Letters: Perspectives on the public sector

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Tough work with people

Once again the private-sector bosses complain about sickness absence levels in the public service sector ("Sickies cost the country £2.5bn a year", 7 June). What they can't acknowledge is that while stress is present in the private sector, it is many more times intense in the public sector.

Working with human beings who are in stress themselves, as most workers in health and social services do, is a lot more stressful than working with things, which is what the private sector does, on the whole.

Manipulating figures on a computer, as finance workers do, doesn't have an emotional charge; dealing with frantic people in an A and E does. This summer the carefree financial sector will enjoy relaxing holidays abroad, courtesy of all the public's cash that has been shovelled their way recently, following the disaster they have inflicted on us. We in the public sector will be even more stressed as we try to contain the fall-out of the finance sector's reckless behaviour; redoubling our efforts to work with the consequent rising levels, among the people we serve, of homelessness, domestic violence, abuse of children, unemployment and personal debt crisis.

Incredibly, given the stress we are exposed to, our sickness levels will not be significantly different from those in the private sector. That's dedication.

John Stothard, Ringmer, East Sussex

Share the pain, keep the gain

I keep hearing that those who work in public service should "share the pain", but when did it ever work the other way round? I don't recall ever hearing captains of industry say, "We've had an excellent year. Turnover and profits have increased, and our top executives are receiving big bonuses. It is therefore only fair that public-sector workers, who have no opportunity to make profits and earn bonuses, should be given a generous pay rise too." Why is the pain to be shared, when the gain never was?

One reason that so many jobs have been lost and hours cut in private industry is that the recession has caused a reduction in demand for the goods and services they provide. In the public sector, however, the recession has increased workloads in many areas: the stresses and hardships experienced by many people has increased health problems and financial difficulties, causing them to turn to the NHS and the benefits system for support.

Services for the unemployed, the homeless and those with mortgage or rent arrears are facing extra demands, causing further knock-on problems in homes and schools. All this creates extra work in the public sector.

As for the salaries and pensions paid in the public sector: when I hear that the senior executives of Tesco or HBOS, or the top football managers, are prepared to work for a similar salary and benefits to those of senior managers in the civil service, local government, the armed forces or the NHS, I'll begin to feel that the load is at last being more evenly spread across all levels of society.

Marjorie Clarke, Stoke Gabriel, Devon

Back to the age of Thatcher

There are no surprises in the report "Osborne's bombshell : Chancellor declares war on middle class welfare" (9 June ). Next on his hit-list will be the already poor and underprivileged.

Before he starts hitting these people he should first make the rich pay their fair share of the tax bill, then cut his own wages and those of other MPs.

Margaret Thatcher is written all over these plans. This is the way she worked when she was Prime Minister, pandering to the rich and allowing the poor to sink deeper and deeper into poverty. Anyone north of Watford Gap will recognise this pattern.

I hope the people who voted these harbingers of doom back into Westminster are proud of what they have done.

Anne Beirne, Newcastle-under-Lyme Staffordshire

I do rather think Gordon Brown is not wholly responsible for the mess we're in, and that the bankers might just have something to do with it.

Is it not more like this? A quarter of the excess public debt is Brown's fault – too much public spending from the fool's gold of dodgy economic growth; a quarter is bailing out the banks; a quarter is a result of reduced tax revenues from a 5 per cent reduction in GNP following the credit crunch; and a quarter arises from increased public spending on benefits, also as a result of the credit crunch.

Perhaps we also ought to focus on that dodgy Thatcher/New Labour economic growth: deregulated; short-term; obsessed by price and cost-cutting; using low-wage labour, female or immigrant or dependent also on benefits; growing the female workforce by subsidised nursery provision; with low public and private infrastructure investment, industrial decline, non-value-adding financial products and an Everest of private debt – all driven by macho-managers and PR experts.

Perhaps we ought to wake up to the end of Thatcherism and Reaganomics.

Philip Morgan, Winchester

Dr Satish Desai (letter, 9 June) claims that the previous Labour government should be absolved from blame for the forthcoming cuts in public expenditure. His argument is that the economy is currently so weak that it would be dangerous to introduce cuts at this time.

What is missing from his letter is any serious attempt to consider why the recent increase in government indebtedness is so much greater in the UK than in other Western European countries. The main reason is that the Labour government stupidly allowed the deficit to increase rapidly during the boom years preceding the credit crunch. Indeed, about half of the increased indebtedness stems from this rather than global factors.

In sum, it is only fair to attach a considerable amount of blame to the Labour government for the cuts. It spent 10 profligate years failing to control public expenditure and we will all spend the next 10 years paying the consequences of that profligacy.

Michael W Eysenck, London SW20

I wonder how many pensioners like us would be quite prepared voluntarily to return their annual £250 fuel allowance while the country fights its way through the debt mountain? We currently put ours towards a ski holiday.

So, Mr Osborne, how are you going to make it easy for pensioners like us to return our winter fuel allowance without a behemoth of civil servants to administer the return of the cash? Don't make it means-tested – that just increases administrative costs and penalises those who do need the money. Just rely on the goodwill of public-spirited pensioners.

Martin Gebbett, Maggie Gebbett, Chislehurst, Kent

Didn't we once elect MPs and then pay them to make decisions? Blair told us all what he thought we wanted to hear. Now Cameron and his sidekick want us to decide what cuts should be made to solve the country's problems (which are "not our fault, guv").

Message to Dave and Nick: You wanted the job, you got the job – now do what you are being well paid for and get on with it.

We all recognise a PR ploy to make us think we helped decide what they will actually decide.

Derek Metson, Brightlingsea, Essex

Oil spill blame spread wide

Bruce Anderson makes several errors in his article "Obama, not BP, is the villain of this piece" (7 June).

He clams that only two years after the 1991 oil spills in the first Gulf war, the Persian Gulf had returned to normal. Dr Hans-Jörg Barth, a German geographer, states in a 2001 research report: "Several coastal areas still show significant oil impact and in some places no recovery at all". Further, the depth of the oil spills in the Persian and Mexican Gulfs are different by several thousand feet. Much of the Mexican Gulf oil spill is in sub-surface plumes; the 1991 oil spill was mainly on the surface. The two are quite dissimilar, and the Mexican Gulf spill is far more damaging.

Mr Anderson also claims that "oil is organic and as such biodegradable". Just because something is "organic" does not mean that it is biodegradable. Perhaps he can name a sea organism which metabolises crude oil with no toxic by-products? Benzine compounds are known carcinogens; other constituents are poisons of varying toxicity to sea and land creatures.

He claims the oil industry is obsessed with safety, deducing that President Obama is wrong to impose a moratorium on deep-sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. If, despite their obsession with safety, and "no evidence of wrongdoing by BP", such a disaster has occurred, it is clear that the oil companies are operating at unacceptable risk.

I doubt Mr Anderson will be taking his holidays swimming in the Mexican Gulf any time soon. The fish, shrimps, birds, turtles, other wildlife have no choice.

Peter Slessenger, Reading

After reading Bruce Anderson's claim that "all the major oil companies – including BP – are obsessed with safety" while "Greenpeace ... would like to deny mankind the energy resources on which civilisation depends" I was reminded of Groucho Marx's line: "Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"

On the day Mr Anderson's column appeared, oil continued to gush from BP's fractured well, while Greenpeace published a 40-year global blueprint for developing a hi-tech clean energy infrastructure capable of powering the world without exacerbating climate change. One could accuse Greenpeace of being obsessed with the safety of our climate system, while oil-addicted companies like BP would like to deny mankind the energy alternatives on which our civilisation depends.

Graham Thompson, Greenpeace UK, London N1

Probably as a result of a series of human errors an uncontrollable oil spillage occurred. There were victims, so there must be a crime, ergo a guilty party. BP and Mr Hayward were chosen.

Mr Hayward has taken a decisive leader's role which has inevitably led him to be, in his own words, a lightning rod.

Bruce Anderson rightly confirms that oil is biodegradable and BP has made a good decision to provide £350m to fund a 10-year independent research project which will include a study of the effects of oil pollution in the sea.

Nature can accommodate these one-off attacks as it has before. It is the perpetual onslaughts that need correcting. We need a dramatic crime and an identifiable villain – not millions of motorists each making excuses and claiming that they are the victims.

Terry Pugh, Baildon, West Yorkshire

I'm becoming increasingly sick of the US hypocrisy over the Gulf oil spill. Here we have the USA, the world's greatest per capita polluter, which, in its unrelenting quest to feed an insatiable appetite for oil, has allowed the Texas-based company Transocean, in association with Halliburton, the US oil services giant, using a US-designed and operated rig, to drill in ever more risky locations with inevitable results.

How convenient that the lease on the Gulf site is owned by British Petroleum. It must be so much easier to blame the Brits than your own kith and kin.

Martin McGlone, London SE3

Since President Obama has decreed that BP must compensate the residents of the American Gulf coast to their last gold cufflink, will he ensure that Union Carbide do the same for the residents of Bhopal?

Richard Parry, Appleby, Cumbria

While not wishing them to be kicked when down, purely commercial companies involved in recent events evoke the need for a law restricting the appellation "British" to concerns that have formal, evident and current government or national links.

British Petroleum has not brought lustre to the nation, nor has British Airways. Those of us Britons not of UK origin (I am South African) may have stronger feelings on this matter than more laissez-faire natives.

David Rosseinsky, Exeter

We shoot game, not people

Penny Little (letter, 9 June) presents the familiar knee-jerk reaction familiar to all game-shooting enthusiasts, linking the shooting of game with the mentally disturbed actions of a killer who targets his fellow human beings.

She also describes herself as "an active campaigner", and presents the usual account of her sufferings at the hands of these foul-mouthed adherents of mediaeval barbarity.

As an originally disinterested observer of both hunt and shoot, I have witnessed "activists" abusing, threatening, provoking and assaulting hunt and shoot followers, and generally exhibiting all the symptoms of football hooligans on an away-day.

To compare the average game-shooting enthusiast to a gun-nut is about as relevant as saying everyone who drives a car is a hit-and-run maniac just waiting to explode.

Christopher Dawes, London W11

Steve Ford (letter, 9 June) can dispense with his guns, lurchers and ferrets to keep rabbits down. He should get a cat or two.

Rabbits did untold damage to my vegetables until we adopted a family of half-a-dozen feral cats. Since these splendid animals arrived we have not seen a rabbit or a rat, the pigeons do not settle for long and the drop in mouse numbers seems to have done wonders for the bumble-bee population.

Andrew Johnson, Haskayne, Lancashire

Lockerbie debate in the theatre

We acknowledge the concern of some relatives of the bombing's victims about Nottingham Playhouse's new play The Families of Lockerbie (report, 7 June), but we have not set out to sensationalise or offend.

This is an important story and one that time has not resolved. We see theatre as an important medium for engaging with debates that feature large in people's lives, and the Lockerbie case is of universal concern.

This piece is very deliberately not about identifiable families but about a range of reactions to the same series of events. Set at the specific moment of al-Megrahi's release last August, it is careful to draw only on matters of public record. It reflects different shades of opinion, but the families are shown united in grief and mutual support even where they differ in judgement.

We hope our play will express solidarity with all the families of Lockerbie in their continued search for justice and truth.

Michael Eaton, writer, Giles Croft, director, Nottingham Playhouse

Waste of time in prison

Phil Wheatley warns against the use of short-term prison sentences ("Former head of prisons: short sentences don't stop reoffending", 9 June), crucially pointing out that those on community sentences do better and are less likely to reoffend.

It is widely accepted that, apart from temporarily removing somebody from society, short-term custodial sentences are not able to address offending behaviour, do not provide rehabilitation and, in short, are a waste of money. Money we just don't have.

I hope that ministers listen to Phil Wheatley and make the most of this opportunity to make massive financial savings while making society safer by scrapping short-term prison sentences in favour of community programmes.

Frances Crook, Director, Howard League for Penal Reform, London N1

Jargon disorder

I read in my local newspaper recently of a condition in children known as "oppositional defiant disorder" – a new one on me. If my late father was alive, I have no doubt he would translate that to mean not doing as they were told. Is there no end to these long winded-titles they give to children when in fact their actions are nothing less than the result of lack of discipline at an early age?

Joan McTigue, Middlesbrough

Bad credit

These credit rating agencies which are now threatening to remove our AAA ratings would not perchance be the same ones that gave Lehmann Brothers, RBS, etc, etc their AAA ratings and so contributed to the mess that required the Government to increase its borrowing to rescue them so that the credit rating agencies are now threatening ... Are they pulling our legs?

Tom Simpson, Bristol

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