Letters: How Digital might change Britain

Digital Britain risks losing its human face
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The Independent Online

Reading coverage of the Digital Britain report this week in many of the newspapers, and the Minister's presentation, I was disappointed by a failure to engage with two of the main proposals.

First, the 50p a month levy on fixed line phones. The dominant form of telecommunications in the 21st century is mobile, and the Minister suggests that up to 40 per cent of future broadband internet will be provided by wireless and mobile services. Surely then the tax should be on both fixed and mobile phone services.

Second, buried in the back of the report, in Chapter 8, the Minister notes an important change in the way that government services will be delivered. The Government will "develop a new programme of Digital Switchover of public services (by which we mean online being the primary means of access, rather than one among many)".

Previously the Government insisted that face-to-face offices, post, and telephone would be maintained alongside online provision of services. However to meet efficiency targets, the Government has now stated they will run down more conventional forms of public service delivery, an issue which is usually more politically contentious than this week's press coverage would seem to suggest.

Dr James Stewart

Institute for the Study of Science, technology and Innovation, University of Edinburgh

Why should elderly people struggling on a pension and dependent on landline phones have to contribute toward broadband facilities? Many neither understand nor can afford computers. This is another example of politicians failing to understand poorer members of the population.

Margaret Sankey

Fakenham, Norfolk

Expenses blackout fools no one

Why leave blanks in the published expenses of Members of Parliament? We all know from the reports already published the extent of the expenses rip-off.

Paying back any disputed amount is tantamount to admitting that it was not a legitimate claim. No apology can be accepted by the voting public; we have now to realise we have had a parliament set above the laws they make for us. When the next election is called we must all remember to vote, but only for candidates we can trust.

Margaret Hamilton

Crowhurst, East Sussex

We hear much about the long and unsociable hours worked by MPs while looking after the wellbeing of the nation, and commuting between second homes and their place of work. What is bewildering to note is how a hard-working MP may find time to submit claims of 15p for a notebook or £1.20 for a bus fare.

Would it be unreasonable to suggest that if MPs spent less time on claiming for frivolous expenses and more time on the real issues that concern this nation, such as the Iraq inquiry and the state of the banking system, the nation might be better off?

Gunter Straub

London NW3

Forced to disclose official documents and papers, authority has long resorted to blanking out all the interesting bits. Historians have also long complained about the ability of governments to hide away or tamper with documents that should form part of the open historical record.

Fortunately socialist historians at least know there is a remedy. When revolutions occur, and they have in recent times, for example Portugal in 1974 and Iran in 1979, every document that has previously been hidden is exposed to public scrutiny.

Dr Keith Flett

London Socialist Historians Group, London N17

Our friends in Berlin tell us that there is a new description of the Palace of Westminster over there: the self-service shop. The Mother of Parliaments should hang her head in shame.

v gregory

woodbridge, Suffolk

Match hydrogen with renewables

While the hydrogen-powered car (report, 17 June) is just one of many machines that can be powered by this carbon-neutral fuel, it is equally important to understand how we can now create hydrogen in a carbon-free way and make better use of unpredictable renewables.

Problems concerning investment in renewables can be linked to major ongoing concerns over renewables' performance, which must be addressed urgently if the sector is to progress with public support.

For example, earlier this month the UK enjoyed a burst of high pressure, with three hot and sunny days and temperatures averaging around 80F. This led to the first surge of high-summer energy demand as people deployed fans and air conditioners in the workplace as well as other cooling systems.

During this period of high energy demand the country's 2,500 wind turbines were almost motionless. Wind's share of UK electricity supply averaged 0.1 per cent.

We must begin to recoup our vast investment in intermittent renewables such as wind. A recent written answer in the House of Lords highlighted the cost of subsidies for renewable energies at over £30bn between now and 2020, at today's prices.

The answer lies in fitting electrolysers to wind turbines and solar panels to allow them to generate hydrogen which can be used later in hydrogen-adapted vehicles, gas-fired power plants, zero-carbon homes and the chemicals industry. British companies are leaders in the development of the hydrogen economy and should be supported.

Tony Lodge

Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Studies, London SW1

Reported medical lapses by GPs

Your article (18 June) on the National Patient Safety Agency report on harm to children following lapses in medical care states that the number of incidents reported from general practice is low, and so this must represent under-reporting, since most of the medical care that children receive is performed by general practitioners. The reported incidence works out at less than 0.005 per cent. I am sure under-reporting occurs, as it does in every walk of life, but the more obvious reasons for the low incidence are not discussed.

Each GP sees an average of 30 ill children each week, the vast majority of whom have mild self-limiting illnesses requiring little or no active intervention. Those that do require intervention at home are treated with a limited number of medications that are designed to be administered by non-qualified carers – or parents as I prefer to call them.

Children in hospital (including those referred there by GPs recognising the severity of their illnesses), have more life-threatening conditions, or are undergoing potentially hazardous investigations and treatments with a small margin between efficacy and toxicity. Many of these hospital patients are looked after by relatively junior medical staff in training, whereas the likelihood of seeing a GP with over 20 years' experience is better than evens.

If the authors have evidence that GPs are failing to report mistakes in their treatment of children, I would be interested to read it.

Dr David Spiers

Exmouth, Devon

Shunning meat won't save climate

Like Aidan Harrison (letter, 16 June), I am an organic livestock farmer and similarly exasperated with the half-cocked ideas for fighting climate change expressed by Paul McCartney and others. There is nothing wrong with abjuring meat for a day, or more, but what about milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt – are they not produced by cattle?

I have a B&B providing catering mainly for town-dwellers walking on the Ridgeway National Trail, and can testify to the fact that the vegetarian is usually someone who has little knowledge of farming and not much interest in animals either.

One has to have a certain respect for vegans, but how does one fertilise one's land to grow vegetables without using either animal manure or petrochemicals?

The most sensible thing we can all do to reduce our carbon footprint is to eat only what is in season and only what is produced in Britain or in northern Europe. That means no tropical soya, which is responsible for felling tropical forests probably as much as the imported beef that we simply don't need.

A Reid

Wantage, Oxfordshire

Final act of D-Day commemoration

Learning of a refusal of funding to assist up to 1,000 octogenarian veterans of D-Day and the Normandy campaign to attend the 65th anniversary commemorations in June 2009, your reporter, John Lichfield joined me in Normandy on 5 June 2008.

The Independent launched an appeal for £330,000. With the initial generosity of businessman Trevor Beattie, our appeal was named "Overlord" and a strategy devised to fund each able-bodied veteran of the Normandy Veterans' Association. Despite a financially beleaguered climate, "Overlord" achieved our target figure in just over 10 months. Actor Eddie Izzard guaranteed to meet any shortfall and made a magnanimous donation, pushing the total to £500,000.

With John Lichfield, we witnessed more than 800 veterans parading at the four major commemoration events of 5 and 6 June in Normandy. I should like to pay a most sincere tribute to the British people for their most remarkable generosity. Everyone should feel justly proud.

May I also request a healthy attendance of your readers at Whitehall at 1.30pm on Sunday 21 June, when these gallant men will be holding their final commemoration at the Cenotaph.

Peter L Hodge

Honorary General Secretary

Normandy Veterans' Association


Lottery careful not to target children

Terence Blacker is clearly no fan of the National Lottery ("Should children really be gambling?", 2 June), but he can rest assured that we at Camelot have a robust approach to guarding against underage and excessive play, which is borne out in our most recent results.

We have a variety of checks to protect potentially vulnerable players. Before a scratchcard is even launched it goes through our own stringent "Game Design Protocol" and game assessment tool, GAM-GaRD, to ensure it does not present a risk to vulnerable groups, which includes under-16s. If a game is deemed to have the potential to appeal to underage groups, we will re-evaluate the game or not launch it.

Our advertising code includes a commitment not to advertise to anyone under 16. In addition, we urge all retailers to be particularly vigilant to prevent underage play. Camelot works on a "three strikes and you're out" policy: if a retailer sells to one of our specially-trained test purchasers, we remind them of their responsibilities and reserve the right to remove their lottery terminal.

Dianne Thompson

Chief Executive, Camelot Group, Watford, Hertfordshire

Clip those shoots

If I hear the phrase "green shoots of recovery" in reference to the recession one more time, there's a serious risk I might end it all with a trowel.

Daniel Watkins


We need Iran

It was a relief to see Adrian Hamilton's balanced assessment of the goings-on in Iran (18 June) amid the gung-ho coverage by British media. The success of the Anglo-American enterprise in Iraq and the security of our servicemen in Afghanistan depend on the continuity of the anti-Taliban and anti-al-Qaida regime in Iran. The consequences of instability in Iran can be unpredictable. The Shia-dominated regime in Baghdad might not survive another Wahhabi-funded Sunni onslaught.

M A Qavi

London SE3

Waves of migrants

David McKittrick's excellent report on the vicious attacks visited upon Romanian immigrant families in Belfast reveals a rather striking irony (18 June). Those who carried out these attacks are members of the Loyalist community in Ulster – more widely known as British settlers in Ireland.

Eugene O'Hare


Green Lib Dems

Michael Worthington (letter, 18 June) is not alone in being a Norwich Lib Dem considering changing allegiance to the Green Party. A striking feature of the results of the 4 June elections was that the Green Party, for the first time, won two county council seats in Norwich North, while the Lib Dems, for the first time, won none at all. This bodes well for the Green Party's chances in the forthcoming Norwich North by-election. The momentum in Norwich North is clearly with us.

Rupert Read

Councillor, Green Party, Norwich

Grave dilemmas

Judith Wardle (letter, 18 June) talks of agonising over what to put on her father's headstone. While on holiday in Yorkshire a few years ago I came across an inscription on a headstone that suggested the family must have thought long and hard. It said: "A man of strong resolve".

Andy Brister

Evesham, Worcestershire