Letters: Clean council is doing good job

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The Independent Online

As a resident of Sandwell, I take exception to your article condemning the council for its stance on littering (17 August).

During school-term times, we are plagued by litter thrown by children, and the parents of those children, emptying rubbish from their cars on the way to dropping children off at the local school.

Evenings usually bring packaging from the local fried chicken and fish-and-chip takeaways. So, please do not castigate the council for doing, for once, a good job where it has the means at its disposal.

Of course, Sandwell has made some mistakes in regard to "fines" it has imposed for littering, but Dylan Sharpe should not forget that these are the actions of a few over-eager "jobsworths", rather than the policy of the council.

My younger son lives in Santa Barbara, California, where the fine for littering of any sort is $1,000, and the streets are free of litter. If no one dropped litter, no one would be fined.

John Seward, Oldbury, West Midlands

Fast-food giant blamed for waste

Dylan Sharpe writes that Sandwell and Dudley council's absurdly draconian rules do nobody any favours . Wrong; I wish that my council was similarly active in combating the rising tide of litter.

I live just the wrong distance from a "drive-thru" fast-food giant, and I have to pick up huge amounts of waste discarded by drivers who are keen enough to keep their in-car environment litter-free, but don't care about mine.

Perhaps I should persuade the fast-food giant to supply larger portions, so that the waste is dumped a few streets further from where they supply it.

Andrew Allott, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

£858m bill to keep our streets clear

We feel that your report, "The council that adopted a Singapore-style stance on litter", will distract the attention of your readers from serious problem of litter in our urban areas. Recent figures from one of our member associations, Keep Britain Tidy, revealed that local authorities in England spend more than £858m a year cleaning the litter from our streets.

At a time when local budgets are being put under intense pressure, it is ridiculous that they are having to spend more than three-quarters of a billion pounds cleaning up after people who don't put their rubbish in the bin.

Litter is a tremendous blight on our environment; although it might seem like just one cigarette, this rubbish eventually adds up to a mountain of litter.

Local authorities such as Sandwell should be applauded for their efforts to keep our towns and cities clean and tidy. By portraying those who are caught littering as the victims we believe you are doing the public a disservice; everyone suffers from dropping litter, not just those who are caught.

Mark Woodhead, Chairman, The British Cleaning Council, London EC2

Blair can afford to be generous

Blair's latest publicity stunt shortly before the publication of his memoirs may increase book sales but will do little to repair his tarnished reputation. Whether a genuine philanthropic gesture or "blood money", his donation to the British Legion has only highlighted the fact that, unlike the beneficiaries of such largesse, Blair can now afford to be very generous.

Since leaving office, a recession-proof Blair has relentlessly amassed an unprecedented fortune thought to be worth tens of millions of pounds. The combination of lucrative commercial interests, boardroom activities and speechmaking help fund a millionaire lifestyle. Blair's property portfolio alone comprises seven homes reportedly worth £14m.

In addition, his pension, private office allowance and elite security team are understood to cost the taxpayer more than £6m annually. We will also pick up the bill for the policing at the forthcoming book-signing launch.

Understandably welcomed by the cash-strapped British Legion, our former PM's donation will bring little comfort to the many victims of his administration's foreign policy, in particular, families who have lost loved ones in an illegal Iraq war, for which he has expressed no regret.

While Blair has moved on, those left to deal with the consequences of his actions have not been afforded the same luxury. This latest publicity stunt may indeed push book sales up, but the author's reputation is not likely to follow suit.

Dr Christina Julios, Birkbeck, University of London

I am fed up with the venom with which Tony Blair is being berated. The decisions to invade Iraq and Afghanistan took a great deal of moral courage, and it is a pity that the UN and other western countries did not show similar fortitude.

Had he not done so, we and other western countries would have been subjected to more terrorist atrocities, and those self-same critics would have been screaming, "Why didn't we do something when we had the chance?"

Remember, it was the Iraqi people who were dancing in the streets and tearing down the monuments of Saddam Hussein when that country surrendered to the allies, and it was they who tried and executed him and his henchmen for their crimes. Had we not invaded, Saddam would have set up training camps and provided funding for al-Qa'ida to terrorise the western nations.

As for Afghanistan, the readers only had to read your report "Taliban brutality returns as coalition forces prepare for withdrawal" (17 August) to decide on the righteousness of that cause. These people are evil.

John White, Sidcup, Kent

If Tony Blair had written his memoirs to raise money for the British Legion it might have been motivated by a conscience, but it is far more likely that he has written his memoirs to convince everyone that he made the best decisions that he could, and in the same circumstances he would make the same decisions again.

To achieve that objective he would want his memoirs to be widely read; if they are widely read, they will make a lot of money and that will be misconstrued, so it was logical to give it away, and the choice of charity was logical to show he felt deeply about the consequences of his decisions. No reason to suppose anything but a clean conscience.

Jon Hawksley, London EC1

I am delighted that our former PM has decided to donate his book advance and future sales revenue to such a good cause. This should both help with sales and partly offset the cost to taxpayers of his £6m-a-year security team. And I should be "over the moon" if he could also find it in his newly contrite heart to commit his retainer from J P Morgan into a fund for ameliorating the plight of thousands of maimed and orphaned children in Iraq, whose fate, for some curious reason, remains largely unreported.

George Rees, Mumbles, Swansea

One wonders why Tony Blair's gift to the Royal British Legion was not made anonymously.

Geoff Hinchliffe, Thetford, Norfolk

Maudlin about the military

Whether or not one believes Blair's donation of the proceeds from his memoirs to the British Legion is a sign of guilt, it is yet another manifestation of the exaggerated reverence of British politicians for the Armed Forces.

There was considerable justification for this kind of pious sentimentality when the mass armies of the First and Second World Wars were mostly composed of naively enthusiastic volunteers and, later, enforced conscripts but these days the services are manned by hard-nosed professional men and women who have freely chosen a military career, and who are, or should be, fully aware of the dangers and challenges they might face.

They are reasonably well paid to do the job, and there is no reason to treat them with any more solicitude than firefighters, whose daily heroism goes largely unsung.

British military history, anyway, is not especially distinguished. One would be hard-pressed to think of a single battle the British Army has been able to win without the aid of allies (except against inferior native troops or "insurgents").

So, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it is time for British politicians to quit their post-imperial dewy-eyed love affair with the military. The distance between Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence may only be the width of Whitehall, but it would be healthier for British democracy and society if it was much broader.

Dr Alexander Magnus, Antwerp, Belgium

If Liam Fox is serious about improving efficiency in the Armed Forces (report, 18 August), this would be an ideal time to bring the whole military command structure into the 21st century.

The present rank hierarchy, which is surely based on a model from Victorian times, is woefully out of step with civilian society and, unsurprisingly, causes resentment throughout the non-commissioned ranks.

Officers and middle management get their own clubs (messes and wardrooms), their own dining facilities and even their own toilets in the workplace. This is class segregation, unacceptable in Civvy Street for decades and something the British taxpayer can ill afford.

A hierarchical management structure is clearly necessary on a battlefield, but this does not preclude questioning the need for commissioned or non-commissioned ranks in a modern fighting force.

For example, only officers may be pilots in the RAF and the Royal Navy, but in the Army anybody can be a pilot. That means that RN and RAF pilots are much more expensive than their Army peers.

The military officer class belongs to a bygone age when workers doffed their caps to their superiors, and keys to the executive loo were a status symbol.

Michael Hosking (RN rating, 1982-87), Marlborough, Wiltshire

The bungle at Stonehenge

Duncan Noble is right to be dismayed over the government's "Perspectives on tourism" (Letters, 17 August). About 20 years ago, English Heritage held an architectural competition for a new visitor centre at Stonehenge. It was won by an outstanding design from Ted Cullinan, which apart from a well-designed building, had two strokes of inspiration.

He planned to eliminate the blight of the main road with traffic trundling past the world heritage site by burying the A303 in a tunnel, and he moved the location of the visitor centre and car park 1,000 metres north, so visitors would walk across Salisbury Plain to experience the sense of arrival that our ancestors would have had. Adequate provision for the disabled and elderly was also made.

I applied for the job of project manager for this scheme, but was warned that there might be a few bureaucratic hurdles before the job could proceed. After 20 years of wrangling between various government departments, English Heritage, the National Trust and other interested parties, nothing has progressed and the project has now been cancelled.

Your other correspondent, Nigel Tuersley (same issue), quotes France as being a much better tourist destination, and he's right.

The French would have had the vision to make the Stonehenge project happen promptly and in style; sadly, in Britain we allow a world-famous monument to stagnate as a public disgrace, while we argue over the detail, the vested interests, whether we can afford it, and who will pay.

By not building it, we have all lost a great opportunity, and the costs were really not significant in the big picture. So please, David Cameron, explain how you will "address Britain's attractiveness deficit in international tourism", when you've just cancelled one of its most important projects?

Chris Higgins, Winchester, Hampshire

Cameron's Big Society will fail

Thank you for reprinting Jimmy Reid's speech (13 August). It shows up David Cameron's "Big Society" for the arrogant paternalism it really is.

Most of my life, I have worked in large organisations, notably the aerospace industry and the Catholic Church. Big organisations maintain a bureaucracy of expert committees to keep up with developments and so increase the chance of success, and process developers and auditors to reduce the chance of failure.

It is noticeable that as the size of a complex organisation rises, more experts are needed because the range of responsibilities is greater, and the broader remit of the top management leads to more opportunities for pockets of bad practice to survive unnoticed.

The recent child-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church show exactly what happens when a large organisation fails to update its self-understanding and force through the necessary change.

A key function of government is to make provision for the wellbeing of society as a whole. Replacing co-ordinated provision of experts and pervasive audit with a lottery of local voluntarism will produce a very few centres of excellence, many centres of mediocrity, and perhaps many disasters waiting to happen.

I'm sure that much form-filling and box-ticking adds no value, except, of course, in those parts of the system that are actually failing. And throwing that all away before engaging the whole of society will merely make the rich more smug and the poor more alienated.

Sean Barker, Bristol

Doing justice to the young

Patrick Cosgrove's letter ("Apprenticeship is a way to success", 14 August) made a powerful case for apprenticeships. He then went on to say that my "diversion" of money to the new Connexions service had contributed to directing young people away from vocational post-16.

There are two things wrong with this recollection of history. The first is that £460m of new money was put into the careers service by me as Education and Employment Secretary, at a time when careers advice in schools was at breakdown point and non-existent in the schools in constituencies such as mine, with a tiny staying-on rate for either academic or vocational options (the number going on to higher education has doubled in Sheffield Brightside over the past 10 years).

The second error is to believe that there is some obsession with higher education which is a detriment to proper advice about apprenticeships. Many schools in the most deprived areas have, until recently, got poor advice in relation to their more affluent counterparts.

As a trustee of the Social Mobility Foundation and having written about these matters at length since leaving government, I do not believe that we do justice to young people who have grievously missed out in the past by allowing the affluent and well-educated to promote the interests of their children, while we offer something entirely different to the rest. That is a recipe for a "Big Divide", rather than the "Big Society".

Rt Hon David Blunkett MP (Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, Lab), House of Commons

The fight to make new discoveries

One point missed in the story of Samuel Arbesman's scientometrics (Viewspaper, 16 August) is the difference between scientific "discovery" that is cataloguing, and discovery that genuinely changes our understanding of the world.

When I read that despite 230,000 margin species catalogued, "global biodiversity is still an area that is largely terra incognita, and needs even more funds to maintain current rates of discovery", I think of the two passions of Charles Darwin, evolution and molluscs.

If he had been in a huge, government-funded research programme, perhaps we would know more about molluscs but significantly less about the origin of species.

Godfrey de Zilla, London EC3

Lack of fibre

Is Chris Wermann of Kellogg's UK (Letters, 14 August) joking when he says "Kellogg's cereals have been around for more than 100 years and we've been improving them for almost as long by adding things such as fibre and taking out things such as salt"? If they hadn't denatured the basic cereals by food-processing in the first place they would not have needed to put fibre back.

Stephen Macpherson, Glasgow

Title tattle

David Lister ("These grand titles used by arts groups can mean very little", 14 August) missed a trick when dealing with the National Theatre. Since 1988, it has had permission to call itself the Royal National Theatre.

John Crisp, London SW1