Letters: Water companies call the shots



So another batch of companies, this time water suppliers, has been using highly creative accounting and offshore subsidiaries to avoid tax (report, 15 February). Is there no end to the list of companies engaging in these highly dubious practices?

This reminds me of a recent report in my local newspaper that the EU is to force German water companies to privatise. Yes, apparently an edict has arrived from Brussels stipulating that privatisation should move ahead despite well-founded worries that investors' demands for returns will both drive prices up and cut funding for infrastructure and maintenance. Now we can add tricky tax accounting to the list of the disadvantages of privatisation.

We have to ask ourselves what the democratic mechanism behind all this really is? Who decided that privatisation is the main imperative? Who decided that we should not permit local authorities to run their own water service? This bears the hallmark of the investment lobby which, looking for copper-bottomed deals, wants to park its cash in publicly underwritten investments such as water-works.

And for me this all goes far beyond the tax-avoidance issue, with economic life now seeming to have become a farcical game of monopoly, with the finance industry and corporations calling the shots and with both Brussels and national governments happily dancing to their tune.

For the sake of democracy and common sense we urgently need to call the lobbyists to heel and hold their masters to account.

Alan Mitcham

Cologne, Germany

Why modern politicians make no poetry

I write in response to Philip Hensher's article of 9 February, "Why don't more politicians wax poetical?" There are two reasons. One is that politicians today are more image-sensitive than those of previous generations and waxing poetical is likely to be perceived as nerdish, over-indulgent and eccentric.

Hensher provides a clue to the second reason himself. He suggests it would be astonishing, though desirable, to see politicians adopt the style of George Szirtes in the way that Churchill adopted the style of Kipling. The difference is that Kipling was adored by the masses, whereas if Szirtes was to declaim his work to most people they would respond with bemusement at best.

He further suggests that Maya Angelou's poem for Clinton's inauguration was of such a mediocre quality that lots of people could do just as well. Copies of this poem sold in the millions. Hensher makes the mistake of thinking that that which is readily understandable is easy to write.

I suggest it is the modern convention that poetry needs to be obscure or difficult to be commendable that puts politicians off putting their heads above the public parapet. Were they to emulate Szirtes it would merely serve to confirm the public perception that politicians, like poets, are lost in their own interiors.

Trevor Carter


Grants for academies

Your front-page article "Cash for academies: Gove 'bribes' schools to change their status" (13 February) is wrong.

As was explicitly pointed out to your reporter but not included in the article, details of these supposed "bribes" are all openly available on the Department's website and have been since 2010.

It is a fact that schools which are becoming academies are entitled to grants and legal fees to secure rapid improvements so every child gets the excellent education they deserve. This was the case under the last government and is still the case now.

There is nothing underhand about this funding and to suggest otherwise is simply wrong.

Lord Nash

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools

Department for Education

While Michael Gove is in the mood for U-turns, I hope he will reconsider his programme of forcing schools to convert to academies against the will of the governors, staff and parents.

My daughter's school, Roke Primary School, Kenley, has for years been rated as outstanding. There was a blip in performance which resulted in it being issued with a Notice to Improve in May 2012. However, both the local education authority (Croydon) and Ofsted seem satisfied that the weaknesses which were identified have been attended to, and the school has returned to having above-average SAT results.

Nevertheless, and in common with many other schools, Mr Gove's department are trying to force academy status on the school, and went so far as to keep the plans secret from parents for several months, threatening the governors with the sack if they informed anyone. Roke Primary School is one of many which have been similarly threatened.

Are these the actions of a minister in a government whose leader said in the Coalition Agreement that "The time has come to disperse power more widely in Britain today"?

Nigel Geary-Andrews

Kenley, Surrey

Just the other night the local governors at my local primary school, having been summoned to an alleged "training" session, were summarily sacked. The grounds given were that the literacy standards at this highly respected and much-loved establishment were below par.

Some of us suspect that all this is part of an attempt by Michael Gove's department to force academy-isation on Surrey schools. It is certainly in line with the current onslaught on traditional lay and democratic involvement in school governance throughout the land.

With the U-turn on E-bac, a chink in the Stalinist armour of the DfE and its boss has been revealed. Those of us who value the real traditions in English education – local decision-making, and power lying with heads and teachers – will wish to widen it so that we can let our schools concentrate on what they do best: learning and teaching.

Andrew McLuskey

Staines, Surrey

Who pays for elderly care?

The argument in favour of state funding of elderly care is that without such funding, saving is discouraged. However this argument does not apply to wealth that is the product of house price inflation.

This wealth (commonly amounting to tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds) is unearned and undeserved. Therefore the Government should treat it differently to earnings and savings.

The elderly should be obliged to spend on their own care every penny that they have received through house price inflation; and in addition spend up to £35,000 of their savings, as Dilnot said. Only then should they receive help from the state.

Dan Dennis

Philosophy Tutor, Department of Continuing Education, University of Oxford

I am proud to be English, but how long will it be before we cry foul?

The UK government are rolling out plans to charge English couples a maximum of 150,000 if they both require care. This compares with a maximum of nil for Scottish couples and a maximum of very little for Welsh couples.

Whilst restraint, tolerance and a stiff upper lip may well be English characteristics, I am afraid that from my perspective we are being taken for mugs.

Martyn Shepherd

East Budleigh, Devon

The thrilling kind of cricket

Like Edward Collier (letter, 9 February), I too preferred Test cricket. This lasted till I was able to watch the Indian Premier League on satellite TV.

Here the fielding is close to superhuman; the batting a balance of the text-book and the innovative, athletic, powerful and supremely exciting; the bowling responsive, inventive and purposeful; the captaincy, strategy and tactics, crucial and visible; and the sportsmanship and team values, despite the money involved, always on display through smiles of acknowledgement for the achievements of opponents and colleagues alike.

In contrast, last summer we were treated to the Pietersen approach to esprit de corps, and though I don't doubt there are flashes of brilliance in the Test game, my eyes were opened when I heard Geoff Boycott say that Strauss should have left four or five balls rather than try to hit them.

Test cricket is defensive and mostly about passing the time; in Twenty20, every ball, every stroke, every dive and throw, every event, clearly matters to the end result.

Steve Hills

Milton Keynes

Richard III's gravestone

In 1980 my late husband David Kindersley and I sat on our knees in Leicester Cathedral carving the gravestone for Richard III – the only King not to have had a memorial until then. I do hope he will now be laid to rest under it.

Lida L C Kindersley


Since when has a nobleman's title had any geographical significance (Paul Dickens's letter, 14 February)? The Duke of Norfolk has his seat in Sussex, the Duke of Cambridge has his home in North Wales.

The debate about the reinterment of Richard III is getting more and more like that classic Beyond the Fringe sketch, wherein a demented mediaeval monarch dispatches his nobles to do his business in the counties: "Gloucester, hie thee to Yorkshire; Lancaster, hie thee to Suffolk; Leicester to Cornwall; Surrey to Northampton ...."

I favour Leicester.

Barry Sheppard


Dogs in the dark

Your report on "dogs seeing things from a human point of view" (12 February) says scientists have found that dogs are more likely to steal food in the dark, when humans cannot see what the animals are doing. All nocturnal creatures, both hunters and hunted, have worked out that darkness provides a better cover for their activities than does daylight. Do bats and badgers therefore also "understand the human perspective"?

Clive Lawrence

London N21

Sunny days

Would I be correct, I wonder, in inferring that M M Graves (letter, 15 February) will not be taking any holidays this year but will instead donate the cost to the nearest soup kitchen? He might even decide to spend his leave in sunny Hastings working as a volunteer delivering meals on wheels. Or is it only the rich who are not entitled to a sunshine break?

Brian Mayes


Papal precedent

As a lifelong Catholic, I see Pope Benedict's resignation as being highly significant, because it sets a modern precedent for the Papacy.No individual pope is indispensable and each should take care not to overstay their usefulness to the Church at large.

Brian Macnamara

Kenilworth, Warwickshire

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