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Letters: Mastering the mandarins


A truly splendid and much-needed piece by Stefan Stern (21 August) on the whole Civil Service situation. It is a profound problem, especially with the decline in the credibility of politicians. We live in a different age now from that which faced Harold Wilson in 1964, yet many of the problems remain, unresolved.

Thatcher is certainly to blame for a good deal of the slippage in the quality of the Civil Service; her contempt for what she regarded as a statist bureaucracy did enormous damage to morale and recruitment.

That doesn't mean the Whitehall bureaucracy was beyond reproach. It had its inherited weakness of suspecting any intrusion from "outside" as an insult to Civil Service traditions. Yet there was always a quality of honesty and integrity which singled out the UK Civil Service as something to respect.

Blair had no real concept of the problem nor the potential for progressive reform; Harold Wilson, who had worked inside the Whitehall "whale", knew the scene so much better than most prime ministers. His handling of delicate problems was exceptionally skilled. My own experience, when I worked for him, demonstrated an understanding of what is needed to overcome bureaucratic negativity without upsetting the applecart. Few prime ministers have that will, or skill.

Geoffrey Goodman

London NW7

Stefan Stern's article raises important questions about the role of the Civil Service, including the high turnover of permanent secretaries which the Institute for Government has recently highlighted.

I believe he exaggerates the impact of the Iraq war on Whitehall, however flawed the decision-making process turned out to be. The key is the fiscal pressures forcing Whitehall to change its ways of working, as most senior officials fully accept.

Mr Stern is therefore right to argue that there needs to be "a complete reappraisal, from first principles, of the relationship between ministers of the Crown and the independent Civil Service".

Indeed, the Institute for Government has already started exactly such a reappraisal, examining the New Zealand model of a contractual relationship between ministers and civil servants, the latter's legal position, the appointment of senior officials and their accountability to Parliament. We welcome widespread participation in our year-long inquiry.

Peter Riddell

Director, Institute for Government, London SW1

Harry was doing no wrong in his private room

It's not my practice to defend the monarchy, but I can't help wondering why there seems to be so much interest in Prince Harry's recent activities (report, 23 August). He was in a private room, doing nothing immoral, illegal or particularly interesting; he was simply wearing no clothes.

One must assume that the present outrage and fascination are expressed by people who have never seen a naked young man before. Or perhaps they had assumed that royalty's bits were different from those of the rest of us.

Susan Alexander

Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire

I am no fan of the Royal Family, considering it to be an expensive, pointless anachronism. But I have no grudge against individual members of the Windsor family. After all, they are no more responsible for the family into which they are born than are any of us.

In the case of Prince Harry, and the publication on the internet of his personal "crown jewels", I have to say I have a good deal of sympathy with the Prince. He was in Las Vegas on holiday, in a private capacity and in his own hotel room, which should also be a private place.

If opprobrium is to be placed anywhere, it should be on the shoulders of the individual who took the photographs and then passed them, possibly for money, to the website that published them.

Robert S P Jenkins

London W2

All we need to know from Prince Harry after his naked billiards session in what he thought was the privacy of his hotel room, is how many did he score.

Those responsible for taking the photos and publishing them should be arrested, extradited to the UK and banged up in the Tower or, alternatively, with Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Trevor Cooper

Truro, Cornwall

£35,000 cap may help the children

If a £35,000 cap for an individual's contribution towards elderly care is introduced, there may be unintended but beneficial consequences for the children of the squeezed middle languishing in high-cost rented accommodation.

I tell my children that they might inherit, depending on what happens to my wife and myself in old age. With a cap, unless we blow it all on a crazy spending spree, I can tell them that they will be able to inherit. In my case, this means that one of them, who wants to step on the housing ladder, has the assurance that she will be able to eventually. There will be thousands of people in their twenties and early thirties in her position.

Banks and building societies could respond by developing new mortgage products based on an assessment of the applicant's finances plus those of his/her parents'. Not only will this provide the confidence to lend, but it could also mean that monthly repayments are lower to begin with when salaries are lower and the costs of starting a family are disproportionately high. By rear-loading much of the loan, the mortgagee will be able to repay it more easily after inheritance.

Patrick Cosgrove

Bucknell, Shropshire

Efforts to introduce clarity into the financing of care for the elderly are welcome, but why should the taxpayer subsidise other people's inheritances?

Barry Corbett


A bronze medal for the Government for finally moving on long-overdue reform of care for older and vulnerable people. The move to press ahead and implement the Dilnot Commission's report is excellent news.

We have long advocated that the suggested cap of £35,000 on how much anyone should be expected to pay for their own care and the threshold of £100,000 before they began to pay at all, should be implemented. What cheats the Coalition out of a gold medal is timing. It has taken a long time to get a commitment and reports say it could be 2017 before it is implemented. With such a great prize in sight, can't we speed to the finishing line?

Mike Padgham

Chair, United Kingdom Homecare Association, Sutton, Surrey

Olympic Park is a triumph

The Independent argues convincingly for the Olympic Park to be opened to all for a couple of weeks after the Paralympic Games (18 August). The creation of the Olympic Park is a triumph for the landscape architecture profession, and is Europe's most significant landscape project for a generation.

A part of east London has been transformed into a vibrant, sustainable park. It is a catalyst for wider regeneration and an exemplar for future restoration projects.

Created over four years, work on the Park included: extensive demolition and the decontamination of nearly two million tonnes of soil; the largest wildflower meadow ever planted in the UK; more than 4,000 semi-mature trees planted; wetland planting on a massive scale (more than 300,000 plants including reeds, rushes; regeneration of the rivers and canals which weave through the site), creating green corridors for wildlife, and transformation of the River Lee into waterside, swales, wet woodland, dry woodland and meadow to form sustainable flood defences.

There is a great deal to celebrate; we urge the opening of the Park to the public for a few weeks so these achievements can be appreciated by as many as possible.

Sue Illman

President, Landscape Institute, London, WC1

How police can hunt evidence

As a former criminal defence solicitor, I was surprised and dismayed to see that police felt they didn't have the power to enter premises, without a warrant, to search for a mobile phone stolen during a knifepoint robbery ("Rise of the digi-lantes", 20 August).

It would have been better to at least seek permission to a search. I am sure justification for a search could have been made.

Robbery is an indictable offence, triable only in Crown court. The knife element makes it more grave. Police can enter premises to search without a warrant in such circumstances.

Better to search and perhaps have evidence ruled inadmissible than to not try at all. In my experience, the chance of such evidence being ruled inadmissible is extremely slim.

Tristan Clappe


Glencore boast disgraces us all

As one of the creators of a modest project in Kenya to shelter parentless children and encourage and develop self-sufficiency, your front page revelation of the greed of the food giant Glencore (23 August) left me feeling ashamed to be a member of the human race. No point lauding humanity's triumph in staging the Olympic Games if we can't as humans take the simple step of feeding and sheltering the world's orphan children and erase the universal disgrace of this kind of poverty. We are all guilty of the most demeaning spiritual poverty.

John Hunwicks

Marnhull, Dorset

Spark of darkness

The West Bank is to have its electricity cut off for unpaid bills owed to the Israeli Electric Corporation. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency pays for water, education and health in the refugee camps but not electricity. The Palestinian economy is stifled by the illegal occupation, so the West Bank will always struggle to pay all its bills. The IEC also plans to start legal measures to take over the Jerusalem District Electricity Company with all its assets and bank accounts. Creeping colonialism strikes again.

Susan Walpole

Dorchester, Dorset

My 'Oops' app

The problem of smartphone users crashing into people and things (letter, 23 August) is easily solved. I am developing a smartphone app called "Up Periscope", using a system of mirrors, levers and pulleys to show the user on the screen of their smartphone what they would be seeing ahead if only they would bloody well look where they are going. I just need some crowdsourced seed-capital to make it happen. Facebook me, yeah?

Anthony Fitzgerald

Enfield, Middlesex

Got the number

Further to the recent letters about invented verbs, I've just had a conversation with my partner about a missed phone call. I said, "I had to 1471 it." We all know what that means but I can't see it finding its way into the Oxford English Dictionary.

Louise Thomas

Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Air of rudeness

You say Luton is Britain's rudest airport (22 August). That's only the staff. Try walking against the flow of passengers.

Peter Smith

Watton at Stone, Hertfordshire