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Friday 16 March 2012
Letters: Crazy idea to prop up house prices
The Government's NewBuy scheme is not the answer to our dysfunctional housing system and is just going to keep house prices artificially high, leaving people stuck with 95 per cent mortgages they can't afford. Should interest rates go up, buyers will be in even worse trouble.
The Mayor of London and the Government are in denial about the problems faced by Generation Rent in London, few of whom will be helped by this crazy scheme.
They could best help people trying to save a 10 per cent deposit by reforming the private rented sector, giving them more secure tenancies and doing more to curb the steep rises in rents.
We also have growing numbers of young families who bought their first flat and are now unable to move into a larger home. They need house prices to stabilise, but they now have NewBuy customers added to the mix of buy-to-let landlords, foreign investors and other buyers all pushing prices up.
NewBuy can be added to a long list of policies that prop up high prices while ignoring the reasons for our mess of a housing market.
Green Party Member of the London Assembly, London SE1
Your article "Stratford left trailing in race to cash in on the Olympics house price boom" (14 March) states that Stratford's home prices "are 35 per cent lower than Central London, almost the worst in the capital". Worst? Do you mean most affordable?
What Stratford's statistics demonstrate is that large-scale residential developments that provide a significant increase in supply succeed in keeping prices down despite the recent huge improvements in the area. That's a lesson for London's inner-city boroughs, which routinely refuse planning permission to tall residential developments, often to placate very small but vociferous Nimby groups of affluent and comfortably housed residents.
So the banks are keen on a scheme which will allow them to offer lucrative loans to people they would otherwise have turned down. Keen because the Government will stand security.
If somebody would like to put up the six-figure bonus I might be tempted to speculate that it was this kind of lending that brought about our current economic depression; until then this bitter and twisted ex-public sector worker will keep his opinions to himself, sure in the knowledge that history is not about to repeat itself as farce.
If Goldman is ruthless, it is not alone
The brouhaha around Greg Smith's departure from Goldman Sachs is a timely reminder of the power of culture in shaping organisations and people's motivation. A culture that motivates people to do the right thing is the glue that secures sustainable organisational success.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a "show me the money" culture. Post-crisis, financial institutions have focused on profit, cost reduction and operational control in response to hardening markets and tightening regulation – a logical response.
But a ruthless (or even myopic) focus on profit risks losing sight of guiding values, culture and business principles: precisely what Smith alleges at Goldman Sachs. The right culture is a must, particularly for businesses whose competitive advantage is quality of client service. If it is the case that Goldman Sachs has strayed from their core cultural values, our experience suggests that it is far from an isolated example.
Director, Financial Services
Hay Group, London SW1
Dominic Horne (letter, 2 March) seems to have a short memory. It wasn't the English who "swallowed up and spat out two of Scotland's proud and ancient national banks".
I worked for Westminster and National Westminster Banks all my career and was proud to do so. NatWest was taken over by a Scottish bank with a Scottish chief executive (Goodwin) and a Scottish chairman (McKillop).
I and many of my staff had a substantial amount of our savings tied up in NatWest shares, which of course became RBS shares. We have all lost a lot of money. You can imagine how we feel to see the disgraced Scottish chief executive as rich as Croesus when he has decimated the savings of the people who played a great part in making NatWest the successful bank it was before RBS took it over.
Prosperity has to be green
It would be an act of Herculean optimism at best to expect next week's Budget to be good news for the environment ("Fears of 'Black Wednesday' for green causes on Budget day",14 March). George Osborne's views seem clear: protecting the planet gets in the way of economic growth.
But a clean economy and a strong economy are two sides of the same coin. Homes and businesses are struggling to pay rocketing fuel bills caused by the nation's dependency on increasingly expensive overseas fossil fuels. Developing the huge potential of clean British energy would get us off the fossil fuel hook, create thousands of jobs and give us an energy system we can all afford.
The urgent need to build a clean economy has been recognised by some of the UK's most powerful firms. Earlier this week senior business leaders from companies such as Unilever and Tesco told the Chancellor that a low-carbon economy was both a necessity and a source of economic opportunity.
If David Cameron is serious about leading the "greenest government ever" he mustn't sit back and watch as the Chancellor pushes for growth at all costs, undermines confidence in a clean and strong economic future and rips up decades of hard-fought protection for our green and pleasant land.
Policy and Campaigns Director
Friends of the Earth, London N1
Trumpeters at the opera
John Walsh's story about the Royal Opera House production of Stockhausen's Donnerstag (15 March) repeats the urban legend of a performance of one of Beethoven's Leonore overtures. This was written as an overture to the opera Fidelio and in the final act, an off-stage trumpet announces the arrival of Don Fernando, and the trumpet call is included in the overture.
I was at the opening night of Donnerstag in 1985. At the end there were a number of trumpeters performing from the rooftops of the buildings around the opera house, including the police station opposite, so the police were well aware of what was going on. What's more, the trumpeters were all dressed in silver space suits.
The composer Michael Tippett was in the audience that night and I saw him looking on in amazement at the spectacle. I went to a later performance in the same run and alas by then the trumpeters were relegated to the foyer of the opera house.
The makings of a monarch
In asserting that the Royal Family is no different from any other family and enjoys office through no effort of their own, Jack Darrant shows a lamentable ignorance of history (letter, 14 March).
The supremacy any monarch enjoyed traditionally depended on military capability, political astuteness and force of personality. To these the Windsors have had the nous to add populist involvement, civic engagement and outstanding charitable patronage, which has enabled them to survive numerous other dynasties and far outshine any number of insipid and venal Presidents. Whatever one may think of the Royal Family "ordinary" they certainly aren't.
May I, an outsider, offer an answer to Jack Darrant's question? He asks: "Do we really want to run Britain on the basis of what attracts tourists?" It seems to me to be not a bad basis on which to build a healthy and wealthy state, and one which for the most part has worked very well for you.
Beef that benefits the environment
Your report "Which one of these meals does not have too much red meat?" (14 March) states: "It takes 8kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef." Actually, it does not.
Many beef producers use their cattle for conservation grazing to the benefit of the environment and aiding reductions in fossil fuel use during maintenance of land. Often native and rare breeds, they are generally housed in winter and fed hay or silage (pickled grass).
Recent research suggests that beef from such animals is high in conjugated linoleic acid and low in saturated fat, and has a good omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
Mickle Trafford, Cheshire
US soldier's 'breakdown'
We are informed that the US soldier who undertook the massacre in Kandahar was suffering from a mental breakdown, possibly "related to combat", as if this might be an explanation for his brutal slaughter of defenceless children.
Given their premeditated nature, these murders are not the act of a man in the grip of an acute psychotic breakdown (true "madness"). Psychotic breakdown is only rarely a consequence of combat. If a mental disorder was diagnosed before the incident by a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist, and not conveniently applied after the event, there would appear to have been a major failure by in-theatre mental health services to stop a mentally ill man from handling weapons.
These murders are not the actions of a mad (psychotic) man. They are the actions of a bad man.
Lt Col (Retd)
Professor of Military Psychiatry
The US soldier who is said to have murdered 16 Afghan villagers has been flown out of the country.
The US is very keen on extraditing people to the US for alleged offences against its laws. Why does it not feel other countries have similar rights and allow the Afghans to try the soldier? Is the US admitting that the whole Afghan episode has been a failure and has not produced democracy or justice in the country?
Mansell Gamage, Herefordshire
On Wednesday's Newsnight the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, Sir Michael Wilshaw, stated that "one in five pupils" leaving primary schools were achieving "below average" standards in English. Sir Michael presented this statistic to demonstrate the need to improve the teaching standards. Unfortunately Sir Michael's statement does suggest the possibility that on average four out of five educational administrators may have no understanding of basic maths.
The front page headline on 14 March reads: "Russia: we're happy to sell arms to Assad." Tomorrow, how about: "UK: we're happy to sell arms to Saudis"?
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