Letters: Royal Mail must stay universal

These letters appear in the 21 November issue of The Independent

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Well now, that’s a surprise! Having bought for a song the UK’s favourite postal system with its major USP and time-honoured universal delivery system, the “new” Royal Mail looks set to be gearing up to shear off this encumbrance so as to streamline itself to battle upstarts such as TNT and Amazon, which have the audacity to be cherry-picking its best routes.

Well, the buyers knew this was already happening perfectly well when they bought the business, and they knew that Royal Mail was not just any old parcel delivery outfit.

It’s time they used their privileged power base and (still) massive customer goodwill to do what they are expected to do, and compete professionally with the relative newcomers.

And let’s hope Ofcom does what it’s supposed to do in preserving the universal delivery system  at all costs.

Ian Bartlett

East Molesey, Surrey


The threat to the Royal Mail universal service is yet another demonstration that competition does not improve service.

As a scientist I discard  or modify hypotheses that do not stand up to observation. Why does the Tory party not do so with  its competition myth?

A A Chabot



I would like to add my  voice to those that have expressed concerns regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

This agreement would expose our democratically elected government to non-democratic pressure from unaccountable multinational corporations, which would under its terms have recourse to suing this country over any policy that they felt to be against their interest.

Worse still, any such legal suit would be heard in secret under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation, an organisation that has historically been slavishly supine to the interests of big multinationals.

 Almost certainly, it would make reversal of the creeping steps already taken towards privatising our NHS open to challenge from commercial healthcare operators seeing themselves shut out of lucrative opportunities to further milk the British taxpayer; while re-nationalisation of our railways, utilities, or the Royal Mail – which, like many, I still harbour hope of one day seeing – would be nigh on impossible.

We expect the Tories to welcome the TTIP, because it is the party of big business. What I find seriously disquieting is Labour’s apparent acquiescence in this threat to our independence, which is at least as menacing as any posed by the EU.

When will Labour at long last show some backbone and stand up for the rights of ordinary people over powerful corporations, as it was founded to do?

Richard Trotman

Penistone, South Yorkshire


Bring back the era of belles lettres

The news that budget cuts and safety concerns are leading to a decline in the number of foreign exchanges at secondary school level, combined  with the appallingly low level of pupils’ foreign language competence reported by the National Foundation for Educational Research, is a sad sign of the growing insularity of UK secondary education (“The foreign exchange  trip is becoming passé for UK schoolchildren”,  18 November).

However, there is an alternative to group exchange visits. It is the tried-and-tested foreign  pen-friend arrangement. When I was in my final  year of primary school,  back in the late 1950s,  my class teacher, who had been doing some basic French with us, one day allocated to each pupil  the name and address  of a French school pupil roughly our own age.

Within just over a year, having completed my first year of French at secondary school, I was on my way solo to visit my pen friend, whose family had invited me over for part of the summer holiday period. My pen friend visited my family a couple of years later. He and I still correspond.

Times change, and some parents these days may be nervous about putting 12-year-old offspring on to an airplane to be greeted at the other end by people they hardly know.

Furthermore, letter writing may be tiresome and old hat to many secondary pupils. But the various forms of electronic communication that are now open to them, including Skype, could easily serve as a platform for schools to develop pen friendships with pupils in other countries.

David Head

Navenby, Lincolnshire


An extreme view of an ordinary school

Turning to the inside  pages of today’s paper (20 November), which carried the front page headline “Islamic extremism claims top C of E school”, I discovered the headline itself to be extreme. An Islamic Society set up by sixth formers does not constitute a takeover of  the school.

I also noted, but was not surprised by, the statistic that despite being a Church of England school 80 per cent of the pupils are Bengali Muslims, accompanied by the comment of your Education Editor that the school  was thus “reflecting the make-up of the community it serves”.

Hence my lack of surprise, because all Church of England schools seek to serve the local community as they are parish-based, not faith-based. The Church of England doesn’t have so-called faith schools. Other Christian denominations and other major faiths do have faith schools, but not the Church of England.

The only qualification required to benefit from the ministry of the Church of England, be that baptism, marriage, burial, pastoral care or, as in this instance, education, is that you live in the parish. Every citizen in this country is a parishioner and can call upon the services of the local parish church, by right. That is one of the huge benefits of the Church of England being the Established Church  of the land.

Canon Tony Chesterman

Lesbury, Northumberland 


No credit for hotels which take liberties

The case of the “hovel allegation surcharge”, in which a Blackpool hotelier attempted to debit an extra £100 from a guest who posted an unfavourable review, not only raises questions of just how critical one can be online – it also raises serious questions over credit card “authorisation”.

When I give an online retailer, an airline or a hotel the “authorisation” to make a deduction, it is for an agreed amount in return for a service. I assume a contract (real or implied) is created for that specific transaction and the agreed amount. I do not imagine I am giving a blank cheque to the retailer to plunder that account.

Recently a hotel in London pre-authorised my credit card for £100 above the cost of the room for “services I might use”. I had to agree, if I was to continue my stay, even though I had no intention of using “additional services”.

The hoteliers in Blackpool may be aggrieved by the tone of the review, but something must be done to protect consumers against retailers who use cards in this way.

Matthew Hisbent



If you don’t need fuel subsidy, pass it on

Trevor Pateman (letter,  19 November) is obviously in the fortunate position of not actually needing the £200 winter fuel payment, but according to AgeUK “on average, one older person will die every seven minutes from a cold-related illness this winter”, so for many pensioners the payment  is a life-saver.

The money is sent out just before Christmas as presumably a goodwill gesture and doesn’t have  to be used straight away  to pay for “winter fuel”.

Mr Pateman could  donate his payment to AgeUK, giving him a  warm glow by helping someone in real need.

Mary Gough

Watford, Hertfordshire


A donnish character, but no professor

Your report on a Cambridge don’s bequest of nearly £1m to the Liberal Democrats (14 November) refers to him several times as “Professor Watson”. George Watson was never a professor. He was a college and faculty lecturer in English, for 50 years a resident fellow of St John’s. He died not “in August”, as your report had it, but in August 2013.

A notable donnish character (who kindly invited me to dinner  once, when I had a literary history of Cambridge published), cultured, polymathic and of robust views, he received, so far as I can discover, surprisingly few, if any, obituaries in the national press.

Graham Chainey



Paddington’s too much? Oh no it’s not!

The British Board of Film Classification has awarded the Paddington Bear film a PG certificate. Have the BBFC’s members ever been to pantomime? Mild threat? What about the wicked queen, step-mother or ugly sisters? A man dressed as a woman? The Dame. A woman dressed as a man? Principal boy. Innuendo? “Ooer, missus, what a big one!” (beanstalk, pumpkin, cucumber). I despair.

Sue Thomas

Bowness on Windermere, Cumbria