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Monday 25 April 2011
Letters: Threat to cyclists
The threat of death comes from cars
Many thanks to The Independent for championing the cyclist, so badly neglected.
Far and away the most urgent need is kerb-separated, separately signalled, cycle lanes. If these require a levy on the cyclist then fine, but it is likely that any such charge will prove less than the cost of collection. It might also be considered unjust, given the public funding of the roadway for automobiles. (Taxes raised on the motorist are not exclusively to that end.)
There is no fundamental reason why one person in a car should take precedence over one on a bike, any more than either should over a pedestrian. Drivers are currently given precedence over both. An inversion is long overdue. Per passenger-kilometre, a cyclist is 10 times more likely to suffer death or injury than the occupant of a car. That such a threat is imposed by cars is wholly unacceptable.
The bike is by far the most cost effective form of transport after walking, and can do much to liberate us from congestion, pollution, climate change and energy crisis. Much needs to be done to improve safety and to make it a pleasant experience. This does not require huge sums. What it needs is national policy, together with genuine commitment.
Following correspondence about cyclist safety, I feel I should speak up for the motorist.
Every morning, about 7am, I travel to work along a fairly narrow rural A road with no street lighting. I pass two cyclists in their black designer cycle gear and stylish helmets and bright front and head lights, but no illumination on the back.
Even the reflectors have been removed, so suddenly these two figures loom up just in front of any unsuspecting motorist. Luckily most of the regular motorists are aware of these two "traffic hazards" and so far they have not been in or caused any accidents.
Would cyclists please wake up to the fact that it is more important to be seen from behind than in front?
Incidentally, since the mornings have got lighter they have now started to wear white T-shirts.
I wonder whether Ian Moseley (letter, 20 April) has ever tried cycling along the "superhighway" parallel to the A13 and the Canning Town flyover or any other cycling "facility" in the UK. If he has, he might realise why some cyclists prefer to exercise their right to use the A-road instead. There's nothing "arrogant" in choosing a route that is faster, better-surfaced, less interrupted and more direct.
Yes, cycling is dangerous. Some years back I was knocked flying from my bicycle in this city – by another cyclist. As I regained my feet the offender merely said, "I've got a lecture to get to", and rode off. No apology. I thanked my lucky stars that a) I was not injured and b) I never had the "brains" to study at Oxford University.
"Each year thousands are seriously injured and dozens killed – many needlessly," according to your front page of 15 April. Are you saying that the others needed to be killed?
It speaks volumes that even in an article bringing to our attention the number of cyclist deaths on Britain's roads, the underlying sentiment is that many cyclists are to blame for their own demise.
Save the Lords from the parties
For those who keep such scores, the House of Lords has a higher proportion of women, a higher proportion of people from ethnic minorities and far more people from working-class backgrounds generally and the trade union movement in particular, than can be found down the corridor ("Cameron told to stop flood of new peers", 21 April).
More significantly, and despite the efforts of successive governments, it also retains a broader range of political opinion, more reflective of the country at large. But that is under grave threat, from the party machines and from the way of all flesh.
The future composition of the House would be secured, at least in part, by providing for each current life peer, at least those who attend regularly, to name an heir – by no means necessarily or even ordinarily a relative, but rather a political and intellectual soulmate. That heir would become a peer upon his or her nominator's death, and would thus acquire the same right of nomination.
Lanchester, Co Durham
Politicians' attempts to reform the House of Lords have been a succession of self-serving and nepotistic pontifications.
The main objective for the House of Lords is to moderate and validate legislation coming from the government of the day, a task it has been increasingly poor at doing, particularly since the blatant politicisation in recent years.
To achieve this objective and make the House of Lords reflective of popular opinion could not be simpler. Every two years one third of the House of Lords should be elected by proportional representation. Thus each member would be elected for a six-year term. The House of Lords would reflect popular opinion over a six-year period and nepotism would come to an end.
Of course at the same time the House should be reduced to a more efficient number, say 600.
Why stop at internships? If David Cameron really wants to offer favours to his friends and their children, surely it would be simpler – and more generous – just to give them peerages? Isn't this what the Big Society is all about?
Worthing, West Sussex
British jobs in a world market
I am not sure what Alan Stedall's experience of the world of work is, but his plea to hire jobless UK citizens instead of immigrants as a matter of policy (letter, 15 April) is wildly unsatisfactory from the point of view of an employer competing in a global market.
The small company I work for, which researches and publishes world-leading market analysis, makes over 90 per cent of our sales overseas and has grown by around 30 per cent annually for the past eight years. We advertise only locally for every vacancy, interview the best applicants and hire the most suitable, irrespective of background.
Our staff of around 40 currently includes a Spaniard, a Croat, a Peruvian, an Indian, a Japanese, a Pole, an Israeli, an American and a Romanian. Most of these are educated to higher degree level, achieved at UK universities. If for each of their jobs we had been forced to accept only the best available British (or even EU) applicant, it would have significantly limited our potential for success.
In a globalised world, if our unemployed are to find work, even within the UK, they have to prove they are the equals of what the world can offer in aptitude, qualifications, motivation and willingness to work for the going wage. If they cannot, then this is the problem governments need to address, for the alternative is that the UK is destined to be a second- or third-rate economy and can only expect to have the standard of living which goes with that status.
If competition is the spur to improvement, only by exposing our young people to what their peers in the outside world can offer will the gap in capability be exposed and the pressure be maintained to improve the quality of what our culture and education system can produce in future.
Checking quality of dental care
Approximately 90 per cent of dental providers have enrolled with CQC to apply for registration (letter, 15 April).
Our inspectors already assess a variety of health and social care providers for compliance against essential standards of quality and safety, including large and complex NHS trusts. We're confident not only that they can effectively assess dentists' compliance with these standards, but that both dentists and patients will benefit from the process.
Registration is based around the experiences people have when they receive care, and clinical quality is just a part of this system. The General Dental Council regulates dental practitioners' fitness to practice and clinical competence and we are working closely with this body to share information.
Registration is a check on the quality of care patients receive and this is measured by looking at a practice's complaints systems, assessing whether they involve patients in decisions about care, whether they seek feedback from patients, whether they store and administer drugs properly, among many other critical issues.
While we may not manage individuals' complaints about a provider, we use information forwarded to us in the risk profiles we hold on care providers to help us determine where we prioritise inspections.
Where does this leave the patient? At the centre of the system designed to benefit them. Where does this leave the profession? For most, with a shining endorsement to the services they provide.
Dame Jo Williams
Chair, Care Quality Commission
Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Columnist and the Aborigines
There are several good reasons for caution in taking Andrew Bolt to court because of his views ("Columnist in court after questioning race of leading Aborigines", 16 April). As a resident of Australia for nearly 30 years I have been able to follow this issue more closely than many of your readers can be expected to have done.
First, what he says about the preponderantly white proportion of genetics in the Aboriginal activist population is manifestly correct. Second, his view is one that is very commonly held in Australia among the white population. Third, and this is what grates particularly with a lot of white Australians, the federal government has for years provided various handouts to Aboriginals, which encourages those with even minimal Aboriginal family history to apply.
Of course there are problems in the Aboriginal community, particularly in remote areas where alcoholism, rape, domestic violence and child abuse are all too common. But there are plenty of people with full and part Aboriginal ancestry getting on with their lives without making a fuss about who or what they are, and just being Australians like the rest of us.
The activists' attempts to bring attention to the issue which Bolt has highlighted will simply drive justified criticism underground and increase public cynicism about the Aboriginal "cause".
Viewbank, Victoria, Australia
Babies with three parents
It is inaccurate to describe as "babies with three parents" the products of at least one method touted under this heading ("Three-parent babies on the way, say IVF experts", 20 April). This method involves destructive cloning from one embryo, whose nuclear genetic material is harvested and placed in the "shell" of a previously gutted second embryo.
Far from having three parents, the resulting child will have no parents whatsoever: her body is assembled from the bodies of two existing embryos destroyed to create her.
In the second method, where nuclear material is exchanged before fertilisation, the child would indeed have three genetic parents, with all the identity problems that could pose. She would also risk physical damage from this novel form of germ-line genetic engineering – even if pre-natal quality control of herself and fellow "products" were rigorously performed.
Finally, we should spare a thought for the many human embryos who would be destroyed in the development of both methods, bearing in mind that couples at risk of passing on mitochondrial disease do have the option of avoiding conception, if they feel the risks are too great.
Dr Helen Watt
Senior Research Fellow
Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford
New recruit for the salt police
To my horror, Mary Dejevsky, so long a freedom-loving, liberal commentator, seems to have executed a U-turn (Notebook, 20 April).
For many years I, and I suspect quite a few others, have been trying to reduce our salt intake to the recommendations of the medical profession. The biggest obstacle to this has been the extreme reluctance of most of the food industry to let us know what the salt levels in their products are.
So all praise to the pizza chain used by Ms Dejevsky for removing salt from their pizzas. Now we can eat them happily and Ms Dejevsky can add as much salt as she likes at table. What could be fairer? Her "salt police" jibe perhaps seems more appropriately applied to her: she wants salt in her pizza so she thinks this should be imposed on us all. Come, come Ms Dejevsky!
Sam Boote writes (letter, 18 April) about how his generation managed to save despite interest rates above 12 per cent. I would be delighted to pay that on my mortgage if I could have paid the same price for my home that he did for his.
West Drayton, Middlesex
Perspectives on the Bristol Riot
Workshy, scruffy and very vocal
Your report on life in Stokes Croft in Bristol, and the riot outside Tesco was one-sided. Planning consent was examined by the democratically elected members of Bristol council. Tesco won and their detractors lost. That should have been the end of the story.
There has been much in the local press regarding this issue of the new Tesco, with the huge majority of comments posted being in favour. The local shops are described as being of poor quality and limited in what they can provide.
The problem with Stokes Croft is the small but vocal group of workshy scruffy oiks who are standing in the way of the area coming up-market in the wake of the nearby Cabot Circus redevelopment. In reality Stokes Croft doesn't exist as an area – it's just a shortish stretch of the road from Bristol to Gloucester.
I work in Bristol and live in nearby Glastonbury, where we have also had a few trendy bandwagon-jumpers doing the "Tescno" thing. This meant that we nearly lost out on badly needed shopping and jobs. Sadly the Tesco which will be opened has been delayed and downsized for now. But it is still going to open, supported by the majority.
Your coverage of the Bristol "Tesco" riots speaks of Stokes Croft "where the majority of residents were vehemently opposed to the opening of the new store". Is that true? Have you surveyed all the residents, rather than just the vehemently opposed? I suspect many people who work full-time find such a store to be convenient, but may not find it politically correct to admit this.
Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester
Oil-guzzling Tesco looks like the past
The violence in Stokes Croft on Thursday night may have been exceptional, but the community sentiment is not. Many communities up and down the country are also fighting the unequal battle to keep Tesco and other supermarkets at bay.
They, like the people of Stokes Craft, value their individuality and their colourful independent retailers and are seeking a future which is not dependent on oil. Tesco's business model and the oil-intensity of its complex distribution and supply chains make it look increasingly like the past, not the future.
Here in the creative, vibrant and proudly independent north Somerset market town of Frome, we recognise that it is our non-clone status that makes us different. Indeed, growing numbers of shoppers come from Bath, Bristol or beyond because we don't have a Tesco. However, shortly before the end of 2010, it became clear that we too were the focus of Tesco's intentions. A swiftly organised public meeting attracted well over 400 concerned citizens.
Tesco has become arrogant. Is this the beginning of the end of Tesco? There will be many people, who want to be given a genuine say in the future of their communities, hoping it is.
Start of a big, hot summer?
Is the Stokes Croft riot the first step in Cameron's Big Society – local people co-operating in fighting an extremely unpopular development by a large corporation and an indifferent council?
It is quite clear that heavy-handed, badly co-ordinated policing provoked what should have been a skirmish with a small group into a full scale riot. I think this is the start of Cameron and Osborne's Big Hot Summer. We're finding how far the British people can be pushed. I think it is going to get very nasty over the next few months.
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