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- Arts + Ents
Monday 9 January 2012
Letters: IT skills
IT skills are vital for today's young
Chris Webster (letters, 4 January) mistakenly treats all IT employers as if they were homogenous. Many businesses have an IT department to support their digital infrastructure, but some of the UK's most dynamic companies, such as those in my own industry, video games, create digital technologies and valuable intellectual property.
These digital industries can scale to online global markets but without our young people being equipped with the right skills, how can we expect them to create the next Facebook, Google, Twitter or Zynga in the UK?
In our Next Gen report (www.nesta.org.uk), Alex Hope and I showed that these technology-creating companies are facing a critical shortage of UK talent with programming skills.
Research from the Council of Industry and Higher Education shows that the creative, digital and IT industries between them contribute £102bn to the UK economy, and employ more than 2.5 million people. If we want to keep these companies in the UK, we need to ensure that they have the talent they need to remain competitive and innovative. Computer science in schools will help do this.
As more sectors in our economy become digitised, they are increasingly reliant on talented graduates with expert knowledge of computer science.
The industries of the future will, almost without exception, be built using code. The UK video games sector was built from the ground up by developers who had been introduced to coding at schools with affordable programmable computers such as the BBC Micro and at home with the Sinclair Spectrum.
From there, they went on to create an industry worth billions. By bringing programming back into the classroom, we are making it much more likely that such UK creative successes will happen again.
Having held several jobs in computing, I agree with Chris Webster about IT "skills shortages". It is correct to highlight the scandalous lack of training provided to IT staff and the elimination of career opportunities, first by inflating requirements for computing qualifications, then by outsourcing development work outside the UK.
The myth of IT "skills shortages" to which he refers arises because IT staff are usually appointed by project managers with little recruitment expertise and, often, little aptitude for the task. These managers focus on knowledge of specific hardware and software products to meet immediate needs.
As a result, IT professionals with knowledge of obsolete products are thrown on the scrapheap regardless of their ability and wider experience. Shortages of staff knowing about particular products could easily be addressed by providing modest amounts of training.
Job insecurity in the UK computer industry is excessive compared to other career options which are also more attractive in relation to remuneration and work satisfaction.
A rose-coloured spectacled look at Thatcher's legacy
Stephen King looks back on Mrs Thatcher's reign through rose-coloured spectacles (Economic Outlook, 3 January). Where does he get the idea that she brought inflation under control?
In 1978, before she was elected in 1979, the annual inflation rate was 8.3 per cent; in 1980, after she came to power, the rate peaked at no less than 21.9 per cent. In 1989, after she had been in power for 10 years, the annual rate was 7.8 per cent, but by 1990, just after she left it was 9.5 per cent, higher than when she came to power.
He wrote, "Mrs Thatcher's experiment became Britain's new and increasingly successful economic reality". Her economic success was due to her good fortune in coming to power just as North Sea oil was coming on line and her selling off much of our national assets in the form of North Sea oil, British Gas, British Telecom, electricity generation and marketing, etc.
She destroyed much of our manufacturing base, the real wealth generator, and deregulated banking and the stock exchange. We are still suffering from her legacy.
King's Lynn, Norfolk
I have several reasons for considering Margaret Thatcher as a national disaster. In 1975, as new leader of the opposition, she was guest of honour at a televised dinner of the British Institute of Management. In the middle of dinner, she said she had to go back to Parliament for a vote, so she would give her address then. I learnt later she could have easily "paired" with a Labour MP, but she wanted to get her speech on to the BBC Nine O'Clock News. I was disgusted by such rudeness.
In 1981, I was working in Kuwait. The ambassador arranged for the visiting Prime Minister to meet British business people there. She gave us a 45-minute talk on labour mobility and the ambassador asked for questions.
I pointed out that it was difficult for us to be mobile. If we moved house for a new job, we were taxed on its sale. If we changed our company, we lost out on our pensions. And if we moved our families with us, our children lost out on their education.
But if there were a government pension scheme to which we contributed, it would not matter how often we changed employer; and if there were a core syllabus for the schools, our children would have better continuity. She replied that my ideas on pensions were socialist rubbish, that she had been minister for education, and there was nothing wrong with schools. More rudeness. Later, she did introduce a core syllabus.
When I returned to Britain the next year, the Falklands War was about to start. The cancelling of the "guard ship", HMS Endeavour, in 1980, was a critical error in which she was involved. The war was unnecessary. The threat had been dealt with five years earlier by the previous government.
Then there was that "poll" tax. Thatcher's flat-rate pilot scheme in Scotland was a disastrous failure, which was ignored.
I was so disgusted I joined the Social Democrats and stood, alas unsuccessfully, for the 60th-strongest Conservative seat in the 1983 and 1987 general elections, trying to rid us of her.
Sir Reginald E W Harland
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
On thinking further about how Mrs Thatcher's funeral should be paid for, it struck me that the people in the North of the UK should not be asked to contribute because she contributed so little to their lives.
Mind you, at the time of her premiership many Northerners would have been only too happy to contribute cash towards her burial.
Abbott tells it like it is
We seem to have become so politically correct that we have forgotten what racism means. The definition is, "the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others". It is not racist to recognise that the races are different; what is wrong is to suggest that one is superior to another.
I am white and still believe that Diane Abbott is one of only a few MPs I have time for. She is straight and tells it as it is. I am certainly not offended by her comment that "white people divide and rule" because she finds herself in a political environment dominated by white people and that is what politicians do.
As a university lecturer, my experience of black people was that they were educated, intelligent, hard-working and always willing to help. So were white people; go into a different environment and I might argue for both the opposite.
We should be free to express an opinion based on our own experiences, as long as such opinions are not offensive. Whether we are black, white or coloured we should all, including footballers, stop being so sensitive.
£500m tunnel plan is nonsense
The comment in your article on high-speed rail (7 January) that, "Ms Greening is considering a 1.5 mile tunnel, at a cost of £500m, under the scenic Chilterns", must be nonsense.
The current proposal already includes a twin-bore tunnel half-way through the Chilterns from the M25 to Amersham. To extend this by 1.5 miles would cost less than £100m, and would still leave 6.5 miles of a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty scarred by cuttings, embankments and viaducts.
For an additional £400m, instead of £500m, the tunnel could be extended from Amersham to Wendover, so minimising the impact on the whole AONB. Far better, of course, would be to spend the £32bn elsewhere, as you suggest in your leading article.
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire
In your leading article against the scheme you say "... of Britain's lack of a high-speed link with the North". Your wording suggests "Britain" is the South, and the North is a foreign country. Most of us outside the South-east know the 2012 Olympics are being held in a foreign country.
Dr Nigel Hunt
South Wingfield, Derbyshire
Not very smart for 45-year-olds
The headline (6 January), "Are you smarter than a 45-year-old? Take the test", meant what? That the test represented what a 45-year-old may be expected to answer competently? The questions were considerably easier than those asked when I sat the old 11-plus exam; it took this 80-year-old about one minute to provide 100 per cent correct solutions. I am amazed at the implication that the test is suitable for those at the peak of their mental powers and in positions of authority.
Dr Anthony Hedges
Beverley, East Yorkshire
My dictionary states that a bigot is "one who apportions disproportionate weight to a view or creed irrespective of reason". The sweeping statement by Tim Matthews (letters, 6 January) that, "Many of the followers of Christianity, despite its positive messages of love and forgiveness, are in my experience prone to be bigots", is itself a bigoted view. I accept that there will always be bigots among church members as there will be in all walks of life but "many"? Nay.
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
I wish Michael McCarthy luck in his quest to see a live mole (6 January). At my boarding-school in Surrey in the 1960s, I not only saw a live mole but actually picked it up and held it for a few seconds. It was like holding a piece of the finest silk. I have never seen one before or since but it remains an abiding memory.
Budleigh Salterton, Devon
North London zebras may be slow (letters, 6 January), but down here in deepest Devon, Okehampton has shown its commitment to the preservation of rare breeds by installing a "Humped Zebra Crossing". The animals' speed is unspecified.
Max Double passed a road sign warning, "Slow Zebra Crossing" (letters, 7 January). At the car-park exit of our doctor's surgery we have a sign that says, "Dead Slow Children Crossing". Not very PC.
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