Even the most optimistic person could not claim that the UK electricity generation and supply arrangements inspire confidence. The private utilities have not served either the consumer or the UK well. The consumer has not seen the promised reduction in tariffs and the UK has not seen strategic investment for the long term.
This is not a criticism of the private utilities. They are obliged to act in the interests of their shareholders, to maximise return and minimise risk. They will, therefore, only invest in the lowest-cost, lowest-risk form of generation, which today is gas. They can only invest in alternative forms of generation such as wind, solar or nuclear if eye-watering subsidies or guarantees are provided by the taxpayer.
It is time to put aside dogmas such as “private good; public bad” and carry out an objective review of how best to provide a sustainable, secure electricity supply for the UK long term.
Although memory is fading, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Scottish electricity boards did an excellent job for the UK. A mixture of generation technologies ensured that no single energy supplier could hold the country to ransom and the lights stayed on with a reliability that had not previously been experienced. They operated with truly impressive safety and reliability a somewhat disparate fleet of nuclear generating stations that were not that much better than prototypes.
No doubt there was inefficiency and bureaucracy, but a significant part of the cost was associated with research and development to identify technologies for the future, and to keep safe and efficient existing facilities. This R&D expenditure was dramatically reduced (or passed to BNFL with the Magnox stations) on privatisation.
There is clearly no simple answer, but a non-partisan, objective review is surely called for. Options might include a separation of high cost base-load capacity from smaller more flexible generation. The highly strategic base-load might be better centrally owned and operated.
David Horsley, Wigton, Cumbria
Smaller energy companies, with fewer than 250,000 customers, are exempt from green and social levies and don’t have large corporate shareholders to satisfy, so their prices are lower. By doubling the exemption limit, the Government could start applying real market pressure to the Big Six.
David Crawford, Bickley, Kent
Public Health England claims that fracking poses a low risk to public health (report, 1 November). Really? Fracking generates gas. Gas, when burnt, generates CO2. CO2 contributes to global warming. Global warming is a profound threat to human health. Who do they think they are kidding?
Keith O’Neill, Shrewsbury
Why some have mixed feelings about migration
As Yasmin Alibhai-Brown rightly reminds us (“Why does our compassion for the unfortunate stop at Calais?”, 4 November), many of those willing to cross continents and oceans to come under British rule are from places that were until recently our colonies. However, at that time our rule was deemed to confer no benefits, but rather to be vicious, exploitative and racist – and those peoples and places couldn’t see the back of us quickly enough.
So we left, often with sorrow and great loss after generations of what we thought of as honest service but which we were assured was actually systematic wickedness.
Perhaps if Ms Alibhai-Brown – or somebody – could explain to us why, if we were so awful then, coming to live amongst us now is so obviously desirable, we might be a bit less ambiguous about the whole question of migration.
R S Foster, Sheffield
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown complains about British compassion stopping at Calais but seems herself to discriminate between those who “manage” to find “sanctuary” here and those who cannot.
There are many “homeless, pregnant women”, “rape victims of war” and “economic refugees fleeing destitution” not only in Africa but in “failed states” elsewhere. Millions across the globe are “displaced, disabled and unemployed”, and millions more would rather live in England or Scotland for reasons of politics, religion, health, sexual rights, climate change or just poverty.
What about them, Yasmin? Does your own heart and imagination end at the cliffs of Dover? Shouldn’t we welcome everyone seeking better “life chances”?
David Ashton, Sheringham, Norfolk
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s column which, as with others she has written on migrant rights, she finds “draining and hopeless”’, comes to me like the beams from a lighthouse in a dark and merciless sea. Her bright voice is a beacon. Long may she shine. And long may you enable that.
Charles Becker, Plymouth
Calls of ‘Paedo!’, then a murder
The implications of the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi should fill us all with disquiet.
With shouts of “Paedo!” his neighbours provided psychological protection for those of their number who first vandalised his property, then beat him up for photographing them and finally murdered him. The police had arrested him for photographing the youths concerned and then released him on bail.
Four years ago I was working on a seaside campsite. Through an oversight a single-sex group of 10 boys in their teens and twenties was booked in. Their conduct was such that the police had to be fetched to compel them to leave by the end of the day.
As they were on their way out I photographed them with a view to preventing their return to the site or their booking in elsewhere in the area. Cries of “Paedo!” rose from them and they reached for their mobiles.
The police returned – and confiscated my camera. I might not have got it back if I had not written to the police requesting its return as the roll contained photos of the local MP at a dinner which I had attended. How fortunate that I was not a disabled foreigner with no contacts.
There have been too many cases of police sluggishness in protecting the vulnerable. I sincerely hope that there is a full investigation into the Ebrahimi episode and that its lessons are taken to heart.
Margaret Brown, Burslem, Stoke
In this case, the EU is not guilty
Oh dear! Even Terence Blacker has fallen for it. In making some perfectly sensible comments about prisoners, voting and the internet, he refers to “the perfectly sensible EU directive that prisoners should be allowed to vote in elections” (“Prison reform should start with internet access”, 29 October).
There is no directive and it has got nothing to do with the EU. What he has in mind is a verdict of the European Court of Human Rights, which is overseen by the Council of Europe. That is not the European Union, which has no say in penal policy or the electoral franchise.
It’s confusing, perhaps, but the confusion is sometimes deliberately sown by anti-Europeans. What a pity that someone as discerning as Mr Blacker should fall prey to it.
Tom Lines, Brighton
Good bank, bad bank
Chancellor George Osborne says RBS’s new focus will see it being a “boost to the British economy instead of a burden” (“RBS avoids being split into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ banks”, 1 November).
Well that’s one way of looking at it: another is that once again the banks, even ones we own, get the opportunity to eventually revert to their greedy, reckless ways.
Eddie Dougall, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
I wish to apply for the vacant post of boss of the RBS “bad bank”. My credentials are impeccable.
I am thoroughly bad; I have a wealth of bad debts; I have a strong track record as a very bad manager; and I have even taken a course in bad. I would promise to bring to the post some truly bad ideas, thus consolidating the essential reputation of a bad bank. Please send application form (preferably a bad copy).
David Punter, Bristol
Clash of cats and dogs
I have encouraged my dogs to chase cats that enter my garden (letter, 4 November), one of the few legal ways of keeping them out. My dogs were not bred for fighting but were effective deterrents in their younger days. Now they are old or gone, the cats are back.
My suburban garden has a pond, bushes, lawn and table to attract birds. The cats’ attempts to capture, torture and kill wildlife have driven all the birds away. Until cat owners keep them under control, I think owners of surrounding gardens are entitled to deploy whatever legal deterrents they have to curb this menace.
Dr Clive Mowforth, Dursley, Gloucestershire
Just like Dr Buckingham (letter, 1 November), who wrote about his experience after ordering white poppies from the Stop the War Coalition, I too sensed a presence breathing down my neck. I didn’t actually complete the purchase (of one poppy) before the phone rang from Lloyds fraud investigations wanting me to confirm recent transactions. At the time I thought this must be a coincidence, because I have had fraudulent charges on a debit card. But now? Very creepy and infuriating.
Dianne Frank, Oxford
Portrait of evil
Please, please stop publishing photos of Jimmy Savile. Today’s (4 November) is even more gratuitous than usual. I, like many others, always thought he was very creepy when my children were watching Jim’ll Fix It years ago. Now we know just how evil he really was. We really don’t need to keep seeing photos of him.
P Allsopp, Bramley, Surrey
I was fascinated to read (2 November) that the wrap party for the cast of Poirot was held in a marquis in the grounds of Agatha Christie’s house. I imagine the noble lord was much surprised. I suspect predictive text: a mystery worthy of Poirot himself.
Chris Bratt, Arnside, Cumbria
Chancing to watch an episode of The Young Ones last night I realised who Russell Brand reminds me of: Rick, a middle-class boy trying to convince others that he’s an anarchist, because he fears that otherwise they will hate him.
Dan Dennis, Reading