a non-executive director of the CQC. Further, each local Healthwatch, tasked with monitoring social care provided by a local authority, will be funded at the discretion of this same authority. In both cases there is a conflict of interest. Will local Healthwatch dare speak up against its funder? Can Healthwatch England be an effective critic of the CQC when it is a part of it?
Local Healthwatch must be accountable to those who use or may use health and care services, not those who provide them. Healthwatch England must be answerable to the public it represents, via elections from local Healthwatch. We urge the Government to reconsider, and allow the public voice to be heard as clearly as it claims it wishes, and the House of Lords to assist by amending the Bill accordingly.
Jeremy Ambache, Ann Bisbrown-Lee, Chris Boote, Michael Hewins, Anita Higham, Nicholas Kennedy, Jim Kerr, Mike McNulty, Dag Saunders, Jane Stubbings
(Elected representatives of Local Involvement Netwoks on the Healthwatch Advisory Committee)
Malcolm Alexander, Ruth Marsden
(National Association of LINk Members)
Are GPs, or at least their professional bodies, in danger of becoming the new bankers in the public's eye?
The BMA has called a strike ballot to defend publicly funded final salary pension schemes that are built on top of one of the most generous pay awards in recent times, for reduced service delivery.
Doesn't this sound familiar? Some of these are the same voices opposing the Health and Social Care Bill to increased competition from new providers contracting to the NHS. Little-known by the general public, GP practices in London are already managing a large range of franchise services and practices. There are still massive gaps in quality services within the more deprived boroughs. The position of the BMA, and if they are not careful, its members, at best really does look opportunistic, at worst, like base protectionism.
When airline pilots nod off
The trickiest human factors problem for aircrew is that of fatigue, which can be defined as debilitating tiredness ("Pilots admit they nod off", 23 February). A not-too-tired pilot will be able to perform his or her tasks properly, taking extra care to compensate for lack of freshness. But the very ability to self-monitor is degraded by fatigue, and herein lies the danger. A fatigued pilot might not be aware that he or she is performing badly.
There is a degree of protection in the presence of the other pilot in the crew, one of whose primary duties is to draw attention to errors or omissions made by his or her colleague. If both pilots are fatigued the implications for flight safety are obvious, particularly if their workload is compounded by factors such as technical problems or bad weather, or making an approach into a difficult airport.
The current rules already allow a two-pilot crew to undertake such tasks as UK to Sharm-el-Sheikh, and return, in a single duty period. If the rules are relaxed, it is likely that air passengers will be more exposed to incidents and accidents related to crew fatigue.
(Retired Boeing 757 Captain)
The profits of energy
Your claim about the profit made by EDF Energy per household (report, 18 February) is inaccurate and misleading.
Our profit in 2011 came largely from our nuclear generation division, which includes energy sales on the wholesale market to other suppliers, who then sold it on to millions of other customers. The rest of the profit, around 12 per cent, came from non-nuclear generation, which again includes sales on the wholesale market, major business and large industrial user sales and our residential supply business. The majority of the revenue from sales to our own customers comes from businesses, not residential customers.
Your formula of dividing overall profit for the company by just one group of customers and ignoring all others is therefore flawed. In published figures, reported to Ofgem, our residential supply business has made a loss over the past two years.
Any profits should be viewed within the context of our massive investment in meeting Britain's future energy needs. We have already invested £17bn in our UK business. Last year, we invested £1bn in our nuclear fleet, gas storage and new generation capacity. In the coming years, we plan to invest billions of pounds more in nuclear and other forms of low-carbon generation, creating thousands of jobs and providing a major boost to the UK economy and to local communities.
Director of Strategy and Corporate Affairs, EDF Energy, London SW1
Geography and languages
German and French degrees cannot now be studied in the North-east or Eastern England, according to your report "The tuition paradox" (23 February). My daughter, happily settled at Durham University studying French and German, would be surprised to read this, especially since, having also studied Geography at A level, she would have no difficulty in locating Durham in the North-east of England. Her friends at Newcastle University, not a million miles up the road, studying these same subjects, would be surprised too.
Max Gauna (letter, 24 February) has, most eloquently, put the case for our treatment of dolphins, and, I would add, other cetaceans and other species. He has, however, failed to challenge the irrational assertion of Dr Shand, in his original letter, that "rights" automatically produce "responsibilities". This is patently untrue in most human societies. We give rights to many members of our own species, such as one-day-old babies and Alzheimer's sufferers, but do not expect, that they have any consequential responsibilities for their actions.
William Morton's letter (25 February) raises the issue of how the US should learn to take care of the Koran. I have a practical question. I bought a copy of the Koran to find out what it was all about. I now wish to dispose of it. How do I do it safely?
Good luck to Robert Heys (letter, 25 February) if he hopes to stop cars parking in cycle lanes. Pram-pushers across the land have been forced into the road, by cars parked on pavements, for at least the 36 years since the birth of my first child.
It makes sense to ask jobseekers to work for their benefits (letters, 24 February), but why should large commercial organisations such as supermarkets gain from this? The jobseekers should work on government or local council initiatives so that the gains go to the taxpayers who pay their benefits.
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