Police behaviour put lives at risk
We need a public inquiry into the policing of demonstrations. I attended last Thursday's, and from the perspective of public order, the police tactics were an abject failure. Moreover, they put lives at risk.
The earlier demonstration on 10 November saw damage to 10 Millbank. Despite the presence of around 3,000 police last Thursday, the disruption in London was much greater and protesters sustained serious injuries – a number of people were struck on the head with batons, which in the case of Alfie Meadows nearly had fatal consequences.
The police need to explain why there were so few arrests during the course of the demonstration. They also need to explain why the designated exit point at Whitehall was blocked from around 5pm, with no alternatives provided until hours later, when crowds queued to leave one by one on the condition of being photographed. (I spoke to police who expressed criticism of this decision made by senior officers.)
In such bottlenecks, owing to the pressure of numbers behind them, peaceful protesters found themselves involuntarily pressed up against armed riot police: several people report being hit despite raising their hands and explaining that they could not move.
Kettling is a violent police tactic that punishes people for exercising the right to protest. It prevents peaceful citizens from dispersing from dangerous areas. The use of mounted police was deplorable. We nearly had another fatality. Kettling must stop.
Dr Andrew McGettigan, Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, London WC1
The Coalition has deceived no one
For a Cambridge professor Simon Szreter does not appear to be too bothered about the small matter of evidence for his assertion that "this Coalition is founded on deceit and disrespect for the electorate" (13 December). On the contrary, Nick Clegg made abundantly clear in advance of the election that the party which had won most votes and most seats would have the first right to seek to govern, on its own or with other parties. The Conservatives won most votes and most seats and sought constructively to form a government with the Liberal Democrats. Their Coalition Agreement contains clear elements of the manifestos from both parties, so Professor Szreter's contention that "manifestos mean nothing" is absurd.
Meanwhile, no "bare-faced lies" were told. It is Liberal Democrat policy to scrap tuition fees over six years, and it remains so. If at some point electors decide to send 326 or more Lib Dem MPs to Westminster, no doubt the momentum behind that position will be unstoppable. As it is, they afforded that party only 57 seats (9 per cent of the total) and returned 564 MPs (86 per cent of the total) from either of the Labour or Conservative parties – both of which (before the election at least) were committed to the Browne Review.
Alex Davies, London SW16
Loans mean big bill for future taxpayers
Due to the higher tuition fees the Government is going to have to loan up to £16bn to students each year so they can afford the higher cost of university education. To pay this loan back over its 30-year duration they need to earn an average salary of £38,000-40,000 per year.
Because of the lack of jobs paying salaries this high, the Government's own figures estimate that 75 per cent will be unable to pay back their loans. As the Government has no plans to deal with the unpaid loans, in 30 years' time the taxpayer will pay a heavy price for this short-sighted policy.
Thomas Wiggins, Wokingham, Berkshire
Cuts herald a revolution in local government
The Government has announced a 4 per cent reduction in local government spending. This is a misrepresentation. For example, in Wyre Forest we will see a 15.8 per cent cut next year and 13 per cent cut the year after in the grant we get from government. This means we will lose nearly a third of our funding in 24 months.
We all know that change has to come, but it is coming too fast and it will be at the expense of the communities that councils serve. Government is in danger of showing that it does not support the work that district councils do in the community in providing leisure spaces, cleaning streets, emptying bins and other measures.
If they do not support the work district councils do, then it is about time they were straight with our communities and took steps to abolish them. What is not fair is the demise of district councils through funding starvation dressed up in the name of efficiency and localism.
John-Paul Campion, Leader, Wyre Forest district council, Stourport on Severn, Worcestershire
Within the Localism Bill is a requirement for local authorities to allocate a proportion of the community infrastructure levy back to the communities from which it was raised. Parish councils could potentially benefit from thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds in addition to other powers which may come their way, such as the ability to run schools, parks, post offices etc, to instigate referendums for vetoing increases in council tax, and far greater influence on planning decisions. This is astonishingly radical.
This could dramatically re-energise communities; but there is a major hitch. A great many parish councils are wholly unelected because they have more seats allocated to them than the number of people willing to put themselves forward as councillors.
Here in south Shropshire, I believe that of the 68 or so parish councils, only four are elected bodies. The remainder are made up of co-opted people. A majority of these co-opted councillors carry out their duties conscientiously, but there is no way that they can be regarded as representative of local residents.
This may not matter as long as the business of the parish councils is confined to street lights and park benches, and their budgets remain small, but once that situation changes the absence of a democratic process at local level becomes a very serious matter.
Patrick Cosgrove, Clun, Shropshire
The new rights announced by Eric Pickles giving social enterprises, mutuals, co-operatives, charities and community groups the "right to buy" local assets (or run a local service) is a clear indicator of this government's support for a social economy.
Why is this right not extended to the private sector? There are a great many private businesses that fail survive the retirement of their founders, or which fail to survive insolvency proceedings, because business advisers and insolvency practitioners never consider the mutualisation of assets under the control of the workforce.
This government has set itself on a course to embrace worker co-operatives as an instrument of public policy. If it pursues this course only in the public sector then it will be creating an uneven playing field that prevents fair competition.
The integrity of the Coalition Government is at stake if it fails to legislate on this issue to allow worker co-operatives to take over insolvent firms, with the same rights to prepare business plans, and with sufficient time to secure finance.
Dr Rory Ridley-Duff, Sheffield Business School
North-east Lincolnshire is one of the more deprived areas in the country, with higher than average unemployment, not helped by the end of deep-sea fishing. Yet its council is one of the 36 throughout the country that face a maximum spending reduction of 8.9 per cent.
This will have a deep effect on services, such as libraries that are not deemed to be a "frontline" priority. Many poorer people rely on libraries, which provide free online access for those who can't afford the internet at home, as well as books and magazines. Similarly, I understand that snow clearance isn't a priority, despite the winter we are having.
Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby
The poorest councils facing the biggest cuts is bad news for the communities they serve, who also rely heavily on social enterprises and voluntary-sector organisations to deliver services that improve life chances and health, reduce crime and provide opportunity (report, 14 December).
While the Localism Bill could in the future make it easier for social enterprises and charities to deliver services, the cuts over the next two years could act as a short circuit, and many of them will not survive. Only when they are lost will they be appreciated for what they have brought to our communities, and the price of their disappearance will be felt, not least by those living in the country's most deprived areas.
Ceri Jones. Head of Policy, Social Enterprise Coalition, London N1
I am puzzled by the coverage of the planned public-sector cuts. There has been much shroud-waving from the NHS, warnings of "Christmas for criminals" from the police and dire warnings in general about "reduction of frontline services". Is there some collective memory loss about the 80 per cent increase in public-sector funding that occurred under New Labour?
We have one of the most obese and unproductive public sectors in the world. Shouldn't the British taxpayer be cheering and flag-waving at the slimming regime? We need to be careful to lose weight from the back office and quangos rather than the front line, but there is no excuse for a decline in services, even with 20 per cent cuts.
Mary Caldecott, Bath
Now that councillors are going to be deciding on very important local-government cuts, don't you think it is about time that their individual votes were both recorded and published so that the electorate can see who is voting for what, just as we can with Parliament?
Peter Tallentire, Crosby, Merseyside
A criminal waste of time
Your correspondents (15 December) are clearly unhappy about the inefficiency of the procedures for Criminal Records Bureau checks. A few months ago I needed a similar check to be carried out under the Polish system. The process was simple and efficient. All I had to do was go to the local magistrates' court, where I filled out a one-page form, went upstairs to pay, and returned to pick up the result. Time – about 15 minutes.
L J Atterbury, Szydlowo, Poland
I read Tom Clarke's and Steve Parker's letters (14, 15 December) with interest. Having worked for a large London further education college for over 20 years, I took voluntary redundancy a while ago.
Upon trying to do some part-time teaching cover at the college to help very stressed colleagues, I was advised by the HR department that I not only needed to do CRB checks every three months, but that I also needed to be interviewed and to bring proof of ID and utility bills. Is this bureaucracy gone mad?
Anita Fromm, London NW7
I am much the same age as Mary Rogers (letter, 15 December) and also have professional references. But, unlike her, I had no objection to completing a disclosure application form in connection with voluntary work in a local school.
My application form, legibly completed with ballpoint pen, was returned after several weeks marked "spoilt", with a post-it note: "Please ensure new form is completed as cannot accept form in blue ink". I didn't bother.
Anthony Bramley-Harker, Watford
Bankers view us with contempt
Given her position, Angela Knight, head of the British Bankers' Association, is perhaps understandably blinkered in her view of the industry. She says "The banks are committed to playing their part in restoring the UK economy" (Business, 10 December).
However, they seem less aware of their obligations to British society. They plan to hand out bonuses totalling many billions of pounds. This is despite their role in bringing our economy to its knees and also following receipt of taxpayer bailout money totalling around £1 trillion. Such bonuses are scandalous, given the job losses and financial insecurity faced by many. It is clear that the banks view wider society with contempt and are merely focused upon protecting their own interests.
The sooner the role of the financial sector is diminished and we concentrate on making the things, growing the food and running the services that society needs, the better.
Keith O'Neill, Shrewsbury
Your report on Ireland's severity budget ("More misery for Ireland as brutal cuts revealed", 8 December) falls into the trap of describing the emergency €85bn IMF/EU package as a bailout of the Irish Republic. Surely everyone can see the package for what it is: a bailout of the European institutions that recklessly invested in Ireland's property bubble.
Far from rescuing Ireland, the package has turned her people into indentured servants. Ireland must endure tax increases and reductions to vital public services so that European bondholders do not suffer losses on speculative investments.
The debt saddled on Irish taxpayers is far too high to be paid off by the current generation. Institutional investors will eventually have to take a fair share of the losses if we are to avoid weighing future generations of Irish taxpayers down with this burden.
Noel Lynch, Chair, London Green Party, London N6
Gambling drives up price of food
The current spike in food prices could not have come at a worse time ("Record surge in food and clothing costs drives up inflation", 14 December). With massive public-spending cuts and job losses, thousands of families up and down the country are being forced to tighten their belts this Christmas. But what makes it particularly hard to stomach is that the story of high food prices is not simply one of poor harvests.
One of the main drivers behind recent food inflation is the City of London, which has been pumping record amounts of speculative money into commodity derivatives markets, including wheat, maize and sugar. The result has been to amplify what might otherwise have been a nominal rise in the cost of foodstuffs due to variable global crop yields.
If the Treasury and Bank of England want to get serious about tackling inflation, they must step up efforts to stop the financial services industry from gambling on the price of food.
Julian Oram, Head of Policy and Campaigns, World Development Movement, London SW9
Sick as a magpie
James Lawton surpassed himself on 10 December by suggesting that "an astonishingly large number" of Newcastle United fans "remain unsick to their stomachs by the manner of Chris Hughton's dismissal". If Lawton had listened to, watched or read any local media (all available via the new-fangled interweb, James) he would have found that 99.99 per cent of Newcastle fans were disgusted by Hughton's sacking and want Ashley, Llambias and their latest stooge, new Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, to leave their club immediately.
Local TV news has been full of vox-pops of Toon fans all demanding Hughton's reinstatement as manager.
Martyn P Jackson, Cramlington, Northumberland
This PM is no parson
Richard Ingrams errs in suggesting that David Cameron is a parsonical prime minister (11 December). His ability to speak with fervour and brio, love of gambling and soft touches (N Clegg, for example) clearly show he's of the bookie genre – the Silver Ring, to be precise, though Mr C is lissom where Claude "Mustard" Pott is stout and round.
Nor is the bookie trade to be sniffed at; it was the choice of William, ninth Earl of Rowcester, despite the peer's bungling that role. For any commentator seeking to explain our ruling class the social analyst P G Wodehouse remains the infallible resource.
Arthur Pottersman, London NW3
The National Rifle Association is right (report, 14 December) in denying that US weapons are responsible for most of the deaths south of the border. Prohibition fuels Mexican drug wars, not guns. And according to US government figures, 60 to 70 per cent of cartel profits come from cannabis prohibition, so the majority of violence is due to a relatively safe, extremely popular God-given plant, not drugs.
Stan White, Dillon, Colorado, USA