Letters: Perspectives on snow-bound Britain

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The Independent Online

Penalties for winter-fit cars

Following your correspondence about road chaos and winter-fit cars (letters, 13 December), I did a quick poll among friends and colleagues. Apparently getting penalised by your insurance for using cold-weather-rubber-boots not only for yourself but for your car, too, is quite common in Britain (where you don't have the legal requirement to use such, as in alpine parts of Europe).

The reason given is: you are not allowed to mess with the initial setup of the car, even if you use a second set of manufacturer's own wheel-rims. But you are allowed to ruin a good set of tyres every six months, mess with the first set of rims each time, rebalance them, discard the rubber etc, if you wish to improve driving performance and shorten your braking distance on cold tarmac or snow/ice.

If I damage one of my rims inadvertently by having too close contact with a kerb, am I allowed to get one new rim (and four new tyres, of course)? Or should I stick with the broken one just to conform to that part of the policy's terms and conditions; hoping there is none stating something like "making sure your car is sensibly fitted out for prevailing conditions"?

Sonja Karl, Bangor, Gwynedd

Memories of the big freeze of 1963

Ellen Purton ("Why don't schools stay open when it snows?", 9 December) is absolutely right: schools should stay open with those resources they have and those children who can get there safely. Both mine did in the 1950 and 1960s, including during the month-long freeze of 1963. At Hounslow Town primary, then a new building, we stayed in the hall and canteen with indoor and outdoor activities. It was fun: we read comics not allowed at home and played snowballs with the teachers.

At Chiswick Grammar School, if Southern Electric trains could get us there, the school ran. We might wait an hour for a train in front of the coal fire in the gas-lit waiting room. If the electric train failed, it might be steam-hauled. Often smog-bound we crept along the track at 10mph. Once at school, it was work as normal as possible. We soon dried out – the caretaker stoked up the school's two massive coal-fired boilers and it was like the tropics inside. The spirit imparted to the children was "keep calm and carry on".

Richard Bull, Uplyme, Lyme Regis, Dorset

Parents penalised by school closures

With the bad weather here in Scotland, there has been much over-reaction. Yesterday Stirling council took the decision that school opening times today would be delayed until 10am, on the grounds of "safety".

So I am sat in Kippen, Stirling, at 8.30am on 16 December, having had to take a half day off work to allow me to take the kids to school at 10am. The weather is cloudy; we had a light rain and it 3 degrees centigrade, no problems whatsoever.

Many of the parents at our school are in the same boat, as are parents all around the Stirling area. Our schools seem to think that their "in service training" (which never happens during the 12 weeks of holidays they get every year!) and these changes to routine do not affect us adversely. Obviously they do, and any family with working parents, or single parents relying on a single salary to keep the household, are hit hardest. When will common sense prevail?

Ian Hewson, Stirling

Tax the rich, not graduates

Who elected Julie Burchill (16 December) to decide what is a "privilege" and what is a right? Where does she stand on secondary education – is that a "privilege" that should be privatised along with universities and maybe health, transport and social security? Does she suggest that the poor now get to choose which aspects of our state they will pay taxes for? Or are the rich going to decide for them, as is more usual?

If the state needs graduates, and even JB will probably agree that it does, then we should pay for them to graduate. And if they then go on to earn higher incomes than us they should be taxed like everyone else, including those who inherited their money or left school early to become bankers or journalists.

Why should graduating mean that you have to pay a higher tax than people much richer than you, either as a special tax or as a debt repayment? If new graduates have to pay extra tax, then all graduates should have to pay extra tax, whenever they graduated.

Val Smalley, Leicester

What ignorant Tory malice from Julie Burchill! Charlie Gilmour was not protesting for himself as he is not affected. Rather than cavorting à la Cameron in the Pitt Club, Cambridge's version of the Bullingdon, he was campaigning rather ineptly for the next generation. Hopefully, his father will now pay for the defence by QCs of all those arrested by the police. I cannot see that, however mistaken his conduct, he committed any criminal offence. He has apologised and probably our war dead would forgive him because of the merit of his motives.

Derek J Cole, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex

Julie Burchill spends a whole column waxing satirically about one excited stepson of a rock star as if he is in any way typical of students as a whole. No, the mass of students are not marching for privilege, but for access to education. A goodly number come from the same humble roots as you and I, Julie.

Isn't it interesting how some people, when they manage to scramble up the opportunity ladder, want to pull it up and prevent others following?

Alan Gibbons, Liverpool

I sometimes ponder my decision at the age of 30 to take up higher education, eventually packing in work for full-time study and later gaining a PhD. On reading that Grumpy Old Woman Julie Burchill doesn't "see the point" of going to university and thinks everyone should get jobs instead, I know that I definitely did the right thing. Thanks Julie!

Sean Cordell, Manchester

The problem with higher education for the masses is that someone has to pay for it, and the obvious choice is those who benefit most from it. The current generation may be reluctant to pay off their debt but with the new scheme, and indeed with Labour's old version, only the more successful will pay off more than a proportion of the cost of their higher education.

Back in 1960, when less than 5 per cent of the year cohort went on to university, the country could afford to pay the tuition fees and the means-tested maintenance grants in the confident expectation that it would get the expenditure back (and more) from the much higher income-tax rates then in force.

In 1975/76 and 1976/77 for example, basic rate stood at 35 per cent and there were higher rates on earned income reaching up to 83 per cent, and on unearned income up to 98 per cent.

How many students would willingly accept this tax regime rather than the modern one, plus the loan-repayment scheme, given the choice?

Roger Chapman, Keighley, West Yorkshire

GPs aren't up to this new job

You are right to highlight concerns regarding proposed health-care reforms (leading article, 15 December), but I take issue with the statement that GPs are better placed than NHS managers to make decisions regarding treatments for their patients, and thus are better able to commission care.

Doctors have always been advocates for individual patients, but over the past 20 years or so, with the attempted introduction of a market economy into health care by way of the commissioner/provider concept, GP Fundholding, and then Primary Care Trusts, this advocacy has had to extend initially to groups of patients at practice level, and now looks set to cover local populations; it is this shift that has caused discomfort for many doctors.

Of course GPs are in the best place to make clinical decisions about individual patients, but translating this into commissioning for a wider population with regard to a restricted budget, as would be the case with GP consortia, is another matter entirely, and is, in my opinion, not something that most GPs are skilled enough, or willing, to do.

If we were to consider adopting a "whole health economy" approach to health care, letting local clinicians (jointly from primary, secondary, community care, and public health) determine the most appropriate (in terms of clinical effectiveness and safety) clinical pathways, taking into account the local public voice, and letting locality administrators translate these into cost-effective operating models, the whole of the local population would then have some shared understanding and joint ownership of its own health care within a devolved budget, and doctors could be left to do what they do best.

Dr Adrian Canale-Parola, Chair, Rugby Consortium & Vice-Chair, NHS Warwickshire CEC, Clifton Road Surgery, Rugby

Andrew Lansley is no fool; anyone can see what a financial drain PCTs are on NHS funds. When he closes them there are people who will be put out of work. But some of these same people with experience of NHS financial administration will then be available to be employed by the GPs' consortiums. The GPs will then be able to make sure that what is spent is spent for the benefit of the patient. The patient will be the winner.

The good people of Emsworth know all about the strange machinations of PCTs, having had to watch while ours closed the local hospital, then handed over a site, meant to be for a replacement, to privately financed house-building. Result: ever-lengthening queues for a hospital miles away which are driving our GPs round the bend.

Jim Cottis, Emsworth, Hampshire

Your leading article (7 December) suggested that Andrew Lansley has either devised policy in a rush after the general election or he chose not to share his intentions with the electorate.

As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. In 2007 the Conservative Party published its proposals for legislation, and the main market-based policy ideas contained within them are consistent with the content of current White Paper. These include competition between "any willing providers", patient choice and patient-held budgets, payment by results, and devolving more power to GPs to commission services.

But there was no mention of the major reorganisational changes of dissolving PCTs and Strategic Health Authorities and replacing them with GP consortia, or the denationalisation of Foundation Trusts when they convert to Social Enterprise status.

Despite these significant post-election changes to policy and the associated questionable democratic legitimacy of the White Paper, Mr Lansley has never strayed from his longstanding pro-market ideology for health service reform.

The main difference now is that the Conservative Party is actually in power and he has seen an opportunity to implement his reform agenda at a much faster pace under the cover of the global financial crisis and a Coalition Government, which is changing all sorts of pre-election manifesto pledges.

We are therefore about to witness a form of "NHS shock therapy", where a publicly provided and publicly delivered national health service will be dismantled and increasingly privatised by a full-blooded market unleashed by Mr Lansley and facilitated by the Liberal Democrats.

Dr Clive Peedell, Consultant Clinical Oncologist, James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough; Co-chairman of the NHS Consultants' Association (NHSCA)

Jeremy Laurance repeats conventional wisdom when he reports that the required efficiency saving in the NHS "has never been achieved by any health service in the world" (15 December).

This is not true. Here is one example. The Veteran's Health Administration in the USA (which provides integrated care for many military veterans) simultaneously improved the quality of care from one of the worst to the best in the country while making bigger efficiency savings than the NHS reforms envisage. I'd recommend that all those interested in the debate about the NHS read Philip Longman's book Best Care Anywhere which tells the story.

It is true that achieving the planned improvements in the NHS is hard, but hard isn't the same as impossible. And it seems to me that the biggest barrier to improvement is the prevailing belief that improvement is impossible. If you analyse the NHS from the bottom up (looking at how the system actually works for individual patients) there are plenty of obvious ways to improve the care and make it more efficient. The NHS can meet the challenge if it really wants to.

Dr Stephen Black, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

Resistance is not futile

You report (13 December) that "only half" the population believe that the state should provide a decent standard of living for everyone. Given the remorseless marketisation of the economy and the correspondingly individualist ideology sustained by a large part of the media, Tories and New Labour grandees, this figure actually reveals a high level of resistance. Had the Labour Party built on the anti-Thatcherite tide which carried it to power in 1997, 50 per cent mighty easily have become 60. It now has, courtesy of the Coalition, a second chance to do what it should have done then.

David Parker, Holmfirth, West Yorkshire

Gordon Brown is a humanitarian

Christina Patterson's 11 December column was welcome for those who feel Gordon Brown deserves recognition for the qualities that make him a true humanitarian. There is good news amid the present gloom and much of the credit should be given to our former Prime Minister and Chancellor. He steadfastly supported the UK's pledges to increase aid to the poor and vulnerable in the world. Aid has brought tremendous advancements in controlling and reducing the incidence of HIV/Aids. The Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria alone has saved more than 5.7 million lives since 2002. The epidemic has stabilised in most regions and the price of Aids drugs fell by 99 per cent between 2000 and 2008.

More resources are needed to reach the promise of no child born with HIV by 2015 and I am delighted that our Government supports the pledges made by Gordon Brown. Instead of asking for a reduction let us recognise the importance to us all that we continue to provide aid to the poorest. Well done Gordon!

Reg Davis, Poole, Dorset

The oldest girls' school in Britain

My husband has just returned to Australia from London, bringing with him a copy of The Independent for 13 December. Serendipitously it contains a piece about Christ's Hospital and their uniforms. Many years ago I was a pupil at the school, in the days when the girls were still at a separate site in Hertford. You state that the school was "originally founded to educate needy boys from the City of London"; actually there were girls at the school from the very beginning. This makes for a situation where Christ's Hospital is the oldest girls' school in the country, but not the oldest boys' school.

Carol Bolton, Claremont, Western Australia

Assange shows up flaws of EAW

The Assange case demonstrates the fundamental flaws of the European Arrest Warrant; I have warned since 2004 of the danger that it could be used against political dissidents.

Under the EAW extradition how been replaced by "judicial surrender", which is now a mere bureaucratic formality. Provided the minimal paperwork has been filled in correctly then there are only very narrow grounds for opposing its execution.

The fundamental flaw of the EAW is that the British court cannot take into account or even consider the prima facie evidence against the accused. And it is no good arguing that the accused person's human rights are being abused, because all EU member states are signatories of the European Convention of Human Rights and the courts will take the view (as they have on previous occasions) that they cannot therefore be in breach of them.

If any good comes of Mr Assange's case it will be in shining a spotlight on the destruction of our ancient protections under the law in the headlong flight to create a common EU system of criminal law.

Gerard Batten MEP (UK Independence Party, London), Brussels

Estate agents

Adrian G Charlton's letter (14 December) waving the flag for UK estate agents, reminded me of when I lived in Japan. Estate agents there are called fudosan-ya – "money for nothing".

David Warden, London W4