Letters: Town-hall economics

Financial crisis casts light on town-hall economics
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The Independent Online

It appears that hundreds of millions of pounds worth of council tax payers' money is at risk in Icelandic bank accounts. I accept that councils need a certain amount of cash in reserve to cope with contingencies, but given the relentless above-inflation increases in council tax, I have to ask what these councils were doing with so much taxpayers' money stashed away in banks.

Forty years ago our local council was administered by a handful of men in a small office, the remainder of the council staff providing the core services that taxpayers demand. Today, councils are huge, appear to be grossly overstaffed and spend vast sums of money on fringe services that benefit only a small portion of the community.

In view of what seems to have happened I suggest a round of down-sizing for our local authorities, with a concentration on core services, which should mean a large saving for the council tax payer and much less money in reserve.

Terence Smith

Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

Well there's an eye-opener! I never knew that all these councils had all these millions of pounds salted away in banks throughout the world.

So if this lot have so much money stored away, why do they keep on asking for more and more money in council tax? Why have I been told by a councillor that they don't have the money to pay people to pick up the litter in my area? Why do I have a constant battle with Stockport council to have filth removed from our streets? Why has a local shop keeper tried to get one litter bin outside his shop for three years and failed? It would seem that they have this money locked away, so why can't they use some of it for the benefit of the local people?

J H Moffatt

Stockport, Cheshire

Swept away in a maelstrom of debt

The present financial turmoil has been produced by governments shirking the responsibility of ethical regulation and banks indulging in reckless, immoral gambling, particularly with houses. As a result, they have produced a maelstrom of debt, the credit crunch, and over a million people effectively homeless in this country.

It is clear we need to take land and money out of their hands and start managing things properly ourselves: they cannot be trusted. Buffett, Soros and other experts were warning of this danger many months ago.

Will anyone join me in a class action for negligence against the FSA and the Government? I don't see why we should continue paying taxes to a bunch of lazy incompetents.

Tony Crofts

Stonesfield, Oxfordshire

You report that the pay of bank bosses is to be reviewed. But there already exists an excellent mechanism for dealing with excessive pay, and that is called taxation. You say that for example Bob Diamond of Barclays earned £18.5m last year, but what we all need to know is how much of that, and of other excessive pay packets, the Government recouped in taxation. I suspect that it is a far smaller percentage than most of us pay. This, rather than the actual sums, is what is galling and unfair.

Rather than pick on one segment of the community because they happen to be the bad boys at the moment, the Government should implement wide-ranging tax reforms so that anyone earning over a certain sum is taxed at, say, 60 per cent, and that must include – as it does not at the moment – salary, all bonuses and all perks. Furthermore, to stop people avoiding tax by living offshore, anyone earning money from the UK should be made to pay fair taxes here, with no loopholes permitted.

Both the Tories and Labour have consistently failed to make the tax system transparent and fair over decades. I do not object to people earning a lot of money, but I do object to the fact that many of them avoid paying tax in ways not accessible to most of us, and that governments over two decades have failed to deal with it.

Dr Stephen Bax


The financial system may take decades to recover and the hardship created by our credit-backed spending-spree will be passed on to younger generations who took no part in causing the problem.

Just as promises of enormous returns tempted both corporate and individual investors to pile on to the gravy-train to nowhere, so other actions that we take are also cashing in on resources that we do not possess: the squandering of natural resources, the destruction of the environment and the creation of an ever-increasing volume of CO2.

As with the credit-crunch, the rape of the planet is a problem that we recognise (both in our hearts and as a scientifically proven fact) but refuse to address. Just as loans, debt and bonuses allowed us to live it up for the past two decades, so we have been cashing in the planet's equity and withdrawing far more than we should justifiably take.

The traumas that both nature and humanity are suffering range from hurricanes and polar melt-down through to species extinction, war and famine. These problems have been primarily caused by our demand for luxury living through the burning of oil – cars, flights and global freighting – and unfettered retail indulgence such as ultra-cheap clothes and out-of-season produce.

This lifestyle has not only resulted in us drawing massively on numerous planetary "credit lines" (natural resources) that we should be conserving for future generations, but also using economic, political and military power to exploit cheap land, labour and minerals (especially oil) in distant countries.

So, rather than wringing our hands and bemoaning the end of capitalism, we should seize the day and take this opportunity to convert the financial shift that is being forced upon us into a complete social and economic shift, towards modest living, sustainability and, ultimately, happiness.

Alan Searle

Cologne, germany

It was so reassuring to read on your sport pages (8 October) that West Ham United were financially safe and that their owner, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, head of the Landsbanki, was unaffected by its difficulties. Hundreds of jobs will be lost and the savings of thousands put at risk by this little hiccup but, comfortingly, the main man is OK. Whatever else happens, the fat cats will continue to bob serenely along amid the detritus.

David Marshall

Bathampton, Somerset

Your excellent cartoon (9 October) included three fat cats. These felines keep quietly showing up in the paper these days. I wonder just how many new fat cats there are now as a result of this "financial crisis" and how few will have to sell off one of the Jags.

Money doesn't disappear; it just moves from one place to another.

Dr Tim Lawson

Cheam, Surrey

My grandparents, born 120 years ago, had the answer to the present financial situation: "Money doesn't grow on trees."

Richard Greenwood

Bewdley, Worcestershire

I cannot be the only one quietly growing veggies, stocking up food and practising cooking on a wood-burning stove while smiling with the schadenfreude of an unrepentant Marxist.

Anne Geraghty

Whitehaven, Cumbria

In view of the events of the last few days, can it be that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are "deep sleepers" for the Militant Tendency, one of whose policies was nationalising the banks?

Nigel W Clark


No way out of Israel's dilemma

It is difficult to fault Professor Sternhell's analysis (2 October) of Israel's predicament. It cannot find peace without withdrawal from what it captured in June 1967, yet it cannot now withdraw without risking civil war with its own zealots. No wonder he wants strong intervention by the US and EU. Yet there is no sign it is forthcoming. Britain and its allies have been craven in their refusal to exert the pressure necessary to persuade Israel to respect the Fourth Geneva Convention. Now it is almost certainly too late. Israel will drift either into the ethnic cleansing of the remaining Palestinians in Palestine or into what Olmert warned of at Annapolis a year ago: a South Africa type liberation struggle by the disenfranchised majority.

Britain has never been a friend of the Palestinians but its friendship with Israel, allowing it to plunder the West Bank, must be reckoned profoundly hostile to the long-term interests of the Jewish people in the Middle East.

David McDowall

Richmond, Surrey

The strange world of Sarah Palin

John Clinch (letter, 8 October) points out that just one out-of-place fossil would call into question the theory of evolution. I was baffled for years by one such: the human footprints found with dinosaur tracks in the Paluxy riverbed, photographs of which I had seen in creationist books.

I have since learned that the Paluxy man-tracks were in some cases eroded dinosaur footprints, and in others – carved. It's to the credit of some creationists that they exposed the hoax, but to the shame of others that they continue to propagate it. Sarah Palin has been quoted as citing the photos as evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. In the rank undergrowth of creationist propaganda, Paluxy Man marches on.

Ken MacLeod

South Queensferry, West Lothian

David Usborne's report "Palin avoids howlers" (4 October) failed to mention one Palin "howler". In the vice-presidential debate, Palin claimed that "John McCain knows how to win a war." McCain fought in the Vietnam war, which I seem to recall America lost.

Dr Christopher C Erswell

Sale, Cheshire

Where does all the water go?

Starbucks has been accused of wasting millions of litres of water, as they allegedly have a policy of leaving a cold-water tap running all day for rinsing utensils.

Water cannot truly be wasted. There is no plughole in the earth down which it can disappear. It just happens to be in different forms in different parts of the planet at any given time. So maybe the water down Starbucks' sink will end up falling as rain where it is needed. Maybe a coffee farm in Africa even.

It is of course a different matter for the privatised water companies, who might have a vested interest in "saving water". But this is not an environmental disaster.

Aftab Jeevanjee

Chichester, West Sussex


Women in bronze

The Bronze Woman Monument in Stockwell ("First statue of black woman is unveiled", 9 October), is not the first public statue of a black woman in England. That honour goes to the black female in Kevin Atherton's Platform Piece group at Brixton Railway Station, unveiled in 1986.

David Crawford

Topographical Facts and Figures

Bickley, Kent

Headache mystery

Any publicity for the evil of cluster headaches (Health & Wellbeing, 7 October) is to be welcomed if it leads to a wider understanding of the condition. Can I add a positive and mysterious footnote for the sake of fellow sufferers? My first cluster developed at 17. Diagnosis came some 15 agonising years later. My last cluster was in 1997, so maybe it isn't a life sentence. I've no idea why they went away, but it certainly wasn't due to LSD.

Nick Cronin

Southam, Warwickshire

On the train

Your correspondent who likes the sound of human voices on trains (9 October) is missing three points. Conversations face-to-face are conducted sotto voce because the participants can see each other's eyes, lips and facial expressions: those on the phone speak much louder. They usually underestimate the sensitivity of the microphone in their handset. Their conversations (of which we only hear 50 per cent) are usually stultifyingly boring.

Alan D B Malcolm

London SW5

Sock solution

Here's a suggestion for Peter Brook (letters, 2 October): find better things to do with your day than attempting to match socks. Between wearing trousers of an appropriate length and shoes, socks should be quite invisible, if people are even looking at them at all. Put all your socks in one drawer, unpaired, and just use the first two that come to hand each morning. I assure him it'll not affect his social or professional standing one iota.

D Barnes


Home after 'Hamlet'

Your Hamlet debate seems to reek of "Londo-centricity". Please spare a thought for those of us who will travel into the city from farther away than London N8 (letter, 9 October). We face an unenviable journey home and will probably be grateful that 45 minutes are cut from the play.

Roger Smith

Ipswich, Suffolk