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Tuesday 18 August 2009
Letters: Police overtime
Overtime 'bonanza' means overworked police
The revelation that police constables are working up to 75 per cent more hours than they are contracted for ("Police pay – the great overtime bonanza", 17 August) in order to boost their salaries is of great concern and could prove hugely detrimental, both to themselves, and the general public they are employed to protect.
Chartered Management Institute research shows that of people who work long hours 41 per cent believe it makes them get angry with others too easily, while 23 per cent report experiencing difficulty in making decisions. When faced with making on-the-spot decisions about public safety in potentially highly-charged situations, do we really want those thinking on their feet to be in such a state of mind?
As well as causing performance and productivity to suffer, working long hours has a negative impact on an individual's health and wellbeing and reduce the amount of leisure time they have available to spend with family and friends away from the pressures of the job.
The promise of substantial financial reward in return for forgoing a normal work-life balance may be too great an incentive for many police constables to feel they can turn down. Worryingly, it appears that they are being encouraged to be irresponsible about the number of hours they work by those in senior management – the very people who should be managing the organisations in a way that best meets the needs of employees and the public they serve.
The police have traditionally faced problems of under-resourcing. Managers coercing constables to take on so many extra hours is an inadequate quick fix to a long-term issue. Quick fixes are one thing, but who will answer the wider concerns that this situation raises about police working conditions and the dire consequences that might result if no action is taken?
Chief Executive, Chartered Management Institute, London WC2
Whose side are we on in Afghanistan?
You publish on two pages the photographs of 199 UK servicemen killed in Afghanistan (15 August). How many editions would be needed to publish the thousands of photographs of the innocent Afghans killed, perhaps by some of the UK servicemen you pictured?
On another page of the same edition you showed a smiling President Karzai and the report that he had sneaked through a law that will allow Afghan husbands to starve their wives if they refuse to obey their sexual demands.
On reading that report, do the relatives of the 199 dead servicemen believe that they died to keep such a person in power that introduces such a law against women? And do they believe like me, that they should never have gone to Afghanistan in the first place, and that the remaining servicemen and women should now refuse to take part and return home.
At the height of the bombing campaigns by Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe that were devastating German and British cities, Churchill wrote with confidence that Britain would win out. "History has proved that we have always been able to stand our casualties more than other nations."
Public consternation about the rising death-toll of British troops in Afghanistan is not evidence that this nation has "gone soft". Rather it is a reflection of a deep disquiet over the legitimacy, tactics and purpose of the invasion and occupation.
New official power erodes liberty
You are right that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act must be repealed (leading article, 11 August). That alone is not enough. We need a complete review of the relationship between state and subject.
This government seems to believe that in pursuing its aims, any mechanism can be justified. There has been an avalanche of legislation creating new offences and granting new powers.
Rather than wonder why the police could no longer cope, powers have been given to a variety of bodies to impose "fines" for an increasing number of infringements. Because the bringing of cases to court has become so difficult with the paperwork requirements on the police, the courts have been sidelined. Extra-judicial disposals are now used for 50 per cent of petty "crime".
The various regulators now have the power to punish. This is contrary to long established legal principles that infractions should be not punished by those who detect them.
Local authorities benefit from the "fines" imposed by their civilian enforcement officers. This is just plain wrong.
The very basis of our free society is being eroded daily. How can we restore the proper foundations of our liberties, which are based on due process?
I was saddened by your hysterical approach to covert surveillance operations. Your report of "an astonishing 1500 requests for surveillance powers from town councils" should be seen in the context of there being 380 local authorities in England and Wales authorised to use directed surveillance for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or public disorder.
You say: "It is impossible to see any justification for permitting [local authorities] to retain these intrusive surveillance powers" to deal with offences such as littering and dog-fouling. Intrusive surveillance authority is limited to police and security agencies. Local authorities may only use "directed surveillance"; they may only observe people going about their business in public places. The people conducting the surveillance will only see what any other member of the public would see, far from your allegation of "infringing the privacy of the innocent".
You seek to minimise the millions of pounds obtained by benefit fraudsters, the most likely targets of local authority surveillance. A recent surveillance operation that I took part in was limited to one follow of a suspect from a job centre to her (undeclared) place of business. It identified that she is an illegal immigrant, uses numerous false identities (taken from the graves of dead children), has committed massive mortgage fraud and has obtained approximately £60,000 in benefits to which she has no entitlement. I leave it to your readers to determine if this action was both proportionate and necessary – as required by the surveillance legislation.
The writer is fraud manager for a local authority
Methane beneath the oceans
In connection with Dr East's letter ("Leave methane where it is", 12 August), I fully appreciate that if we burn the 10,000 billion tonnes of frozen methane lying in the deep seas, this will cause the release of about 27,600 billion tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere and that the atmospheric CO2 will increase by about 1511 per cent.
However, this CO2 will probably be released over a period of about 1,000 years and not all at once. Moreover, countries like India have about 400 million of their people with no electricity whatsoever. Why should so many people live their shortened lives in such deprivation?
If the west leaves the methane where it is, I doubt if the rest of the world will follow suit; international law or not. The value of this methane is about 536 times the GDP of the US; the temptation is too great for mankind to resist such a valuable prize.
Global warming can be dealt with by scientists and technologists. Give us the tools and we will finish the job!
Professor Carl T F Ross
Department of Mechanical & Design Engineering,
University of Portsmouth
Shocked by US healthcare
It is about time someone helped the poor people in America, and I support President Obama completely in his healthcare reforms.
On a recent trip to US, I was shocked to tears. In New York there were beggars with legs missing on the streets, filthy and clearly unfed; people just walked by. In Anaheim, California a Hispanic woman approached me and asked apologetically for some money for medicine for her son, in a pushchair, who was clearly ill.
It really churned my stomach and reduced me to tears. It was like a third-world country. I thought of when my son was young; when he was ill, I would just get medicine with a prescription, not worrying about paying for it, the difference between life and death.
I also met a cab driver who told me that he paid $400 a month on medical care plans and when he needed a heart operation, it did not cover it and he had to pay another $7,000, so someone is getting rich on it.
Really sad and terrible, for what is supposed to be the most powerful and forward-thinking country on earth.
Shanklin, Isle of Wight
Terence Thorn's experience with the NHS appointments system (letter, 15 August) is depressingly familiar. In June, my GP referred me for a dermatologist's opinion. I was telephoned and given a choice of four hospitals, and I selected the nearest. An appointment would be made by post. I received a letter merely repeating this information. No appointment letter arrived.
I phoned a second number: a letter had apparently been sent, giving a date (in September), which I mentioned was not possible for me.
In order to change the date, the letter had to be reissued – it would tell me a third number to ring to change the date. When this letter arrived, and I telephoned as instructed, an automated voice told me I must quote my booking reference number and password, to be found on the copy of my GP's letter – which I have never received.
From my GP's practice, I was given a fourth telephone number to discover my booking reference number and password. During the phone call I made, I was offered a new appointment date in October, which I agreed to. I was also sent a letter confirming this date; this letter noted that the hospital would also send a confirming letter – and I must not attend unless I have this additional letter. Ten days on, no such letter has arrived.
The simple solution to getting nice clean fivers (Letter, 17 August) is to go inside the bank and draw the money at the counter. I have been made to feel my age a number of times when I have explained this to young people who have no idea that it's possible to get money inside a bank, having only ever used ATMs with their £10 and £20 notes.
Off to Coventry
Clive Menzies (letter 17 August) comments on the "plush" Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) offices on Piccadilly. Mr Menzies, and no doubt others, will be pleased to know that in January the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (previously QCA) is moving out of Piccadilly and into its new base in Coventry. Coventry not only offers reduced rental and associated costs, but also gives QCDA the best access to schools, colleges and employers throughout England.
Head of external relations
Britain has imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands following an inquiry which found "evidence of government corruption and incompetence". Britain, whose Parliament is full of MPs who charged the state for their gardeners and plumbers, for their sink plugs, light bulbs, fitted kitchens, duck islands and Sky Sports subscriptions, and for their second, third and fourth homes – that same Britain is running another state on the grounds that it is corrupt. Does this mean that British corruption of a higher standard than that to be found in the rest of the world?
Welcome to Britain
In your article on Britain's ailing tourist industry (The Big Question, 13 August) you say that "the main thing that many other countries do better than Britain is marketing". Sure that's the main thing? Where do you rank weather, food, service, price, cleanliness, infrastructure, roads, attitude to children? It's not about "poor decision-making and allocation of resources by Whitehall", it's about poor decision-making day-by-day in tourist sites around Britain. Try getting a meal after 9pm in Edinburgh during the Fringe this week.
In his article (14 August) about Brown resenting France and Germany's growth, Sean O'Grady claimed not to know the German for "prudence". Unsurprisingly, no one word in German fits exactly. Die Klugheit has the additional meaning of cleverness, whereas die Umsicht carries with it the idea of circumspection. Whether Gordon Brown's celebrated prudence was clever or merely circumspect is a matter for further debate.
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