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Wednesday 1 February 2012
Letters: Entrepreneur touched by the cuts
I am a small businessman, the kind this government seems to have put on a pedestal, apparently capable of rescuing our ailing economy if only regulation is reduced. However, I also have a pensioner mother, a sister who is a single mother working part-time and on benefits and friends on disability living allowance.
In order to help shore up our corporate and banking sectors, and keep executive pay internationally competitive, the Government is helpfully cutting my mum's pension credit by £2 a week. I would like to employ her to do some work for me, but I cannot pay her more than £5 a week or her pension credit will be taken away entirely.
Thanks to the Government's removal of energy subsidies, energy now accounts for one-quarter of her total income to heat and light her modest terrace house. Inflation and low interest rates are annihilating her savings.
My sister, who has a chronic disability, would desperately like to work more than the 16 hours a week that she does, but is caught in the benefit trap.
My friends on DLA, one of whom has cancer, are constantly tested and retested. One had his DLA withdrawn four days before he had a heart attack requiring coronary bypass surgery.
I'm OK; business is doing well, I'm given decent breaks on tax and help to expand, but my family, my friends, my community are all suffering with a thousand tiny cuts; and all the while the dreaded deficit is going up, not down as we were promised, so we know it's going to get worse before it gets better. I don't care about reducing business regulation, about curbing employee benefits; I care about the people around me and they are frightened, depressed and without hope.
I cannot be the only one of the privileged minority who thinks some drastic rebalancing of the economy is needed so that in these difficult times those who are stronger can help those who are not.
Bankers made into scapegoats
The last refuge of scoundrels, in Dr Johnson's formulation, is not , now, patriotism – it is scapegoating.
One banker is "deprived" of his huge bonus; another loses his knighthood – and meanwhile all of their confederates enjoy their bonuses, titles remain and probably proliferate and the politicians assume that the boil has been lanced.
Somehow I doubt it. Many people will see through the ritualistic sacrifice and wonder whether anything, at all, has changed, and respond firmly in the negative.
We have to thank Stephen Hester for finally laying to rest the great fiction that City financiers will only work for huge rewards. He is clearly prepared to do his bit for much less!
The real reason for astronomical salaries is that it is in the interests of all – bosses, co-workers, fund manager shareholders, competitors – to maintain that fiction.
As a result, we now have the absurd position that a true entrepreneur is most unlikely to attain the rewards available to a corporate executive.
It is therefore perhaps not surprising that Mr Hester had to defy the Royal Bank of Scotland board to waive his bonus, even though one could have expected them to be grateful on behalf of their shareholders. It calls into question not just their reward culture, but that of their industry.
Most people think Mr Hester is overpaid. However, the relentless hounding of him has amounted to mob rule.
Amid a deplorable flurry of envy politics and rough justice, press and politicians alike strove to shout each other down while baying for his blood. The hubbub was so deafening that to take a bonus was unthinkable and, thus, his inevitable refusal of it was rendered an empty gesture.
Having played no part in the collapse of RBS and having left a good job to turn it round, Mr Hester has, in the opinion of many, done as well as could be expected in hostile circumstances. In his shoes, I'd be sorely tempted to walk away and leave my detractors to take the flak.
Why is the Government saying that shareholders should take more responsibility for excessive executive remuneration, yet shrugging its shoulders when it comes to RBS, of which it is the majority shareholder?
Who wants to be a student?
The news that applications to attend university are down by almost 9 per cent will be greeted in some quarters, particularly among the wealthiest 10 per cent of the country, many of whom have been fortunate enough to have had the choice of educating their own children privately, as a first step in the right direction.
The view goes that the growth in university attendance in the past 20 years has gone too far, spawning ridiculously wasteful and meaningless courses (media studies being the favoured example) and denying the nation much-needed hairdressers, gardeners, plumbers, and other noble careers. All of this shameful waste of money has been carried out at "our" expense, goes the argument.
But if challenged, they would be horrified at the suggestion of their own children pursuing careers as hairdressers, plumbers and the rest.
Students are not being asked to get out the chequebook and pay £27,000 up-front for a three-year course. They are simply making a judgement that there is now less financial incentive to spend three years out of the workforce. This may be a measure that intelligent school-leavers believe they can get as far by hard work as if they were to spend years studying, say, sociology, English lit or ancient Greek.
As a high-school dropout who started in business when he was 17 and who now manages a law firm, I feel strongly that my human potential has not been limited by my choice to study at the school of life, rather than spend three years enjoying a student lifestyle.
Your article on university entrant figures was unduly alarmist (31 January). If you look at the figures in more detail you will see that applications for the core 18-year-old school leaver population have held up very well. Over 250,000 18-year-olds have already applied for university this year. Their application rate is down by only 1 per cent this year and is the second highest on record.
It is not too late to apply for university, more than 100,000 applied after the initial Ucas deadline last year.
Universities and Science Minister, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, London SW1
I am confused by your report's comparisons of 2012 university applications with just 2011. Were there not reports last year of a "surge" in applications, attributed to getting ahead of the fee increase?
My culture is British
Tim Lott's article arguing in favour of Scottish independence from an English perspective ("I'm proud of my country, the land of Blake, Dickens, Orwell and Ian Dury", 28 January) is on the face of it perfectly reasonable. However I have never actively sought to classify cultural figures as "ours" or "theirs".
Was Orwell English? Doubtless he was, but he and most others would surely have seen him as an international figure who cared about values, not passports.
Dickens is my favourite author. Is he to be reclassified as foreign because of the antics of a Scottish political party and a naive section of the Scottish electorate ?
The referendum campaign will over the next two and a half years produce great bitterness and much damage both culturally and economically. Mr Lott seems to have no concept of what is in store.
At the end a new generation of rabid Scots and annoying little Englanders will either get what they want or have to reconcile themselves to Great Britain.
I am proud of our shared culture. I do not want to be estranged from the millions in England who share my interests. I am much closer to them than I am to Alex Salmond.
Even Robert Burns the patron saint of Scottishness offered "Be Britain still to Britain true among ourselves united." I do hope your readers will not be swayed by this article.
I bemoan the negativity of some of your recent letters in which correspondents derided the Scots people's ability to distinguish the difference between questions put to them on a ballot paper in the forthcoming independence referendum.
As an Englishman who has resided in Scotland for over 45 years, I can symphathise with the Scots sense of grievance in being trapped in a union that was no choice of theirs. I think all Scots want is a chance to determine their own destiny.
Fate of gays in football
Gay footballers coming out (letter, 31 January)? Unlikely. It is just the nature of the beast that is football. Most of its spectators are merciless in demoralising individual players to gain advantage for their own team.
I am old enough to have seen the great Bobby Charlton booed by opposing fans. And what for? Being bald. Imagine if he had been gay and known to be.
Herbivorous Lib Dem peer
It is one thing to misrepresent my position on the benefit cap as you did last week, but quite another to confuse me with Lord Ashcroft, the Tory funder of Belize fame, as you did yesterday in your report "Lord Ashcroft accused of hiding business links to 'corrupt" islands".
Please reassure your readers that I am a quiet little herbivorous Lib Dem living a life which offends no one in a small cottage in Somerset.
House of Lords
Novels on stage
Professor Head seems to be under the impression that stage adaptations of novels are intrinsically of less worth than original plays (letters, 30 January). The masterful puppetry in the incredibly successful production of War Horse cannot be passed over merely because it was based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo. To suggest that bringing a pre-existent good story to another audience in an exciting, new way is always trumped by originality is unreasonable.
Henry St Leger-Davey
Go with the flow
I was pleased to read Professor Morfey's comments on the physics of flight as demonstrated in the film Flow Visualisation (letter, 31 January). He confirms my recollection of teaching the same explanation of "lift" in cambered aerofoils to my students in the 1960s, albeit in respect of bird flight.
Have scientists perhaps discovered the secret of immortality, at least for their own kind? The whole of January has passed without a single one gracing your obituaries page.
Peter Ward Jones
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