Letters: Doubts over Whitehall sell-off

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, May 2nd, 2013

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The drive to move public services off the Treasury books and into the private sector might help the private sector employment statistics, but where is the evidence that it will improve public services?

To take one example from your article “The great Civil Service sell-off” (1 May), the Land Registry has cut fees to the public consistently over the past 20 years, returned a profit to the Treasury and maintains a 97 per cent customer satisfaction level. How many privatised services – gas, rail, electricity etc – can point to such a record?

The FDA, the union for senior managers and professionals in public service, believes there is a strong case for reforming the Civil Service – this is why the FDA launched a plan for Civil Service reform in Parliament last week – but reform should not mean the incremental transfer of public services to the private sector with little or no future public accountability.

As government services is one of the few sectors of the economy that actually generates positive GDP results, while UK economic growth remains in a parlous state, employees and the public alike will look for a compelling justification for mutualising, privatising or otherwise transferring government services out of the Civil Service.

Naomi Cooke, FDA Assistant General Secretary, London SE1


We welcome the Government’s interest in mutualisation and the possible benefits it might bring to parts of the public sector and the Civil Service. The “nudge unit” will understand the motivational power of staff owning their own enterprise. It is the right place to start.

We are clear though, that the current proposals – if they only require 25 per cent staff ownership – will not necessarily result in true mutuals. Mutuals need to set be up as having a controlling stake held by the members – whether staff or users – rather than outside investors, alongside the values and principles that will be shared with the best public services.

Our hope, if these proposals do go ahead, is that the new mutuals will follow a path that eventually makes them more mutual and gives the employees a greater stake in the business. Evidence shows that bottom-up rather than top-down structures often work better in the long run.

Ed Mayo, Secretary General,  Co-operatives UK, Manchester


A vote for Ukip is a vote for Labour

The only result of thousands of Tories voting for a Ukip candidate, in the county elections, or at a general election, will be the return of a Labour candidate, and a Labour-controlled county council, or a Labour government.

My standard of living is still suffering from what Gordon Brown did to it, and I don’t want to see him, or his like, returned to power ever again. However, if that is what those so-called Tories want, then why not have the courage to vote Labour, instead of making Ukip the scapegoat, and still ruin life for the rest of us?

No amount of voting Ukip is going to give them the boost that they badly want, an MP at Westminster. Nigel Farage is only an MEP because of the ridiculous PR system wished on us by the EU.

Alan Carcas, Liversedge, West Yorkshire


Ukip proposes to put major planning applications to local vote (“Selling Points: Ukip’s manifesto”, 1 May). Since most communities can be expected to reject large housing developments, let alone waste disposal sites, prisons or power stations, perhaps Ukip could explain by what mechanism they will be able to ensure we have the infrastructure we need.

Jonathan Wallace, Newcastle upon Tyne


Twisted minds of the bombers

Looking at the pictures of the six men who plotted to bomb an English Defence League rally (1 May) I find it incomprehensible how these British-born Islamists could reconcile themselves any longer with living under the reign of the Queen they denounce as infidel. Their rightful home is obviously in the desert of Arabia, where they would find the inspiration to slaughter fellow Muslims in Muslim lands, as is happening in Mesopotamia, Pakistan, Syria, Libya and elsewhere.

These British youth were not born with such a dead look in their eyes and murderous hatred of their fellow citizens in their hearts. It is imperative that the leadership of mosques in Britain is held accountable for their ideological and financial links with the heart of darkness that rules over the two holy sites in Arabia. Only then will we be safe from the atrocities of these twisted minds.

M A Qavi, London SE3


Means-tested pensioner ‘perks’

Is it possible that one of the politicians, from any party, proposing to withdraw, reduce or means-test so-called pensioner perks could come clean and be more specific as to how they would do this?

Are they suggesting that the benefits be withdrawn from pensioners with an income above a particular figure, or will they be fully means-tested? In the latter case, I would imagine that this means that those with savings above a specified threshold would lose their perks even if they have low incomes – that would mean a penalty for those who have been prudent enough to put a little money by in anticipation of their retirement.

If savings are to be taken into account, then those who will be affected should be told now, so that they can make suitable arrangements to dispose of their ill-gotten gains before it’s too late.

R P Wallen, Nottingham


Although I am a pensioner I am unimpressed by the hysterical and groundless attempts to label Iain Duncan Smith as my enemy following his comments on bus passes.

The suggestion that better-off pensioners should voluntarily give up their free bus travel is simply another expression of the logical and ethical idea that entitlement does not equal need and therefore benefits should not automatically be taken.

However, that is not to say that the complicated web of age-related benefits does not need reform. It is insane that the Government takes a slice of my pension in tax and recycles a small portion to me in winter fuel payments.

Roger Earp, Bexhill, East Sussex


Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Bichard are not going far enough in their attempts to make pensioners do something extra, over and above a lifetime of work and contributions, in return for their lavish state pension of £110 a week. Surely, after cremation, dead pensioners, finished off by this government’s policies, could be declared fit to work by Atos, and encouraged by the Coalition to do a short stint in an egg-timer? Purely voluntarily, of course.

Steve Rudd, Huddersfield


Scotland’s quixotic colony

Two of your correspondents (30 April) object to Dominic Lawson’s description of the role of the Darien Scheme in the 1707 Act of Union, stating that “the English American colonies refused to help Scots at Darien when the latter were dying” and “Scotland’s attempts to set up a trading colony were thwarted by the English and I believe Spain”.

The scheme was almost certainly doomed to failure from the beginning. It was never supported by the King of Scotland, William II (William III of England), declaring himself “ill-served” by his northern kingdom’s decision. The colony was established in land which William recognised as being part of the Spanish Empire.

William was understandably opposed to any action which could alienate Spain, given the delicate European diplomatic situation between the Nine Years War and the War of the Spanish Succession. The location chosen for the colony was spectacularly ill-suited to European settlement, with Fort Saint Andrew sited in a malarial swamp in what to this day is one of the least densely populated regions of Panama.

The high loss of life among the Darien settlers was unfortunate, but hardly unprecedented for a late 17th-century colonial settlement; and peace with Spain was understandably a much higher priority for William’s English and Dutch governments than supporting a quixotic colony which could have sparked a European war had he given it his full backing.

That the Spanish expelled the surviving Scots two years after the foundation of Fort Saint Andrew can have surprised few people.

Dr Alasdair Brooks, Teaching Fellow in Historical Archaeology, University of Leicester


Don’t blame Primark

Much of the coverage of the Rana Plaza collapse has focused on clothing chains who purchased from companies located there. It would be good to see more focus on the main factor underlying this disaster – how was it possible to build or extend a structurally unsound eight-storey complex with the approval, acquiescence or connivance of the authorities in Dhaka?

Some deeper investigative journalism should lead to pressure on the government of Bangladesh to tackle the root causes of disasters of this type. Shots at Primark miss the target.

Paul Rex, South Warnborough, Hampshire


Thatcher’s image

Now that Thatcher, in name and image, has virtually disappeared from your pages, may I offer my heartfelt thanks to your cartoonists, Dave Brown and Grizelda, who have kept me sane throughout these past weeks. Dave Brown, as ever the deflator of huge egos, but especially Grizelda managed to put her finger precisely on the pulse. The depiction of a sorrowful nurse offering a patient a bag containing Margaret Thatcher’s heart kept me chuckling for the rest of the day.  

John Scase, Andover, Hampshire


My homework

You asked a student and a headteacher for their views on homework (25 April). Not surprisingly the student was against, the headteacher for. But if you had asked a teacher, like myself, you would have realised that homework is not a burden on some students as they copy and not a burden on headteachers because they don’t teach much. I personally think homework is good, but wish I didn’t have to mark it!

Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich, West Midlands


Flower sanctuary

May I join the snakeshead fritillary competition? We have over 120 blooms in our orchard from 12 bulbs planted some years ago. Anyone with a bit of meadow or orchard can help to increase the stock of these beautiful flowers – just remember to mow after the seed has set.

Faith Davis, Roydon, Essex



Tautology and split infinitives litter the pages of the press. I tell myself that if the content is clear they are unimportant,  but I don’t hear myself, and continue to be irritated.

Eileen Noakes, Totnes, Devon