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Monday 9 February 2009
Letters: Snowed off
Snowed off by a cowardly culture of avoiding risk
My wife and I were to attend a folk music teaching weekend in Witney, Oxfordshire, which attracts students from all over the country and teachers from all over the world.
Having come today (6 February) from Derbyshire to Oxford, where there is at most a couple of inches of thawing snow, we have just found out that the school premises at which the sessions were to have been held have been closed for "health and safety reasons", owing to the weather, and so everything is called off.
We are relatively lucky, as we are staying with relatives and there is no cost for accommodation for us, but a lot of people have shelled out for somewhere to stay, as well as the cost of the course itself, and transport, and everyone is going to miss out on a great opportunity to learn and play and meet other musicians because of a cowardly risk-averse culture which has taken root in this country.
The outrage expressed at the widespread closure of schools amazes and saddens me. You complained that this made life difficult for parents, not that a days education was lost (editorial, 7 February). You treat school as a mass childcare institution and not a place for education.
Any teacher would tell you that children would be practically unteachable with so much fun available outside. I spent Tuesday sledging with my three boys and they had the most fabulous time. I value a days schooling highly but one day in years spent sledging and snowball fighting is hardly going to ruin their life chances. How mean-spirited to force them into their childcare institution so parents can work on this day, when this very work- not fun-based culture had been derided days before (by the Children's Society) and blamed for a less than happy childhood.
Seavington St Mary, Somerset
Now that rock salt for gritting roads is in short supply, we should make the bankers and politicians do some useful work and send them to the salt mines.
Apparently there will be a "snow event" in the South-east on Monday (report, 7 February). Really? Will Eddie the Eagle be competing? And where can I get tickets?
Burnhope, Co Durham
Breathtaking City bonuses
I continue to be astonished by the talk of City people receiving large bonuses. I have always regarded bonuses as exceptional payments made by a generous employer when, due partly to the efforts of the employees, the firm had done exceptionally well and was therefore possessed of large lakes of cash out of which such largesse could be distributed without damaging the firm's liquidity or the interests of the shareholders.
To pay bonuses when the firm is in such dire straits that it has had made losses of mind-boggling proportions and in consequence has had to be propped up by the taxpayer demonstrates self-centred arrogance and dishonesty that takes one's breath away.
How can anyone think these payments proper? The only proper reaction to the difficulties our bankers face is resignations of those directly responsible, sackings and substantial reductions in salaries until profits come back to normal.
Maresfield, East Sussex
It is neither here nor there that the Royal Bank of Scotland should feel that it has contractual obligations regarding the payment of bonuses to senior managers. The bank is effectively owned by the people of this country and it beggars belief that they would approve of such insensitivity.
The Government could lay this to rest immediately, and simultaneously show the country that it means business in the matter of the banking sector, by bringing in a short piece of legislation specifically rendering the relevant contracts null and void.
In 2002 Gordon Brown received £22bn in bids for the 3G licenses. Rather than considering the deflationary effect this would have on the ITC industry, already already suffering a recession, the Treasury took the money and ran, causing an estimated loss of 30,000 jobs in that sector.
In 1997 there was the £5bn a year pension grab, a tax that hit those people saving for the future. Last year fuel prices were astoundingly high; the Government, rather than cutting fuel duty, muttered darkly about a windfall tax on the fuel company profits.
Since 2005 we have seen the galloping inflation in house prices. The Government actually poured fuel on to this fire by giving tax benefits on buy-to-let properties, which (of course) did not undermine revenue streams, thanks to stamp duty.
The pattern here is pretty clear. A greedy Treasury stalking industries, looking to maximise its revenues under the stewardship of an arrogant Chancellor blinded by his "moral compass".
I read the outrage at the greedy bankers, and I have to wonder where the outrage is for a government that had its snout so deeply buried in the trough.
Since taxpayers have done far more for the long-term health of banks than the so-called bright and talented bankers, surely they should be getting the millions of pounds of bonuses?
Safeguards for sharing of data
Simon Carr is right to focus attention on the Coroners and Justice Bill ("Let's not go gently into this fishy night", 4 February).
We need a narrow definition of data sharing. The Bill's information-sharing provisions need to mirror closely the recommendations in the Thomas/ Walport Data Sharing Review. To secure more scrutiny and less confusion than measures bolted on to sectoral Bills, the Review proposed a statutory fast–track procedure for data-sharing. But this should be for "precisely-defined circumstances" which should not extend to "large-scale data-sharing initiatives that would constitute very significant changes to public policy."
The Bill does contain a welcome and important provision enabling my office – the ICO – to report to Parliament on each proposed use of the data-sharing power. Reports will address whether the proposed information-sharing is proportionate and the impact on individuals. This provision will allow us to ensure that safeguards are in place and that individuals' rights are respected. Where appropriate, we will be able to advise Parliament that a particular initiative is a step too far, or that further safeguards are required.
Simon Carr may well be right in suspecting that our personal information is at risk of conspiracy at the hands of those elected to serve us. However, it is fortunate and probable that cock-up, as usual, will prevail. With luck any information on the super-data-base will soon be recognised as unreliable and useless. And what's a few billion of tax-payers' money here or there?
Frampton Cotterell, Gloucestershire
The insults fly at the BBC
As a child I remember Carol Thatcher conducting a session of the Oxford Society of Recorder Players. In contrast to her mother's persona, she was fun, lively and rather eccentric. I feel sure there wasn't an ounce of racist malice in her tactless use of the name of our little friend from the marmalade jar.
I find it somewhat bizarre that Jo Brand can be offended so easily, even at all, and has, through this Thatcher fiasco, put herself forward as an arbiter of good taste.
Jeremy Clarkson is a shallow English idiot who has been the inspiration behind hundreds of road accidents. As with Ross, the responsibility for creating him lies with the BBC and Mark Thompson.
Education policy fit for an emperor
Ted Truscott (letter, 4 February) calls for the privatisation of all schools. His assertion that vouchers would make schools "no more expensive" is the most egregious of his errors. Private companies have a duty to their shareholders to return the greatest profit possible. If everyone has a certain amount to spend on education, those institutions that charge for education will just increase their price by that amount. This is how the free market works.
The provision of vouchers would be analogous to the Roman Emperor Diocletian's Maximum Price Edict – prices immediately rose to the maximum permitted by imperial decree. In the short term, the wealthiest may find that their school fees are subsidised, but the rest of us will find that we are being taxed to provide a discount for the wealthiest, on a service that we will never be able to afford for our own children.
The voucher scheme redistributes money from the poorest to the wealthiest. Privatising all schools would return this country to the early 19th century, when only the children of the wealthy could afford an education; and so only the children of the wealthy got one.
Railways, a service or a business?
Has anyone from Nottingham Business School (letter, 3 February) actually caught a peak-time train, this century?
Dr John Disney views the railways solely as a business in which an adequate peak-time capacity can only be justified if the rolling stock will be used throughout the day. The reality is that our public transport systems are a service vital to the economy, and the well-being of vary many people and businesses is subject to their operation at peak times.
While there may well be no spare carriages, to allow business alone to dictate the cost and scale of our railways is a folly that has been pursued before, and is merely to plan for the unbearable overcrowding that he describes.
It is the attitude of accountants and business "experts" such as Dr John Disney that have made the railway what it is today. If a £50 maximum fare would result in "unbearable overcrowding" then that is obviously what people want and it should be catered for. Why should the railways make a profit? The roads don't.
The nature of foxes
Your hens are your responsibility, David Brown. Sort it (Letter,7 February). Foxes kill all available food and take what they need and can carry. They have not evolved either our forethought or our malice. I know people who have kept poultry for decades with foxes around and lost none.
Religion was obviously very important in 1744, when the Victory sank (report, 3 February), but to carry 40 "canons" on one vessel appears excessive. They certainly lived well, weighing four tons, but were not very highly regarded at a value of only £30,000 each – two days' wages for a modern professional footballer.
Old Hutton, Cumbria
Dressed to win
What wonderful Olympic spirit! You report that our cyclists have shredded their suits so that no potential competitor can discover how they are made (6 February). Is winning so important and is there any satisfaction in beating an opponent not because you are better but because you possess superior equipment? Public support for cycling must surely diminish after your revelation. Why don't we cut their funding and make them wear ordinary clothes?
Kindness on the Tube
Anthony Barnes' experience of travelling while disabled (Opinion, 6 February) is quite different from ours. An elderly but reasonably fit couple, when travelling in London we are constantly surprised by the willingness of fellow passengers to offer us seats on underground trains and buses, and even to carry our cases for us. Our friends too say that they have encountered similar acts of polite consideration. We're sorry his experiences have been so often of discourtesy; perhaps there are advantages in being older.
The absence of an apostrophe from St Andrews Square in Penrith used to trouble me greatly (letter, 7 February). However, "St Andrew's Square" isn't ideal, for it seems to imply that the great saint is stuck in the mud.
The Rev Peter Sharp
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