Letters: Vibrant high street beats supermart

I wish supermarket fans such as Peter Ashley (letter, 27 December) could see the high street of Cranleigh in Surrey, and experience the pleasure of buying in a wide range of independent shops there.

Those supermarkets whose primary aim is to maximise profits often push down the prices they pay to farmers, and may source products from abroad even if this results in lower environmental and animal health standards. Supermarket offers on multiple purchases encourage customers to buy more than they need, and so waste food. It is sometimes difficult to find an assistant to help, and the increasing number of self-service checkouts will result in even fewer staff on the shop floor.

In contrast, Cranleigh's local independent shops provide expert and friendly service, and offer seasonality and real choice. They include: bookshop and stationer, butcher and delicatessen, fishmonger, baker, florists, newsagents, hardware, chemists, hairdresser, fashion and home, shoes, opticians, photographic, cards, estate agent, travel agent, dry cleaner, service station and many more.

There are locally owned restaurants, cafés and pubs, and the independent department store even has that rarity, a well-stocked toy department. Some shoppers will appreciate being able to buy a specific number of units, whether buns, nails, sardines or flowers, and many would prefer a small joint of fresh spring lamb grazed on the Surrey Hills to a chunk of frozen meat from New Zealand.

Cranleigh is just one example of a still-thriving shopping centre, where knowledgeable and helpful service combine to make an enjoyable and efficient shopping experience, with profits returning to the local economy, and taxes paid in the UK. If those who have forgotten the delights of real shopping start to support local enterprises, we may avoid the day when there is no alternative to online, chain-store and supermarket shopping.

Sally Parrott

Cranleigh, Surrey

We wonder how many shoppers Peter Ashley has spoken to. They certainly do not include residents of this historic market town, who enjoy talking to the erudite booksellers, friendly butchers, fruit and vegetable traders and enthusiastic monthly farmers' market traders, and meeting their friends in the busy main street or one of the many welcoming coffee shops.

Where else can you consult about a book, order and collect it next day? Where else can you ask advice about a recipe or buy fresh, locally grown produce? Where else can you catch up on recent gossip and look forward to a cheery smile and wave?

Many of Mary Portas's recommendations are based on common sense and are not sentimental. People need a sense of belonging; that is definitely not found in an out-of-town supermarket or shopping mall. The one comment we do agree on is the problem of parking, something local authorities need to address. But there is nothing "old-fashioned" about a vibrant market town.

Christina Jones

Roger Jones

Retford, Nottinghamshire

Financial wizards, industry-wreckers

I find it an oxymoron that Mr Cameron has argued that he wants to protect London's financial institutions, and at the same time that he wants to take the UK back to a manufacturing base. Over a 40-year career at senior level in business from a mechanical engineering background, I have seen our engineering base ruined by the very people he wants to support, the financial wizards.

The quality of management in many UK businesses has been disastrous from the 1960s and the main reason has been simple: accountants have risen to the top. The accountancy backgrounds of many senior managers have produced the short-termism that has prevailed in British industry.

Their main consideration has been making a quick profit, instead of developing products and services with long-term market leadership capabilities. They might have created a financial centre in London, but they have ruined many good British businesses.

For decades, it was fashionable to blame trades unions and workers for the malaise of our industry, but the failure was entirely down to poor management. There was no understanding of building quality into products, the value of a skilled and informed workforce or providing what the customer wanted, with many British companies in the 1970s and 1980s building down to a price instead of up to a quality.

But I don't expect any change unless Sir James Dyson takes over as prime minister. Politicians are beholden to accountants to keep them in office, something engineers cannot accomplish. Yet Britain has always produced the world's most innovative engineers. Accountants may understand the stock market but don't understand the business.

Peter J Sephton


So Cameron has sacrificed the country's manufacturing base and the national interest at large to safeguard the profits of an undemocratic and secretive cartel.

The City of London Corporation, whose Byzantine constitution is a jealously guarded medieval relic, is devoted very largely to the facilitation of tax avoidance via offshore tax havens such as Jersey, the Isle of Man, the Cayman islands, Bermuda and the Bahamas.

It is also devoted to gambling with complex financial derivatives designed to disguise risks which, if they were properly understood, would be unacceptable, and to immoral practices such as naked short-selling, leveraged buyouts and asset-stripping.

But it is also a significant provider of donations to the Conservative party's finances. So that's all right then.

Max Gauna


The euro crisis has exposed what Cameron's priorities are: the City of London. Not Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham, Exeter, Cardiff, or Glasgow.

No, just the City where his Etonian cronies work, drawing their enormous salaries. He has no interest in the hard-working majority of this country who actually produce wealth, not just spend it.

Nick Kerr


The Dawkins question

It's heartening to see us atheists making such a good show on your letters page over Christmas. While I'm full of sympathy for Mr Badcock (letters, 20 December), we can't let him get away with his last sentence, contrasting his Christian views with Richard Dawkins's atheism, "... let us accept that both our views are sincerely held, freely entered into, and both, until proven otherwise, of equal intellectual validity".

In the first place, people's views are not contracts entered into "freely" or in any other way. Second, it is the precise point of Dawkins's arguments (and those of Hitchens) that religious belief is not intellectually valid. What Mr Badcock proposes is to beg the question.

Paul Levy

Witney, Oxford

May I suggest that the real "dilemma for theists" (letters, 26 December) is how to remain patient when narrow-minded scientists demand of the humanities the kind of "factual" evidence expected in their discipline.

Unfortunately for them (fortunately for us), works of art, interpretations of history and ideas about God are not susceptible of this kind of proof. Most "evidence" in the humanities involves phenomena of human consciousness, which are necessarily subjective. After we can all accept this we may progress to a more intelligent discussion.

Terry Wright

Newcastle upon Tyne

I believe the existence of Richard Dawkins is proof that God has a sense of humour.

Frank Churchill

Witney, Oxfordshire

Oldies deserve our bus passes

Why should over-60s have their holidays subsidised in Cleethorpes, asks Tim Mickleburgh (letter, 19 December), who no doubt one day will also be 60. Again the killjoys want to take away one of the few perks given to those of us who have spent the past 40 dreary years working, often in pig-awful jobs because that's all there was, making money for rich bankers and capitalists who drive around in posh, fast cars (advertised by Jeremy Clarkson).

And what the likes of Mr Mickleburgh never seem to think when he sees these hated oldies getting off the Cleethorpes bus, is that they have to eat, have a coffee or a beer, they might even do a bit of shopping, if the local killjoy council hasn't forced all the high street shops to close for the mega-Tesco.

Yes, they travel free, but they still spend their money in the community they visit, and which they probably wouldn't do without that bus pass which actually encourages them to go out and about. Mr Mickleburgh presumably would have them all stay at home, keeping their money locked up, or does he think they will still bother to go into shops or pubs or cafés after forking out £7-plus for a bus fare!

Oh, and some of us actually retired at 60, thank goodness. I live only on my pension money.

Garth Groombridge


When every penny counts

In the early 1990s, I received an end-of-year tax bill showing I owed 4p and warning that I would be penalised if it was not settled. I stuck a 5p piece on the bill and sent it back with a request that the change be kept. The tax bill for the following year showed an opening balance of 1p overpaid from the previous year. I cannot decide whether the IR (as it was then) was showing a sense of humour or a total lack of it.

David Battye


I can beat the 39p demand (letters, 22 December). I was sent a tax bill for 1p which I duly paid with a 1p coin attached to the Giro.

Jo Sehmi

Bromley, Kent

Noise may have hurt little Grace

Tim Walker ("Breaking into the news", 27 December) accuses little Grace van Cutsem of bad manners for covering her ears on the royal wedding terrace. My memories of my daughter at a similar age were that she possessed ultra-sensitive hearing, finding many mass public events to be physically unbearable due to the noise levels. Fortunately, she didn't have to contend with combinations of a flypast and chanting crowds. Let's not judge three-year-old Grace too harshly.

Allan Jones

London SE3

Change pricing of power suppliers

If we are serious about conserving the earth's precious sources of energy and about actually caring for folk on slender incomes keeping warm in their homes, could 2012 be the year in which the gas and electricity suppliers start to help. They should charge less for the primary units, and more for the secondary units, so those who heat excessive spaces and use private swimming pools pay proportionately more.

John Hunwicks

Marnhull, Dorset

Israel relabels occupied areas

Indicating Bethlehem is in Israel is common practice now (letters, 28 December). Our local travel agent's wall-map shows no reference to Palestine, Gaza, West Bank or even the Occupied Territories. The whole region is labelled Israel. Who is it supposed to want to wipe whom off the map?

Jennifer Bell

Tiverton, Devon