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Thursday 20 May 2010
Letters: Perspectives on the price of oil
Shell's plans to harness gas
On 27 April you reported on gas flares in Nigeria. You are right that the reason for flaring is rooted in the past when there were no markets for the gas; we are agreed that it is wasteful. All of us in Nigeria want to harness the gas and considerable progress has been made – the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) joint venture has reduced flaring by some 65 per cent between 2002-2009.
Part of this reduction is because oil production has been shut in for security concerns, which have also prevented progress on some of our gas-gathering projects. More than 60 of our staff and contractors have been kidnapped in the last two years, while trying to go about their work in the delta, and three have been killed.
The "ominous" new facility you mention as evidence of increased flaring in the Niger Delta is in fact a temporary well-test facility for a development that will harness gas and actually reduce flaring overall when it comes on stream soon.
You call flaring "deadly". A World Bank report says any negative effects of flaring are confined to the immediate vicinity of the flare and will have little or no impact on the health of local populations.
Your editorial quite rightly calls for smaller-scale local gas projects. We are doing this. We recently signed an agreement to start a pilot project using gas from flares to generate power for local communities. Shell already supplies 70 per cent of domestic gas.
Progress will depend on peace in the Niger Delta, and funding from our government majority partner. We welcome the involvement of all parties willing to work towards solving Nigeria's problems. It is in everybody's interests to harness this gas, make it work for our economy and create value, and our continued efforts to reduce flaring are evidence of our commitment.
Mutiu Sunmonu, Managing Director, The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, Lagos
Convert flares into energy for locals
Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) welcomes Daniel Howden's article for not only highlighting the economic and environmental travesty that is occurring, but also showing that a solution that works for local people of the Niger Delta is a real possibility.
SDN and Social Action have been campaigning for several years on the need to end gas flaring in the Niger Delta and the potential to convert this 50m tons of CO2 emissions into much-needed energy for the local population.
With the right political will, pressure from local people, and responsiveness from the oil companies, a fast and tangible impact could be made in putting gas flares to good use. This could help relieve tensions and create a more peaceful and prosperous situation for all involved.
Oil majors that have spent millions of dollars a year on failed community-engagement projects could generate much-needed local goodwill which would also have the potential for wider political repercussions. Their leadership and action could be used to support acting President Goodluck Jonathan's push for reforming the failing Nigerian energy sector.
Turning gas flares into local energy is a win-win situation that should be jumped upon by all parties.
Joseph Hurst Croft, Director, SDN, London EC2
Spending cuts will cost jobs
Graeme Leach (letter, 18 May) suggests supposed benefits from rapid cuts in public spending without mentioning any of the disadvantages.
He suggests that the removal of uncertainty about public spending would lead to increased investment in the private sector. It seems more likely that companies would finally make redundant the staff they have been keeping on in the hope of winning public contracts.
Few would shed tears for the highly paid consultants who would lose work, but there should be more concern about the serious effects on the construction and manufacturing industries when public spending on new hospitals, schools and roads is cut.
Equally a sudden cull of public employees when there are few other jobs available will lead to an increased benefits bill and the loss of their spending power, not to mention the effect on the commercial-property market as demand for office space declines.
Mr Leach equally only looks at the downsides of increased taxation. He does not point out that used imaginatively taxation could not only bring down the deficit but also have other benefits.
The proposed increases in capital gains taxes on private property could help reduce property prices, particularly in areas where second homes are popular. An increase in taxation on large houses could ensure that those who avoid or evade other taxes finally contribute fairly and reduce the tax burden on the poorest.
In the longer term an extension of the concept of carbon taxes, from cars to domestic electrical appliances, could not only help meet carbon-reduction targets, but also reduce imports and help close the likely gap in electrical generating capacity in the near future.
R Long, Bristol
According to Graeme Leach "companies and households have been holding off on spending decisions while they decide whether the Government has the will to cut spending" (letter, 18 May). Really?
The households I know of are "holding off" on spending because people rightly fear for their jobs or have already lost them. The rising jobless figures that will follow public-spending cuts are hardly likely to improve that situation.
And companies aren't spending because fewer people are buying from them.
If unemployment rises, obtaining credit will be even harder and even fewer people will be buying. Not to mention the loss of income resulting directly from reduced public-sector spending.
Mr Leach has rightly identified uncertainty as a negative factor in the economy. But you don't reduce uncertainty by saying, "However bad things are, we're going to make them worse by exactly this amount."
David Woods, Hull, East Yorkshire
Send for more consultants
The new government has a formidable task ahead of it, to reduce the public-sector deficit while maintaining and, preferably, improving the quality of public services ("Civil servants 'objected' to Labour's final spending spree", 19 May). But this moment could be the catalyst for a giant step forward in the organisation and effectiveness of the public sector.
Our evidence is that there is considerable scope for making savings and improving productivity in the public sector, provided that there is political will and strong leadership for doing so. Recent proposals from MCA member companies identified at least £25bn of savings. Some of these come from enhanced efficiencies, but some also involve improvements in the way that front-line services are organised.
We do not believe that reductions should lead to declining services or reduced performance. No private-sector organisation would assume such a link. This is a moment for ambition and positive thinking. Our industry stands ready to help.
Pat Newberry, President, Management Consultancies Association, London WC2
What the deficit numbers mean
Many people suffer from "number numbness" when it comes to figures – the larger the number, the less it is properly understood, particularly when millions become billions. This is unfortunate in the context of government figures, when people really need to know what's going on.
To understand £1bn, imagine putting a pound coin down once every second, making a pile. It would take 11 and a half days to make a pile of one million pounds. It would take 31.7 years to make a pile of a billion pounds.
The Government has given a figure of £163bn for the public deficit: so if you had put down a pound coin every second from 3000BC you still wouldn't have enough to pay off the deficit.
You say in your cover story of 18 May that quangos are costing £46.5bn annually; that's a pound a second for 1,442 years. You also report that David Cameron says the £1.5bn bill for outside consultants is "outrageous"; at a pound a second for 47 and a half years, I think we all agree.
Justin Alistair Lowde, Bath
Support the Greek protests
As academics in the field of employment relations, we are very concerned about recent developments in Greece and the media coverage regarding the ongoing strikes and protests. We believe that it is imperative that it is recognised that behind the crisis and the response of the labour movement is the fact that Greek workers are being asked to pay for a debt that they did not create.
Financial deregulation has increased economic insecurity and social inequality. Rather than governments trying to restore confidence in democracy, governments are desperate to restore the confidence of financial investors. Greece is currently in the eye of the storm, but many other countries, including the UK, may yet find themselves targeted by speculators.
We support the efforts of the Greek labour and social movements to counter the draconian measures imposed on their economy and the attacks on collective rights gained over the past 30 years.
Professor Stephanie Tailby, University of the West of England
Professor Sonia McKay, London Metropolitan University
Professor Miguel Martinez Lucio, University of Manchester
Professor Gregor Gall, University of Hertfordshire
Professor Ralph Darlington, University of Salford
Prof. Dr Valeria Pulignano, KU Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven/ University of Warwick (UK)
Dr Melanie Simms, University of Warwick
Ass. Professor Peggy Dobbins, University of Alabama
Eduardo Crespo, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)
Devi Sacchetto, University of Padua (Italy)
Dr Rosemary Webb, Southern Cross University, Australia.
Dr Andres Lazzarini, University of Alicante, Spain
Paul Brook, Manchester Metropolitan University
Dr Helen Richardson, University of Salford
Nick Clark, London Metropolitan University
Dr Maurizio Atzeni, Loughborough University
Dr Manuela Galetto, University of Warwick
Dr Michael Richardson, University of the West of England
Dr Andrew Smith, University of East London
Eleanor Kirk, University of Strathclyde
Dr Adam Mrozowicki, University of Wroclaw, Poland
Horen Voskeritsian, CIRN-AUEB
Douglas Martin, Strathclyde University
Stephen Vallance, University of Leicester
Pablo Ghigliani, CONICET/Universidad Nacional de La Plata (Argentina)
Dr Anna Paraskevopoulou, London Metropolitan University
Demet Dinler, SOAS-University of London
Dr Andrea Imperia, Università di Roma "La Sapienza"
Dr Lefteris Kretsos, Coventry University
'Angry fanatics' strike back
Bruce Anderson's hatred of liberal values has reduced him to spiteful irrationality (17 May). In his first paragraph he equates Liberal activists with pathogenic bacteria before labelling them fanatical, shallow, thoughtless, unscrupulous, and mendacious. Can he really believe such irrational nonsense?
He then proceeds with his usual Europhobic rant, slyly equating adherence to federalism with pederasty by replacing federalist with his coining of "federast", before calling Nick Clegg a Dutchman; not a dishonourable term, but a dishonest thing to say.
He should consider that a federation is the best and most harmonious way to unite peoples of different languages and cultures; that some of the best-run and happiest countries in the world are federations (think Switzerland, or Canada); that the UK is already a de facto federation; and that if his beloved Conservatives were to win a large majority in the Commons, it would be almost certain to become a de jure one.
Professor Max Gauna, Sheffield
I'm not normally angered by Bruce Anderson; but then, I don't normally read Bruce Anderson, standard-bearer of the alive-and-kicking Nasty Party and a true anachronism in a decent, fair-minded, sensitive and interesting newspaper. I am, though, burning with rage at his deeply offensive description of "the average Liberal constituency activist [as] an angry fanatic, with shallow, thoughtless opinions, utterly unscrupulous on the doorstep, ready to spread any smear and tell any lie".
I helped the Liberal Democrats fight this constituency and oppose the serial dissembling of their Tory opponent. The Lib Dem candidate here is a man of spotless reputation for his diligence, honesty and fairness as a district councillor, and his supporters, all Anderson's "average Liberal constituency activists", behaved impeccably throughout the campaign, working hard and with good humour, showing understanding of the issues and the problems of their fellow constituents, answering their questions honestly, and throughout the campaign avoiding the temptation to sink to the Tories' level.
J E S Bradshaw, Southam, Warwickshire
I am not a Lib Dem member or supporter. However, I found Bruce Anderson's opening tirade against them utterly childish. So much so, that I couldn't be bothered to read the rest of the article. David Cameron appears to by trying to introduce grown-up politics into Britain. It would be nice if Mr Anderson could follow his example.
Keith O'Neill, Shrewsbury
As a fairly average Lib Dem activist, I naturally fail to recognise Bruce Anderson's assertion that I am "an angry fanatic with shallow thoughtless opinions, utterly unscrupulous ... ready to spread any smear and tell any lie". (17 May). Also, being of a charitable disposition, I find it hard to believe that Tory activists are as Mr Anderson claims, discussing who among the Ukip leadership are "most deserving of death under torture". Clearly the right to oppose the Tory party in an election is an alien concept to your columnist.
Dr Robert Heys, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire
A new Great Reform Act
I am not sure Earl Grey saw the Great Reform Act of 1832 as "the birth of people power" (19 May). Grey and his ministers were motivated by conservative intentions; they wanted to preserve aristocratic government. There is a strong argument that in many ways very little was changed by the Act.
What was significant was the 15-month parliamentary struggle, which is why Bright described it as "not a good Bill, though ... a great Bill when it passed", and although the Tory fears about the immediate consequences were unfounded they were right to be fearful of the long-term impact of the first measure of parliamentary reform.
Patrick Derham, Head Master, Rugby School, Rugby, Warwickshire
Wednesday 12 May was truly a historic day, with the astonishing sight of two political party leaders in unity on the Downing Street lawn and seismic changes being made to central government policy.
An equally potent change means that soon we will see the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy for local government and community groups. With the public sector facing severe budget pressures, real choices on local policing, licensing, housing and benefits may at last be made in your neighbourhood.
As we peel back expensive and overly complicated bureaucracy, inspection regimes, ring-fencing and budget allocations we will have to judge whether some London boroughs should receive seven times more funding, per head of population, than others.
In the London Borough of Sutton we have worked hard to build a well-informed and involved community; this will be the difference between endless rows over budget cuts and communities that back inevitable change.
Councillor Sean Brennan, Sutton Council, Greater London
Time for Tory sacrifice
No objection to leaving the Inheritance Tax threshold where it is. Middle England will, I imagine, bite the bullet. But, as you know, country estates (including dower houses, cottages-to-let, shooting and fishing, as well as principal residence and farmland) are commonly exempt – ask any successful ex-City gent.
A case for "one nation" sacrifice, by us Tory landowners? And a sop to our Lib Dem partners too, bless them?
Sir Leslie Fielding, Elton, Shropshire
No one can argue for encasing a woman in a burka as Lindsey German does (letter, 18 May). We have a right to see and to know who is next to us. Taking the Italian case of a woman fined for wearing the outfit in public as an example of racism is too bizarre for words. Her husband, who announced he'll keep her indoors, because no other man is to see her face, should be jailed for false imprisonment.
Ewa Maydell, Milton, Dumbarton
Liz Hoggard (18 May) provides some amusement and also some amazement. The co-author of the report that she quotes thinks that natural human reproduction is "fairly inefficient". Does he not know that there are an estimated 6 billion human animals on this small planet? The population is expected to be 9 billion within the next decade or so. As overpopulation is already a very real problem, the last thing we need is a scientific method of making human reproduction more efficient.
J W Wright, Calne, Wiltshire
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