Letters: Nuclear power

Like oil, nuclear power depends on a finite natural resource
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Sir: Dominic Lawson ("Go nuclear - or gamble national security on the benevolence of Russia's President", 12 January) is absolutely right to point out the fragility of Europe's energy dependence on imported oil, a finite resource that, as it runs out, will increasing be used as a political tool. He is less correct to think that nuclear power can supply a long-term answer, and plain wrong in his criticisms of wind energy.

For a start, nuclear power also requires a finite fuel (uranium) whose long-term supply is by no means guaranteed and which has to be imported. If the industrialised world switches to nuclear power to replace oil, we should expect to see the same energy insecurity before too long, and for exactly the same reasons.

Margaret Thatcher as a "rational scientist" may have been a strong advocate of nuclear power, but as Prime Minister she was unable to include it in her flagship electricity-privatisation programme because the economic risks were perceived as too great by the City. This despite a staggering level of investment in its development over half a century. The debate on nuclear power will undoubtedly continue in this country, but it should be recognised that this form of energy production is almost always driven by top-down government, keen to hold the reins of national energy policy.

On wind energy, with its "dangerous power surges", "outages", and "blackouts", Mr Lawson is depressingly ill-informed. There is insufficient room here to make the contrary technical case, but suffice to say that worldwide wind energy installation has been growing at an average of 23 per cent for the last 15 years - and City institutions are more than happy to invest in it. Obviously, wind energy cannot supply a complete solution, as the wind does not blow every day. But in combination with other forms of renewable energy, such as hydro, biomass, solar, and marine, electricity supplies can be guaranteed in the very long term, completely free from the threat of suddenly imposed fuel shortages.

I think renewable energy gives traditional Government a problem, due to its widespread pattern of ownership, diverse resource, and rapid rate of technological growth. It is often poorly understood, and, unlike conventional power generation, it appears difficult for governments to control the reins. Which is exactly what we want, isn't it?



GP cash is a reward for better services

Sir: The article headlined "Massive rise in GPs' salaries worsens the NHS cash crisis" (12 January) does not do justice to the changes the Government has made to the way primary care services are funded. Our extra investment in GP services is intended to reward those GPs who provide better and more convenient services for patients. It is not intended to reward those who have not moved to make improvements.

GP income will be tied closely to patient experiences, as our recent announcement of the GP Patient Survey, which will be used to reward practices offering better access, shows. In addition, the terms of this year's GP contract mean that practices will face a real drop in income if they do not deliver services that are more responsive to patients' needs.

The new GP contract has delivered real improvements. For example, NHS patients are now experiencing shorter waits to see a family doctor and care for patients with long-term conditions is better as a result of the contract incentives.

Primary care is the right place to target more resources, as every pound spent in a GP's surgery on, for example, advice and support on preventing heart disease, saves the NHS several pounds that would otherwise have been spent on drugs and treatment further down the line.



Sir: Your story about the rise in GPs' salaries provides a reminder of the continuing power of doctors' representatives. They and the legal profession are among the few remaining "closed shops" in Britain that even Margaret Thatcher failed to break.

Because they are respectable middle-class professionals, their restrictive practices come under far less scrutiny from respectable middle-class journalists than those of dockers or miners did.

And their professional associations are masters of spin. Barely a month goes by without tales of the terrible oppression that hard-working doctors must endure from NHS administrators or demands that more be spent on "front-line staff" and less on the management that might help to increase their effectiveness.



Sir: GPs earn an average of £118,000, while a sizeable proportion of registered nurses earn below average wages. GPs have had a rise of 63 per cent in three years, nurses are being offered a below inflation rise of 1.5 per cent - in effect a wage cut. Is the Governement trying to give nurses some sort of message about their priorities in healthcare?



Sir: It seems bizarre that GPs have had a large pay rise at the same time as a big reduction in working hours and have become more difficult to see. One thing they could do to earn some of their extra money - and make their work more interesting - is to restore Saturday morning surgeries for the many people who work nights or are away from Monday to Friday. These people otherwise end up getting second-rate care from A&E or deputising services, or get no care at all.



New points scheme for school grades

Sir: Well said, Deborah Orr (13 January). I suggest, though, that if schools do focus on average, it derives from the fact that they are evaluated by counting grades A to C equally. This means that for a school there is no gain helping a grade A student to achieve an A*, but there's a huge gain in raising a grade D to a grade C. While I'm sure that teachers aren't consciously that cynical, I can't help wondering whether a points scheme with one point for E up to six for A* wouldn't help schools to focus equally on pupils of all abilities - there would be as much to gain from getting a non-attending pupil to achieve a grade E as in getting a good pupil to find excellence.



Mental Health Bill must include rights

Sir: In "Will the new Mental Health Bill make Britain a safer place?" (9 January), it is stated that SANE supports the Mental Health Bill. This gives a partial view of our position. Along with other members of the Mental Health Alliance, we do not support the Bill as it stands.

We believe that, provided there are rigorous safeguards, the new community treatment orders could provide release for some patients currently trapped in the revolving door between hospital and the community. However, we regret that the Bill gives no rights to care and treatment, or rights to information and support for families.

The Bill makes it a condition of detention that treatment must be "clinically appropriate" for the patient and "available" to him or her. It remains our concern that in the current climate of cuts, loss of beds and units and the continuing failure to provide sufficient care in the community, this condition will not always be met. If we cannot ensure clinically appropriate treatment, it is unethical to deprive a person of his or her liberty.



UK military role is one option of many

Sir: Tony Blair seeks a debate about the role for Britain as a military force and wants us to be prepared to be war fighters as well as peace keepers ("Shoot the messenger", 13 January). Since the writings of Sun Tzu some 2,500 years ago, the art of war has been not to fight but to win.

Both war fighting and peace keeping are put in place after there has been a failure to build strong social capital and an understanding of shared interests. We have many opportunities to use the more powerful tools of trade, partnerships and economic development. Our trade should not be weapons-based, because that helped create and support the dictatorship in Iraq and the warlords in Afghanistan.

If there is a desire to win hearts and minds, then let our aspirations spread on the message of an enlightened, secular, democratic society supported by a well-educated, hard-working, interdependent population. There is a strong case for us to have an international role, but a military one is only one of many options.



Sir: Tony Blair blames media reporting and criticism by military chiefs for the problems in Iraq. Does he also think trees wave their branches to make the wind?



Atlanta has given up its duty of care

Sir: Like Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (The Accidental Criminal, 13 January), I have been to Atlanta to attend an academic conference. I was lucky enough not to encounter directly any of the city's police, but my visit was neither an experience I shall forget nor one I want to repeat.

In the daytime, the city where Coca-Cola and CNN have their headquarters gave the usual impression of prosperous American cities - a frenzy of consumerism. Visiting some of the city's parks and quieter neighbourhoods, however, revealed large numbers of emaciated, lost people drifting aimlessly.

At sunset, the consumers disappeared from the city centre, to be replaced by a Dantesque army of homeless, sick and desperate people who should be in hospitals, hospices or shelters. They had sorrow in their eyes and pain written all over their bodies. A modest hand-out to one of them was met with tears of gratitude.

It was, for me, an image of a city where the state has surrendered all pretence of caring for those citizens who are unable to care for themselves, a city of shopping and despairing. No wonder its police force behaved the way they did.



'Flexibility' means long days, low pay

Sir: Hamish McRae's claim that the advantage swings towards women as the workforce in the developed world becomes more flexible paints only half the picture ("The slow shift of economic power", 10 January).

The crucial question remains: who gains from this flexibility? In one example, Bangladesh, most employees producing cheap clothes for UK shops are women, and "flexibility" demands that they work long hours, seven days a week, for less than a living wage. Just the other day, garment workers set fire to seven Dhaka factories following the death of an employee shot during recent protests over pay and conditions.

It is one thing to concede that the law has largely, though not entirely, failed women; it is another to say this is not too surprising, because the law often fails when it tries to determine human behaviour.

Women's livelihoods are too important to depend on market power. Many women in these Dhaka factories were forced as girls to cut short their education and leave their villages to earn money. If the British government wants to end global poverty, ministers should introduce regulations that make UK retailers ensure decent wages and conditions for overseas workers who supply their products.



Streetcars of demise

Sir: Andrew Buncombe notes that many North American cities had fully functioning electric tram systems ("Desire for streetcars surges in US", 13 January), but he fails to mention that most of them were bought up by a holding company backed mainly by General Motors, with Firestone and Standard Oil, which dismantled them and replaced them with GM buses. Many bus lines then failed, leaving commuters with no choice but to buy cars.



State subsidies

Sir: Russell Clarke (Letters, 12 January) asserts that independent schools are "the great success story of education in this country" because of their "very independence" from the state. Well that's good. Can we now look forward to them ending their charitable status and paying taxes; training their teachers in their own independent teacher training institutions; and foregoing opportunities to learn from innovation and good practice in the state sector?



Voluntary regulation

Sir: Peter Hayes (Letters, 13 January) believes there are up to 11 million potential volunteers waiting to help primary schoolchildren with the three Rs. Indeed, there is much goodwill in the community. A friend offered her support and a child's reading did begin to improve. The child somehow scratched his hand slightly during a one-to-one session. No blood, no tears. But this trivial incident had to be entered in the accident book, with date, time, names and description. My friend has decided to withdraw her valued volunteer support.



You're too familiar

Sir: I am increasingly amazed at the familiarity adopted by organisations when writing to people they don't personally know. Some time ago, I wrote to David Cameron, addressing him "Dear Mr Cameron": in reply, he addressed me as "Dear Peter", and signed off as "Dave". Even more puzzling are the number of letters I receive that start with "Dear Peter Leney". Since when did first and last names become included in the greeting on a letter?



What's the plan?

Sir: According to Condoleezza Rice, in reply to criticism from John Kerry, the "surge" in troop numbers in Iraq is "Plan A". I thought Plan A failed back in 2003. The only explanation I have is that Plan Z must recently have been exhausted, and they've had to start again at "A". Maybe they should extend the alphabet instead.