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Tuesday 22 September 2009
Letters: Property levy
Clegg's big house tax could miss the target
The latest policy revelation from the Liberal Democrats ("Clegg: Hit the rich with a new tax on big homes", 21 September) has not been very clearly thought through.
When Nick Clegg was interviewed on BBC radio he was asked how the policy would be implemented and he said that the Land Registry could identify homes worth in excess of £1m. Great, that covers properties that have recently changed hands. However, the tax is a percentage of the value in excess of that level and will require rather precise individual valuation and on an annual basis.
We have witnessed property price drops of over 15 per cent in the past year. On a property valued at £2m in 2007, that would be a reduction of £300,000 and of the proposed tax of £1,500 per annum. I suspect that the cost of administering such a tax has not been fully calculated and will overwhelm any increased revenue.
Why not simply have a higher rate of stamp duty on property transactions in excess of £1m, which will incur no additional administration costs.
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
Small businesses are struggling, pensions have been reduced and savings interest has been trashed this year. So when Mr Clegg talks of Russian oligarchs and Hampstead he should remember that 70 per cent of Richmond houses are worth £1m, and 40 per cent of the owners are retired. We're not MPs on £60,000 plus expenses and won't have generous inflation-linked pensions.
These proposals will prove a real vote-loser in west London, almost as bad as voting for the third runway.
Why we must vet for paedophiles
Terence Blacker (16 September) spoke out against the new vetting and barring powers that will require parents and others to have CRB checks if asked by clubs to provide transport for youngsters. This regulation does not apply to arrangements made between parents without the club's involvement. So that might allay many people's concerns.
My experience last summer should make many reflect on the discussions to date.
I help run a cricket club in South Wales. Last year a new player was introduced to the club through a youth section coach. This man played several games alongside many junior members aged 13 upwards. Imagine my horror when I happened to read in the local paper that this man had been charged and sentenced to prison for possessing indecent images of children. He had already served a prison sentence some years ago for a similar offence.
Like many clubs, we struggle to find adults to help out and we would readily have accepted this man's offer of help. We need to realise the lengths that child sex offenders will go to to have contact with young people. For many of them it is a lifelong fixation. A CRB check on this man would have brought his previous offences to light and stopped any further involvement. Without them, we leave ourselves open to further abuse by offenders, who must currently be laughing at our inability to take their behaviour seriously.
I thank Terence Blacker for raising the subject of screening those performing useful social functions with young people. I turned against the vetting and barring scheme as soon as I saw its name. Had they called it the Vetting and Accepting Service, I might have been willing to apply as a volunteer at our community library. I shall not as long as there is an implied guilt in participating in the screening service.
Laurie van Someren
The double-take by the Government on the vetting and barring scheme should come as no great surprise given the uproar it has generated. However, we shouldn't expect the scheme to be watered down by much if the example of the regulations put in place to manage the prescribing of controlled drugs is anything to go by.
This convoluted paper-based scheme was introduced following the Shipman inquiry and in a similar approach it assumes that all prescribing medical personnel are potential Harold Shipmans. Perhaps there is an element of shared professional guilt which has persuaded the medical establishment to accept the scheme, given that it was one of their own who perpetrated mass murder in this way.
However, for the Department of Health to introduce such draconian, time-consuming, expensive and ultimately useless regulations on the basis of one case appears to reflect a deeper tendency on the part of this Government to cover its back at every opportunity.
You have a picture of the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, in a classroom (21 September). Has he had a CRB check?
The management consultancy scam
The really surprising thing about management consultancy (and the management guru industry) is its longevity, notwithstanding frequent press exposures and periodic government panics about its cost and effectiveness ("Masters of illusion", 17 September). The public sector is of course consultancy's softest and most lucrative market.
I worked with just two brilliant consultants whose genuine technical expertise transformed a key part of our business; but I also saw dozens of others who at a huge cost over the years came in peddling formulaic solutions and left the organisation much as they found it.
Whatever technical problems that businesses and governments face, consultants are often called in by ineffectual and out-of-touch senior managers to deal with under-achieving middle managers.
Management self-confidence is the key issue. Fleet-of-foot entrepreneurial businesses have it in spades and need no consultants. Large bureaucratic organisations often conspicuously lack it, and undermine the confidence of hard-pressed middle managers further by inviting in these clever outsiders.
Then the organisation wonders why the quick fixes didn't work. Then, of course, even more consultancy appears to be required!
It is a brilliant scam – perhaps the cleverest business idea of them all – and we shall continue to fall for it.
British pay for Ulster apartheid
Your leading article on Northern Ireland sectarianism (14 September) and recent events there depict a disgraceful situation, particularly in view of the amount of British money being poured into that province in the name of the "Peace Process".
We in Scotland are subject to periodic outbursts of English indignation at how much we are perceived as costing the English taxpayer under devolution and the Barnett formula. But Northern Ireland is supposed also to be funded under the Barnett formula. However, as a consequence of the events of the past 40 years or so it is in fact receiving – mainly from the British taxpayer but also from the European Union and other ad hoc funds – an additional £1.5bn a year as a result of the "divide". I have seen little comment on this largesse.
In practical terms, what this permits is the provision of duplicate social, educational and other infrastructure facilities to enable the "culture" of sectarianism to perpetuate itself. This is becoming a form of institutionalised apartheid.
What evaluation has there been of all this expenditure on "peace and reconciliation"? Better, surely, to force the population to face the reality of living within its own means, with no indulgent parent to meet the cost of its wanton destruction, or to make the provision of resources beyond the basic minimum (on a UK comparison) dependent on the population's conversion to proper standards of civic behaviour and the removal, as a first step, of the obscenity of the "peace walls".
A province which wants to benefit from British support must show that it is now starting to live by British values of freedom and tolerance of diversity.
Too many heads, too few teachers
Your headline declares that teachers are angry over plans to cut senior posts (21 September). Really? Which teachers are angry? Not I.
Senior posts have survived as junior ones have diminished. Some years ago I started at a school which had seven senior teachers and 84 staff. By the time that the planned decline in numbers had taken place, we had seven senior teachers and 48 staff. For once I agree with Ed Balls.
Stretford, Greater manchester
New Labour slogan: "Reduction, reduction, reduction."
New roles for the Post Office
Your leading article is right to castigate management and union for a short-sighted view of what needs to be done to modernise the Post Office (17 September). Everyone agrees that it has to find a new role in a rapidly changing world.
The recession provides a golden opportunity; the PO could offer free banking to pensioners and the unemployed. In partnership with local authorities it could establish Community Investment Trusts, providing cheap loans to local businesses and social entrepreneurs.
Diversification would offer postal workers a wider range of more skilled and better-paid jobs. The tragedy is that, because of the long history of bad industrial relations, the chance is likely to be missed.
State subsidy for over-population
Henry Best (letter, 19 September) is right to point out self-destructive tendencies exhibited in our population growth. He is wrong, though, to accuse governments of doing "almost nothing".
By paying handsome child allowances, governments continue to stoke the misapprehension that all individuals have a divine right, or even a duty, to produce more children. How much of our vast £180bn social welfare budget could be saved if the Government put a one-child limit on child allowances?
Once again the developing world is being told by letter writers to stop having children. Yet our economic policies keep them poor; our greed keeps them hungry and our emissions keep them in peril from climate change.
The headline above Johann Hari's article of 16 September reads: "The fashion industry imposes a cruel burden on women." Should this not have read "Women impose a cruel burden on women"? Choices have consequences.
I hope Western democracies will support Danny Ayalon, Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, in his campaign "to prevent turning international law into a circus" ("Israelis hit back at UN report alleging war crimes in Gaza", 17 September). Israel could itself play a major role in achieving this noble objective by complying with the 50-plus UN Security Council Resolutions that it is currently in breach of, and by implementing the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state based on the legal requirements of the relevant resolutions.
Richard Carter (letter, 17 September) is right to highlight the danger, under proposals for voting reform, of top-up lists being ordered by the importance of friends, family and financial supporters as seen by the party leadership. But there is a simple way of at least not weakening the already fragile link between elections and candidates the voters would actually prefer. Choose the top-up MPs from the plentiful supply of losing candidates in the constituency vote, ranked by their share of the vote or perhaps more fairly by their losing margin.
Keighley, West Yorkshire
Wine for children
I am not sure how relevant research in Missouri is to children's drinking in England (E Jane Dickson, 19 September). In America, drinking usually means drinking spirits; in England alcohol given to children is usually beer, cider or wine. In the great melting-pot of New York, I have heard that two of the ethnic groups with the lowest rates of drunkenness and alcoholism are the Jews and the Italians, both of whom traditionally drink wine, at home, as part of a family meal.
The Goons famously walked backwards to Christmas, singing "The Ying Tong Song".
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