Letters: Who'll run PTA in for-profit schools?

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Quite apart from the revulsion many will feel at the idea of state schools falling into the hands of profit-making companies ("Tory plan for firms to run schools for profit", 10 January), there are numerous objections arising from the way schools currently operate.

Most Parent/Teacher Associations are charities. If a school is taken over by a profit-making company, can the PTA retain its right to charitable status? How can people be asked to take part in fund-raising activity for the school, such as a school fête, when it's making money for shareholders? How then will they raise funds for the extras which schools generally can't afford (new cricket bats, a piano, money to support poor children to go on school trips)?

How could a school get funding from a charitable trust or foundation, for example to support an anti-bullying policy or new equipment, if it is a for-profit organisation?

Many outside organisations which carry out schools workshops and longer projects are charities. They have their own charitable objects and are subsidised by charitable donations (and sometimes public money too). Why should they offer subsidised work to schools which are profit-making? Why shouldn't they charge the full price for their services? This has already been seen in privatised prisons.

The carefully balanced and intricate economic culture of school life could be shattered by the introduction of profit-making. The school is the hub of the community for families and for its whole catchment area. People develop loyalty to their local school which would be damaged by the introduction of money-making. A school run for profit would be the target of increased discontent and complaint as the goodwill ebbed away.

Catherine Rose

Olney, Buckinghamshire

The Bright Blue plans to allow private companies to run schools speak of "better free education for children with parents who lack the resources to give their children the best education".

Do the Conservatives really see state education as a second-rate safety net for parents who are unable to pay for private education? It appears the Tories have a different interpretation of the term "secondary school".

John Mottershaw

Hope Valley, Derbyshire

Where Ulster's new Catholics come from

David McKittrick (10 January) refers to demographic changes in Belfast and his analysis is correct. Most media commentators in England interpret the rise in Roman Catholic numbers in a sectarian manner and conclude that support for a United Ireland is increasing.

In fact the increase in RC numbers is enhanced by the arrival of some 25,000 people in the past decade from the EU – these people from Poland, Lithuania and Portugal are unlikely to be United Irelanders! I understand one of them has been arrested as a loyalist rioter. The recent census figures confirmed that the number of Protestants in Northern Ireland has increased to the highest figure since the state was created in 1921.

John Kilclooney

House of Lords, London SW1

Benefits worth less than ever

Grant Shapps, the Conservative minister without portfolio ("Benefit reform will ensure work always pays," 6 January), tells us: "Since 2007, the pay of those working in the private sector rose by 12 per cent [and at the same time] benefits going to working age increased by twice that amount".

That needs some qualification. Research by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw of York University has shown that the £71 a week job-seeker's allowance paid to single adults from April 2012, after rent and council tax, has not increased for decades. When it started in 1912 it was seven shillings a week, about 22 per cent of average male earnings in manufacturing. By 1979, when the Conservatives were elected, it was still about 21 per cent of average earnings. By 2008, as a result of the policy, unchanged by the Labour government, of tying benefits to the price index while real earnings increased, it had fallen to an all-time low of 10.5 per cent of average earnings, It has not increased in real terms since then.

The Rev Paul Nicolson

Taxpayers Against Poverty, London N17

The decision to cap benefits at 1 per cent shows that little has changed in political attitudes over the past 80 years. As this year is the 100th anniversary of the New Statesman, I went through the archives of their "This England" column. I would like to quote from two of them.

1934: "It is already obvious, in London, that the Public Assistance system is to be used to debauch the poor – Morning Post"

1936: "I would suggest that all men under 50 who have been unemployed for two years or longer should be required to enlist , whether married or single. Surely in no other country are enormous numbers of men allowed to live in comparative comfort and contribute nothing to the nation except hordes of children which the state has to maintain – West London Observer".

John Moses

Richmond, Surrey

Your coverage of the Coalition's Welfare Bill (7 January) illustrates how no politician on either side of the debate has explained that nearly all welfare benefits come straight back into the real economy. To listen to Cameron and Duncan-Smith, the public could be forgiven for thinking claimants put it all on the gee-gees or down the drain.

Godfrey H Holmes

Chesterfield, Derbyshire

It will be interesting to see if the minor Liberal Democrat rebellion against the Government's plans to cut benefits leads anywhere. It is, after all, the 70th anniversary of the split in the Liberal Party which saw some Liberal MPs walk out of Ramsay MacDonald's National Government.

That act turned out to be the salvation of the Party. The rump National Liberals who carried on in Government became indistinguishable from the Tories and by the early 1960s had entirely disappeared into that party.

Keith Flett

London N17

Hague's hypocrisy over Syria

William Hague has accused Syria's President Assad of hypocrisy. President Assad claims that the opposition are terrorists and foreign puppets.

The US Council on Foreign Relations recently enthused, "The Syria rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qa'ida in their ranks... al-Qa'ida fighters... may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervour, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathisers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the Free Syrian Army needs al-Qa'ida now."

The United Nations says: "The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) is an al-Qa'ida... affiliate." This group arms, funds and commands whole brigades of the Free Syrian Army. Germany's intelligence service says that 90 per cent of the armed insurgents in Syria owe their allegiance to al-Qa'ida.

British military sources have stated: "British and French Special Forces have been actively training members of the FSA, from a base in Turkey. Some reports indicate that training is also taking place in locations in Libya and northern Lebanon. British MI6 operatives and UKSF (SAS/SBS) personnel have reportedly been training the rebels in urban warfare as well as supplying them with arms and equipment. US CIA operatives and special forces are believed to be providing communications assistance to the rebels."– (Elite Forces UK, 5 January 2012.)

So who is the hypocrite?

Will Podmore

London E12

M&S must do more to impress plebs

Marc Bolland should surely realise by now that the general public do not want to wear ugly clothing made of poor materials ("Marks & Spencer clothing sales slump over Christmas", 10 January).

Anyone who still owns items purchased from M&S over eight years ago is aware that the cut, styling and quality has deteriorated since. Mr Bolland should look at the merchandise and ask himself if he or his family would wish to wear many of the items on offer.

M&S played a major role in eliminating class differences in dress. The plebs have now been educated to be more sophisticated and expect more.

Carole Lewis

Solihull, West Midlands

Defy the voice of America

The external pressures in the run-up to David Cameron's proposed speech on Britain's EU stance highlight how the role of the state is further declining on the international stage ("Obama warns Britain: stay in the EU or lose influence", 10 January).

These warning shots from external forces suggest Britain may well implement decisions through fear of repercussions rather than its own political will. I look forward to Cameron's forthcoming speech. Alongside Nigel Farage, I shall applaud Cameron should he choose to rebel against US pressure as we previously have done over issues such as Vietnam.

Oliver Morris

Newcastle upon Tyne

The US Assistant Secretary for European Affairs warns against a referendum on full European membership because "we want to see a strong British voice in the EU". Is he afraid of a democratic vote where a strong British voice may be expressed?

Bernard Helm

Newcastle upon Tyne

Charity denied

There are many still-working recipients of the winter-fuel allowance who donate their £200 to charity. Gift Aid means that when I do so, the charities of my choice get £250. If I am means-tested and don't get the allowance, will the Government give that sum to the charitable sector of our big society? No. I thought not.

Richard Hanson-James

Caversham, Reading

Musical rebuke

Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra at Sage, Gateshead, 2006 ("Clapping ruins concerts", 9 January). As premature applause began to break out before the end of Shostakovich's Tenth symphony, the conductor, Valery Gergiev, with brilliant dexterity coaxed from the orchestra a massive, heaving ritardando. Message: "Shut up, would you – it hasn't finished!" Unforgettable moment.

Michael Ayton

Durham

Saudi justice

You report on the execution of a Sri Lankan maid in Saudi Arabia (10 January). Reassuring to see our valued trade partners upholding the rule of law in these uncertain times. But one question nags – did BAe Systems supply the sword?

David Halley

Hampton Hill, Middlesex

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