That a government employee should be paid through a service company is disgraceful. By the very nature of the appointment it is clear that the contract is between HMG and Lester personally. It is impossible for there to be a contractual relationship between HMG and a service company in these circumstances; they are paying for Lester's "knowledge, experience and expertise".
These arrangements are completely against everything in the Taxes Acts. Whoever approved them should do the honourable thing and fall on their sword immediately. I worked for the Inland Revenue (now HMRC) for over 30 years: an arrangement of this nature would never have been countenanced.
Most taxi drivers are self-employed. If a taxi driver is shown to have avoided paying income tax and national insurance contributions, then not only will he be punished by imprisonment or community service, he will also be ordered to refund all missed tax and NI payments. As an automatic consequence of the court finding of dishonesty, the licensing authority will then revoke his taxi licence, therefore rendering him unemployed.
If the taxi company have in any way aided and abetted the taxi driver in the matter, then the licensing authority will revoke the operating licence – thus punishing the guardians of the purse.
Are we "all in this together"? Of course not.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
The news that student loan chief Ed Lester has been paid via a external company is appalling but sadly not all that shocking. On the 3 March 1993 The Independent reported that BBC head John Birt had been "funnelling pay through a private company" as a "tax-saving device". Under New Labour Birt went on to be a "blue skies" adviser to No. 10 and subsequently received a peerage.
This is indicative of the problem of the absent "opposition" we have in this country. In essence the moral, ethical and philosophical position of the opposition is hardly different from those they critique.
Dr Gavin Lewis
I was incensed by the disclosure that Mr Lester has been avoiding tax but even more so by the fact that little has changed at the Student Loans Company. My daughter applied on time for a loan as soon as she had been offered a place on a PGCE course at Goldsmiths in the summer. She eventually received her loan in December and then only due to the intervention of our MP. This caused massive difficulties and unnecessary stress for my daughter at a time when she was having to work very hard at her placement in a primary school.
In addition, in November I paid off most of her existing undergraduate loan with a payment of £21,000 and have had no acknowledgement f this payment. What other organisation would fail to confirm that such a relatively large sum had been repaid?
Schools judged on arbitrary targets
While your leading article of 1 February is right that there is no easy common measure for GCSEs and vocational qualifications, you miss the main point about why people try to undertake this possibly hopeless exercise.
Schools are ranked by their pupils' GCSE attainment. Failure to achieve an arbitrary target has terminal effects. If vocational results are ignored then either schools serving their pupils well will be closed or pupils will be forced into inappropriate GCSE programmes with drastic individual and social costs.
This Government, like previous ones, exhorts schools to deliver education relevant to the workplace, but insists on measuring performance in a way that marginalises this endeavour. Performance measurement must start from a serious exercise to define what we wish schools to achieve; then identifying all outputs that contribute to these achievements; then devising a fair and consistent means of measuring and combining these outputs.
It should not rest on the current procrustean process of deciding on a media-friendly and thus politically desirable league table schema and stretching or shrinking everything to fit. Our teachers, students and even examiners deserve better.
Department of Management
LSE, London WC2
Many vocational qualifications are deemed the equivalent of four GCSE "C" grades. This is far too generous and inflates schools' league-table results. Vocational and academic qualifications are better seen as equal but different in that they are preparation for different career paths.
The Government's move to downgrade or slash vocational qualifications will further disadvantage less academic teenagers – especially as even the academic and university-educated are finding it tough.
It has been argued, in The Independent and elsewhere, that one shouldn't make career decisions at the age of 15. I disagree. A 15-year-old with no prior interest in literature isn't likely to develop a sudden passion for Hardy or Wordsworth, any more than a pupil who hates maths will discover a love of trigonometry overnight. Better to allow them to engage with subjects that interest them than force a group of simmering, disaffected youths to struggle with Shakespeare and equations.
Furthermore, subjects like animal care and hairdressing involve a certain amount of science, health and safety and, importantly, foster qualities such as caring, communication and cooperation. What would you prefer your child to be, a happy hairdresser or a miserable mathematician?
Olympics will bring huge benefits
Your article "The whole economics of the Olympics project have failed absolutely" (Insight, 2 February) implies that the Olympic Park will be sold off privately to the highest bidder. This is incorrect.
Our long-term business model is to in fact do the complete opposite. The Olympic Park Legacy Company is a not-for-profit, publicly owned company set up in 2009 to own, manage and maintain the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park over the next 20 years. From April the OPLC will become the Mayoral Development Corporation, still publicly owned. The Park will be accessible to everyone, offering 250 acres of parkland, 6km of cleaned waterways and a set of world-class sporting venues with community use at their heart.
In the same tradition as London's great estates such as Grosvenor and Cadogan, our plans take a long-term and holistic approach to the regeneration of the park and its surrounding areas, so that we can maximise both returns to the taxpayer and the economic and social opportunities to local people.
Over the next 20 years the Legacy Company will develop five new neighbourhoods with up to 8,000 homes, around 35 per cent of which will be affordable housing, along with other social infrastructure. We will own the venues and are currently appointing operators and tenants, creating thousands of jobs and training opportunities, along with a superb range of sporting, cultural and entertainment facilities for the local area.
Like the legacies left by the Festival of Britain and the Great Exhibition, the Olympic and Paralympic Games is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create a new piece of London that will bring benefits for generations to come.
Chief Executive, Olympic Park Legacy Company, London E15
People in London and the south-east often gloat about how they subsidise Scotland and other areas of the UK. But is not the cost of staging the Olympics a massive subsidy disguised to regenerate down-at-heel parts of London?
The cost to the public purse is already six times higher than originally predicted.
Developing drugs costs big money
Jeremy Laurance ("Why spare the drug companies?" 3 February) questions the cost of medicines in the UK. Research and development of medicines is a high-risk investment. The development of a new medicine typically takes 12 to 15 years costing £1.15bn on average, and only five of every 25,000 compounds tested in a laboratory will eventually be approved and gain a licence. And of course there is no certainty that a medicine will receive approval for the market or be a success if it is launched – usually only one of the five that makes it will recoup the £1.15bn investment. Financial risks of this size cannot be taken at taxpayer expense and so can only be funded by the pharmaceutical industry. If the industry is to continue taking these risks then success must be rewarded.
The UK has among the lowest-priced medicines in Europe, and the UK pharmaceutical industry continues to invest heavily in R&D – nearly £4.5bn per year – and it is this that will help us to develop new medicines in the future.
Stephen Whitehead, CEO
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
John Islip blames IT staff (Letters, 3 February) for the NHS paying huge sums of money to Microsoft, his reasoning being that we would be concerned about our employability if we hadn't been trained in the software that powers 75 per cent of the world's PCs.
Yes John, you are right.
Please may I defend the "lowliest help-desk technicians" Mr Islip refers to? My partner worked in IT support in the NHS for a year and is perfectly capable of both using and appreciating (even preferring) open-source alternatives to that behemoth Microsoft.
On Mr Stuart's logic (Letters, 3 February), surely we should give the Channel Islands – or as they should be known Les Isles Normandes – to the French and the Shetlands to Norway?
I was intrigued by Mike Park's description (Letters, 27 January) of how he was saved from having a heart attack like his father and grandfather because his GP had "insisted" on testing his blood pressure when he reached 55. I wonder why, knowing he was at risk, he did not take responsibility for monitoring his blood pressure rather than making it the NHS's responsibility alone?
The demographic time bomb is ticking for the NHS, and the only way to defuse it is for all of us to do our bit to look after our health.
I read with interest "Should we let children run wild?" (31 January). I went to school unaccompanied on an ordinary bus from the age of six, and could manage the three-ha'penny bus fare, taking care not to lose it or spend it on sweets.
The journey to the Carlisle infants' school I attended also involved a short cut down a lane at the back of two rows of Victorian terrace houses. Nothing sinister occurred en route and this has perhaps sown the seeds for independent travel in remote corners of distant continents. Those were the days!