Money men could rescue the nation
The bonus season brings with it a great opportunity for London's bankers to show their true mettle. They are British, and therefore by definition bright, responsible and honourable. They, I am sure, are deeply conscious of the damage they have done in the past three years to Britain's economy, and of course are aware of the anger of most of the population. Clearly, they must desperately want to make amends, until the country finally comes out of the recession they caused, even though that task may take five or 10 years.
Now is the time to start, by spending their bonuses generously. They can lend money at low rates to start-up entrepreneurs, particularly those whom their skinflint bosses have refused to help. They can pay the fees of dozens of needy students through university. They can replace the grants to charities and public libraries, which local councils have had to cut.
They can, in a word, be the Big Society, which, being Tory through and through, they obviously support with all their hearts. They might even stave off a double-dip if they use their money wisely. They are the only people rich enough to achieve this miracle, and could thereby earn the gratitude of the whole country, and show that they truly are the masters of the universe. And they might even purge their guilt.
What they clearly will not do is spend their bonuses on Porsches or ghastly mock-Tudor mansions in Cobham, or make their neighbours' lives unbearable by "upgrading" their suburban houses with three extra bathrooms and an attic conversion. Nor will they toss millions into the Conservative Party's bottomless coffers. And, being honourable men, they would not dream of slinking off to Geneva or Zurich, to avoid, like rats, their civic responsibilities.
Richard Sarson, London SW20
Taxpayers bear all the risks
According to the National Audit Office (2009) government support for the banks amounted to £850bn. In addition the Bank of England has printed money (quantitative easing), which is passed to the banks at 0.5 per cent, for them to lend at historically high interest margins to borrowers of their choosing, while they pay depositors negligible rates of interest.
The bankers take a huge return, while the taxpayer takes all the real investment risks and a return of around 0.3 per cent. Thus the taxpayer stands, exposed and vulnerable in a global economy, as lender of last resort for the system. No banker would carry that risk (or even get up in the morning) for these returns, and of course, they do not.
Merlin also in effect reinforces the special status of the banks in the economy, rather than doing anything to shift Britain's over-dependence on the finance sector.
John S Warren, Callander, Perthshire
Bad omen for Project Merlin?
We are told that John Varley named the negotiations with the banks "Project Merlin" because he had recently seen the bird. Had he been a John le Carré fan he would have realised that "Source Merlin" in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" was the means by which Moscow Centre fed the Circus false information. Let us hope that the results of Project Merlin are less disastrous.
Marina Donald, Edinburgh
Cameron's Big Society is still a bit of a mystery
Philip Blond writes over 2,000 words in defence of the Big Society (9 February), while managing to avoid any kind of concrete explanation of what it is or how to bring it about. Could it mean that, for example, here in cut-ravaged Manchester, we should be disposing of each other's rubbish (the bag society?); or deploying our toilets as public conveniences (the bog society?); or what? Blond is at pains to assert from the outset that, whatever it is, it has "nothing to do with cuts", so I'm obviously on the wrong track there.
Instead, apparently, I need to understand that: "Public sector mutualisation and budgetary takeover by citizens of the state is a crucial initial phase in endowing ordinary citizens with the power to ensure that the services they run are operated in a way that combines public interest with economic efficiency and localised employee ownership building in all the gains that this model delivers."
As Nobel prize-winner Peter Medawar said: "People who write obscurely are either unskilled in writing or up to mischief". I don't think Mr Blond is unskilled in writing.
Sean Cordell, Manchester
Phillip Blond suggests that the Big Society represents Cameron's genuine legacy. How on earth can a sound-bite be a legacy? In order to have a legacy you have to achieve something, not just borrow ideas and come up with a phrase.
There are interesting ideas lurking behind the rhetoric, but they are not new. Social enterprises have been operating successfully across Britain for many years: the Co-operative movement and housing associations are just two examples.
In this rural area the majority of social activities within the villages are organised on a voluntary basis. Some were established by paid staff and local-government funding in the early stages. Some exist because groups of people with mutual interests come together.
My experience in multicultural areas of London was of diverse racial, cultural and religious groups providing services through a wide range of mutual support groups. Good local authorities have always recognised this and provided support and some funding.
Advocating the Big Society, and giving local communities the opportunity to take over services if they wish, are laudable aims. Trying to achieve this while demolishing the structures of local government, which has the means to assist in its development, is not the answer. It is rather like throwing children into deep water in the belief that they will swim. It is possible that some will, but that doesn't stop it being dangerous.
Sandra Walmsley, Weeting, Norfolk
Phillip Blond claims the Big Society "has nothing to do with cuts". Oxfordshire County Council's Business Strategy 2011/12 – 2014/15, after naming the 23 libraries the council will keep open, states: "We will look for opportunities to develop Big Society solutions in the following areas: Adderbury, Bampton....etc" (18 more that the council proposes closing).
Whatever Mr Blond imagines, the Big Society is being used by government at all levels to shift the burden of providing public services to citizens, at their cost and in their free time.
David Watson, Reading
The real Big Society is all about the thousands of selfless citizens who devote their time to helping others. They run the Girl Guides; help out at the luncheon clubs; sing in the church choir; coach the kids' soccer team and any one of the thousands of community activities which take place every day of the year. They don't need big government to tell them to sign up to the Big Society.
I support the idea of charities and the voluntary sector doing more to run services and to help improve the quality of life in local neighbourhoods. They can bring fresh ideas and new ways of working, and can often be more effective and do it more cheaply than the state. But to expect them to do all this without any help from the local council or government is ridiculous. It costs money to care for the vulnerable, help the unemployed or run swimming sessions for the over-sixties.
That's why the Big Society is nothing more than a big con. They have said there is no extra money for volunteers to take on extra responsibilities. In truth, it's worse than that. Towns and cities all over Britain are facing huge cuts in spending. In Liverpool, the city council will have to slash almost a quarter of its services over the next two years.
A whole army of volunteers have seen through the Big Society as nothing more than a smokescreen for massive spending cutbacks which undermine the very fabric of society itself. We want nothing to do with it.
CLLR Joe Anderson, Leader of Liverpool City Council
Contrary to the naysayers, people up and down the country are working hard to make the Big Society a reality in their local communities.
In Westminster more than 24,000 volunteers give 2 million hours of their time each year. This includes almost 100 people who volunteer in our local libraries, without whom we would not be able to run the array of services that we do.
More recently we set up a dedicated £200,000 fund to help promote Big Society projects by providing a range of training and volunteer services in the heart of London.
We want to go further, and use the power of business, the prestige of sport and the knowledge of community leaders.
In doing so we aim to leave a legacy of social responsibility and civic engagement. But we can only guide and facilitate it. The delivery of the Big Society programme belongs to the people.
Cllr Steve Summers, Cabinet Member for Community Services, Westminster City Council
"David Cameron's Big Society is proving to be a more elusive concept than Fermat's last theorem" (Letters, 8 February). Well yes, Fermat's last theorem is so simple in concept that the majority of non-mathematicians could understand it. The proof, on the other hand, is so complex that most mathematicians can't understand it.
Olwen Poulter, Leeds
Horrid gags of misogynistic men
A standing ovation for Julie Burchill's excellent critique of Clarksonesque cowardly comedy (9 February).
As a young male, I am unimpressed, offended and ashamed by the horrid gags of these misogynistic old men; the countless "lads' mags" that parade young women like meat and create an unrealistic body image for others to aspire to; the utterly offensive, sexist and violent lyrical content of gangster rap and the disgusting relic that is page 3 of The Sun.
It was evidently a postmodern hangover from the 1990s lad-era that let our morals slip, and I for one wish to banish political incorrectness.
Jim Bob Spencer, Birmingham
Julie Burchill raises some interesting points about current humour but I'm not sure that easy targets have been correctly identified.
Crack jokes about Mexicans or Down's syndrome, and you are met with columns full of vituperation.
But, as that laziest of sneer-fests, Channel 4's 10 O'Clock Live demonstrates, pick the right target, display the attitude most in tune with current liberal-left thinking, and, no matter how sarcastic, demeaning or insulting your tone, you can say what you like.
Laugh at random physical violence committed on women in the street and you'll meet a chorus of disapproval, but when the Duchess of Cornwall is prodded in the ribs through the window of her car by a passing pedestrian, it generates a caption competition in the New Statesman.
The usual smug double standards all round, I'm afraid: but then I'm white, male, middle class-ish and a baby boomer – I'm supposed to have no feelings.
Frank Startup, Cirencester, Gloucestershire
Green promise betrayed
This was to be the greenest ever government. A large number of UK companies, ours included, believed the hype and began making plans for growth at a time of economic downturn.
Unfortunately, the reality is different. The Government has launched an urgent review of the feed-in tariff, a central plank of its renewable-energy strategy. The reason is not the failure of the scheme but bizarrely that it might actually be too successful. In particular, forecasts for the solar photo-voltaics sector had suggested significant inward investment and the creation of up to 19,000 new jobs this year.
It seems that the prospect of companies, particularly those from abroad, making money from such growth has spooked the Government. While companies in long-established sectors such as oil, gas, nuclear and water are generally foreign-owned and regularly make windfall profits, it is clear that this cannot be allowed in the solar sector.
The irony is that solar is one of the few energy technologies that can be rolled out quickly at scale, whose costs are coming down, and which generally has the support of the public.
The review will create a great deal of uncertainty among investors and companies looking to deploy the technologies at just the time when the sector was poised for take-off. It is indeed a strange way to encourage the private sector to grow us out of recession.
Jonathan Selwyn, Managing Director, Lark Energy, Bourne, Lincolnshire
Le parking puts us to shame
As one who was recently scammed by one of the large car-parking companies, I hope that recent correspondence (9 February) about the near-criminal activities of the people who control our car-parking will initiate a debate about exactly why we have to pay for car parking at all.
I lived in France for some years, where my town council's attitude was that the spare land around the town was already owned by the citizens and consequently it would be unfair to rent it back to them, so parking was free. On market days, it was difficult to find a space but that was just part of the trade-off for not having a local mafia or municipal authority using "rationing" as an excuse for extraction of excessive fees.
Two things stand out as fundamentally wrong with the present arrangements. The first is that low-paid town-centre workers cannot afford to use their cars to go to work. I regularly speak to shop assistants, who are bitter about the high level of charges.
The second is the wasteful and immoral use of public records such as those held by the DVLA to enforce private monopolies. If a large, rich, car-parking company cannot afford to follow up its delinquent payers, then it should not be up to the taxpayer to do it for them.
Chris Payne, Lincoln
UK help for the Turks and Caicos
Your headline "Scandal-hit Caribbean islands seek £160m UK taxpayer bailout" (9 February) is misleading. It is a bank-loan guarantee which will allow the Turks and Caicos Islands to pay their own way out of debt. This has not cost the taxpayer a penny.
We make no apology for our support to the Turks and Caicos. This is a British territory and we have a historic duty to its people. The guarantee is vital to allow them time to turn around the islands' financial crisis and will stop them from relying on aid handouts from the UK.
This Government will not let the Turks and Caicos fall victim to financial ruin. Securing a commercial loan will rebuild financial stability, allowing the islands to quickly repay their debts. Without our support, the Islands will slide further into economic crisis and will be more reliant on UK support in the long-run.
Alan Duncan, Minister of State for International Development, London SW1
Radio 4 still represents admirable "British values", an oasis in a desert of dumbed-down tabloid journalism ("Trust backs Radio 4 audience target", 8 February). As for "broadening their appeal to ethnic minorities", their coverage of Indian issues is vastly more intelligent and nuanced than any other branch of the media. I hope they will not give in to bullying and inverse snobbery.
Saraswati Narayan, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire
My granddaughter, who is 15, has been set an English homework that involves the study of the language on EastEnders. Am I going mad, or is this nothing more than an exercise is bad grammar, lamentable vocabulary and inadequate communication skills? Learning to speak badly is something kids do without any help from their teachers.
John Wells, West Wittering, West Sussex
Although Gene Vincent's version was noteworthy (letter, 2 February) I must emphasise that the best version of "Over the Rainbow" is by the late, great Eva Cassidy.
Robert Boston, West Malling, Kent