Letters: Council budgets

Town halls get a flood of orders and a trickle of money
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What a wonderful article by Dominic Lawson ("Carers deserve better" 9 March). Taking the simple premise, "New Labour thought that announcing something was the same as doing it", he developed his argument through painstaking research to demonstrate it, in one very particular area of the NHS.

As a local councillor, I could recount a dozen such instances in local government, but I would lose the will to live long before the end. My experiences in fields as far apart as energy conservation and sport also prove his other assertion that there are "so many hundreds of government initiatives that it is depressingly easy to see how one could just get forgotten".

How council officers actually get round to delivering real services to residents under this barrage never ceases to amaze me. Then, right on cue, comes Sport England with yet another £10m initiative "to get students out of the pub" (report, 10 March). A pound to a penny the bulk of the £10m will be spent on appointing a legion of people with very high-sounding titles to deliver impossible, and impossible to measure, targets.

And this isn't just Labour. Michael Gove, the Conservative education spokesman, has been coming out with an initiative a day, so any change in government will not see the end of this madness.

Councillor David Pollard

Blaby, Leicestershire

Numbers of the Day (2 March) had 25,000 as the number of local authority jobs under threat in the next two or three years. This, I'm afraid, is extremely optimistic. A more likely figure over the four- or five-year planning cycle is 100,000, and I suspect that whoever controls the purse strings of the 75 per cent of council money that comes from central government the result will be the same – savage cuts at the local level, easy to blame on the councils while Whitehall attempts to distance itself from the whole gory process.

This is, of course, a two-way street. As I glumly participated in my own county council's budget debate I found very little difference between Tory Tweedledum, Labour Tweedledee and Lib Dem Tweedle-want-to-be. All wanted to give the impression that, somehow, their national parties' cuts policies were nothing to do with them; all were clearly determined not to call for higher council taxes to pay for the services they were vociferously regretting cutting, and all were grandstanding as they claimed their proposed cuts were better than their opponents' proposals.

Councillor Simon Sedgwick-Jell

Green, Cambridgeshire County Council


Junk mail reaches beyond the grave

The announcement by Royal Mail of plans to abandon the limit on the number of items of junk mail delivered through our letter boxes is concerning (report, 10 March). Unaddressed flyers and leaflets can be irritating; however, receiving mail addressed to a deceased loved one or friend can be heartbreaking.

With over 575,000 deaths per year, equating to over 60 million items of direct mail been sent to deceased individuals, organisations who participate in direct mail campaigns must make sure customer databases are regularly screened for deceased individuals. This will help to minimise potential brand damage.

Direct-mail campaigns continue to be an effective communication tool, keeping in touch with current customers and also attracting new ones. The direct mail industry must continue to uphold best practice.

Jo Bell

Shipley, West Yorkshire

Our Jack Russell terrier, Flo, is not particularly choosy about what she chews and tears up (socks, tennis balls etc) but if there's one thing that she absolutely loves, it's paper. More junk mail? She won't believe her luck.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

What would happen if we all dropped into the nearest convenient letter-box all those unsolicited letters delivered to us by the Royal Mail?

Pauline Jameson


Blair can journey on his own

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by Mike Stroud (letter, 9 March) that it would be far better to donate £25 to charity – he suggested Help for Heroes – than to purchase a copy of Tony Blair's latest attempt at self-justification, rather presumptuously entitled The Journey.

This is the man who issued a misleading prospectus to Parliament and the people in order to lead the country into the Iraq war. He did this despite, as we now know, having been specifically warned by the Foreign Office well before the event that such a war would be illegal, would lead inevitably to heavy casualties among the military and the civilian population, and would probably result in a country mired in chaos, a warning that came all too sadly true.

On the principle that nobody should benefit from their crimes I would urge all those who abhorred the Iraq war to desist from buying this book. I personally will go further and refuse to buy a copy of any newspaper that chooses to serialise it.

In the absence of any effective legal retribution it is only through the pocket that we can register our protest and through the ignominy of derisory sales express the verdict of public opinion.

Andrew Ferguson

Ewhurst, Surrey

In telling the Chilcot inquiry that waging war on Iraq was the right thing to do, Gordon Brown has shown that he is as evasive as his predecessor.

He said that the attack was justified because Iraq had failed to comply with UN resolutions and was an aggressor nation. This is to stand the truth on its head, and Chilcot allowed him to get away with it.

Which resolutions had Iraq failed to comply with? It had declared that it had no WMDs and allowed UN weapons inspectors into the country to see for themselves. The inspectors failed to find any WMDs and before they had finished their job to prove there were none, Blair and Bush had launched their war.

Blair tried to get another resolution from the UN to legalise his war but failed, so it was he who was defying the UN, not Iraq. The UN Secretary General subsequently described Britain's action as illegal. Other nations have defied UN resolutions but we have not seen fit to bomb and invade them, so why Iraq?

It is also untrue that Iraq was an aggressor nation in 2003. It had been under a strict blockade since the first Gulf war. It was not making any threats against us or anybody else in 2003. It was the US and the UK who were the aggressors.

Chilcot, like all the previous inquiries relating to this war, is pussyfooting around so as not to step on the toes of the powerful.

Andrew Coniam

Gillingham, Kent

Living next door to a 'sex dungeon'

"Ooo, listen, there are 'strange noises' coming from next door."

"Ignore the screams, love. We're too provincially dumb and desensitised by trash TV to care what they are up to. We don't want people to think we are 'repulsive curtain-twitchers', do we?"

There is so much wrong with Philip Hensher's item (8 March) commenting on neighbours who complained to the police about a "sex dungeon" in a private house that it is hard to know where to begin.

Normal people do not turn up Deal or No Deal (what a condescending comment that is) in order to override the noise of inconsiderate neighbours. That would just put them in the same category, and as such liable to an anti-social behaviour order.

We will have come a long way in liberal attitudes if the day comes that we are able to accept Hensher's view that masochistic sexual dungeons are "jolly harmless". If dungeon-owning masochists wish to have their rights respected in order to have some jolly harmless fun in the privacy of their own homes, they should respect their neighbours' right to a peaceful environment.

Alex Noble


Smear campaigns against charities

Following the BBC's report about the alleged misuse of Live Aid's millions, called a "damning smear" by Paul Vallely (6 March), Britain's charities are angry, and rightly so. For years we have all been implementing ever more demanding "risk management" and "due diligence" procedures to ensure the correct use of donations.

Mr Vallely has got it right when he says: "It all sounds incredibly damning – until you ask who is making these allegations." Interpal has been on the receiving end of similar allegations for almost all of our 15-year existence, but claims that our aid is used to fund illegal activities have been rejected by the Charity Commission after each of three investigations.

Sadly, that hasn't removed the stigma. We are, for example, still listed as a "global terrorist entity" by the USA and, of course, Israel, from where these allegations originate. "It all sounds so incredibly damning . . ." – but the Israelis don't have an agenda to deprive Palestinians of the basic essentials of life that a small charity like Interpal can provide, do they?

Perhaps the people of Gaza and the recipients of Live Aid's wonderful fund-raising should be asked what they think of such smear campaigns.

Ibrahim Hewitt

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, INTERPAL, London NW10

Actors who voice electronic games

Your otherwise excellent article (3 March) about the gaming industry didn't properly reflect the work of Equity in this notoriously difficult area.

Equity was the first union outside of the US, in 1995, to successfully negotiate a collective agreement for the engagement of talent by Electronic Arts Ltd. The terms of the agreement contained rates of pay, conditions of employment, provisions for motion capture and voice-over engagements and additional use payments. Equity's New Media Working Party has determined that its main focus during 2010/2011 will be to construct a revised EA Ltd agreement and to seek to commence negotiations with EA Ltd.

We recognise that an industry that in 2007 was twice the size of the UK cinema box office is one that we should take very seriously. The industry is changing, with the consumer enjoying access to games other than via a physical copy, and our response is equally imaginative. Equity is working with its sister unions in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to seek a global response to a global industry.

John Barclay

Head of Recorded Media, Equity

London WC2

Dictator's virtues

Steve Richards (9 March) attributes Gordon Brown's survival to stamina, appetite for politics and thick-skinned durability. Not to good judgement, nor to democratic legitimacy. Just like any dictator, then?

Antony Ford

Deal, kent

Exhaustive list

My wife orders leaflets online for our charity organisation. She needs to give an address and a personal title, often chosen through a drop-down list, usually from Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms and Dr. The Department of Health, however, have gone to great lengths to accommodate everybody in their list of over 400 titles. From Admiral to Warrant Officer they include every rank in all the services, in addition to such essentials as Comptesse, The Mistress of and Dowager Lady. Not using one word when 400 will do is still the rule in government today.

W R Thomas

Worthing, West Sussex

Seasons out of order

You report on "British classic" supermarket meals made with meat from abroad (10 March). Tesco last week had an offer: "Buy any two packs of seasonal vegetables for £2". The vegetables bearing this sticker were mange tout from Egypt and sugar-snap peas from Guatemala. They may well be "seasonal" in their respective countries but can hardly be called "seasonal" now in the UK. A complaint to Tesco has only elicited an invitation to take part in a customer survey asking how well they had responded to my complaint.

Nic Siddle


Victorian piano legs

According to my long-dead mother-in-law, the reason the Victorians covered up piano legs and table legs was nothing to do with the prudishness suggested in your article about Constable's nude (6 March). It was to preserve their furniture from getting scuffed by the heavy boots and shoes worn by their many children. The covers were taken off only on Sundays. Furniture was expected to last a lifetime and was treated accordingly. Even I can remember being admonished at table not to kick the table legs.

Hazel P Lord

Royston, Hertfordshire

Tennis for all

Graeme Warner complains that tennis is an elitist and expensive sport (letter, 10 March). I beg to differ. I belonged to a tennis club until two years ago, and as a senior citizen, for just over £40 subscription per year – juniors were the same price – we played all year round. I am amazed at the prices charged to go to one football or rugby match. If people weren't fed this idea of tennis being an elitist sport we might get more youngsters playing.

Evelyn Atkinson

West Horsley, Surrey