Letters: Science budget

Would a Tory win jeopardise scientific advance?

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Over the past decade the role science plays in our economy and society has changed rapidly. Today nearly half the workforce is in the knowledge economy – producing, distributing, and exchanging information. Innovative knowledge industries, like IT and biotech, have mushroomed.

Government support has been critical in nurturing this growth. Many scientific developments can be linked to the doubling of the science budget from 1997: medical advances, stem-cell research, alternative energies, nanotechnology. Infrastructure investment has transformed laboratories from their neglected state of 1996.

Despite constraints on spending, Budget initiatives last week reinforced government commitment to utilise science to regenerate our economy. Major investments have been announced in the Diamond Light Source and in a new world-class medical research centre at St Pancras. This government has a strong record of commitment to science and science-based enterprise, recognising the value of basic science and providing support on contentious issues.

The international science journal Nature agrees and in contrast recently called the Conservatives a "vision-free zone". The Conservatives' continuing failure to address this critique is making us concerned that this lack of vision actually reflects a lack of commitment. Our economic recovery depends on sustaining and utilising Britain's position in global science, which is second only to the US. We need to know before the election if Conservative policies would jeopardise this.

Professor Alan Bull, Microbial Technologist; Professor David Caplin, Physicist; Paul Connell, Science Educator; Frances Downey, Physicist; Dr Matthew Freeman FRS, cell biologist; Dr Graham Giles, Drug researcher; Dr Stephen Keevil, Medical Physicist; Professor Saiful Islam, Materials Chemist; Professor Ian McGrath, Physiologist Pharmacologist; Dr Sean Munro, Cell Biologist; Dr Alan Nichols, Nuclear Scientist; Bobbie Nichols, Scientific Editor; Professor Sir Paul Nurse FRS, Molecular Biologist; Professor Ken Pounds FRS, Space Scientist; Professor Willie Russell, Virologist; Professor Jonathan Seville FREng, Chemical Engineer; Peter Stern, Engineer; Professor David Taplin, Environmental Engineer; Nigel Titchen, Agricultural Biologist; Dr John Unsworth, Industrial Scientist; Dr Martin Yuille, Molecular Biologist; Professor Robin Weiss FRS, Virologist

Gwynfryn, Wrexham

Employers' attack over 'tax on jobs'

National Insurance contributions shouldn't be raised; they should be abolished. Employers have to calculate three separate taxes every time they do their wages: income tax, employee NI contributions and employer NI contributions. The money then all goes into one pot and is treated as general taxation, while the recipients of social-security benefits never go short because the NI fund has dried up.

There is no logic to the complicated system of calculating deductions three times over – NI and income tax should be merged and income tax raised to cover the shortfall.

Merging the deductions wouldn't just save work for pay clerks; it would be more equitable and raise government income. While income tax is payable on all taxable income, however great, NI contributions are only payable up to £44,000 a year. Proportionally the poor pay a greater proportion of their pay in NI than do the rich. Rolling NI contributions into income tax would mean that the poor would pay less and the rich more.

Such a change should be popular with all parties. The left should be pleased to see pay differentials reduced and the right to see the end of a "tax on jobs". Only the very rich might feel aggrieved.

Michael Woolley

Chichester

While the chief executive of Kingfisher may be right in calling the proposed 1 per cent increase in NI contributions a "tax on jobs", he doesn't explain why those who have jobs should be exempt from shouldering some part of the inevitable coming burden of increased taxation.

The money is going to have to be found from somewhere. The alternatives are increases in VAT and income tax, which will hit rich and poor, employed and unemployed, equally.

Anthony Bramley-Harker

Watford, Hertfordshire

Why is the collective opinion of 65 captains of industry on the subject of taxation given such disproportionate weight? So these would-be policy makers would prefer to keep taxation low by making compensatory cuts public spending.

Well they would, wouldn't they? On their multi-million pound packages they have no need of the NHS and do not need to send their children to state schools.

Kevin Sykes

Upminster, Essex

So, that's that then. The "great captains of industry", those deities of the modern age, have handed down their verdict from Mount Olympus.

Further debate is now superfluous. We should all genuflect towards the nearest supermarket, and vote exactly as they decree.

Richard Woodward

Nottingham

Relish the drama of democracy

I couldn't disagree more with Michael Brown when he says that anyone who says they like elections is lying (8 April). I stood in the wonderful city of Plymouth some time ago, and was grateful that some 14,000 people voted for me.

I met hundreds of extraordinary people in all walks of life. I saw the real problems of single parents, the unemployed, the elderly and infirm, the fantastic commitment of dockyard workers, the devotion and idealism of party workers (of all parties), and I learned to treasure the democratic process.

Politics is more exciting than any sport. It involves us all in situations of massive drama. May 2010 is crucial. Whatever the loyalties people hold, I urge them to vote at all costs. Our lives and times and futures depend on it.

Ian Flintoff

Oxford

Why we must take on the pirates

The bravery of Dutch marines in storming the cargo ship seized by Somali pirates (report, 7 April) is to be contrasted with the "wait and see" attitude taken by EU and UK security forces while observing from the air seizures and kidnappings in similar situations in the Indian Ocean.

Proactive intervention, as often favoured by France, may be the only way to counter the increasing risks of environmental disasters building up, as large-scale tankers fall prey to an increasingly sophisticated piracy operation.

It is only a matter of time before the proscribed Islamist group in control of most of Mogadishu, al-Shabaab, muscles in on this lucrative activity. One shudders to think of the consequences of a floating 300,000-ton super-tanker time-bomb in the hands of a maverick jihadist group such as Hisbul Islam or al-Shabaab.

Dr Joseph Mullen

UN & EC Lead Consultant to Somalia (1985, 1994 and 2005)

East Dean, East Sussex

British key role in nuclear arms cuts

President Obama's Nuclear Posture Review announcement and the agreement between the USA and Russia to cut their nuclear arsenals raise questions about steps that the other nuclear-weapon states can take to support Obama's arms-control agenda.

As one of the USA's closest Nato allies, Britain can play a key role in helping to move closer towards the President's vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Cutting the number of nuclear warheads deployed on the UK's Trident nuclear submarines, taking the submarines off constant-at-sea patrols and declaring that the UK will never be the first to use nuclear weapons are all constructive steps that the Government could take to show it is serious about arms control, without compromising national security in the slightest.

Such moves would demonstrate to conservative elements in the US and Russia that Britain, too, sees a need to reduce the number of nuclear weapons globally, and would show other nations that we are serious about our obligations to take steps towards disarmament.

Peter Burt

Director, Nuclear Information Service, Reading

The 'Diana effect' on Afghan war

As someone very recently in military service, I know many will share my disappointment at the words of Lt Col Matt Bazeley ("'Diana effect' blamed for war weariness", 5 April). Bazeley misses one of the most fundamental fruits to come from this "culture", whatever its downside. Chief among them is public outrage at the scandalous under-resourcing and short-changing of our brave servicemen and women.

Most of the positive developments of recent times – the Operational Allowance of £2,000, new armoured vehicles and helicopters – have been prompted or hastened by public anger.

Nigel Preisner QCVS

Sergeant, The Royal Yeomanry, 2002-10, Ipswich

Colonel Bazeley has failed to understand the public's doubts about the war in Afghanistan. Most people I speak to are of the opinion that the troops are doing an excellent job under very difficult circumstances.

The doubt arises when we consider the nature of Afghan society; a corrupt leader; fighters willing to change sides for money; the opium trade; and the possibility that the Taliban will take over when our troops leave.

The real question is: will the sacrifices of brave British troops be wasted?

David Rickard

York

Stephen Sanders (letters, 6 April) wonders if the Government has imposed a media blackout on good news from Afghanistan; if he cares to go into a newsagent and buy the three Service magazines, Navy News, Soldier and RAF News he will find that they haven't. Any blackout is by the media itself, as good news is not its forte.

Has any mention been made, for example, of Wolfhound, Mastiff and Jackal, all-new army vehicles in service in Afghanistan replacing older types like the Snatch Landrovers? Has any mention been made of the "sniper pod" fitted to RAF Tornados which allows very accurate targeting of hostiles as against civilians?

T Hancock

Lincoln

"The pervasive culture of pessimism is severely undermining troops on the front line," warned a senior officer in Helmand.

By a significant majority, the UK population is now, and has always been, against the war in Afghanistan. What the officer describes as our "maudlin post-Diana reaction" may simply be sorrow at a piteous waste of brave young lives. The senior officer says we are being defeatist. Wouldn't rational be nearer the mark?

Roger Davies

Chelmsford, Essex

Briefly...

Raven maven

As an avid birder, I was amazed and thrilled to hear the harsh call of two ravens (letter, 8 April) flying over my South Nottinghamshire garden last August. Let us hope David Cameron does not want to treat them the same as foxes.

Andy Lane

Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire

Banks and charities

The immediate answer to Martin Kyrle's and David Blackburn's problem about the high street banks' discrimination against charities (letters, 30 March, 7 April) is to move their organisations' accounts to the Charities Aid Foundation Bank, whose purpose is to handle charities' money and give them as good a return as possible on their deposits. CAF Bank provides all the services you would expect of a bank. Even more satisfying would be the experience of dealing with a bank whose staff is unfailingly polite, efficient and helpful.

Barry Sheppard

Brighton

The lure of the East

Having recently come back from a trip to Germany that involved visits to Leipzig, Weimar and Dresden, we have been having similar thoughts to Philip Hensher. ("How lucky they are, back in the old DDR", 5 April). We might just be able to sacrifice pizza if we knew we could attend the Gewandhaus or Semperoper on a regular basis.

Susan Lawford

Roderick Lawford

Swindon

'Problem' priests

Many things have changed since 1963, when apparently the Vatican was aware that some Catholic priests were "problem priests" – but sexual abuse of children was as illegal in most countries then as now, and it is deceitful nonsense for a Roman Catholic spokesperson to claim that "society and the Church have evolved new understandings of... how to deal with it". The way to deal with it has always been to report it to the police and let the law take its course.

Marilyn Mason

Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

Blair on safari

With Tony Blair going on safari to Africa, will the rhinos be offered a special rate to have their photo taken with the great man, and to which of his companies should payment be made?

David Barnard

Edinburgh

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