Letters: Where to locate is a decision for small businesses

A selection of these letters will appear in the print edition of The Independent on Friday 11th of April, 2013

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Ed Miliband’s proposal of new powers for councils to prevent too many of the same kind of business opening up in an area shows no understanding of business or economic history. Where I live, nearly all the estate agents are in the same street, so families seeking out a new home can easily walk from one to the next and compare, instead of having to take buses across town. Ancient street names like Fish Street and Butcher Row indicate that similar businesses have always congregated, for the same reasons of convenience. People who run small businesses are better judges of where they should locate than are politicians in Westminster.

Dr Eamonn Butler, Director, Adam Smith Institute, London SW1P

Help for boys to make the grade

The fall in the number of working-class boys attending university is a disturbing development, and should spur a renewed effort to get more of our underprivileged males into higher education (“Higher university tuition fees ‘putting off working-class boys’”, 10 April).

Fortunately, help is already at hand from grassroots organisations across the country. One, the Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy, has assisted boys from disadvantaged Afro-Caribbean communities – including some who have come through my own school, Rugby – in making the grade. It is expanding its work as a partner to the SpringBoard Bursary Foundation, which aims to place hundreds of children from deprived backgrounds at some of  the country’s top independent and state boarding schools. A bottom-up approach such as this is necessary if we are to nip a damaging gender gap in the bud.

Patrick Derham, Head Master, Rugby School

Don’t tease Hacked Off

As a former director of a human rights charity and (in that capacity) a victim of abuse by at least one British newspaper group, I felt that your April Fools’ Day story (“Hacked Off: the power of the anti-press goes global”), suggesting that dubious foreign governments are interested in the Leveson reforms, makes the opposite point. Oppressive regimes do not tolerate the independent self-regulation that Leveson and the Royal Charter create. Dictators, in common with our own tabloid editors and proprietors, cannot abide human rights standards (like the Human Rights Act) which protect both rights to privacy and the freedom of the press. Nor do they hanker after our long-standing system of democratic state intervention under the rule of law, where, for example, a Government minister, the Attorney General, brings prosecutions against newspapers for contempt of court.

Oppressive regimes use state machinery – the police, militias, corrupt judges – against journalists; hundreds of whom are killed or imprisoned each year in such countries. That is why it is an insult to such journalists – and, indeed, to victims – to describe Leveson’s system of a voluntary, legally incentivised system of independent self-regulation as a threat to free expression. It is why The Independent is right not to have joined in the breast-beating and the crocodile tears shed by the Murdoch/Dacre press over Leveson’s modest and overdue reforms.

You fashionably tease Hacked Off, which has represented the interests of ordinary victims like me, and those who have suffered extraordinarily, like the McCanns and Dowlers. But without the campaign’s advocacy, we would be facing the prospect of the worst of the British press ordering another round in the last chance saloon.

Jane Winter, London

Philpott detail that eluded us all

I share Grace Dent’s appreciation of Mrs Justice Thirwall’s thorough summation of the systematic campaigns of mental abuse, manipulation and blackmail that Michael Philpott visited on vulnerable women (Voices, 6 April). But how did he get away with it for 40 years, and why did it take a tragedy of this magnitude to stop him?

Dent’s answer is that it required a razor-sharp judge from a different background to spot the tiny details revealing the nature and extent of his abuse: “The one woman Philpott couldn’t defeat.” Again, she may be right. But has one essential detail eluded us all?

Before sentencing Mairead Philpott to 17 years in prison last Thursday, Thirlwall accepted that she had been treated as a “skivvy or a slave” by her husband. However, the judge qualified the extent of Mairead’s subordination to him: in repeatedly refusing him a divorce, she had proved her capacity to choose.

Yet is it not a feature of controlling relationships that they appear to be consensual, even to victims themselves? Mairead is likely to endorse the finding that she chose to implicate herself in the crime that led to her children’s deaths, just as she probably believes she chose to be with her husband, bear his children, and hang on to him for dear life – at any cost.

Judgment has been passed, but a nagging question remains: does a slave choose her master?

Tom Gaisford, London N7 

What the Dickens?

Decent of Sir James Crosby to hand a few baubles back. I wonder if he would like the whole justice system to work like that? Bill Sikes, having been found out, gets to decide how much of his swag to give back. Who could possibly object?

Michael McCarthy, London W13

I’ve got a better idea. Let Sir James Crosby be stripped of his pension, and allowed to keep two-thirds of his knighthood.

Kenneth Wilson, Renwick, Penrith

Given the frequency with which people are shown to be unworthy of peerages or knighthoods later in life, why don’t we follow the example of the Catholic Church with respect to sainthoods, and bestow them only posthumously?

George Macdonald Ross, Leeds

Margaret Thatcher, with whom I disagreed on almost everything politically, said something in her speech to the Conservative Party conference in 1983 that has a contemporary resonance. This is in respect of the £150bn in taxpayers’ money that the Treasury is about to allocate to France’s State-owned nuclear power generator, Electricité de France (EDF), to underwrite the electricity produced if the Hinkley C plant goes ahead in Somerset (report, 29 March).

“Let us never forget this fundamental truth,” she said, “the state has no source of money other than money which people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more, it can do so only by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more. It is no good thinking that someone else will pay – that ‘someone else’ is you. There is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money.

“Protecting the taxpayers’ purse, protecting the public services – these are our two great tasks, and their demands have to be reconciled... Someone has to add up the figures. Every business has to do it, every housewife has to do it, every government should do it... When there is only so much money to spend, you have to make choices, and the same is true of governments.”

Perhaps Mr Cameron and his Conservative cabinet colleagues can adopt this sensible strategy, and stop the insane  plan to hand over this fortune of taxpayers’ money to France’s state-owned generator.

Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey

It is not just now that the rage against Baroness Thatcher is being revisited. It happens night after night at the Victoria Palace Theatre. I wonder how many of the young cast of Billy Elliot know what it is they are raging against in their author’s take on the miners’ strike.

Do they, and the Brixton rioters, realise that in 1985 the economists for the National Coal Board concluded that if a tonne of coal cost more than £35 to extract, wastage of money set in? In the early part of that year, Peter Jenkins in The Guardian – not exactly in Mrs T’s category of “one of us” – reported that at the Hickleton Colliery the cost per tonne was £123.

They were the sort of economics that Margaret Thatcher was up against with the Arthur Scargills and Derek Hattons of the world at the time. In death, she continues to be so.

Edward Thomas, Eastbourne

I can’t help having my usual wry smile when Owen Jones writes with authority about the late 1970s working environment which he never lived through and yearns for, with its “millions of secure, skilled industrial jobs” (9 April). I remember with affection being across the negotiating table from Marxist Leninists etc, trade unionists with the publicly avowed intention of bringing down the company I worked for to take it into public ownership. These public and private monoliths – shipbuilding, vehicle manufacturing, printing, docks, steel, coal mining, utilities etc – provided secure employment through gross overmanning, either by state subsidy or strong unionisation. Were any of them competitive globally and, therefore, capable of survival? The answer is there for all to see.

Malcolm Greenslade, Langton Green, Kent

Thatcher gave millions of people the benefits of home ownership, yet depleted the stock of social housing. She freed up the market, giving years of growth, but had a hand in the subsequent recession. She defeated the demagogue Arthur Scargill but impoverished the miners and destroyed the mining industry in the process. She fought a stupid but lucky war in the Falklands, but in doing so helped depose the dictator Galtieri.

She reduced direct taxation to reward the entrepreneurial, yet failed to reduce the overall tax burden. She won a needed battle with excess union power, yet left many workers unprotected from exploitation. She privatised many industries that should never be under control of the state, but shied away from more difficult organisations such as the Royal Mail, railways and NHS. She reduced the power of the state but not its cost.

She showed that women can handle power, but destroyed the illusion they would do so in a pragmatic, compassionate way. She was personally kind, but publicly shrill and patronising. She understood what was wrong with Europe, but like all British politicians failed to find an alternative. She was personally courageous but insensitive to viewpoints other than her own.

It’s not all black and white, you know.

Pete Barrett, Colchester, Essex

If Nick Wray (letters, 10 April) were to read the article in which Thatcher proclaimed that there was no such thing as society, he would see that she was advocating precisely the Good Samaritan behaviour shown him by “a complete stranger”, as against “leaving problems to Society”, ie the state.

Clifford S L Davies, Wadham College, Oxford

Thatcher’s legacy is now complete. Jeremy Clarkson is to attend the funeral.

Jack McKenna, Southport

Stronger laws and prompt justice are needed to stop acid attacks in India

I wish to congratulate you on highlighting the dangerous acid attacks on helpless young women of India by criminal young Indian men (“I want the world to now what happened to me”, 6 April).

It seems that attacks, sexual or otherwise, on women have increased substantially in India since the country launched itself on the path of industrialisation a few decades ago. As Indian women emerge out of their households, obtain education and attempt to compete with men for jobs, wealth and status, they are going to face attacks like this from men for some time to come. It is going to take Indian men a while to get used to this new role of women in society and adapt themselves to it. The Indian police and judicial system have to protect the women during this stage of transition. Stronger laws and prompt justice are the answers. Indian men have to go through this learning process the hard way. There is no shortcut.

Samir Chatterjee, Former Senior Community Education Officer, Rochdale MBC

Female Genital Mutilation

Former National Vice-Chair, World Development Movement (UK), Rochdale, LancashireGrace Dent writes forcefully(Voices, 30 March) about the problem of female genital mutilation; but misses the opportunity to present this as a simple human rights issue. Making a vague point about “centuries of ingrained female denigration”, she avoids seeing any connection with the non-consensual and legal mutilation of small boys.

There is a disparity. The foreskin is easily identified, even by an amateur surgeon. This reduces the chance of the operation being botched. Sometimes it is, and accidental castrations and deaths occur.

The analogous hood of skin or prepuce which covers the clitoris is much smaller, leading to a greater incidence of outright clitorectomy, even when this is not the intention. But this frequently is the intention. In some cases, the vaginal labia, too, are excised, and this tailoring of nature’s intended crowned with the revolting practice of infibulation.

There have always been those who have recognised these practices for what they are: aggravated sexual assault. As early as the 5th century BC, Herodotus lamented such customs. Yet now we have the WHO, to its shame, advocating excision of foreskins, though illogically not of prepuces, as a precaution against HIV.

One might as well defend the fashion among the working class, recorded by George Orwell, for pulling out all their teeth to avoid tooth decay.

David Hamilton, Edinburgh

Spot on di Canio

I believe Terence Blacker (Voices, 2 April) is absolutely spot on in his reading of the Paolo di Canio affair. Like most people who read this newspaper, I detest fascism. But I am uneasy about the trend whereby people are told, in effect, what they are allowed to say or believe or write, and what is taboo.

There are many people in positions of authority who believe that freedom of expression should extend only to those nice folk whose views they agree with. I’m afraid that’s not how it works. Either you have freedom of expression for all (with the usual caveats under the law) or you don’t. There can be no half-way house.

Mr Blacker cites the example of the couple who were not allowed to become foster parents because they are members of Ukip. As someone in his fifties, who has never voted Tory let alone Ukip, even I can see that this is wrong. Imagine what people would say if a young couple were banned from adopting a baby because they were members of the Socialist Workers Party. There would be uproar, and rightly so. 

I believe in challenging people whose ideas and beliefs I don’t agree with. I don’t believe in trying to silence them, or calling for them to be sacked. I don’t like to think about the prospect, one day, of the gag being applied to my mouth by authorities convinced that my ideas are wrong.

Phil Edwards, Godalming, Surrey

It's not all roses for men

In response to Julie Harrison’s somewhat flippant remarks (letters, 4 April) on perceived gender bias in the education system, I fear she, and society at large, overlooks what has in fact become a truism. Men and boys face systematic discrimination in law, housing, health, and education provision. They are more likely (than women) to be homeless, more likely to be in prison, more likely to die if diagnosed with cancer, less likely to have a fulfilling and meaningful relationship with their children, and have no government minister to speak for them as women do. There may very well have been 500 years of discrimination against women but I can assure Julie and others like her that this has been rapidly reversed towards men and boys in the past few decades.

John Moore, Northampton

Gove’s pursuit of his right-wing ideology

I spent a year and no little blood, sweat and tears to achieve an National Professional Qualification for Headship after 30 years of teaching. Now I find to my horror that Michael Gove’s messianic pursuit of his right-wing ideology means that I wasted my time. His fanatical desire to increase the number of “free schools” means that Annaliese Briggs, a 27-year-old who has never taught in a classroom, can be appointed to be the headteacher of the Pimlico “free school”. In her defence, she claims that she has been in “some classrooms”. Does this mean that my next surgeon will tell me not to worry as “I have been in hospitals before, don’tcha know?”

Simon G Gosden, Rayleigh, Essex

Admit you're wrong, IDS

Iain Duncan Smith thinks he is clever in labelling as a stunt a request to enlighten more than 400,000 petitioners as to how he could live on £53 a week. Not so – he has made a statement that needs to be supported by the evidence of his yearly budget to include food, heating/light, clothing, and public transport costs to and from job centres and interviews. His failure to address this matter will show a lack of respect and insult to the electorate. The media is called upon to pursue this matter to the conclusion of the production of a viable budget or a confession from Iain Duncan Smith that he is wrong.

John Olney, Morganstown, Cardiff

What's 'established' about it?

In the wake of the recent review of the social class system, which identified seven social classes in the UK today, I completed the test on the BBC website and was told that I am in the “established middle class”. I find this quite amusing, but I suppose it depends on what is meant by “established”.

I was brought up in a council house in a new town. My parents were a housewife and a toolmaker. My father grew up in rented rooms, largely in abject poverty in 1930s London and Newcastle. My mother grew up in a tiny house shared with her uncles, aunts and grandparents. I went through the comprehensive school system of the late 1960s and early 1970s, left school in 1975, had a series of short-term jobs and then decided in 1981 to return to full-time education. I went to university and achieved a BA when I was 26 years old. Similarly, my husband returned to education at 28 and got his BSc at age 31. We lived in a council house when we married, which we later bought. Now my husband has a good job and I work part time.

We both thank goodness that we were born when we were, because there is no way we could have gone back into education if the current £9,000-a-year fees and student-loan system had been in place. I would think that we probably represent prime examples of social mobility, and I believe that this is completely thanks to comprehensive secondary and free higher education. Since then, every government has attempted to change and “improve” the education system. Yet there must be thousands of people in their forties and fifties who, like us, have completely changed their lifestyles and sociological class in comparison with that of their parents, thanks to the opportunities they had when they were younger. Surely this is exactly what comprehensive schools and free higher education were meant to achieve? I can’t help thinking that we are constantly trying to fix something that was never really broken.

Sue Lovell, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

The new Governor

Ben Chu’s article (5 April) on the Financial Policy Committee (FPC) of the Bank of England is excellent, not least for its lucid exposition of why the Committee was right to call for higher capital levels in the banks. He omits, however, that one of the Chancellor’s choices as new members of the Committee is a former director of Fortis Bank, which failed spectacularly in 2008. The major relevant experience of a second nominee is 23 years at Goldman Sachs. With no disrespect to that institution, one might think that the excellent new Governor of the Bank, who will chair the FPC, brings sufficient Goldman Sachs background – diversification might have been warranted. And no member of the FPC will come from the academic world, where there has been extensive recent research that should inform the FPC’s work (as discussed in a panel session on “Macroprudential Policy in the Bust” recently at the Royal Economic Society Annual Conference). Nor will there be anyone from the insurance sector, which the FPC also regulates.

Ben Chu conjectures that the Treasury did not want FPC members like Bob Jenkins who would support tough capital requirements for the banks. Whether or not this is the explanation, the outcome seems odd.

Richard Portes, Professor of Economics, London Business School, London NW1

Vicious cycles of dependency from loans

Ed Miliband has put the spotlight on payday loan shops but will this warning be enough to regulate the industry and protect financially vulnerable people (“Payday lenders targeted in labour offensive”, 8 April).

StepChange Debt Charity has seen a number of examples of high street payday lenders intimidating their clients. These cases range from lenders threatening imprisonment, following them on the high street and turning up to their place of work.

Often payday loans leave people trapped in a vicious cycle of dependency on credit. Last year, more than 7,000 of the charity’s clients held five or more payday loans. Local councils, regulators and the payday sector must do more to protect people from spiralling into problem debt.

Delroy Corinaldi, Director of External Affairs, StepChange Debt Charity , Leeds

The Government has chosen to deny the scientific evidence

Spokespersons for the Government, the chemical industry and the agriculture industry have repeatedly claimed, on prime-time national television, that there is no conclusive scientific evidence that neocotinoid pesticides are harmful to bees. This is a lie. The European Food Safety Authority says in its press release that, in the one field test so far completed (on maize), there is “an acute effect on honey bees exposed to the substance through guttation” (liquid exuded from the leaves) – not a possible risk or even a risk, an “acute effect”. What is true is that the EFSA has not yet completed a number of other field studies, though preliminary results suggest, or at the least do not exclude, harm.

The Government has chosen to deny the scientific evidence, obstruct the EU’s proposal for a moratorium and ignore the all-party Environmental Audit Committee’s urgent advice. It’s time it came to its senses and took the precautionary measures necessary while the remaining scientific field studies are carried out.

Andrew Webster, Kew, Richmond