Letters: Reform after Rover

Rover shows need for workplace democracy
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The Independent Online

If ever there was a case to justify wholesale reform of our business culture, that case is Rover. That no Rover executive broke the law is irrelevant. Company and employment law is currently designed to legalise theft from the workforce, in the same way the MPs' expenses system was designed to legalise theft from the taxpayer.

The Government missed its chance to radically reform our business culture when it gave into pressure during the Company Law Review, 2000. We must now press all political parties to end "shareholder interest" as the dominant arrangement, and build on EU laws that have introduced works councils. Shareholder boards can retain their role raising investment in money markets, and play a partner role in strategic management, but the time to take democratic control over remuneration and conditions of employment has come.

We have much to learn from the most profitable, productive and accountable organisations in Europe – the members of the Mondragon Co-operative Corporation. For the past 30 years, they have limited executive pay by asking the workforce (at a local level) what is acceptable as a ratio between the highest and lowest paid within each company. The ratio of 6:1 has been stable for almost 30 years, and can only be modified by a further vote involving each workforce. Only once has an executive group run a campaign to overturn this arrangement, and the proposal was defeated in all but one of the 150 or so member businesses. The message went out loud and clear that if executives want to earn more, they must increase the remuneration of the lowest paid within the company.

Such workplace reforms do more to tackle social exclusion and poverty, and close the pay gap between rich and poor, than all the government schemes and initiatives introduced during the reign of the New Labour government.

Dr Rory Ridley-Duff

Sheffield Business School

CRB checks drive volunteers away

I write in response to Anthony Seldon's article of 12 September about the new Independent Safeguarding Agency and extended CRB checks. I work as a volunteer co-ordinator in Peterborough and my partner does the same job in Leicester, primarily with children from poorer backgrounds. My greatest fear is that the biggest impact these changes will have will be on voluntary provision for children in inner cities and non-white communities – the very communities that most need positive interaction between the generations.

One role I have is in running after-school youth groups. I am feeling the impact already in attracting volunteers. Statistically 37 per cent of black men aged 18-35 will have "intelligence" on them passed to those who employ them in voluntary work, compared with 11 per cent of white men in the same age-group. "Intelligence" includes arrests that did not lead to a charge or charges that did not lead to conviction.

I have this very week had a man aged 25 tell me he will no longer be coaching our 12-15 year olds' football. At 17 he was arrested for car theft and not charged but he does not want people who run youth groups he works with to know about this arrest. I am sure this is being multiplied up and down the country especially in inner city areas.

This life experience of his is actually a strength in terms of relating to young people from various backgrounds.

James Matthews

Ely, Cambridgeshire

The new proposals for CRB checks on up to a quarter of the adult population are a paradigm of a "Civil Service solution": well-intentioned, bureaucratic, self-defeating, labour-intensive and expensive. It will fail to deliver at excessive, unmeasured cost. The failure will continue and the cost will escalate.

Enforcement will be time-consuming because the central criteria, "intensive" and "frequent" contact with children, are imprecise and will generate uncertainty. The value of an end – protecting children – is being used to justify a self-defeating means to achieve it.

The Civil Service needs a new 21st-century mission, radical re-structuring to achieve it and politicians who know how to lead not follow it.

Keith Farman

St Alabans, Hertfordshire

We all want the vulnerable to be protected. Alas, the Government's insistence on check-ups for every volunteer is creating an atmosphere in which individuals are encouraged to be wary of their fellows. What an indictment of 21st-century Britain. As E M Forster wrote: "It is better to be fooled than to be suspicious. The confidence trick is the work of man; the lack of confidence trick is the work of the devil."

Betty Harris

London N1

Am I wrong or have people been calling for more action to protect children from predatory child abusers?

I am a volunteer driver for a group of vulnerable people and as long as eight years ago I had to have a CRB check, and it did not occur to me to question the necessity of it. It appears to me that every decision made by the Government is now questioned as a matter of course and a public outcry is expected.

Please let us think before we start shouting down policies that have been formulated for the protection of the vulnerable members of our society just because we think they may cause us a minor degree of inconvenience.

Mike Wood

Thornton, Lancashire

As a parent and grandparent I first thought the new CRB checks on other parents spending time with children rather draconian, but on reflection I have come to the conclusion that sadly there is no other way to ensure the safety of our children. Unfortunately it is a sign of the times that we now find ourselves living in, and anyone who blames it upon the "nanny state" is sadly deluded, or has something to hide.

Susan J Moran

London N11

Uneasy about Harrow mosque

As a former Harrovian with family still in the area, I was saddened to see the violence erupt on Friday night. However, I do have first-hand knowledge of the grievances and uneasiness of the local residents regarding the building of such a large mosque in a mostly residential area.

My family lives a couple of streets away from the mosque, which is visable from a great distance, completely out of keeping with the rest of the area, and has had a massive effect on the fabric of the local community.

As far as the protesters are concerned, it is all very well to dismiss them as a bunch of racist football hooligans, but what they were protesting about – the "Islamification of Europe" – is actually a valid issue which should be open to wider debate.

It angers me to see how quickly politicians, most of whom live in very affluent areas and have no idea of the impact this and the continued growth of Islam in this country has had on Harrow and other areas, were quick to scream racism and make the tired old comparisons with Nazi Germany.

Charly Leach

London se27

Breaking up the NHS team

Here we go again. Another government in economic difficulties, so another ludicrously expensive report commissioned from management consultants, with the same wholly predictable recommendations, principally swingeing staff cuts ("NHS ' should sack 137,000 of its staff' ", 3 September).

If implemented, the recommendations will lead to more and more bits of the service being transferred to agencies (whose staffs' pensions and other working conditions will be no concern of the NHS) who will compete with each other for limited-term contracts.

This will result in the further break-up of the NHS team loyalty which was such a feature of the service before the idea of compulsory tendering was forced upon it during the Conservative years. It was this team concept which enabled the service to work the miracles it did on behalf of us all for the best part of 60, usually under-funded, years.

Yes, productivity and efficiency should be improved, but if the Government wants to know how to achieve that let the NHS managers listen to the staff. They will have the answers – after all, they created the best-loved service in the country over the years – and should be fully involved in its future development.

Geoff S Harris


An ill-deserved honour for Martin

What I had feared has taken place. The immediate former Speaker of the House of Commons has been "elevated" to the House of Lords. This is customary and in some cases richly deserved. Michael Martin, however, was removed from this distinguished position, only the second to suffer that indignity since medieval times.

The office of Speaker requires some outstanding qualities, including a deep knowledge of the House and a great love for it. These were not qualities always apparent with Mr Martin.

Reward for failure seems to have become an all too common feature of our society. Mr Martin has been well looked after materially and should retire quietly. I felt he was probably a decent man overall, but the decent course of action in the circumstances would have been to decline the honour.

Howard Dolan

Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Visa applicants not interviewed

It is worrying that only 29 out of 66,000 people applying for British visas from Pakistan were interviewed by embassy officials ('Failure to vet immigrants from Pakistan 'a threat to security'', 10 September).

The Home Affairs Select Committee have continuously pressed the Home Office to provide the resources to UK Border Agency to interview visa applicants in the country of application as a matter of precaution to terrorism, forced marriage and fraudulent student visas.

The committee published a report earlier this year on bogus colleges which found that thousands of people have been entering the UK to attend fake colleges. Too often UKBA tries to act to solve a problem which it has created itself.

Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP

Chairman, Home Affairs Select Committee, House of Commons

Rejected by elite schools

Donald Williamson (letter, 11 September) wonders whether the head of an independent school might shuck off low-achieving pupils before they get the chance to sit their A-levels and ruin the school's reputation.

It's not only the independent sector who engage in such antics. One of our local (and extremely high-achieving) grammar schools more or less forbids pupils to carry on into the sixth form if they stand the slightest chance of failing to get five A*s.

The outflow turns out to be good for the other secondary schools in the area, since even the rejects are highly able.

Edward Collier

Gotherington, Gloucestershire

Sincerity test

The new Turing Test: is it possible to tell if a political apology was made on compassionate grounds, or just some spin-doctor trying to gain some ground when recent decisions have not held public favour?

John Hein


Regional rain

Richard Ingrams's bafflement at the washout summer (12 September) is easily explained: in the South-East it has been dry but elsewhere it has been wet. Travel from Bristol to London and you can see and feel how much drier it is. This causes problems for journalists who like to make sweeping generalisations about everything, and for London-based weathermen who fear accusations of metro-centralism if they look cheerful when it is pouring down in Northern Ireland.

Vyv Hope-Scott


Memory of 9/11

Al-Qa'ida hit the Pentagon as well as the Twin Towers. How many people recall this when the anniversary of 9/11 is remembered? It's surely one of the modern triumphs of spin that all attention has been focused on the Twin Towers and away from the biggest security embarrassment of all time.

Rose Moloney

Forres, Morayshire

No vermin

It is indeed unacceptable to use the word "vermin" to describe human beings (letter, 11 September). It is equally deplorable when applied to other animals. Vilifying creatures in such a way makes it even easier to persecute and destroy them, merely because we perceive them to be in our way. However, thinking is confused on the subject, as the word only means "worm". I thought we considered them at least to be beneficial beings.

Marian Hussenbux


Temporal shift

Further to Gavin Wraiths' letter (12 September) regarding when we started to get confused about whether we move though time forwards or backwards, I believe it was next Friday.

Eamonn Reilly

Solihull, West Midlands