Oh dear, what a pickle Eric has got himself into (letter, 7 January). In trying to garner popularity with the Tory faithful, he came out strongly against reforms to rubbish collection. Now, when the statistics prove he was wrong, he tries desperately to defend his position.
I have the good fortune to live in the lovely county of Buckinghamshire. The downside that all tiers of government are permanently controlled by the nasty party. However, in one of their few enlightened moments the local council recently introduced a new refuse collection regime.
Every household now has three bins. One is for food waste, one for recyclable waste and one for general rubbish. One week they collect recycling bins and food bins and the next week they collect general rubbish and food bins. Thus they defeat all the claims of smelly food waste hanging around for a fortnight.
The system works perfectly and, while I do not have any statistics, I am sure that recycling rates will have increased and that the council is saving money. Instead of doggedly sticking to his support of universal weekly collections, perhaps Mr Pickles should consult his Tory colleagues in the shires. He might learn something.
Eric Pickles' assertion that Labour introduced fortnightly waste collections by "telling councils to cut services" is difficult to take seriously, given the scale of cuts being imposed on local government by his government. Successive surveys (including ones conducted by Defra) have shown that councils of all political persuasion have reduced collections to increase recycling.
Never one to let the facts get in the way of a policy, he then asserts that with the average council tax of £120 a month, "it's not unreasonable that residents get a proper rubbish and recycling service in return". Is he seriously saying that all of that tax goes on waste collection? As the Secretary of State he should know better.
I read with amusement Eric Pickles' letter outlining his Government's commitment to recycling and how much better it was than under Labour. Here in Bristol, recycling is outsourced to a company who leave more cardboard and paper in the box or on the street than they collect. I complained to the council, but all they can do is promise to write to the company.
Until councils are accountable for these services, how can we expect value for our £120 a month council tax.
Truth proves elusive in Suarez handball
The reports by Tim Rich and James Lawton (Sport 7 January) show how difficult it is for football referees to get important decisions right. Even though, no doubt, Tim and James had the benefit of action replays, they disagreed about what happened.
Tim said that Suarez "was clearly struck on the hand by the ball", whereas James said that it was a "diabolical act" and that Suarez "controlled the ball illegally".
The referee of course saw the incident only once and in real time, and decided that the handball was accidental. It would be academic but interesting to know if he agreed with Tim or James after seeing the action replays.
It is wrong to assert that Hayek believed "the duty of the powerful to help those less powerful … was minimal" (Leading article: "Hayek to Suarez. Goal!", 8 January). That was his view of the state; but the worth of an independent propertied class extended to their support as patrons of art and literature (and, perhaps, a lowly football club).
Ideals (such as fair play) receive wide endorsement only after lives and fortunes are devoted to arousing "the public conscience". He cited the abolition of slavery, prison reform, the prevention of cruelty and the humane treatment of the insane, which "were for a long time the hopes of only a few idealists". Hayek's comment on the Suarez goal would have been more thoughtful than "Tough".
G R Steele
Reader in Economics
Lancaster University Management School
Why boys fail to reach university
Joan Smith (4 January) is right with her general theme about white working-class boys not applying to university; she is right to say that Mr Willetts' attempt to solve the problem is misguided and the problems go back to the boys' earlier education. However, she does not allow for the misperceptions about tuition fees propagated by many left-wing leaders in working-class areas, and she also misses two other important points.
First, the pupil premium, which had its origins in statistically-backed thinking showing that one major key in unlocking opportunity for working-class students was to improve their performance in school. I was present at a party conference when such information was presented to us. This is an excellent Lib Dem policy, though it needs to be better implemented.
Second, the need to treat youngsters holistically. The social factors she refers to have been clear for decades, but the solution can only be found by joined-up working between schools, various other agencies and their local communities.
Local authorities could have been well placed to provide this. Unfortunately, Michael Gove is taking away the resources and influence of local authorities and this is just one example of Coalition policy that is contrary to what most Liberal Democrats believe in.
Doctors and the cost of drugs
I think it is important to correct some misconceptions reported in your article "Prescribe cheaper drugs, GPs told" (31 December).
Where a pharmacy is "attached to a GP surgery", it conforms to all of the appropriate NHS regulations relating to NHS pharmaceutical services and primary medical services. There are severe penalties for any GP, or practice, prescribing expensively, or excessively, and this includes the termination of their contract and referral to the General Medical Council.
In rural areas, where the provision of a pharmacy is not viable, there are GPs who both prescribe and dispense medicines to their patients. These dispensing doctors are not "inefficient" prescribers. Between April 2011 and March 2012, the NHS's own statistics show that dispensing doctors cost £4.62 less in the cost of drugs (3 per cent) per patient per year than prescriptions dispensed in a pharmacy.
As a doctor, when I prescribe, the first thing I think about is how effective a particular drug is for the patient in front of me; only then do I consider the cost-effectiveness of that drug to the NHS as a whole; I then try to balance the two, since we all want an NHS that provides the best possible treatment for the patients it serves within the budget that we have.
Patient satisfaction surveys consistently demonstrate that dispensing doctors are very popular with their patients and, as the NHS's own statistics show, they provide very good value for the taxpayer.
Dr Richard West
Chairman, Dispensing Doctors' Association,
Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire
No grumping at this checkout
I was interested in Michael Leapman's letter regarding shop workers (7 January). Being polite to the customer is part of the job of anyone serving the public. I spend some hours every week working in a supermarket in a small Carmarthenshire market town, and greet all my customers with a smile and ask how they are.
Many are regulars so this comes naturally – I hear of visits from grandchildren, illnesses over Christmas. If a customer asks how I am, I'll respond positively. If he or she clearly doesn't want to chat, I don't pursue it, but will always thank them at the end of the transaction. It's part of the job.
I notice that Mr Leapman was writing from London – perhaps in our part of the world people are just naturally more friendly and interested in the well-being of their fellow humans.
What it says on the tin
Intrigued that David Cameron and Nick Clegg had chosen to cite the "Ronseal deal" in their relaunch of the Coalition, I decided to investigate. The only wording on the tin that seemed pertinent to Con Dem policies was: "If swallowed, seek medical attention." Alas, thanks to the Health and Social Care Bill and the subsequent fragmentation of the NHS, I fear that may not be possible for very much longer.
Dominic Lawson (8 January) suggests we stop prostrating ourselves before the NHS. In 2003 my mother was admitted to an NHS Hospital in North Yorkshire which was staffed by both NHS and Army doctors and nurses. Throughout her illness and eventual death we found we wanted to deal with the Army staff rather than the NHS staff, because the Army staff seemed to care more about us and our mother.
Thatcham, West Berkshire
Figure it out
To state on your front page (20 December) that "Less than half back Osborne on benefits" is not only incorrect, but it is poor English. The narrative reveals that "49 percent agree that the Government is right... [but]... 44 per cent disagree and eight per cent say they don't know". How can 43 per cent who say the Government is wrong be greater than 49 per cent who say it is right?
Further to Frederic Stansfield's letter about "grotesque over-centralisation" (3 January) I would like to ask why some national charities are based in London. It is no longer relevant, in the days of electronic communication, to say that they need to be near the centre of power for the purposes of lobbying. Other areas of the country are far cheaper and need jobs. I resent a proportion of my donations going to pay London prices.
Barwick-in-Elmet, West Yorkshire
Never mind the Church of England's silliness or hypocrisy, is its insistence on celibacy for homosexual bishops not a clear case of illegal discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation?
South Harrow, Middlesex