Volunteering, Hutton and others

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The Independent Online

Paperwork drives volunteers away from helping the community

Sir: I took early retirement in 2001, after eight years working as a district council community development officer. One of my responsibilities was to provide support for voluntary groups of all types. During those years I became acutely aware of the growing difficulties faced by voluntary groups which did not enjoy the benefits of paid support staff ("Time-poor Britons shy away from charity work", 2 February).

The increasing, and not always unreasonable, requirements for accountability, as a result of legislation affecting such areas as working with children, voluntary trustee responsibilities, health and safety and criminal records clearance, have led to more and more time having to be spent by volunteers in filling in forms, keeping records and ticking target boxes. Many who volunteered for "hands-on" involvement, in working with children, unemployed and elderly persons, in maintaining community buildings and recreation facilities, in church out-reach work and in many other fields, have become frustrated by being dragged away from practical involvement to undertake administrative duties. This is a major factor in the decline of volunteers for such organisations as pre-schools, Scouts and Guides, youth clubs, community car schemes, village hall committees and voluntary sports clubs. One advantage in being a volunteer rather than a paid employee is that if you no longer like the job you can walk away from it.

A major proportion of volunteers is drawn from the ranks of the early retired, such as myself. Should proposals for a later retirement age become a reality, the present crisis facing the voluntary sector is set to become a major disaster. Despite the Government's declared support for voluntary work, I feel that the time is ripe for a detailed national investigation into the difficulties facing non-staffed grass-roots voluntary organisations. This needs to lead to proposals for ways in which the administrative burden now placed upon such organisations can be lessened.

Malpas, Cheshire

Media must take its Hutton medicine

Sir: I am shocked, horrified and utterly disgusted by the attitude of the media to the Hutton report, but the worst of all is to find The Independent joining in the chorus.

Have you all gone crazy? Respect for the judiciary is fundamental to our civilisation; English justice has for centuries been an example to the world. The verdict has gone against not you as a paper but those whom you regard as colleagues. Bad luck!

All through our lives we all must sometimes accept decisions which we don't like or don't expect. Every footballer sent off the field blames the referee. Your imagined friends have been found, indeed proved, wrong; why not simply acknowledge the fact instead of pretending that you have studied the subject in more detail and more objectively than a judge with unlimited time?

There is something repugnant about the media, who devote much of their time and space to criticising those who are seldom able to retaliate, demonstrating such pathetic inability to take a minute dose of their own medicine.

Davies and Dyke were probably correct to resign, but Gilligan deserved no worse than a rap over the knuckles for a bad slip under pressure. The plea that the BBC is mainly good is pathetic: we are all judged on our rare mistakes; what use would a surgeon be who did 99 per cent of an operation brilliantly if a blunder on the remaining 1 per cent killed his patient?

Otford, Kent

Sir: Why the astonishment? By accepting, retaining or using his title, any lord is demonstrably in thrall to the Establishment. That's what such a designation means.


Sir: I feel obliged to write to correct the story (5 February) which suggests that the BBC Board of Governors had ignored legal advice that they should challenge Lord Hutton's report by way of judicial review. This is not true and no such advice was proposed. It is important that I set the record straight.

It is true that when we read Lord Hutton's report I was concerned that it appeared to suggest that it was not acceptable for the media to report confidential sources where those sources were calling into question the integrity of politicians unless the organisation reporting the source knew that the allegations were in fact true.

Obviously, when the BBC considers reporting confidential sources, it is vital that we satisfy ourselves that sources are credible and that we do as much as we can to satisfy ourselves that what a source says is true. A judgment then has to be made as to whether it is right to report the source accurately in the public interest.

However, taking into account the findings of fact in Lord Hutton's report and the mistakes the BBC accepted during the course of the inquiry, our legal view was that an action for a judicial review of Lord Hutton's report would not achieve anything.

In the circumstances, while those governors tasked with reading the report before publication had access to advice and analysis on the report from the BBC's legal team, there was no question of the governors disregarding a strategy to challenge the report by way of judicial review, as no such strategy was proposed.

BBC General Counsel
London W1

Sir: The truth about all politically inspired inquiries is that the politicians define the inquiry's terms of reference and so the result leans in the direction that those politicians have defined. Of course, dissatisfaction with the result leads to another inquiry and yet another set of closely defined terms.

Out here, away from the makers and reporters of news, we see a teeming mêlée, rather like a teacher observing a playground fight: accusations are thrown; those loyal to each side bellow and scream support; others rush off to tell the news in lurid terms. And those who vote, work for, and even die for the country? We're not bewildered; we just know someone's not telling the truth and the other side's outrage is aimed at getting themselves back into power, or selling copy. We know we're being lied to, so we turn away from politics, don't vote, take little interest; and when the vote falls at every election the politicos wonder why.

Perhaps they should set up an inquiry - terms of reference anyone?

Usk, Gwent

Sir: One man, who has nothing to lose, can provide authoritative answers to the most crucial questions which underlie the latest inquiries announced by the US and British governments. I assume therefore that Saddam Hussein will be called to give evidence in both cases. If not, why not?

Seaford, East Sussex

Atkins diet risks

Sir: Like most issues relating to diet and health, the issue of how the Atkins diet works is complicated and Horizon only skated over the surface. Whilst our research, highlighted in the programme, shows clearly that Atkins dieters eat less and lose weight as a result, the reason for this is much more complicated than either a simple suppression of appetite by protein (a well-established phenomenon) or the alternative proposition of Dr Miller (letter, 26 Jan) that sugar/carbohydrates stimulate appetite.

Eating behaviour is a complex combination of physiological appetite drives, responses to food and environmental cues and individual attitudes to food, and a complete understanding of why the carbohydrate calories removed from the diet are not replaced by the protein and fat alternatives awaits much more research. Dr Miller is certainly correct that the food industry capitalises on its knowledge that the sugar/fat combination in snack and fast foods makes it easy to overeat, especially in sedentary individuals when energy needs are low and physiological appetite control is most difficult.

However, following Atkins' example and adopting a very low-carbohydrate diet which excludes so many fruits, whole grains and starchy foods with unrestricted saturated fat is taking a major risk for long-term health. The life span of the human carnivorous societies, traditional Inuit, Kikuyu and Bushman, was not long enough to know how they would have fared in later life with modern health care.

The answer for long-term weight maintenance and health is exercise, which, albeit difficult for many, increases energy requirements and allows enjoyment of foods from all food groups which together comprise the healthy diet.

Professor of Human Nutrition
University of Surrey, Guildford

Angry fathers

Sir: Your feature "Revenge of the angry fathers" (5 February) was not unlike the comic-book characters the men you quote try to model themselves on. Everything is simple; people are good or bad. In this case, fathers good, mothers bad.

Fathers, apparently, are universally battling against an unfair system that unreasonably gives credence to the mothers' perspective. Could this, by any chance, be a bit of a one-sided picture of a system which thankfully, in law, focuses on children, not mothers or fathers?

Or is it completely straightforward? Let me quote from the article: "Our campaign has always had a humorous function partly to offset the image of the belligerent dad, the malevolent violent father... ." On another page in the same issue is the headline "Man kills daughters and partner then jumps to his death". What a hoot.


Sir: Any one of the tens of thousands of fathers who have been involved with the family courts each year in an effort to see their children in a worthwhile, meaningful manner will understand the fathers' rights protesters' actions.

Children's, fathers' and grandparents' wishes are ignored completely by the family courts, which bend over backwards to please the mother even if this means good fathers and their families are struck out of their children's lives.

The whole family court system, which is secret and beyond any public or parliamentary scrutiny, breeds bitter resentment.

Fleet, Hampshire

Class in the closet

Sir: Has the usually excellent Philip Hensher now been coached by Lord Hutton? He clearly lays out all the facts, but then refuses to draw the obvious conclusions (Opinion, 5 February).

He wonders why so many gay people decline to say that they're gay, why those who do are concentrated in better-off parts of the country, and why gays seem to be less keen to fight or rob than straight folk. And he is puzzled. But there is one simple and convincing reason for all this - class.

Middle-class people are more likely than working-class people to feel able to come out (at home and at work) if they are gay, are more likely to be able to afford to move to a "nice" area, and are far less likely ever to feel compelled to steal. Putting that all together, we have an answer.

The sad truth is that while most gay newspaper columnists are out of the closet, most gay factory workers still feel a need to stay in it - and this distorts the "facts" Philip sees.

London N1

Killer question  

Sir: Tony Weston's letter (5 February) regarding the skills of cross- examination reminds me that as a junior barrister, I asked the question, "How can you claim your van was not moving at the time of the accident?" The answer was, "I was making a cup of tea." I lost.

Bridport, Dorset

Weasel words

Sir: I really must object to the headline in today's sketch by Simon Carr (6 February), calling Geoff Hoon a weasel. All across the nation, there are thousands of weasels, otters, stoats, and other members of the mustelidae family, quietly working to keep body, soul, and family together whilst fulfilling their unique role in Britain's ecology. Already maligned, hunted, and driven from their habitat by pollution and encroaching development, must they also endure this slander?


Honour among MPs

Sir: Bill Robinson (letter, 5 February) suggests that if Blair, Straw and Hoon are shown to have misled us with false information, they should resign "if they are honourable men". What other trade or profession feels the need to constantly remind each other that they are "honourable"? If they say it often enough, it might come to pass - but don't hold your breath.


Mumbai dreams

Sir: Your third leader (5 February) criticises a company for calling Mumbai "Bombay". However elsewhere in the paper there are references to "Rome" (not Roma), "Copenhagen" (not Kobenhavn), "Lisbon"(not Lisboa) and "Venice" (not Venezia). On other days cities such as Firenze, München and Den Haag are called by their English names. Is this not inconsistent?

Birchington, Kent