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Letters: Oil morals

ExxonMobil should regain the caring, positive morals of old Esso

Sir: Many of my former Esso colleagues must be hoping that the departure of Lee Raymond as head of Exxon/Mobil ("The man who sold the planet", article, 1 June) will signal a change in the present ethos of "our" company.

I retired some years ago as a senior environmental scientist after a long career in Esso UK. With colleagues, I had spent 16 years in environmental research, trying to understand and find answers to the inevitable impact the company's activities and products have on the environment. Many environmentalists regard Exxon and other large oil companies as uncaring, even rapacious monsters. Not in my day. In all those years, Esso - or Exxon - saw its role as an organisation that should endeavour to ensure a reliable supply of oil products for its world-wide customers. And it tried to be a good member of all the communities in which it did business. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska was a shock felt throughout the company. After all the training and precautions we knew had been taken, such a disaster should not have happened through a moment of carelessness. And Exxon spent millions cleaning up the mess.

But all this seemed to change with the merger of Exxon and Mobil. What had been an organisation sensitive to the various cultures in which it operated, seemed to draw back into the US. There grew an evident disdain for "foreign" opinions. In a country as huge and as self-sufficient as the US, there is a natural tendency for many to ignore the rest of the world, even to despise it. The 9/11 outrage reinforced this sense of insecurity and led to the creation of "Fortress America".

Perhaps we may hope that the next head of ExxonMobil will recognise that the US, for all its capabilities, cannot go it alone. In a world threatened by global warming, we have to work together.



UK academic pay better than in US

Sir: Daniel Nettle's criticism of university lecturers' "misguided and self-damaging" industrial action (Letters, 30 May) is both wrong-headed and factually incorrect. Dr Nettle says academic salaries in the idyllic union-free US market are "50 per cent higher" than in the UK.

It would interesting to know where he derives such a figure. Data in the public domain from the US Department of Education ( http://nces.ed.gov/das/ library/tables_listings/show_nedrc.asp?rt=p&tableID=2622) finds the average salary for an associate professor (roughly equivalent to senior/principal lecturer) is approximately £38,000 at present exchange rates.

This is not only less than munificent but in fact less than the starting salary for a senior/principal lecturer on the national pay framework achieved through negotiations on behalf of university staff by the AUT and NATFHE two years ago (the top of this pay scale is almost 25 per cent higher than the US average).

Set aside the distorting effects of the lucrative salaries afforded a few academic "superstars" who shuttle between elite institutions, and US salaries compare unfavourably with the UK.

Meagre as the headline salary figure is, moreover, it still conceals gross pay discrepancies across US universities - up to $10,000 within the associate professor grade alone - for example between Ivy League and other rich private institutions and small local public colleges, or between male and female staff.

It is precisely such inequitable and divisive treatment that national collective pay bargaining seeks to avoid and remedy.

Dr Nettle also fears that the costs of higher pay will be met by increased teaching loads and higher staff-student ratios. I cannot comment on working conditions in Newcastle's psychology department, but can Dr Nettle not have noticed that staff-student ratios have already spiralled down over the past 20 years as the UK has moved (without any semblance of government strategic planning) from an elite to a mass system of higher education?

It is to the enormous credit of university staff that they have achieved such "efficiency gains" while maintaining high academic standards that continue to attract students to UK universities from all around the world. The pay dispute is quite simply about the profession finally making some - frankly belated and inadequate - moves towards a fair day's wage for a fair day's work.



Sir: The Independent asks (article, 2 June): "Are lecturers badly paid?" I am well-qualified, highly experienced and I have always put my students first. I work hard but I enjoy my job as a lecturer in higher education.

Employers are saying that the alleged 40 per cent decline in academic pay over the past 20 years is "misleading because it doesn't take into account incremental progression or promotion".

In a 21-year career, I have never been promoted (10 failed attempts in the past seven years alone). Furthermore, having reached the top of my scale, it is 15 years since I benefited from incremental progression.

So, what I would like to know is, who will want to continue to support my students when I, and many colleagues like me, retire in the next few years?



Sir: John Smurthwaite (Letters, 3 June) has misunderstood. The pay offer to lecturers is for three years and it applies to all staff. In fact, all university staff earning less than academic staff would gain up to 15 per cent over three years because of a flat-rate element.

The pay claim (of 23 per cent over three years) was intended to address a "catch-up" with professions which now earn far more than lecturers but used to earn a similar level.



Patients' choice undermines NHS  

Sir: Hear, hear, Ben Ross (Letters, 31 May). The last thing anyone in the throes of a stroke, heart attack or unconsciousness wants is the burden of choice between hospitals.

What would their answer be based on? Malicious rumours about particular doctors? Data obtained by the methods used in this survey to "prove" we want choice in the NHS? Even if the problem is not an emergency, travelling when ill can be torture and should not be prolonged to pander to market forces.

What is the aim of "choice"? Presumably to penalise the "bad" hospitals by getting them shut, which would mean the overloading and falling standards in the "good" ones. Hospitals would have to concentrate so hard on impressing "the customer" and "stimulating demand" they would have little time or resources left for proper patient care.

Choice and competition undermine the whole point of having a health service. The only "choice" we want is to have a hospital near us, and let them all be good enough. Which, incidentally, the people of Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, west Wales, have made pretty clear to the Welsh Assembly, which is planning to replace our three regional hospitals with one "super" hospital which most of us could not even reach within an hour, a death sentence for many emergency cases. I hope our leaders will listen.



When US Marines met the HLI

Sir: I was amused by Bruce Anderson's comment that the US Marines are almost as good as the average Scottish soldier (29 May). In 1952, I was a private in the Highland Light Infantry on the island of Malta GC.

On one of those interminable "schemes" that recreated possible war scenarios, our battalion had to repel the US Marines who were invading the island. We captured their colonel and wiped out most of the rest, using blanks, of course. But the talk among us was that though they were an affable lot they were so spoilt, trailing behind them cans of pineapple and Coca-Cola, and to our eyes, laden with luxury food, wearing quality battledress and helmets and shouting so much we saw them miles away.

We had to put up with our lukewarm water and mess-tin stew while hiding in a trench all day.



Comeuppance for cyclists

Sir: It is time to give whingeing cyclists their comeuppance. They ride on footpaths regardless of whether the carriageway is busy, and ignore or abuse anyone who objects.

And what has the busy-ness of the carriageway to do with cyclists on the wrong side of the road, riding through red traffic lights, and riding after dark without lights? When cyclists stop behaving irresponsibly and illegally will be the time for them to complain about other road-users.



Parks not safe from the city academies

Sir: The government, in its determination to push through Tony Blair's city-academy project has passed primary legislation that puts the building of academies over the protection of public open space.

Such land can and is being given away to businessmen and others in return for their sponsorship of an academy. The public need not be consulted and the deal must be "for no consideration", that is, the land must come free (Section 65, schedule 7, para 10 (3) of the 2002 Education Act: "Section 123(2) of the Local Government Act 1972 (disposal of open space) does not apply to a disposal which is made: a. to a person for the purposes of an academy, and b. for no consideration").

Andrew Adonis was being economical with the truth when he said most academies are built on restricted brownfield sites. Islington, north London, is home to Lord Adonis, who is charged with creation of 200 academies, 60 in London alone. The area has the least green space and is the most densely populated of all London boroughs.

Its former Liberal Democrat-led council, which agreed to set up two academies in return for Building Schools for the Future funding for the upgrade of its existing secondaries, has almost certainly set case-precedent under the legislation cited above.

The first of the two academies would mean the loss of a neighbourhood park, a designated area of local conservation importance, and the felling of 67 mature trees, all without public consultation.

Two publicly owned buildings were emptied and demolished for the academy. A successful Ofsted-rated primary school will be closed and demolished. A replacement primary will be built on the site of the former park (sic) unless a judicial review in the High Court on 19 July overturns the closure. No UK green space is safe from academy build, including Hampstead Heath



Creationist or Darwinian?

Sir: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg" was a Victorian religious riddle ("Age-old debate is over", 26 May). Were you a creationist, believing the world was created in six days in 4004 BC, or a Darwinian, believing that you were descended from apes?

If the world were created in 4004BC, the chicken needed to have come first, then lay eggs, which otherwise would have died from cold. But an animal which mutated/developed into a chicken over millions of years would have laid eggs long before it was recognisable as a chicken.The riddle is still applicable in the southern states of the US.



Are there whitebells?

Sir: We have white "bluebells" in our garden. Does anyone know why bluebells become white? Are they called "whitebells"? Dare I say it; are they rare?



Bridge too far

Sir: I too saw Simon and Garfunkel in concert at the Royal Albert Hall ("Still Crazy After All These Years", David Lister, 26 May) and will never forget Art Garfunkel singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" so beautifully while Paul Simon waited at the side of the stage. But I do not recall Paul Simon's unhappy expression, and I was not aware that he hated seeing Garfunkel getting all the applause. I do recall that at the end of the song, after the applause had died down, Garfunkel said it was one of the best songs Paul had written.



Nature's way

Sir: An an alternative to over-crowded cemeteries (Independent 2 June), some people might consider burial in one of the 180 or so beautiful grounds run by the Natural Death Centre. Although the ground is not consecrated, the service and music can take any form requested. In my burial ground, local deer tiptoe down to feast on the flowers in the evening. I could not wish for more.



Don't call us

Sir: We sympathise with Alan Brownlow's plight of mobile phone-free existence. Kind-hearted friends say we should have one (especially when a baby was expected), saying it is annoying when we cannot be contacted. They have tried to convince us of its merits, tried to give us their old phones and even bought us one for Christmas. But we are determined to suffer walks without interruption and holidays free of inane texts and gossip without the stress of having to fumble in pockets and bags exclaiming, "Is that me?" when a ringtone is heard. It is difficult, but we survive.



Fast farewell

Sir: As the longest-serving member of the Pierrepoint dynasty of Britain's chief executioners (article, 1 June), Thomas Pierrepoint prided himself on the speed with which he dispatched his clients. His record from cell to gallows was 60 seconds. Sixty seconds was abysmally slow. Thomas Pierrepoint managed an average time of 13 seconds. Albert Pierrepoint was the swiftest executioner, taking less than eight seconds when he hanged James Inglis. That was the time from cell-door to the trap-door opening under Inglis. It did not included the time taken to put the proper restraints on the prisoner.



Let us all pray ...

Sir: Tony Blair's visit to the Vatican will be considered a stunning success if he managed to persuade the Pope to pray for Wayne Rooney's foot.